There seem to be two extreme camps in the culture war: the ones who value so-called “multiculturalism” and tolerance, and the ones who value discrimination and so-called “discernment.” By and large, the latter are associated with religious and political conservatism and the former line up on the side of liberalism.
The conservatives generally argue there is absolute truth in this world that is based on various biblical ethics. The different factions of conservative fundamentalism disagree on some issues of morality, but they all generally agree that homosexuality and abortion are a big deal. On the other side of the coin, you find those who don’t believe in absolute truth (or at least in our ability to discern it) and they, at least in theory, espouse tolerance of all things.
This discussion has been going on for some time. The assault on the Christian belief of absolute morality has led to an apologetical response from Christian in the form of arguments posed since at least the early part of the 20th century by people like C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer and, most recently, Charles Colson.
Lewis, of course, defended the biblical idea found in the writings of the apostle Paul that morality is “hard-wired” into our hearts and minds in the form of a conscience and that every prominent civilization in the history of mankind has had some system of right and wrong – a conscience that cannot be explained by Darwinian evolution.
The Christians rightly argue against the multiculturalists that it is impossible to be truly tolerant. Those who value tolerance are forced to be intolerant of those who are intolerant. If you believe every culture has some value and that we are essentially on an even playing field of “morality,” it is then required that you reject the culture of, say, the radical Sudanese Muslims who are slaughtering innocents in Darfur.
Self-righteous and very self-assured people really bother me, but I still believe in this evangelical idea of absolute truth. This truth, however, isn’t just an idea. It’s much deeper than that, and it is something to be involved in. That is, I believe in God and communion with him not because a young-Earth creationist showed me a bunch of “facts” in Sunday school or because I arrived at a modern systematic or propositional set of logic based on the Bible, but rather because of what Jesus said, that he is the Shepherd and his sheep will hear his voice. I don’t believe I could walk away and completely abandon this faith anymore than I could expect a pear tree to grow oranges. This is, of course, as Paul said, foolish talk, but it is what I believe to be true.
Someone may pose the question: If you believe in absolute truth, then why do you continually rip conservatives for being so self-assured? The answer may be that the Bible is an impossible set of writings. So, it’s faith in Christ, not in Reformed or Catholic or Conservative or Liberal theology, that is salvation. Unfortunately, it is this Christ-centered approach that is lacking.
It bothers me that many members of my denomination, Southern Baptist, claim that sending children to public school is a sin against God. It bothers me that the evangelical spokespeople in America were almost universally and emphatically pro-war during the Iraq campaign. It bothers me that abortion and homosexuality are the only issues that national evangelical activists care about. It bothers me that, according to surveys, evangelicals are more likely to be racist than unbelievers. These things bother me.
I don’t have an opinion on homosexual marriage. I really don’t care, but I believe it ridiculous for Christians to expect unbelievers to act Christian. I believe abortion is murder and should be outlawed, but I believe those who have abortions need love and a change of heart, not picket signs and hate. I don’t believe in beating society over the head with morality, because outward signs of morality are worthless divorced from Christ. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that we must judge those inside the church, while God judges those outside.
The deeper problem at hand is that too many evangelicals see “persecution” or retaliation as an evidence of being right. Yes, preach the word of God without apology. But I fear that the mantra of political conservatism is not solely a biblical message. So, some family organization will send out a press release on homosexual marriage, a Hollywood actor will rip them at a benefit concert, and then the conservatives “rejoice in persecution.”
Evangelicals are one of the most hated groups in America because we are intolerable. The new idol for the religious right is intolerance. Abstain from evil, yes! But be intolerant because God demands it. Intolerance for the sake of intolerance doesn’t make you a martyr; it just makes you hateful.