Almost 17 years ago, when I attended one of the first meetings of the “ministerial alliance” here in Tyler, I was asked to pray. But the leader specifically requested that I NOT pray in the name of Jesus. I politely declined to pray, and quietly never returned. I like all the guys, but it’s just not for me. I know some people label me as one of those “narrow-minded religious bigots.” And I’ve been called “intolerant” as well. What does it mean to be tolerant?
Last Friday, President Bush gave an interview with Al Arabiya reporter Elie Nakouzi. (Al Arabiya is Al Jazeerah’s top competitor in the Middle East.)
In the interview, President Bush said, “I believe in an Almighty God, and I believe that all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God. That's what I believe. I believe that Islam is a great religion that preaches peace.”
I love and pray for our President, but let’s remember that while he is Commander-in-Chief, he isn’t Theologian-in-Chief. I unapologetically affirm that the only true God is Yahweh (Jehovah) and Jesus Christ is His unique Son and the only way to heaven.
Yet, I agree with what President Bush said later in the interview. He said, “I want people to understand that one of the great freedoms in America is the right for people to worship any way they see fit. If you’re a Muslim, an agnostic, a Christian, a Jew, a Hindu, you’re equally American. … it’s your choice to make. It’s not the state’s choice. And that’s a right I jealously guard.”
The first quote was a statement of religious syncretism, which is dangerous. But the second quote is about true tolerance.
“Tolerance” became a new buzzword at the turn of the century and its meaning continues to evolve today. What can we say and not say when someone’s beliefs differ from our own? If I voice my disagreement, I risk being labeled as “intolerant”—which, according to the media, is a fate worse than death.
Not long ago, the word “tolerant” carried a dictionary definition that read something like this: “the allowance or sufferance of conduct with which one is not in accord” or “allowing the right of something that one does not approve.” The same constitutional laws that give me the right to freely preach the Gospel at Green Acres also grant others the same right to personally proclaim their own different beliefs. That’s what tolerance means—to allow two contrasting beliefs to co-exist side by side, protected by the same laws and rights of religious freedom. While I do not agree with the tenets of the Muslim faith, for example, I respect every person’s right to practice Islam or any religion of their choice. Destroying another person’s religion and/or his religious freedom is true intolerance. History is full of examples of religious intolerance that resulted in defamation and death.
However, in today’s society, we’re seeing a not-so-subtle shift in the meaning of intolerance. It’s no longer enough that I tolerate another person’s belief system…I must actually EMBRACE it and accept it as EQUAL to my own or any other belief, lest I offend someone by my own convictions. The result is a society where truth is relative and “everyone does what is right in his own eyes.”
Listen to what Chuck Colson says about this new form of tolerance (from Christianity Today, The Ugly Side of Tolerance): “Our founders, many influenced by Mill and Locke, were seized by the great liberal vision of a society in which ideas arising from a plurality of interests would be freely exchanged. From this dialogue, truth could be rationally discovered. But in today's relativistic environment, pluralism no longer means tolerating competing ideas, but rather forced neutrality: no one should express any idea that could offend another.”
It is increasingly difficult to speak the truth today in an ultra-sensitive society. However, Jesus said that the truth would set people free. Josh McDowell, in an interview with Focus on the Family, said: “Pursuing truth in this context means countering the new doctrine of tolerance. It means teaching our children to embrace all people, but not all beliefs. It means showing them how to listen to and learn from all people without necessarily agreeing with them. It means helping them courageously but humbly speak the truth, even if it makes them the object of scorn or hatred.”
So call me intolerant if you wish, but I still don’t accept the teachings of the Muslims who live and worship here in East Texas. I don’t believe we pray to the same God. I have several Jewish friends, and I’m crazy about their friendly rabbi, but I believe they need to embrace Jesus for salvation. However, like our President, I will jealously guard their right to practice and express their faith. To me, that's what true tolerance is.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?