Hint: Power and How We Use It

judgesandhypocritesPeople who believe the Bible is true have long been asked to be tolerant of those who do not. This was not an inappropriate expectation, since the Bible itself expresses forbearance and patience with one another and a love that accepts and pursues in mercy. For all the faults of these believers, there have been few people groups in all of history who have done so any more than Bible believers. While some religions insist on violence when insulted, the Christian was enjoined by the Christ to “turn the other cheek”, give what was not demanded, and go the surprising extra mile.  The Christ Himself went through a mockery of justice and a cruel execution without opening His mouth in judgment or reprisal. The roll call of the ones who have followed Christ in this way, “loving not their lives, even unto death” is long and distinguished. Yet there were also many who fancied themselves followers who were not. These were filled with malice, judgment, and even violence “in the name” of the One who gave us no such command.

Today, the influence of the Bible and those who claim to believe it has waned. A host of other standards have arisen and are in the ascendency. Many of these have borne with them along the way the ethics of co-existence, toleration, and fairness—the very things they justly demanded from those who claimed to have a Judeo-Christian worldview. When morally objectionable material began to be broadcast and telecast, the Bible-believing malcontent was called upon to “turn it off” or change the channel if they didn’t like it. The believer was castigated if s/he demonstrated a reluctance to accept and tolerate the alternative beliefs and practices of the increasing tide.

And so, believers tolerated. Some, because they loved, others because they conformed.

Now, in America, persons who say they believe in the Bible are in the minority. Even among them, there are many who only accept and practice a selectively approved subset of its teaching. And there is by no means a solidarity and uniformity to the prevailing ethical and moral sensibility of the rising tide. In fact, there is an astonishing variance in belief and practice of these ascending voices. At many crucial points the stuff of their various faiths are ultimately on a crash course. If there is one thing clear from history; if there is something humanity can disagree about and divide over we will not miss the opportunity to seize it. At what point for any zealot or ideologue will they lay aside their forbearance? Most likely when they feel they have the power to force compliance, or conversely, when they sense their power and influence has ebbed to the point that they will no longer be able to believe and practice what they cherish.

So it is, in this latter case, for the Bible-believer, who would like now to be tolerated. The Christian would like the same consideration others were demanding of the Christian. If you don’t like what they believe and preach, turn the channel. If their moral practices seem immoral to you, feel free to practice your own and leave them to theirs. There was never a legal demand for you to participate in their faith. They’d appreciate the same consideration, but know, really, that the prevailing ethic isn’t truly about tolerance at all.  We all should justly expect, in this country, to freely exercise our specific beliefs and practices without toppling the wall of separation between church and state enabling a dominant group to coerce not only the behavior, but even the very thoughts of dissenters. Invading communist North Vietnamese subjected their captives to “Reeducation Camps” in vain attempt to control the hearts and minds of those who held differing beliefs. Hutus or Tutsis. Sunni or Shiite. Catholic or Protestant. Liberal or Conservative. Theist or Atheist. Can’t we all just get along? We seem to be able to make a show of it for a while. But sooner or later somebody starts feeling frisky and moves their tanks into the Rhineland.

God forbid that we should be a country who enforces a dominant worldview at the point of a gun nor under threat of loss. But wait,… we already have been. Every group fancies the notion that “You can’t legislate morality” only up to the point that they themselves gain enough power to do so.  Every law is the legislation of somebody’s morality.

Surely we do not now demand that Jewish delis cater Neo-Nazi events with ham and bacon on the menu? In a free multi-cultural society we can do business with whomever we choose for a variety of personally held reasons. Apparently, a coffee shop can deny me a latte for the lame reason that I left my shoes in the car. If doing business necessarily requires violation of conscience then a line has been crossed. A card-carrying member of the infamous Westboro Baptist should not be denied the basic human needs of an apartment rental or the purchase of groceries at a gay-owned business. They should not deem it a “civil right”, however, that these same business owners accompany them to their rally, participate in it, photograph it, and top it off with a celebratory cake.

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