Tuesday, August 10, 2010

On the Extent of Tolerance: Where Freedom of Speech Ends and Christ's Call Begins

I was having a conversation earlier today with a friend about a status he posted to facebook. The status reiterated a popular right-wing jab at Obama which calls dissenters to "Pray for Obama," followed by a citation of Psalm 109:8, which reads, "Let his days be few, let another take his office." Cute. Real cute.

The conversation grew intense (although, for the most part, respectful). My particular problem with the status is that it is primarily tongue-in-cheek sarcasm. Obviously, when a politically fundamentalist person (on either the Left or the Right) posts something like this, it is to ruffle feathers or to make a joke, rather than a show of earnest faith. Jesus did not command us give lip service prayers about people we don't agree with. In everything we do, we must do it earnestly, with good intentions and pure hearts.

Another problem I had with the premise of the discussion was the context of the psalm. Some articles and pundits argue that, given the context of the rest of the psalm, people who post this sentiment and slap it on their cars in the form of bumper stickers are actually calling for the President's death (read the whole psalm, you'll understand what they mean). I wouldn't go that far. I don't think there are many people (especially Christians) who would actually and seriously wish for Obama's assassination. My problem stems from the fact that--aside from being just plain mean-spirited--the quote is taken out of the larger context of David praying to God that his enemies will be destroyed.

But of course, we Christians know better than to pray for the destruction of our enemies, right?
One lady in the conversation even went so far as to say this:
"That is your interpetation and that is great, but obviously not D--'s and thats great too. Because you don't agree with his interpetation doesn't mean yours is right and his is wrong. We all have our own sense of what the scriptures mean to us, and yes we use it that way in our lives. You can't shove your beliefs down anyone elses throat because you think theirs is wrong. I'm Baptist and i know D-- is Catholic and i accept him just the way he is, and he the same with me. We don't agree 100% on politics either but We don't argue and try to make the other feel wrong or stupid. I don't know if he is right or me and it doesn't matter. We are all ppl in this world trying to get through it with honor and dignaty and we are all different in many ways. When i read something i don't agree with i leave it alone, except for this cause i just hate it, and nothing positive is gonna come from your comments. You will NOT change his mind. I don't know you but i have to believe you have no malice in your comments and you believe in what your saying to the fullest, but so does D--. I've known D-- since school which is alot of years without telling my age lol and he is one of the finest men i know. Plz give it a rest."

I understand that not all people are as educated about scriptural exegesis and historical criticism and contextual analysis. I also understand that there are many people who know much more about those things than I do. I also understand that those things don't always matter. Jesus proclaimed a Way of Life--he said, if you want to follow me, THIS is how you do it. And he laid out specific guidelines: love your neighbor (and not just your neighbor, but your enemies!), pursue God with your entire being (not a government, not a president, not a political agenda, or a specific way you think the country should be run), be meek, give to all who ask of you (a particularly difficult scripture for us in America), feed the poor, visit and care for the sick and imprisoned...The list goes on and on.

But my question, then, is this: Can we (or, more importantly, do we) take Christ's call to not judge and to not worry about the speck in our neighbor's eye too far? Is there absolutely no circumstance under which one can say to another, "I'm sorry, your interpretation of scripture here is wrong, and it can not be tolerated"? And, if not, how do we move forward in our faith? How do we avoid pulling ourselves in a thousand different directions of disunion in pursuit of our American-given (or at least, American-recognized) right to believe whatever we want, even at the risk of disregarding other teachings of Jesus?

I ask these things not because I have an answer, but quite the opposite. I have been frustrated with what I perceive as injustice and unholy actions within the church, and among people who profess Jesus as their Lord. However, any time I try to point this out, I am usually met with "Do not judge," or "Take the plank out of your own eye first." How are they to see that their actions are harmful and wrong if nobody tells them? Doesn't Paul even tell Christians to "restore one another in the spirit of gentility"?

Do we take tolerance and our freedom to believe whatever the heck we want too far here in the West?

Please leave your thoughts. Iron sharpens iron, you know.

Grace and love and peace to you all (whether you agree with me or not),



  1. The unfortunate thing is that the point made in your quotation is a really pointless thing to say, borderline condescending while showing a profound lack of understanding of what’s being talked about.
    I can’t seem to synthesize my thoughts on the paradox you presented, so here’s some rambling words that are more emphatic than they ought to be.
    There has to be a point where someone is right or wrong. Obviously you don’t want to be dogmatic(Fred Phelpsian), but at the same time claiming that no one is right is too far the opposite direction(not keeping each other sharp, lazy fellowship). If the tone and situation are appropriate, there really should not be any pushback from those you are trying to confront. In many cases, people use that as a cop out to avoid any sort of personal reflection. If you can get people to the underlying logic behind their opinions, it’s much easier to show any inconsistencies. For example, I was a bit disappointed in how some Christian friends reacted to the Missouri rejecting Obamacare stuff. So many of them were so excited in a step that’s directionally away from what Jesus would want, because they don’t want that stuff left up to the government. Yet these same people would also wholeheartedly support gay marriage bans that completely contradict that logic.
    Ultimately, we need to be consistent, persistent, and above all concerned with people more than being right. So there’s the extremely disjointed version of what rattles in my brain.

  2. That's kind of what I was trying to say, I guess. I've been saddened by the fact that everywhere I turn, I see either dogmatism or relativism. It's either "I'm right and you're wrong," or "Eh, nobody's right and nobody's wrong."

  3. After reading Micah's comment and yours I will try to add what thoughts I can... probably not as eloquently or intelligently as my fiance since it is indeed 2 AM.

    Here is what I think, I agree with you pretty much on the whole. Regardless of who is right or wrong I think that anyone who is a Christian needs to be able to handle when a brother in Christ starts talking with them about translations of scripture. As believers we know we are also sinners and imperfect so why can we assume that all our interpretations would be perfect too? Its a tricky line when trying to confront someone about where they may be wrong but like I said we should all expect it. Especially since you said you were trying to be respectful.

    I also agree with something Micah said that at some point someone is right and someone is wrong. As well as when, in situations like these, if you go too far you are called out on being too judgemental but if you let it go it turns into lazy fellowship. I believe wholeheartedly in being able to discuss different beliefs and thoughts in a way that God intended us to help each other while not judging. I have had many a conversation with people where I have started with one train of thought and after words took to heart what they had to say and realized I may have been wrong in how I was perceiving something. BUT I have also tried to have civilized conversations with people who would not even stop pushing their beliefs for a second so that they might hear what I have to say. Its tough... its a VERY tough situation.

    I think for the most part I agree with you that your friend was posting that in a mean, condescending manner and not in a way meant to help or support. It seems he used it merely to get a poke at the president and also I agree that since it was removed from the larger context it doesn't seem relevant. If your friend seemed sincere in his ask for prayer for the pres. then go him! Personally politics are a very icky topic that I try to avoid... not out of ignorance but because I think so many people put SO much into them that I get tired of all the talk. In my opinion, no matter how much we all talk about it, argue it or fight over it... someone will always not be happy, there will always be two sides. I feel its because so many times people put so much into an individual in office that they forget the individual is also just human. They will make mistakes (not that its right or good when they do) but it is going to happen. No one will ever please everyone and solve everything... at least no one who is of this earth. Jesus is the ONLY person who is perfect and who can fully help us beyond anything anyone else can. I try not to get too mixed up in the whole "I am for so and so" "So and so is better than so and so" because it will never end. I hope you understand what I am saying... I am not totally apathetic to government issues and politics and the presidential campaign but I also succeed in not letting it consume me. The only one I can ever fully put my trust in is sitting up in Heaven. ;)

    Don't get me wrong, try as I may I also slip up and will have an opinion on the people in office once in awhile but for the most part I try to follow Jesus.

    One of my all time favorite sayings is "What would Jesus do?" That should be the motto of my, and every believers life. Regardless of what political and governmental beliefs you have you are a Christian above all else. Would Jesus make fun of the president or would he sincerely pray for him? Would Jesus want us to help each other if one person was wrong or confused or would he want us to leave them alone? If we were the wrong ones would Jesus want us to stay that way or have us accept our faults and seek help?

    That's all I have to say in my sleep deprived state... I hope it makes sense and that the length of the post does not scare you! haha

  4. Then I guess I'd say you're not wrong. The fortunate thing in the case you describe is that the matter isn't one of deep theological importance. How people act towards the president isn't a matter of salvation, and in many cases won't make any difference in reaching out to help those in need or evangelize. It's the snark that's truly the problem, but that's a more societal thing, since we have to have the "gotcha" statement anymore and can't let our points stand on their own.