Dare to challenge the intolerance

 Collin Hansen wrote a piece at The Gospel Coalition provocatively titled, “Dare to be Immoral.”

The point of his title (IMHO) is that there is shifting societal opinion about what constitutes morality that will put Christians in a position of being wrongly labeled as immoral for following the teachings of Christ. Hansen summarized his thoughts with a charge based on 1 Timothy 1:12-16:

“Dare to be immoral in society’s eyes for the sake of the kingdom. And return kindness for insults, “so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:16).”

Hansen acknowledged that Christians are typically misrepresented (or, at least, under-represented) in mainstream media. But he also explores a kind of “reap what you sow” consequence to previous evangelical emphases on moral majorities in politics. In these areas, Hansen believes that we misrepresented ourselves by emphasizing morality to the point of confusing the fact that, “the church only accepts immoral sinners who confess their need for a Savior.”

At this point, some might feel that Hansen has waved the surrender flag too early in suggesting that,

“In the days ahead, however, you won’t need to convince anyone of your immorality. You will be judged and found woefully wanting. No longer suspected of faux moral superiority, you will be accused of real moral inferiority.”

Elaborating on the changing opinions of society, Hansen wrote:

“Rather than Victorian prudes, evangelicals will be likened to Jim Crow segregationists. The presenting issue might be homosexuality, given rapidly changing public opinion. Already you can see how the mechanics of power and influence have turned the allegedly judgmental into the actually judged. Never discount the human ability to justify ourselves. We judge one another as immoral for not recycling. For not buying organic. For voting against the anointed candidate. For sending our children to the wrong schools. For eating the wrong fast food. For buying the wrong shoes.”

It seems that (while the issues change) the spirit of judgment has always been part of social fabric among humans. But I am not as ready to give up the ground for moral discourse within the political process. Hansen offered a somewhat pessimistic outlook while rightly asking for a better option to moral majorities.

“Even while winning our share of political battles, we lost the culture, so now we can’t even win the political battles. There is no going back. There is nothing left to recover. There is no majority to recover it anyway. There must be a better way.”

I am not as ready to accept that, “Our situation does not differ altogether from the challenge endured by early Christians in the Roman Empire.” And, lest I misrepresent Hansen, he’s not trying to draw too tight of a parallel. As he wrote: “We do not shy away from the political process when we can enact and enforce laws that will serve the common good. Indeed, we seek common ground even with political opponents.”
It seems to me that the current challenge we encounter partly relates to “how outsiders have viewed evangelicals” and there is certainly room for building a testimony that is more faithful to the gospel.
But I hold a different view of a better way to engage on the social, political and cultural level. I don’t offer my view as a substitute for the priority of proclaiming the gospel but in the context of our “salt of the earth” identity and our concern to seek the welfare of the city.

Some of the shifts in societal opinion are based on the way key terms are being defined.

The most prominent example is the word “tolerance.” The more militant wing of the liberal side of politics insists on a form of tolerance that is actually very intolerant. We can help here by continuously encouraging people to understand what true tolerance is and how it promotes civility.

Obviously we could expose many examples of intolerant tolerance being forced on America by a radical and vocal part of the politics. Given an apparent postmodern inclination in society, I believe that the message of true tolerance will resonate. 

We need to teach people that tolerance does not mean agreement. It means treating others with respect when you disagree. Where disagreements are deeper, showing tolerance becomes more difficult but also more virtuous. When told that we’re not permitted to disagree, we face coercion, not tolerance. I think reasonable people who are not afraid of cultural bullies will oppose this kind of coercion.  

Many people feel that the public square has increasingly become a place where you must believe what you’re told to believe — or else! Sadly, this is often accompanied by a smug and condescending attitude that has become pervasive in the extreme parts of liberal thinking. But I am convinced that many thoughtful liberals are embarrassed by it.

This is where we should be encouraging the virtues that promote true tolerance — virtues like respect, honor and neighbor love. Forced versions of tolerance threaten these qualities. For diverse people to live with civility in a democratic system, large amounts of mutual honor and respect will be necessary. We must learn how to have robust and respectful conversations about the common good without allowing coerced forms of tolerance to foreclose on these conversations.

In a society that cherishes freedom, people generally want to know who gets to set the morals that everyone must tolerate. Who defines what “we the people” must accept as lawful and good? The distorted version of tolerance promoted over the last few decades has encouraged people toward lifestyles of duplicity. People increasingly have learned to subscribe to one set of beliefs publicly and another privately. Is it surprising that this breeds resentment and sometimes violence? If you force a man against his will, he’s of the same persuasion still — and he’s likely to get mad.

Now, I realize that civility necessitates law making and law enforcement. I also understand that we cannot expect everyone to agree on the laws. But, in a free society, we’ll face a cultural storm if laws are made that unilaterally overturn the collective will of the people. We’re only asking for trouble, for example, when a handful of justices define marriage for an entire State. 

Reasonable people will understand the need to restrain judicial activism and improve respectful and open dialogue. All of us must learn to navigate the tensions of life together and show more deference to others.

One of the greatest needs of this nation is promotion and modeling of the virtues of respect, honor and neighbor love. These are the qualities that support the true virtue of tolerance.

The Scripture calls us to “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10) and by this all men will know that we are His disciples. 

Steve Cornell
Senior pastor
Millersville Bible Church
Millersville, PA 17551

See also: Restoring a culture of honor

This entry was posted in Accountability, Church and State, Culture, Culture of Honor, Democracy, Democrats, Gospel, Gospel-centered, Government, Homosexual lifestyle, Law, Leadership, Liberal, Political Correctness, Politics, Progressive?, Tolerance, Wisdom. Bookmark the permalink.

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