Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” – Isaiah 5:20-21
The school counselor asked the Christian mother, “You don’t want your child to be an intolerant bigot, do you?”
Our stunned friend was unsure how to respond. It was spirit week at the public school. The students were encouraged to dress according to various themes each day of the week. The themes included things like ’70s day where you dress up in disco clothes and transgender day where you wear rainbow colors or dress up as something other than your usual gender preference.
As a minority in her school, the Christian middle-school student didn’t feel comfortable dressing up for transgender day, so her mother called the school to see what options their family had. She was shocked to be told that her child could conform or be considered an intolerant bigot.
If there was one objection to Christianity that took center stage in our research, it was intolerance. More than half of the participants in our phone survey (55%) ranked it their number one issue, and the belief that “some Christian groups are too intolerant” reverberated through every focus group. Intolerance led the list for every demographic—women, men, people with no church background, and people who once attended church but have left.
JERKS FOR JESUS
When people cite intolerance as their top concern, I get where they are coming from. I ash back to an outing with my family to a state fair, a two-week September blowout billed as the biggest party in the state and one of the largest fairs in the world. All seven of us were there for a day packed with “delicious food, wild rides, dazzling entertainment, and fun for the whole family,” as advertised. On this occasion, some hell- re and brimstone street preachers were pestering fairgoers outside the gate when they happened to recognize me. These sign-waving, sidewalk-blocking, King-James-yelling zealots surrounded my family. We were trapped by a wall of signs and bodies. They bullied us all the way to our car, screaming through bullhorns at my terrified young children. Why were they angry with me? Because they recognized me as a preacher and felt I was a coward for not using their method and joining in their mayhem. They wanted to convert everyone to their brand of our faith, including me. At that moment, I found myself on the team with the non-Christians, and it was not fun.
Most Christians I know are honestly great folks that you’d enjoy having over for dinner. Others are so intolerant that they don’t even tolerate other Christians! Among the most awful people I have ever encountered are self- righteous, holier-than-thou religious types who claim to be Christians. Maybe you’ve encountered them? Some Christians are simply jerks for Jesus. I’ve been guilty of this myself.
As an outspoken Christian leader, I have often been accused of being intolerant. I regrettably agree with some of those charges. I have never hesitated to speak my mind, and I don’t always think before I speak. Fortunately, in my case, a little gray hair, taking a fair bit of pounding, and a little more wisdom seem to go together. I have also noticed that Christians are not the only intolerant people in the world. Try smoking on an airplane. Or go to a vegan restaurant and order a steak. I bet you find tolerance neither alive nor well. Moreover, sometimes people who brag the loudest about their own tolerance are in reality the most intolerant people you could ever meet. But let me start by reporting some key points people in our focus groups said about us Christians.
Without fail, every group in every city we surveyed railed against Christian hostility toward homosexuals. There was also widespread pushback against other moral restrictions, such as our stance against abortion or sex outside of marriage or unmarried people making babies. We heard sweeping statements about the narrow-mindedness and negative impact of Christianity. A woman in Austin said, “The intolerance of it has led to just a lot of destruction of culture.” A guy in Phoenix said, “It’s almost like tunnel vision. They see what they want to see.” It probably doesn’t surprise you that many people beyond the walls of churches consider those within intolerant, bigoted, discriminatory, and unloving.
Many individuals who spoke up in our focus groups felt judged by Christians. Some even felt condemned for their mere external appearance.
A woman in Phoenix said, “I used to dress very dark in high school. I wore all black; I had eyeliner. I didn’t really do the hair…. I wouldn’t classify myself as Goth by any means, but my color choice was always black. I figured everything looked good in black. Wearing black and wanting to pierce my ears a bunch of times, half of the Christians that I talked to thought that I was Satanic…. It’s so ridiculous to look at somebody and immediately peg who they are just by how they appear. When I would go to church with my friends there would be women that would be pointing me out going, ‘I think that girl’s having sex.’ I maintained my V card until after I graduated high school. It’s ridiculous to say you have to look a certain way.”
Others felt judged for their outlooks and attitudes, especially if they questioned or rejected Christianity.
As one woman in Austin stated: “One thing that I don’t like is the idea that Christian groups think that they are basically the most blessed, the best, and that everyone else is broken. Everyone else needs to be xed.”
Another woman said, “You can’t even have a conversation hardly with a religious person. They automatically take you as being combative even though you might be honestly asking a question…. You can see their blood pressure going through the roof and then they’re upset. Then they start, I feel, becoming insulting or criticizing your character for the fact that you don’t just believe or that you’re asking questions.”
Patrick in Phoenix shared a story that drives this point home: “[At] 10:30 on a Saturday night,
my friend’s 12th wedding anniversary. His mother-in-law looks me square in the eye. She says, ‘You believe in God, right?’ We proceeded to have an hour-long discussion as to why I don’t. She proceeded to call me the Devil and then said, ‘I pray you get a DUI on the way home.’ She couldn’t accept that someone had a different thought as to God…. Her little world didn’t have any alternatives. It was either that or you were just… I think she saw horns coming out of my head.”
INTOLERANCE IS THE ISSUE UNDER EVERY OTHER ISSUE
Perceived intolerance among Christians ran through virtually every comment we heard. In fact, our findings both in the phone survey and face-to-face focus groups reflect not a list of random objections to Christianity but rather a single problem playing out in multiple arenas. This point is critical and cannot be overstated. There is one cultural war, and that war is intolerance. The intolerance war is fought in various arenas regarding different topics, but every time the battle wages over the fundamental issue of tolerance. People cannot agree about anything unless they first agree about one thing—intolerance. Non-Christians see intolerance in our approach to:
Sexuality: Christians disapprove of fornication, abortion, and same-sex marriage.
Politics: Christians use politics to inflict bigotry on others.
Morality: Christians are critical of others yet overlook their own hypocrisy.
Religion: Christians are intolerant of other beliefs when they say that Jesus is the only way to salvation.
Equality: Christians suppress the rights of women when they argue from the Bible that a husband should lead the family and that only men should be pastors.
Authority: Christians who regard Scripture as true and other teachings as false are xenophobic.
If this list uncovered by our research looks familiar, it’s because these are the issues that explode in the news over and over and over.
This series of 30 daily devotions are adapted from the first chapters of Pastor Mark Driscoll’s new book “Christians Might Be Crazy” available exclusively at markdriscoll.org for a tax-deductible gift to Mark Driscoll Ministries. For your gift of any amount, we will email you a digital copy of the book (available worldwide) and also send you a paperback copy of the book (U.S. residents only). Pastor Mark also has a corresponding six-part sermon series that you can find for free at markdriscoll.org or on the free Mark Driscoll Ministries app. Thank you in advance for your partnership which helps people learn that It’s All About Jesus! For our monthly partners who give a recurring gift each month, this premium content will be automatically sent.