In high school, I was not a Christian. Some Christians in our large public school, however, wanted to change that. Year after year, we would have debate after debate. They would try to convert me, and I would try to disprove them. At some point in nearly every debate, they would tell me that I was going to hell because I was a sinner. At that point in the conversation, I would pull out the only Bible verse I had committed to memory and say, “Thou shall not judge.” For me, this was my ace in the hole.
Many who make no claim to follow Jesus are especially critical of what they see as the failure of Christians to live up to their own principles of tolerance. As a guy in Phoenix put it, “The basic belief of Christianity is that you’re not supposed to judge your fellow man.” He continued,
“Saying somebody is going to go to hell because they don’t believe as strong as the other person, or because they did something, that’s a sin. The basic pretext of Christianity is supposed to be tolerant, compassionate, loving, forgiving, merciful. But there’s [sic] a lot of examples in the Bible where biblical figures, they pass judgment on their fellow man. They demonstrate hatred for their fellow man and most definitely not very compassionate.”
But as we saw in the earlier conversation between our facilitator and the focus group in Austin, a complete lack of judgment about what’s right, good, and true leads to chaos and is ultimately impossible to endure in reality. More than that, it leads to a real devaluing of someone else’s ability to think and their inherent dignity as a human—able to stand apart from the animals to think, and feel, and follow deeply held convictions.
So could it be that tolerance is dangerous and intolerance is actually a good thing? Let’s find out.
THOU SHALL NOT JUDGE?
I need to point out that asserting tolerance as the core of Christianity misses the point. The message of the Bible from start to finish is that Jesus came to save sinners and bring them to an eternity in heaven. But this guy makes an argument we heard repeatedly, and which I’m willing to bet you’ve heard yourself. Group participants continually quoted one particular Scripture in some form or other: “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged” (Matt. 7:1 NLT). Even people who knew little of the Bible were quick to quote this verse, putting it out there multiple times in multiple cities to argue for complete tolerance where no one is ever allowed to judge anyone else.
Read in isolation, that verse seems to prove their point. We might think we should imitate an imaginary Jesus who wanders the countryside speaking poetry and religious pleasantries. That interpretation, however, ignores the rest of the passage, which says:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you. Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?” (Matt. 7:1–9 ESV)
Interpreting Scripture is like understanding a conversation. If you only catch a line or two in the middle you could easily misunderstand the whole of what was said. Likewise, the same easily happens if you grab a line of Scripture without checking the context. In Matthew 7, Jesus rebukes religious leaders who condemn others for sins they tolerate in their own life. Jesus Himself judges them when He calls them hypocrites who have logs protruding from their eyes. He even calls some people “pigs,” an extreme offense in a culture that considered pigs religious pollutants. A few verses later in Matthew 7:15, Jesus rails at “false prophets” who are “wolves,” yet another stinging judgment. What Jesus forbid was not all judging but rather rash and hypocritical judging. That warning hits home for me. It was religious leaders who attacked Jesus the most viciously.
All of this is why Jesus said in John 7:24, “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly” (NLT). How Christians can judge correctly challenges every generation. Throughout history there has been a nonstop stream of voices that try to steer the church away from black-and-white thinking and mix everything into gray. They attempt to combine the right teachings of the Bible (thesis) and the misguided opinions of culture (antithesis) into a new gray mess (synthesis). This is often done in response to cultural pressure to update, modify, and edit biblical teaching to make it more palatable to its detractors. This “liberal” or “progressive” Christianity marries the church to the changing culture instead of the unchanging Christ. Some Christians still seek a gray way in the name of progress, enlightenment, and love. They accept all sexualities, spiritualties, and ideologies under the banner of the new tolerance.
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