A Florida pastor burned a Quran, an abortionist was murdered in the lobby of his church by a Christian, ongoing sex scandals of the Catholic Church revealed cover-ups, and a Baptist church continues to protest military funerals with “God hates you” messages.
To many, it is no wonder that such actions result in the very disrespect and intolerance that their acts ironically exemplify. One finds it difficult to not experience repugnance, and understandably, critics abound concluding that Christianity itself is intolerant, encompassing not only Christians like these, but the myriad who show intolerance on a daily basis due to fear or disagreement with others’ beliefs.
Miroslav Volf, founding director of Yale Center for Faith and Culture, says the dispute between the critics is “primarily about whether intolerance is a defining characteristic of these faiths or a profound distortion of them.”
Critics include many Christians who feel that by such acts these people have debased and profaned their own religion. Some feel these few invite or engender intolerance for all of their faith and also provoke inappropriate reaction toward and from the religious diversity of the United States.
The Quran-burning pastor claimed that burning his purchased copy of the Islamic holy book was a peaceful and appropriate way of condemning his understanding of radical Islam as a religion of violence. He has the protection of the courts and police with his actions considered freedom of speech. Despite his church’s beliefs about Islam, Jones said they are not Quran experts, and added that he would not consider himself an expert on the Bible. Yet he felt he had the right to speak for God and evangelical Christianity to condemn Islam, their holy book, and all their followers as enemies of the cross. Critics abhor such disrespect and say all faiths and cultures are to be treated with respect and are more likely to be responsive to the gospel where "God is going into their context" (Tom Doyle, Middle East-Central Asia director for e3 Partners).
The pro-lifer who killed a prominent abortionist defended his actions saying he “had to kill that others might live.” Reports state that Roeder honestly believed he was saving people from greater harm and was right because he was acting in protection and behalf of others (the preborn). Francis J. Beckwith, in Christian Research Journal, stated that “some abortion-rights advocates argue that it is simply wrong for anyone to ‘force’ his or her own view of what is morally right on someone else.” A common argument would be that you cannot expect to legislate morality, but proponents argue that if voters refuse to fight laws giving special protection to immoral acts or behavior, they are making it acceptable to legislate immorality. Roeder’s argument is based on one’s belief of whether or not the unborn is human. But does his argument overrule the biblical and legal laws stating “you shall not kill?” Did his honest belief of protecting defenseless infants give him the right to play God and take another’s life?
According to AmericanCatholic.org, leaders of the Catholic Church are being investigated “to address the problems of pedophilia and cover-ups.” The religious body has acknowledged that not only had their spiritual leaders harmed the most vulnerable in their congregations, but trusted leaders harmed children by knowingly recommending abusive priests be reassigned, without ever warning the parishes and attempting to protect the innocent children who were subsequently also abused. Part of the moral of the story of the Samaritan is that a Christian isn't only responsible for what they do ... A Christian is also responsible for what they can prevent. A recent grand jury report concludes, "Apparent abusers – dozens of them, we believe – remain on duty in the Archdiocese, today, with open access to new young prey." How can such a lack of human respect not earn intolerance, fear, or mass defection?
Westboro Baptist church claims they “get to be the mouth of God” because their loud and offensive protests including slogans such as “thank God for dead soldiers” were recently declared by the U.S. Supreme Court to be protected by the First Amendment. Westboro members, who believe military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan are punishment from God for America’s tolerance of homosexuality, only agreed to not protest at the funeral of the 9-year-old killed in the Arizona shootings in exchange for airtime on two radio stations. Are they holding America hostage through the liberal freedom of speech law? Since their intolerance is legal should other groups rise up and return similar inhumane behavior?
Each of these identify themselves as Christian. While depending on their church’s laws or America’s laws to protect them and their actions, aren’t they even more obligated to act within God’s laws? Does their intolerance in the name of God excuse their blindness to potential harm or does using God’s name make the act blasphemous as well as intolerant? Did some use freedom of speech to trump obedience to God’s Word, and does such hypocrisy mean they deserve intolerance not only from those attacked but also from the faith they represented as a Christian?
Do other Christians, who sorrow over and reject such misleading examples of Biblical Christianity, have a responsibility to define such behavior with skepticism and intolerance? Each perpetrator must know these acts define their faith.
Each must determine at some point if they are operating under God’s laws or like the stone altars in Exodus have they profaned the work of God by “wielding your tool upon them.”
Miroslav Volf’s description of the religious dispute is apt: “The dispute is about what it means to be a consistent Christian – a Christian who lives in line with the letter and the spirit of basic Christian convictions. To take two contrasting examples, is a Crusader, exclaiming, “Christ is the Lord” while cleaving the head of an infidel, a consistent Christian? Or is a Trappist monk serving the Muslim poor while living under the threat of death from violent extremists a consistent Christian? Is the Crusader misusing faith in his lust for economic, political, or cultural domination, or is he unflinchingly enacting authentic Christian convictions? Is the Trappist monk moderating his fierce religion with generic human kindness, or is he consistently practicing the Christian faith? “
He contends the issue is critical because “in a globalized world with resurgent religions, world peace itself greatly depends on religious tolerance.“
In the essay “Honor Everyone!” Volf argues that “authentic Christian convictions foster not just tolerance but genuine respect for all human beings.” To consider tolerance and honor for all humanity without regard to, or in spite of heinous acts such as those outlined herein is almost impossible to imagine let alone attain, humanly speaking. Yet Volf’s personal experience with intolerance and persecution both political and religious inspires one to listen respectfully as he quotes I Peter 2:17 – “Honor everyone.”
“For Christians who consider the Holy Scriptures to be the word of God,” he contends, “to honor everyone is not a mere suggestion or a counsel of prudence, but a strictly religious duty.”
Volf acknowledges the natural response from firsthand experience that “intolerance suffered engenders intolerance perpetrated. Intolerance suffered seeks to infect the mind of the persecuted.”
These Christians’ actions all brought persecution upon other Christian believers who should have been able to trust them to represent their faith and their Savior more honestly. According to Volf, obedient believers are protected from similar folly through their own natural reaction.
“The command to honor everyone blocks you from perpetrating the kind of intolerance you yourself are forced to endure. Even more, it impresses on you that respecting a person is not a matter of the reciprocal exchange of equivalents: I’ll respect you if you respect me, and I’ll respect you to the extent that you respect me. Instead, respecting a person is a matter of a moral stance, an unconditional imperative: I’ll respect you whether you respect me or not.”
Intolerance for intolerance might be expected from those of different faiths or who claim no faith. To be abused or persecuted by those who claim to represent the cross, as Volf experienced, is more hurtful and seems the height of hypocrisy. How different, he challenges, would he be, as a man of faith, were he to respond in like manner.
To love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute and calumniate, insult and spitefully use you, (Matthew 5:44) is the biblically expected Christian response. Sadly, as these stories illustrate, sometimes that is not the case. It makes one wonder, if this is who Christians are in the eyes of the world, if Christians are no different in their response. No one defends these acts that outrage those of all faiths, so is it possible then for Christians to respectfully and biblically condemn such blatant intolerance without being intolerant themselves?
Volf says it is not only possible, but necessary, for Christians to react biblically to the religious diversity of other faiths and within our own faith (38,000 Christian denominations) and to treat all humanity with honor – even or especially those who with such acts dishonor the name Christian.