Written By Joel Li, Singapore
You may not like hear this, but I have to inform you that we, believers in Christ, are a group of intolerant people. Yes, Christianity is seen as a judgmental, hypocritical religion, and Christians are often labelled “bigots” for being unwilling to accept the viewpoints of others, while demanding that others listen to them.
Perhaps you’ve tried to be compassionate and peace-loving, but I’m come to realize that sometimes, that’s still not enough. Even in instances where we exhibit a willingness to listen, we may still be labelled “intolerant”, as long as we do not embrace differing opinions or behavior.
If you’ve been at the receiving end of such remarks, take heart—it’s not personal. As long as your desire is to follow Jesus wholeheartedly, these accusations will come. Just make sure, though, that this doesn’t happen because we look down on others, but because we look up to Jesus.
The truth is, Christianity is an extremely exclusive faith. Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). If Jesus is the only way, then we can’t embrace any other ways to heaven. If the Bible says that we did nothing to earn our salvation—“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9)—then we can’t earn our salvation. We rely on Him alone, and no one else.
One of the biggest criticisms of Christianity is the firm stance it takes on morality, such as sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5), greed (1 Timothy 6:10), and homosexuality (Romans 1:26-28). We are seen as uncompromising.
Ever wondered what Jesus might say about all this? Some would probably describe Him as highly intolerant. In the Gospels, He is unabashed about upholding God’s truth and coming down hard on sin when He sees the need to. Yet, Jesus was equally unashamed about eating with and talking to sinners, whether they were tax collectors or prostitutes. He was intolerant when it came to sin and truth, but highly tolerant when it came to people.
As followers of Christ, we follow God’s definition of right and wrong. We believe in His truth—the Bible—so naturally, we cannot embrace alternative religions, ideologies, and lifestyles that God explicitly disapproves of. So, if you define “intolerant” as not embracing differing views—yes, it is true: Christians are indeed intolerant people.
But really, what does it mean to be intolerant?
If you check the Oxford dictionary, the word “tolerant” means the ability or willingness to acknowledge and allow the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with.
Christians can do this. In fact, we are called to listen to and to love our neighbors—even if we disagree with their views and beliefs. But the Bible draws a very clear line when it comes to embracing other views. We cannot agree or support views that are not in line with God’s truth.
So what can we do when the world expects us to embrace its practices? Firstly, we must show respect to other ideas, yet stand firm in the truth. Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias says, “Truth cannot be sacrificed at the altar of pretended tolerance. Real tolerance is deference to all ideas, not indifference to the truth.”
Secondly, we must continue to be tolerant of others’ intolerance towards us. We need to respond with patience and love. Whatever is thrown our way, we need to “let [our] conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that [we] may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).
And, thirdly, let us always seek the truth in the Bible. We need to know what the Bible says, so that we can stand firm on its truths and live them out.