This post was inspired, in part, by an ironic blog post I recently written by a progressive evangelical on a controversial subject. You can guess which subject it is and when you guess, you will be right. But what was funny, ironic, and sad at the same time was this idea: The Church is too quick to declare certain behaviors right and wrong. That's judgmental and just plain . . . wrong.
So let me get this straight: You are absolutely sure that its wrong, sinful, terrible to tell someone that their behavior is wrong. This, my friends, is the new tolerance. I've seen this repeated over and over again in the last few weeks/months/years by people who want to help the Church shed it's stuffy reputation. And I get it, in some ways. I think there are areas where the Church needs to repent, times when the Church has been hurtful, wrong, and on the other side of important issues. Made up of humans, sinners, we've often, in our checkered 2,000 plus years of history, strayed from our gospel moorings.
However, it's interesting, this discussion we are having in our culture. If you bend your ear to hear what many people, most people are saying: you shouldn't judge someone's personal behavior (usually sexual preferences). You should respect their choices and give them the widest possible berth. They should be afforded all rights and privileges to practice the behavior they choose. That's what we are saying.For you to draw the line where you draw it, based on your belief system, is just plain wrong. This is what we are told.
The only problem is that we don't actually believe this, do we? For instance, it's considered wrong now to tell someone that they are engaging in wrong behavior. If you follow an orthodox, biblical position on sexuality, for instance, you are usually labeled a bigot, insensitive, and well, ironically, wrong. If you stay that your basis for conduct is the infallible, inherent Word of God, well then you are considered narrow, not really open-minded, and well, ironically, wrong. If you declare that God is love, a love that expresses itself in right justice against sin and if you declare that everyone is a sinner, you are considered judgmental and, ironically, wrong. If you declare that God passionately pursued sinners by sending Jesus Christ, the only God-man and that his death, burial, and resurrection are the only way back to God, to eternal life, and to spiritual wholeness, you are considered intolerant and well, wrong.
But here's the problem underlying all of this tolerance: it doesn't work out. In order to definitively declare something wrong, you are acknowledging that there is a basis, somewhere, for actually deciding right and wrong. It tells me that while you don't like where I put my line, you clearly have a line. You're not as tolerant as you might think. You have a value system that determines what is right and what is wrong. Because you have just told me that I'm wrong for thinking the way I do. Nobody actually believes the idea that truth is relative, that my body of truth that works for me is okay and your body of truth that works for you is okay. Because what happens when they conflict? What happens if my body of truth says that its okay to steal your iPad? How does that test your tolerance? All of a sudden we're pretty big on "Thou Shalt Not Steal." We're not advocating "conversations" and talking of a God who is "less black and white and more shades of gray", at least when it comes to my truth that says it's okay to steal your iPad.
Do you see where I'm going?
You may think you are the most progressive, nonjudgmental, hip, non-legalistic cool Christian out there, but you have a line somewhere. The question is, where do you draw it and on what basis? If I say that I take my code of right and wrong from the Bible, that may sound a bit archaic or old-fashioned. Fine. So where do you get yours? Is it the consensus of the prevailing culture? That's fine, but here is the problem with a majority-opinion type of value system. It depends on the goodness, the virtue, the character of the culture. And you don't have to look far into history to see cultures, many, whose values systems would make us recoil in horror. For most of American history, the majority considered black people to be less than human. It considered them, at times, 3/5ths human, worthy of buying and selling like property, and for a long time, not worthy of voting, holding office, or even sitting at the same lunch counter as whites. If, during that time, you allowed culture to determine your value system (as many Christians, sadly did), you'd think it was okay to treat your fellow man in this subhuman way. So you see the futility of drawing the line where culture determines the lines should be drawn?
Perhaps culture is not your measuring stick. Maybe it's tradition. Maybe it's your own upbringing or experiences that shape your belief system. My point is not so much that you should accept the God of the Bible as the best arbiter of right and wrong as I do. My point is to help you see that, like me, you too have a system of right and wrong. You draw the line somewhere. And you base it on something, a set of core beliefs. You may not like me saying you have a set of core beliefs, but you have a set of core beliefs. I know at least one of those core beliefs: thou shall not steal my iPad. Am I right?
The question is to ask yourself and for me to ask myself: who determines who makes the rules? Who determines where the line should be drawn? What constitutes good and evil, sin and charity? What shapes our definitions of these things and how justice is served?
All of us are making judgements, whether we realize it or not. To declare someone intolerant is, in it's own way, a judgement about someone's values. It's a statement, based on some kind of belief system.
As a sinful, fallen, gospel-loving Christian saved by God's grace, I choose to anchor my value system to something timeless: God's unchanging revelation of Himself in His Word. I may not always interpret the Bible clearly because I "see through a glass darkly", but I've found that it's a more reliable standard than the changing whims of human emotion, popular culture, and social science.
All of us are planting our flags somewhere, whether we admit it or not. I'm planting mine here.
Daniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC). You can find more from Dan at his website DanielDarling.com.