Tag Archives: intolerance

The Way Forward, Part Six: A Public Ethics Primer: What Do We Prohibit, Promote, and Permit?

Common sense and genuine consensus are in short supply in a world on edge and poised for a fight. Objectionable ideas are labeled, ‘triggers” and “violence” when they do not conform to the sensitivities of ever-changing groupthink. Free speech is under assault and critical words about cultural, political, and religious ideas are now “phobias.” Denouncing historical Jewish and Christian beliefs are fair game, however, because they symbolize oppression for the chattering classes untethered to religion.

How do we forge a principled middle ground in the wake of the onslaughts from ideologues more in tune with totalitarianism that pluralistic democracy?  How do we ensure that freedom of conscience and religion, speech and government redress, and peaceable assembly remain foundations for our future?

One way forward is robust debate on ethics that affect public policy. We are not speaking about religious diets, dress, or deportment or the beliefs of peaceful communities. We must have civil discussion toward consensus on the values that will guide our experiment in virtue-based liberty. All societies have explicit and implicit values that help them cohere. For example, keeping promises is not only important for personal relationships. The entire (global and local) economy rests on trust: invoices paid, deliveries made, and the diligent efforts all engaged in the choreography of work. So, there is at least implicit agreement that trust matters.

There are three categories that can help order our thinking. First, what actions must be prohibited, without qualification? Most people will stand against all forms of assault or violence, dishonesty, endangerment of others, and theft, among many more. But before we move on, we must debate some areas that were previously obvious. Will we continue to penalize sexual practices between adults and minors? Will we prosecute crimes that we think are non-violent, but hurt the community, such as shoplifting? Several pharmacies serving the elderly in San Francisco closed because the DA would not prosecute thieves. On the other side, are we going to impose Orwellian limits on speech because some folks take offence? Will we continue to intimidate and silence speakers?

Second, what ideals, values, and actions will we positively promote as a society? Most folks would argue that personal responsibility, hard work, educational advancement, professional excellence, family cohesion, and care for others should be part of a consensus values system. But wait. Many of these values are now considered legacies and memes of oppression. If a father wants to support the mother and child of their union that is noble…unless it gets in the way of an abortion. Some Marxist theories remove almost all agency from the individual, making everyone part of the oppressed or oppressing classes. We should debate what virtues are essential and we will not always agree. The challenge is finding shared ideals in a world that thrives on anger and polarization.

The third category gets at the heart of liberty: what will we permit in a pluralistic society? Will we live peaceably with deep differences and debate with civility? We often confuse permission with promotion, and disagreement with intolerance. Here is an example: a deeply religious person believes that sexual intimacy is reserved for heterosexual, monogamous marriage (Most Christians, Jews, and Muslims, as a start). This same person is a good neighbor to gay couples or common-law couples next door. Desiring others change their practices is not intolerance – it is fidelity to one’s code or faith. Our religious friend is not depriving anyone of love – she or he has their particular standards. We do affirm freedom of conscience and religion and thankfully have no coercive state religion (unlike the majority of Islamic nations that prohibit or severely restrict other faiths). Will we allow the free exchange of moral and spiritual ideas, or marginalize groups that disagree with whatever trendy ideas are capturing the public imagination? Conservatives must affirm full liberty and progressives must not assume certain moral stances are intolerant.

May we care enough about others and pursue such dialogues on our pathways toward liberty and justice for all.

The Way Forward, Part Four: Sanity about Being Human

We are in an anthropological crisis. What does it mean to be human? Do male and female identity have any meaning? What does “the science” say about human identity? Is the biological family still the key unit of society or do children belong to “the collective?” For people of faith, how do truth and toleration unite for a peaceful world?

In coming essays, I will speak to the issues of sexual identity and practice in more detail. For this work, I want to offer three guiding principles for a sane way forward regarding human identity and how we see “the other.” I am writing as a Christian, and as a public thinker desiring for all others the liberties that I claim for myself. Having firm theological convictions is not intolerance.

The first step toward sanity is love and respect for every individual we meet. Love means that we desire their best. Respect in this context is seeing identity and potential, not necessarily instant trust. The reason we love and respect each person is that they are created in God’s image. Every person possesses inherent value, regardless of class or culture, gender or race, ability or social situation. The Bible’s opening chapter contains the most dignifying words about being human (selections from Genesis 1:26-28):

“Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness.
And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea
and over the birds of the heavens
and over the livestock and over all the earth…

God created humankind in his own image,
in the image of God, he created him,
male and female he created them.”

And God blessed them. And God said to them
“Be fruitful and multiply…”

Notice the order of the poetry. We are created in God’s image. We are given work to do: overseeing (not exploiting) creation. And thirdly, we do this as male and female, equally bearing God’s image/likeness. Identity, purpose, gender…the order matters! From the earliest moments of recorded history to the present, people of all cultures and faiths and have found ways to misinterpret, rebel, and subvert this beautiful passage. We allow blood and soil to lead to subjugation of other groups. Sinful structures define male and female in ways that oppress the latter and pervert the former. The church has mostly failed in her history of welcoming men and women as equal partners and inviting all classes and cultures into a beautiful community of love and justice. There is hope…and it is found in the second principle.

The second step in the path forward is understanding that the person and work of Jesus Christ creates a new humanity liberated from the unjust ideologies and systems created by power-hungry sinful people. The Christ Event includes:

  • The divine affirmation of the goodness of being human – in body and spirit – for in Jesus Christ, God is forever one of us! (John 1:1-18)
  • The joy of Jesus as he willingly offers himself as the ransom of liberation and reconciling sacrifice, atoning for the sins of the whole world. (Mark 10:45; Romans 3:21-31; I John 2:1-2) Everyone we meet is worth Jesus’ sacrifice.
  • Jesus’ resurrection announces victory over death and hopelessness, and offers a preview of our future. (Romans 8:28-30; Colossians 1:15-22). Everyone we meet can receive the gift of salvation and be part of a new community anticipating the future.
  • The Holy Spirit is God in and with the church, empowering her for worship and witness, comforting and convicting of sin, and giving gifts to all, regardless of past transgressions or particular identities. (Acts 2-4, 11-15; I Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 1:13-14)

The third guiding insight for sanity about being human is the biblical hope of a new community of joy and justice, embracing all cultures and empowering worship and work on a renewed earth. The poetry of Revelation offers these visions for all who believe (Revelation 5:9; 7:9; 21:3):

You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals,
Because you were slain,
And with your blood you purchased for God
Persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priest to serve our God,
And they will reign on the earth.
And there before me was a great multitude that no one could count,
From every nation, tribe, people, and language,
Standing before the throne and before the Lamb.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“Look! God’s dwelling place in now among the people, and he will dwell with them.”

This destiny is not automatic, for this future rests on people freely saying yes to the good news of Jesus Christ. This said, we have a beautiful trifecta of truth guiding our relationships. Everyone we meet is made in God’s image. Everyone we meet is worth the sacrifice of Jesus. Everyone we meet can enjoy a destiny that is anticipated today in community.

Let’s ground our thinking and actions in God’s design, deliverance, and destiny instead of our preferences and prejudices and we can foster foretastes of a beautiful future.

The Way Forward, Part Three: An Ancient-Future Posture: Holiness and Hospitality

“You are invalidating and rejecting people with your narrow-minded intolerance.” “The Bible is full of ideas that are outdated.” “You preach about loving everyone, but where is your call for justice?” “Yes, abortion is bad, but it is not the only issue.” “You keep wrapping the cross in the American flag.”

Biblical Christians and their communities are attacked daily with the above accusations, and much more. On one hand, rejection and even persecution are expected for Christians. On the other hand, Jesus said we were blessed when persecuted for righteousness’ sake, not our self-righteousness or religiosity. Recent events have uncovered the church’s deep need to reckon with and repent of many historical and contemporary hypocrisies and injustices. No one and no institution are immune to the trappings of false idols and ideologies, the lure of power, and the temptations of narcissism and pleasure-seeking.

From a posture of humility and fidelity to the gospel, what is a way forward for Christian witness and the Church in our era of accusation, cancellation, and rebellion?

Mining the riches of Scripture and history, there is an “ancient-future” (thank you, to the late Robert Webber and Pastor Dan Kimball for this term) posture that can transform the life of church, improve the credibility of her witness, and open doors to spiritual seekers. The criticisms above are sometimes the words of rebellious enemies of the gospel. More often, they reflect the heart-cries and confusion of those that desire to know Jesus and be in community, but cannot reconcile the chasm between declaration and demonstration, preaching and practice.

The private and public posture for the path forward is uniting holiness with hospitality. There is no need for doctrinal and moral compromise and the doors of relationship and grace are wide open for all. Sounds great in theory, but what do these terms mean in practice?

Holiness begins with reverence for the Almighty, surrender to his will, and finding our identity in Christ before any other loyalties of blood or soil. Holiness is not a “holier-than-thou” attitude – just the opposite. It is fidelity to the covenant and community through the Cross and Resurrection and a continual conversion of life away from self and sin toward service rooted in love for God and neighbor. Holiness means the ways of God are not optional, yet life is not reduced to rules. Holiness is more than particular deportment and discipline regarding sex or lifestyle choices. Holiness touches all dimensions of life. We worship the Lord God, not our idols. We are becoming whole, not living for self. We have healthy relationships, and do not see people in merely utilitarian ways. We have a sense of calling that is more than our current work, and our work is offered to God as worship. We desire all come to Christ, and that people of all faiths or none share in the common good we help create. A holy life is one of integration, where joy and justice, generosity and liberty, truth and toleration, and open-handed leaning and service are brought together.

With holiness as both passion and practice, hospitality is the natural companion. Jesus ate and conversed with both religious leaders and the marginal, exposing hypocrisy and delivering from destructive patterns. Hospitality has been a hallmark of the church from here earliest moments of fellowship in Jerusalem (Acts 2-6) to learning to live in community with diverse people (I Corinthians 10-14; Galatians 3; Colossians 3), and inviting seekers to hear the gospel and join the Church (Acts 13-28).

Christian hospitality helped create the first hospitals and hospices, hotels and homes for orphans. I am not claiming a Christian exclusive on compassion, just noting the goodness of persecuted believers who cared for plague victims in the 3rd century and have pioneered the private and public institutions we take for granted today.

On a more personal and practical level, hospitality means welcoming seekers struggling with sin into the community, and walking with them as they consider the claims of Christ. Unconditional love and uncompromising holiness unite as we call everyone to submit to Christ and befriend and care for others. If our friends desire baptism and membership in the church, they are agreeing to learn to walk in the ways of the Lord and conform their lives to Scripture. This does not mean instant perfection nor should standards be changed. Business leaders must bring their daily ethics to the Cross. Addictions need counsel and healing. Lifestyles contrary to Christ are gradually abandoned in favor of pleasing God. Greed, classism, racism, sexism all yield to the Cross. And when we fail, there are friends and leaders ready as agents of forgiveness and restoration.

Keeping holiness and hospitality in divine balance will restore credibility and community. Loving God will open our hearts to repentance and loving our neighbors will create a receptive atmosphere for healing and hope. Knowing we are loved by God will help us confront personal iniquity and systemic injustice. Relativism yield to true righteousness and intolerance becomes inquiry. May we have the courage to take this pathway forward.

Light and Shadow: Grace and Truth About Our Lives

The Story of Christmas is Eternal Light shining in the darkness and Eternal Love that united God and humankind forever in Jesus of Nazareth (Gospel of John, chapter 1, verses 1-18). Johns beautiful hymn reveals a world of light and shadow, of divine grace and demonic deception, of receiving and rejecting love.

For this reflection, let us consider the shadow side of every good intention and the wisdom we need as the navigate the rapids of daily life.

Religious faith if often a positive force, offering meaning, fostering humility, and transforming character. As a Christian, I affirm that in Jesus of Nazareth, we have the final and sufficient disclosure of grace and truth to the world. But there can be a shadow side of intolerance, institutional oppression, and disrespectful interaction. For all Christians – and any adherents to a religious tradition – we must see all our neighbors as divine image-bearers and engage peaceably, work together harmoniously when possible, and love sincerely, even as we pray for their conversion.

Patriotism can help unite diverse groups under a banner of idealism. It’s shadow side in history includes nativism, racism, and failure to respect other cultures and systems. White supremacy is a subtle stronghold. The answer is to love the ideals while building bridges of friendship and trust.

Agitation for racial justice is noble and still needed as we try to realize the dream of our founders and MLK. The shadow side is hatred for historical oppressors that leads to a new racism, such as the Nation of Islam. The answer is grace and truth, love in action, as we confront systemic evils and build personal connections.

Liberty for and true toleration persons that identify as non-binary and part of the LGBTQ+ networks are important if we believe all people are created equal. The shadow side here is the radical agenda that calls for the destruction of the biological family and sexual anarchy. Toleration is living with our differences, not demanding that all agree with the choices and ideologies chosen by others.

Recognizing the unjust history of Western colonialism is vital for humility and forging a better future. The shadow side of legitimate critiques is a failure to see the oppressive histories of others’ cultures and bright facets of the global influences of a culture infused with some Judeo-Christian values. Critiquing the West’s imperialism toward Muslim lands during the 19th-early 20th century period is important. The shadow side is that we forget the 1000 years of Islamic expansion and destruction and the jihadism that refuses to grant equality to outsiders. Ignoring this and only feeling guilty will place more nations under the intolerant rule of Sharia.

Finally, we must affirm the goodness of liberty and the potential of each person to bring good to the world. The shadow side is excessive focus on self, with “my dreams” and “my gifts” being separated from good to others.

May we welcome the Light of Christ into every shadow in our souls and our systems, our hearts and our habits, our highest ideals and deepest dreams.

Choosing a Divergent Path: Wisdom in a World Gone Mad

We are inundated with loud voices clamoring for emotional reactions. In contrast, followers of Jesus are invited to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and choose loving obedience. Let’s take time to still our hearts, listen deeply, and love wisely.

We do not live in the best or worst of times…but in the most instantaneous information moment of history. Our conflicts are not new, but much more immediate and our responses are often unreflective. We can shun vulgarity. We can choose intercession for those who disagree. And we can recognize that power itself is an addiction affecting every part of the political spectrum. 

Forgiveness often sparks revival in persons and communities. Without pretending about our real pain or excusing transgression, what if we let go of the rap sheet that we keep against ourselves and others and truly forgive? And when we bless those who frustrate us most, we are liberated, and a new future opens to us.

An antidote for our epidemic and anger: In the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, we can meet every insult with blessing, every denial of truth with love and truth, arrogance with humility, and intolerance with civil discourse. And let’s respond to emotionalism and incipient Orwellian controls with careful thought and affirmation of liberty rooted in virtue. Systemic issues of class, gender, and race must be exposed…and overcome with love, relationships, and wisdom. Protest is one step…and practical, sacrificial action for others moves our vision of shalom forward. This is more than being nice and it is not passive. Living in the opposite spirit of our age of insults and vulgarity is a courageous spiritual posture.