(When Tolerance, Affirmation and Inclusion Become Everything)
“How could those who were claiming to follow God do such a thing?” Such musings have often been associated with reflections on the history of the Crusades or how the majority of Christendom within Germany simply went along with Hitler. Closer to home, we find ourselves shaking our heads in disbelief at the previous racist policies of certain Christian universities.
It is easy from our vantage point beyond the cultural pull which created those events to proclaim, “such things should never have happened!” Although we would be right for saying so, such pious observations are not enough.
If we grasp the lessons of history, the more responsible position is to ask, “what cultural currents are seeking to drag us down through paths of darkness?” Is our sense of right any better attuned to God’s ways than those previously caught in culture’s undertow? The good news is it can be if we so choose.
Turn on prime-time TV. What constant drumbeats do you hear regarding how people ought to live? Much of the postmodern spirit driving our age is organized around exalting tolerance, affirmation and inclusion. These sound like good values, perhaps even Christian values. Instead of being hateful and mean-spirited, is not tolerance the high road? Instead of caustic derogatory attacks, is not affirmation the right path? Is not the equality of inclusion a more noble way than the discriminatory policies of exclusion? Such questions can easily represent how the prophets of our age might present their case. How should those who claim to follow God respond?
My previous dualistic questions obfuscate several items, but most importantly they obscure our need to answer the question, “What is the highest value we should be pursuing?” The postmodernists would answer: In the absence of any absolute truth, the best any of us can strive for would be to accept and affirm the personal validity of each other’s ideas and lifestyles. There you have it – tolerance, affirmation and inclusion all wrapped up together. The package is then gift-wrapped with a bow claiming, “this is what it means to be a loving person.”
On the other hand, those who faithfully follow God have an entirely different answer to what is most important. Because God has revealed truth to us, the disciple responds that the highest value entails loving God with all of one’s being (Matt. 22:36-38). This includes obeying God (1 John 5:3).
Unfortunately humanity has not loved and obeyed God as it ought. The cross of Christ proclaims that Jesus’ death was required to atone for our sinful actions, words and lifestyles. Fortunately, those who will rely upon Christ through obeying the gospel can become a part of God’s redeemed, saved and holy community.
What does all of this mean? Everything is not equally valid. Everyone is not included in God’s community. There should be remorse for wrongs, not affirmation. God is calling everyone to repent. The good news is that God has made the salvific blood of Christ available to all of humanity.
If tolerance, affirmation and inclusion are not the ultimate values, in some manner does this mean that the path of loving and obeying God justifies mean-spiritedness? Never! To obey God includes seeking the well-being of others in the same way you seek your own well-being (Matt. 22:39). Thus, if loving someone might require confronting that individual with his or her sinfulness, such truth should be presented in love, not caustically (Eph. 4:15).
To avoid looking like foolish 21st century Christians who were swept away in the undertow of our secular culture, we need to proclaim Christ crucified and its corollaries. The necessity of Jesus’ death upon the cross on our behalf testifies that God does not tolerate sinfulness, that those outside of Christ stand condemned and are excluded from fellowship with God, and that everyone is in need of transformation. The message of Christ crucified undermines the driving secular values of postmodernism.
The tide is powerful. God, however, is greater. Those who profess to follow God need to be in step with God, not drifting with the world. Will we do any better in living for God than some who have gone before us?
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