To tolerate or to love?
February 9, 2004
Recently I went to get a hair cut. Now that I am losing my hair, I can’t stand for it to get very long. I went in to take some weight off my head and ended up leaving with a weight on my heart.
Typically I enjoy talking with Jodi about our kids. Her little daughter is in the same preschool class as my son. We’ll talk about the weather and our favorite vacation spots while she tries to make me look halfway decent. Sometimes we talk about how I am going to make the transition to baldness. This visit it was a little harder to carry on a conversation. We both couldn’t help but be drawn to listen to the discussion in the cubical beside us.
It was the speaker’s tone of voice that first attracted my attention. Resentment is the best word I know to describe the attitude conveyed. "That’s the problem with this place, there are so many people who think they know what is best for everybody and they try to ram it down our throats." Wow, this isn’t a conversation about the weather! "I think it all comes back to these religious people."
The man never gave any examples of these instances, but it was obvious from the things he said that he was a Kerry supporter and was upset that John Edwards bested the Senator from Mass here in South Carolina. Somehow it was all the fault of these "religious southerners." As a matter of fact, he seemed to think that all problems could be traced back to these people.
I couldn’t help but start wondering why he was so resentful and bitter. He certainly didn’t sound like a very happy man. Even when the barber changed the topic this guy continued to be negative about anything on which he commented. Invariably though, his discussion came back to those "religious southerners." "I was amazed," he said "when I first came here how that the first questions people asked were, ‘Are you married?’ and ‘Where do you go to church?’" For some reason, these were very offensive questions to him.
Then he gave a clue for some of his bitterness. "Yeah, when my mom moved here she had all the ladies in the neighborhood come by and visit her. They asked her where she went to church and she let them know she attended the Universalist Church. ‘The what church?’ they asked her. ‘What kind of church is that?’ When she explained to them the type of church it was, they responded, ‘Oh.’ I can’t say they where not nice to her after that, but they certainly did not seek her out." Rather than sitting there incredulous about his stereotyping, I found myself convicted.
I’m sure that there are some reading this right now who are saying, "Amen" to this man’s view of those around him. I stopped to think that he had a point. In a way, many of us who are Christians are like those ladies who visited his mother. We approach people with an openness and kindness until we find that they are not like ourselves. Of course, we would never say something bad about them or go out of our way to harm them, but we don’t necessarily want to involve ourselves in their lives. We tolerate people who disagree with us on our way to setting the world straight.
I wonder if it is too late for Christians to learn that we are not called to tolerate. We are called to love. I wonder if the conversation I heard in the barbershop would have been different had those ladies better befriended the man’s mother. I’m not saying that they had to accept Universalism as a valid theological system. I am saying that they could have made attempts to communicate with and show love to a neighbor.
In the eighties, the "Christian Right" rose to power and seemed ready to "turn this nation back to God." How was this going to be accomplished? By passing laws consistent with the "moral majority." Christians and moralists jumped into the political process with full abandon and played the game well. In some ways, they succeeded with their projection of power. They forced through portions of their agenda enough to make people take notice, but at what price?
Am I suggesting, as some have, that Christians should retreat from the civic field? No. However, I am suggesting that love rather than power must mark our approach. We must realize that our true power exists not in a majority, but in a Person. Our ability to change society for the better – to "turn this nation back to God" – finds power in the pulpit and in our personal evangelism. Legislation and civic involvement must be secondary. Lasting change comes from a change of heart and not a change of behavior.
The growing conflict concerning homosexual marriages is an opportunity for us to put this calling into action. Do we rail against the homosexual agenda or do we present our side in a reasonable manner? Do we tolerate the homosexual or do we love him? Do we present our case in such a way that the offence is caused by the truth of our position rather than by the way we have presented it? It is not always an easy thing to do. It is easy to lash out when people mischaracterize us and misjudge our intentions.
The Christian of today is called to meekness. We must know what we believe and stand firm in those beliefs. Yet, we must also be willing to weep for those who oppose us. We must be willing to offer them bread when they hunger and drink when they thirst. We must stand our ground for what is right, and take our blows. We must return those blows with actions that express a sincere love – and if need be turn the other cheek.