Christianity and Tolerance
The Christian community has always struggled with its sense of balance. It has wavered between extremes of one sort or another, primarily between strict legalism and wild abandon of any and all standards. And much of this wavering and confusion stems from a failure to grasp and define the meanings of words like love, holiness, doctrine, justice, and mercy.
One of the best ways to convey an idea is through examples, and two of the most divisive and controversial subjects facing the Christian community today center on marriage/divorce and treatment of welfare and illegal aliens. This is not exclusively an American problem either, since there are Christians around the world who must face these issues, though not all to the same degree.
But before we can address these issues, we must define our terms. Sin is whatever God says it is, not what our culture says it is. To be sure, we should be sensitive to culture and try not to alienate people, but culture does not displace God. If God were to say that it’s a sin to wear orange shoes on the second Tuesday of each even-numbered month, then it would be a sin. It matters not whether we love orange shoes, or that wearing them does no one any harm, or that there is nothing sacred about a particular Tuesday or month. What matters is whether we treat God as God.
The same goes for justice. God is the ultimate measure of justice and fairness; if not, then we make ourselves the judges of our own Creator, the source of all standards. And we must remember, imperfect beings that we are, that God is not obligated to explain everything to us just to prove that justice will be served. God owes us nothing, and everything we do have has been given to us.
So now let’s apply these principles to the matter of same-sex marriage, or homosexuality in general. First of all, homosexuality is just a subset of sexual behaviors that God calls sin. Not even heterosexuals can have just anyone they want, anytime they want. And some sexual behaviors that even most homosexuals view as deviant are not addressed in the Bible at all (e.g. pedophilia and bestiality), yet no one thinks for a moment that God approves of such behavior. It should be enough for God to tell us what is permitted.
And what is permitted? One man and one woman (Gen. 2:24), to “become one flesh”. Nothing is said in that passage about the need to produce children, by the way. Certainly that is the usual result, and God did say to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). But the unity of flesh is what constitutes marriage. In other words, sexual activity is restricted to that between one male and one female, and it is this physical union that the Bible defines as marriage.
But the objections come: What about the patriarchs and their many wives and concubines, or the matter of divorce? Jesus gave the answer to both when he said that God has in the past made concessions to human frailty, but it was never meant to be that way (Mat. 19:8). And in each instance of polygamy there were unpleasant consequences. God has not micromanaged the human race, nor even the people of Israel, and especially not the church. Rather, God has set boundaries and limits within which there is much freedom to either earn or lose rewards. But what God never permitted was sexual intimacy beyond or outside of marriage between male and female human beings. And in the Christian community, the standards are raised, not lowered.
The issue of “age of consent” is one of those things not discussed in scripture, but again the principle of “consent” should be governed by what we know about mental and physical health. Love must trump gratification, and if someone is not mature enough to understand what it means to make a lifetime commitment to not only sexual intimacy but also childbearing and child rearing, then it is surely a sin to engage in such behavior. Also, a man who is not willing or mature enough to be a father and husband, who views his wife as a “ball and chain” (even jokingly) and his children as burdens only their mother must carry, is unfit for marriage.
And this leads to the issue of divorce. Too often people rush into a relationship without due consideration of their maturity or commitment. Such hasty hookups are doomed to failure. People don’t consider whether the person they want to marry would be likely to take care of them when they’re sick, or to help with each other’s chores or family income, or to be willing to settle into the boring sameness of life. The “life of the party” requires a lifelong party, and most of life is anything but a party.
Jesus’ teachings about divorce are typically taken out of context to mean it is absolutely forbidden except for unfaithfulness, and that a divorced person is to be shunned and shamed.1 The Christian community has failed greatly to show any compassion, let alone to examine the context of what Jesus or Paul said. And it has used a double standard in applying such shaming most often to women. The church, like the world, has turned a blind eye to male promiscuity, even approving of it as a rite (and right) of manhood. But to this day, female promiscuity is despised and shamed. If a man cheats or divorces, he often continues with his life and any church status remains unchanged and unhindered. But if a woman does the same, her life is ruined and she is rejected as dirty and worthless. We approve of men having slept around before marriage while also demanding that women remain virgins until marriage. But Jesus never had a kind word to say to those who were heartless and hypocritical.
One characteristic of the mature Christian is humility (Mat. 7:12, 20:26, 1 Cor. 13:4-5), and another is to “die to sin” (Rom. 6:2). We are not to keep pushing the limits of God’s mercy and grace, to see how much we can get away with. We are not to cling jealously to perceived rights, even if we believe they’re divinely sanctioned, but to lay them down and serve others rather than seek to control them. We must remember that God makes the rules, and that mercy is extended to the repentant, not to the indulgent. The Jesus who told the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you”, is the same Jesus who said, “Go, and sin no more” (John 8:11).2
But what about people who illegally enter a country? Must the Christian community not only accept them but also support them and demand they be treated as legal citizens, because this is the only way to express the love of Christ? This issue is actually related to the tolerance of sexual sin, since it presumes that love would never “judge” in any way. That is, in both cases the Christian community has redefined sin as “not showing love”, and has redefined love as “accepting everyone and everything”.
Are these new definitions accurate? Not in the slightest. To use another example in scripture, Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 5 that the church in Corinth was to expel a man who was living with his stepmother. He didn’t even ask or consider whether the couple was happy and faithful and committed. Instead, he condemned their relationship as sin, and of a sort that not even the non-Christian world accepted— the same non-Christian world that accepted homosexuality. No tolerance was offered, either for the man or his lover, or for the “tolerant” church. They, sinners though they were, were commanded to throw the man out of their fellowship “to hand him over to Satan”.
Now let’s apply this accurate understanding of love and tolerance to the matter of welfare and illegal immigration. Paul taught that Christians who fail to care for each other are worse than unbelievers (1 Tim. 5:8), but also that those who refuse to work should not be fed (2 Thes. 3:10). So when we allow anyone and everyone to not only occupy our country (which includes our “neighbors” and family) but also to live on the backs of other people’s labor, we are showing contempt for our own working people, our own neighbors, our own families.
The great hypocrisy of those who champion illegal immigration and the welfare state in the name of Christ is shown when they turn around and condemn Israel for “occupying Palestinian land”. Are the people flooding America’s southern border not “occupying” land that does not belong to them? Are they not living as parasites on the backs of the working poor, whose taxes are taken by force to support these foreigners? How does this in any way show Christian love to the taxpaying citizens? Is love to come at someone else’s expense? Does the country they leave bear no responsibility for poor living conditions that make people want to flee? And if they’re not fleeing starvation or oppression, then why is burdening the American taxpayer for them the loving Christian thing to do?
It isn’t just a lack of love that the Christian community needs to be concerned about, it’s a lack of standards. Even non-Christians often condemn us for the latter. To paraphrase Jesus’ rebuke of people for failure to love “sinners” (Luke 6:32-34), “If you accept everything the culture around you accepts, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.” We are called to be pure and to be like Jesus, who not only reached out to sinners but also condemned those who placed on others the heavy burdens they themselves would not lift (Mat. 23:4).
What kind of Christians are we when we show no concern or compassion for our own people? What kind of witness is that? Whether it’s blind support of illegal immigrants and welfare-entitled lazy parasites, refusal to recognize sexual sin, or double standards for men and women, we show contempt for God and people when we fail to balance compassion with holiness and fairness. Love never comes at someone else’s expense (except the free choice of the person showing the love). We cannot say we love fellow believers, or fellow citizens, if we condemn them and force them to give up the fruit of their labor for the lazy and ungrateful. Neither do we show love for God or the Christian community when we allow the unholy and sin-indulgent into our fellowships.
There are good, sensible, and righteous reasons why we don’t allow our neighbors to have free access to our homes, food, and supplies, especially when they have all of those things themselves. And even if the truly needy show no gratitude or intent to support themselves, they are not to be supported. There is no love or tolerance in forcing “charity” at the point of a gun, or even at the point of a sharp tongue. True Christian love is expressed in self sacrifice, and true Christian tolerance is never at the expense of the holiness of God.
- See this article and this article, and search for the word “divorce”.
- The man was never brought to him by those hypocritical Pharisees, which they knew the law required. Both they and the man were sinning at least as much as the woman, but Jesus did not offer forgiveness to them, since he knew they only brought the woman to try to trap Jesus rather than to administer justice.