Religious tolerance is a growing social movement in America, and it should be. We live in a world of religious pluralism. There are about about 2 billion Christians, more than 1 billion Muslims, 700+ million Hindus, 350+ million Buddhists, 150 million Atheists, 14 million Jews, etc. It would seem that religious tolerance is a necessity if we are going to get along. We need to be tolerant of those who have different religious beliefs. We should not hate and persecute someone because of his or her faith.
On one hand, religion is a good thing. It helps people cope with life's difficulties. It gives people peace and helps them have goals and a standard of right and wrong by which to live. On the other hand, religion has been used to destroy peoples' lives. We only need reflect on Bosnia, on the problems between Israel and the Palestinians, etc., to quickly realize that religion can be a force for harm as well as good. This is all the more reason to be tolerant of other people's beliefs so that hatred and pain can be lessened.
Religious tolerance is especially important here in the United States since we have such a variety of people and cultures from all over the world. If our society is to function well, it needs unity and consistency. That is why it is good to have a common language, a common culture, and a common form of government. But, do we need a common religion? Of course not. We are too different and have too many differences of opinions on God. Some say God is a force, others that He is personal. Some say we are divine by nature and others deny this. All cannot be correct.
Is there only one truth?
The most important person in history is Jesus of Nazareth. All of Western Civilization has been influenced by Him. Jesus walked the land of Israel 2000 years ago, healed the sick, forgave sins, and preached a gospel of goodness, love, peace, joy, and . . . intolerance. That is right. Jesus was intolerant. Jesus said,
- Jesus *said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me," (John 14:6).1
- "I said therefore to you, that you shall die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins," (John 8:24).
- "All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son, except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him," (Matt. 11:27).
- "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead mens bones and all uncleanness," (Matt. 23:27).
How is it that Jesus could be so loving and truthful and yet be so religiously intolerant at the same time? It is easy. He, being the God incarnate (John 1:1,14; Col. 2:9), rightly pointed to Himself alone as the only way to God, the only one who could reveal the true nature of God, heaven, salvation, and the divine will. He proved who He was by fulfilling prophecy, performing miracles, curing sickness, walking on water, and rising from the dead.
This is not to say, though, that Christians have an excuse to be intolerant, hateful, or judgmental towards those of differing faiths. On the contrary, we are called to live in love and harmony. But still, truth is a very serious issue. As a Christian, I am committed to following the Lord Jesus and what He stands for. His word, the Bible, is the revelation of God to His people and it contains the truths revealed from God about Himself and what He desires for us. Is this important? Of course! Because if God says it, that is the standard of truth.
Okay, so some might be saying "That is your truth to believe in the Christian God and not mine." Such is the typical relativism in the world today, and it is precisely the point at issue here. Truth is not contradictory. We cannot have the Mormon god (an exalted man from another planet who has a goddess wife) be the same truth as the New Age god (a semi-non-personal essence of divine consciousness). It is not a simple matter of "Your truth vs. my truth." God is not self-contradictory. God has revealed Himself and He warns us to worship Him in truth, not error.
Religious tolerance is very important because as Christians we need to love our neighbors and our enemies. You cannot do that by hating them and condemning them. Nevertheless, religious tolerance does not mean that we Christians have to agree with the doctrines of contradictory faiths, especially when they oppose the Bible. On the contrary, we are supposed to confront false doctrines. Why? Because false gods do not save anyone. Only the true God saves people from their sins.
As Christians, we must be loving and tolerant. But again, that does not mean we must forfeit the truth that has once and for all been delivered to the Saints (Jude 3). I am not advocating hatred and condemnation. On the contrary, I am advocating that the Bible, as the only inspired word of God, says we are to love our enemies and pray for them that persecute us (Matt. 5:44). This is the essence of tolerance and is best exemplified in the life of Christ who forgave and healed so many -- even though they did not deserve it. He was merciful, and we need to be just as merciful and kind.
Religious tolerance is a vital part of getting along in America. We need to practice it better, but we also need to fight for the faith and not back down from the truth. Deliver this truth with love.
"But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith," (1 Tim. 1:5).
- 1. All Bible quotes are from the NASB.