One of the most overused buzzwords today is the word intolerant. Anyone who opposes abortion, gay marriage, illegal immigration, embryonic stem cell research, or government controlled health care as intolerant and a bigot. During an interview with Baptist Press, Chick-fil-A president and COO Dan Cathy was asked about the Chick-fil-A’s support of the traditional family. He responded,
“Well, guilty as charged…We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that. We operate as a family business … our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that.”
Cathy’s comments sparked intense media frenzy. Cathy was labeled an intolerant, anti-gay, homophobic bigot. Chick-fil-A restaurants were picketed by opponents, and proponents flocked to show their support.
Christians who take a stand against any belief or practice that is opposed to Biblical teaching are labeled intolerant. It is intolerant to say homosexuality is a sin; it is intolerant to call abortion murder; it is intolerant to suggest that men and women should have different roles; it is intolerant to claim that non-Christians will go to Hell.
Is Christianity intolerant? Does the Bible teach intolerance? What does it mean to be intolerant?
What intolerance means
According Dictionary.com, the word intolerance means:
- lack of toleration; unwillingness or refusal to tolerate or respect contrary opinions or beliefs, persons of different races or backgrounds, etc.
The word tolerate means:
- to allow the existence, presence, practice, or act of without prohibition or hindrance; permit.
- to endure without repugnance; put up with.
In other words, the traditional meaning of intolerance is an unwillingness to allow or put up with things with which one disagrees. It involves prohibiting or hindering practices that one finds offensive or disagreeable. Under this traditional understanding of tolerance, a person cannot tolerate something with which they agree; to tolerate means to disagree, but to permit in spite of disagreement.
In modern American politically correct thinking, however, there has been a subtle shift in this meaning. Intolerance now means to oppose any belief or practice. If a person thinks any practice or belief is wrong or immoral, they are now labeled intolerant. Note the subtle difference. Intolerance used to mean prohibiting or hindering beliefs and practices one disagrees with. Now, it means to simply disagree. If a Christian merely believes abortion is a sin, they are now labeled intolerant. If one merely suggests that same-gender marriage is wrong, they are now intolerant bigots. The meaning has shifted from prohibiting that with which one disagrees to merely disagreeing.
Where does this new concept of intolerance come from?
This new concept of intolerance as merely believing an idea or practice is wrong is firmly rooted in the philosophy of relativism. According to Dictionary.com, relativism is “any theory holding that criteria of judgment are relative, varying with individuals and their environments.” In other words, what’s true for you may not be true for me; there is no absolute truth. Relativism is a core belief in humanism, liberalism, and postmodernism. It’s the foundation of American political correctness, and, unfortunately, many Christians have been seduced by this philosophy as well.
In any worldview based in relativism, it is meaningless to say something is absolutely wrong. Right and wrong are entirely determined by circumstances, culture, and personal beliefs. For a relativist, the statement, “You should not do X because it is wrong,” is nonsense. A practice may be wrong for some people in certain circumstances, but since truth is relative, and absolutes do not exist, one cannot claim a practice is always wrong, or wrong for anyone but themselves.
When the Bible states that adultery is wrong, this teaching is inconceivable to a relativist. There are no absolutes, so claiming adultery is wrong is nonsense. It’s like saying blue is wrong, or vanilla ice cream is wrong. Right and wrong are totally determined by the preferences of the individual, depending on the circumstances.
There are several problems with relativism. First, the concept is self-contradictory. According to relativism, absolute truth does not exist. However, this belief is held as absolute truth! If absolute right and wrong do not exist, then anyone who believes is absolute right and wrong is wrong. But, since wrong does not exist, they cannot be wrong. The relativist absolutely believes that absolutes do not exist! On this basis alone, relativism should be rejected – it’s a logical impossibility.
Living with an irrational worldview
When one actually tries to put a relativistic worldview into practice, the irrationality becomes even more pronounced. Since relativism posits that absolute right and wrong do not exist, it would be illogical to say murder, rape, child abuse, or assault are absolutely wrong. Yet, in practice, almost all relativists would say they are absolutely wrong. How do they get around this paradox? Most would state that a practice is immoral only if it harms someone else. So, in practice, there are absolutes; it is absolutely immoral to harm others. The philosophy of relativism completely unravels when put into practice. Yet, most people who hold to this view don’t understand the irrationality of their beliefs.
Let’s take it a step further. Since absolute right and wrong do not exist (except, of course, that we cannot harm others), the concept of sin is inconceivable. When a Christian says that abortion is sin, the relativist is forced to conclude that the Christian is wrong in his belief. But, this is a contradiction – right and wrong don’t exist for the relativist!
This brings us back to the concept of intolerance. For the relativist, any claim that an idea or practice is wrong is intolerant. Right and wrong don’t exist, so when the Bible calls certain practices sin, it completely contradicts the very foundation of the relativist’s worldview.
When applied to the gay marriage issue, when a Christian says gay marriage is wrong, the relativist is forced into the illogical conclusion that the Christian is wrong. The Christian is claiming that absolutes exist, that gay marriage is absolutely wrong. The relativist finds this position is intolerable – in the traditional sense of refusing to put up with or respect. The Christian belief cannot be permitted, because, if true, it means the relativist’s entire worldview is wrong. What’s ironic is that in calling the Christian belief intolerant, it’s actually the relativist that is intolerant.
The modern definition of intolerance is intolerant of other views, and is inescapably hypocritical. Those who hold to this view of intolerance are unavoidably hypocrites. It is hypocritical to be intolerant of others for their perceived intolerance, yet the modern definition of tolerance forces it.
What the Bible says
Romans chapter 1 gives a very clear description of the consequences of this sort of thinking:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.
The Bible makes it clear that all people know that absolute truth does exist; but those who reject God suppress the truth. God reveals Himself to everyone, but most people refuse to accept Him, and come up with other philosophies and beliefs to replace the truth.
20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
Rejection of God produces futility in thinking. It leads to irrational philosophies like relativism. Any worldview or philosophy apart from the Word of God is foolishness. It leads to belief systems that are completely irrational, yet are clung to by people because they reject the only Truth.
24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie…
This is why, I believe, so many people get upset with Christians like Dan Cathy for saying he supports the “biblical definition of the family unit.” Non-Christians are trying to suppress the truth; Christians who speak out bring the truth back out in the open.
Is God intolerant? Guilty as charged.
The Bible makes it clear that God does not tolerate sin: “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a). The Bible also makes it clear that the ONLY solution for sin is Jesus Christ: “…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b). God does not tolerate sin, because sin separates us from Him. God’s love demands that while He cannot tolerate sin, He has provided a way for us to be reconciled to Him: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Because of His holiness, God cannot tolerate sin; but, because of His love, He cannot leave us without a Savior from that sin.