I was raised in a loving Christian home where my parents taught me the grace and love of Christ at an early age. However, that did not keep me from being surrounded by the trappings of fundamentalism in the Bible-belt. While my parents and pastors taught me that we are all sinners (“bad guys”) in need of the death and resurrection of Jesus to save us and forgive us of our sins, I was surrounded by those who adhered to a form of Christianity that seemed to say Christians are the “good guys” and non-Christians are the “bad guys.” There were those who seemed to think God was impressed with them because of what they did and didn’t do, and God was mad at anyone who was different than them. Regrettably, I would find myself from time-to-time adopting this way of thinking. I would be harsh and judgmental towards those who didn’t “act like Christians.”
I remember hearing hateful speech about those who were “not of us.” This hateful speech was directed at alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes, homosexuals, abortionists, those who got abortions, cult members, and the like. These supposed Christians would talk with such disdain about those who participated in such things and were destroying our “Christian nation.”
I became quite familiar with pulpit-pounding speech that seemed to be filled with hate towards one group or another. Over the years of my life, our culture has increasingly pressured people to become more politically correct, tolerant (as newly defined by our culture), and open to diverse viewpoints and lifestyles. We now live in a country that says people shouldn’t be attacked for their beliefs or lifestyles with hate speech.
I am saddened, however, to read and watch news stories where those who claim to value tolerance are aggressively intolerant. I read a recent news story on Tim Tebow going to speak at First Baptist Dallas and saw judgmental and intolerant (fundamentalist-type?) speech from someone who claims to not like that kind of speech at all. Much attention has been given to Tebow’s trip to Dallas, and how Tebow is aligning himself with a preacher/church that preaches and teaches hate against all kinds of group. What was interesting is that author of this piece condemning Tebow was as vitriolic, intolerant, and fundamentalist as he claims Tebow and FBC Dallas are.
Gregg Doyel, who writes for CBS Sports and is a self-professed Tebow fan (at least a former fan), has written an article entitled, “Agreeing to Speak at Intolerant Church is Tebow’s Greatest Sin.” In this piece he compares Robert Jeffress, the Pastor of FBC Dallas, to Westboro Baptist, though he admits that Jeffress isn’t as bad as Westboro, “but he comes close.” He says that he is ashamed to like Tebow now, and writes, “More specifically, I don’t like Tim Tebow now. I can’t. Liking him means liking someone who wouldn’t just agree with, but would support, Robert Jeffress. And I despise Robert Jeffress.” He calls Jefferess “monstrous.” He concludes, “Jeffress speaks hate. Robert Jeffress wouldn’t have saved Mary Magdalene. He would have stoned her. Tim Tebow will speak at this man’s church. Be gone, Tim Tebow. I’m done with you.”
Due to this firestorm, Tebow has cancelled the speaking engagement, but Doyel acknowledges beforehand in the article that even if Tebow cancelled it probably wouldn’t change his opinion of Tebow. Also, even if Doyel changes his opinion of Tebow that doesn’t change what he said about Jeffress.
Mr. Doyel claims to be for love and tolerance but uses words like “despise” and “monstrous” to speak of those with whom he disagrees. Why does Doyel despise Jeffress? The reason is that Jeffress has preached against homosexuality, Mormonism, Islam, and Catholicism, and specifically because Jeffress has said that those in these groups will go to Hell.
Now, I am no Robert Jeffress apologist. I think some of the incendiary comments and actions he has made, like the “Grinch Alert Website” and “It’s a fact that [AIDS is] a gay disease” have been unkind, unhelpful, untrue, and not seasoned with the grace or hope of the gospel. But, it should not be shocking that a gospel minister would say that those who don’t believe in the Person and Work of Jesus as presented in the Bible will spend eternity under the judgment of God. The truth is, I think any pastor could have made biblical, gospel-centered statements about homosexuality, Mormonism, Islam and the like, without using the same language or tone as Pastor Jeffries, and would still be considered as hateful as the author considers Jeffress.”
We need to understand that this issue is not going away and will only get worse. In some ways the new fundamentalist, pulpit-pounding preachers in the US are those who claim to value absolute tolerance and diversity. We have seen this with the recent Louie Giglio/Presidential Inauguration debacle. You can also see this vitriol aimed at Doug Wilson’s lectures on sexuality at Indiana University. As Wilson states in his lecture: the diversity crowd has 2 fundamental tenets: 1) an absolute commitment to free speech for anyone, and 2) Shut up!
What should our response be? Let me argue for a three-fold response:
1) Don’t respond by digging in our heels to attack those who have attacked us
Our natural tendency, and the response for years of a number in evangelicalism, has been to fight (verbally) back. Let me suggest that this is not the way of Jesus. Jesus said to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Jesus, as he is hanging on the cross, looks down at those executing Him and says, “Father, forgive them.” This is the true message of Christianity. We were all once enemies of God who deserved His righteous wrath against our sins (even our sins of self-righteousness), and instead were shown mercy from God by repentance and faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Don’t try to show bravado, puff out your chest, and fight back because that is not the gospel way. The Gospel response is to turn the other cheek as our Savior did!
2) Repent of our own hatefulness towards those who aren’t like us
I grew up surrounded by fundamentalism and know what it’s like to be angry towards those who don’t agree with me. I know what it’s like to think that the views and actions of other people are harmful to our country. Despite my parents’ best efforts I grew up a fundamentalist who as a toddler had heard often about the “evils” of alcohol and looked at a man driving a Beer Truck and condemningly told the man that what he was doing was bad. I know that my tendency is to be self-righteous towards those who are different than me. That’s why I am so grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ that has forgiven me of my self-righteous hypocrisy (and is daily, and sometimes painfully, rooting me out of it). I am glad that I was lovingly taught, Jon, you are no better than anyone else, in fact, you are worse. You are a rebellious sinner, and God would be right to condemn you to Hell forever, but He has poured out His wrath on His Son instead of you, so that you can be saved. Christians should not have the perspective that we are better than others. We should have the perspective of Paul, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Tim 1:15-16).
3) Love and pray for those who don’t believe in Jesus as he is presented in the Bible
If we have this gospel perspective then we will look at everyone around us with grace and mercy. We won’t back down or compromise on the truth of the Bible. We will call sin what it is and won’t be afraid to address issues that are out of step with our culture. But, we will also not preach against the sins of the culture and ignore the sins of the church. We will be harder on ourselves than we are on others. We will also present the full truth of the gospel that we are all sinners and that Christ has made provision for everyone.
Tim Keller argues persuasively for this in his book The Reason for God. Christianity preaches true love and tolerance because Jesus calls His followers to treat people outside the community of Christianity with love and respect. He teaches His followers to serve and meet the needs of those “outside” the group. He teaches His followers not to demonize or attack those who disagree with them, but to rather be kind to them. When those who claim to follow Christ fall short of this, we should lovingly rebuke them and call them to repentance. When we fall short of this, we should repent and seek forgiveness from our Lord and those we have hurt.
Paul writes, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:9-11). I am thankful for the message of grace and transformation in Christ, even for those like me who struggle with intolerance, and those who struggle with the new tolerance.