TOLERANCE AS A "CHRISTIAN VIRTUE"?
Social molehills, now in their infancy, are sure to grow and to have a cataclysmic impact upon American society. I am not referring to the pillars which our "liberal democracy" has already erected to egalitarianism during the last half century, which consist of according preferential treatment to particular groups of people on the basis of their race, gender, or ethnicity; discounting with radical feminists the traditional structure of the family; and accommodating the excesses of the gay rights movement. True, all these threaten the social foundations of the country. Yet, as insidious as the developments are, they are not the newest wrinkle on the American social horizon, nor perhaps the most outrageous.
Fasten your seatbelts! A triad – two women and a man -- are seeking to be married. Sasha Lessin and Janet Kira Lessin gathered before their friends in Maui and proclaimed their love for each another. The two women were married in 2000. Now, they desire to incorporate into their legal union a man as their new "husband." "I want to walk down the street hand in hand in hand in hand," Sasha declares, "and live together openly and proclaim our relationship . . . . [and] . . . also to have all those survivor and visitation rights and tax breaks and everything like that."
Polygamy! Who would have predicted it? The best clue to the answer is not far to find. Just take a close look at the majority opinion of Justice Anthony Kennedy, left, in Lawrence v. Texas, where he and five of his Supreme Court colleagues placed the practice of sodomy under a veil of protective privacy. Granted, the Court did not legalize homosexual marriage in that decision. But put on your thinking caps: if sodomitic relations are protected on grounds of privacy, then why not polygamous, sadomasochistic, and bestial relations? If the legal pathway is cleared for gays to do their thing, then it must be for the others as well. Legalize the behavior, and that opens the door to its institutionalization. Is there some recondite principle that I am missing here?
A liberal-minded champion of individuality, who is reading these words, is at this juncture eager to expose my wretched "intolerance." He sniffs, "Sir, we have to be accepting of others' choices for their lives. You claim to be a clergyman, but your comments strike me as mean-spirited and narrow-minded." If this critic is unusually adventurous, he might add a pinch of nastiness to his already rude reprimand, by throwing in the following: "And you say that you believe in the love of Christ. Give me a break!"
Would that Christians, and especially clergy, digest the following point: the most blatant "heresy" of our time (if one may still use that word) is that of confounding love with tolerance. One does not demonstrate love for humanity by tolerating evils. Consider slavery, genocide, partial birth abortion, and other egregious offenses against humanity. How on earth can one be of lucid mind, much less a Christian, and applaud tolerance in any of these contexts? When Jesus angrily disrupted the moneychangers' tables, was he exercising tolerance? Hardly! When he accused the Scribes and Pharisees of hypocrisy, was he proleptically invoking the tolerant mindset of liberalism's greatest icon, John Stuart Mill, pictured on the right? That is laughable. Jesus never hesitated to recognize acts of evil and wrong-doing for what they were, although he stressed forgiveness. There are big differences between tolerating a sin and forgiving it.
When physicians, such as Josef Mengele or George Tiller, indulge their (or someone else's) desire to take a human life, their actions diminish us all. I find it difficult differentiating between (1) a liberal's defiant support for a woman who orders a hospital to withhold care from a baby who has survived an abortion and (2) a Nazi's starving a child to death in a concentration camp. Both acts are horrendous and barbaric. Tolerating either is inhuman and non-Christian.
In the bowels of the internet lies a sewer. Why should that reality be tolerated? So what if there are rats who enjoy living in sewers – does it follow that a civilized society must accommodate their every inclination? If the preponderance of the American people do not desire to live in a society with open sewers, where gays, polygamists, and sadomasochists have the same legal benefits and prerogatives as traditional married couples have, then why insist that the citizenry be tolerant of such practices?
There are certainly instances when we can and should tolerate another's choices. We should do so especially when such choices do not threaten the foundational principles of our culture. One who chooses, for example, to overeat and/or to smoke two packages of cigarettes a day is free to do so, even when these practices are universally regarded as destructive. But the same person should not be entitled to the benefits of American citizenry, if he wears the American flag on the seat of his pants or publicly shouts that those killed in 9/11 acts of terror were "little Eichmanns." Two acts may both be destructive, but one may be tolerated, while the other cannot. There is no magic in this formulation.
Can a person, then, be a Christian and be intolerant? Of course. Can one be broadly tolerant of acts enjoined by two thousand years of Christian thought and still be a Christian? No. Perhaps when my critics on the left read this piece, they will be tolerant of my intolerance, although I doubt it. Even the left refuses to tolerate some things.
May 16, 2009