Intolerance and the Christian Right

by Bishop John Shelby Spong

I am writing this short essay with some regret. I deeply believe in Christ's dictum "for whoever is not against us is for us" (Mark 9-40). However I have found more intolerance in the beliefs of the Christian "radical right" than I care to stomach and I feel I must speak out. When, in this context, I use the word "Christian," I am referring to those generally referred to as the Christian right- by no means all or a majority of Christians.

In my opinion, Christians on the right are fully entitled to their views on abortion, the Supreme Court, "objectionable" books, school/corporate prayer, family life, no-fault divorce, homosexuality, women's rights, evangelicalism, the right to bear arms, sex education, the interpretation of the Bible, etc.

However their beliefs often are the fruition of a philosophy of living and way of thinking that I abhor. These Christians have an unthinking, blind faith in THEIR interpretation of the Bible. They readily condemn other sects, religions and beliefs but make no or little effort to understand the beliefs they so easily condemn.

Many proclaim themselves "saved" by virtue of accepting Christ as their savior, but do not see the need to serve their fellow man and truly give of themselves. To the contrary, some practice violence and show overt and covert hatred to those that appear to be "on the other side" of issues they deeply believe in. They would readily deny the "opposition" their political and economic rights, not realizing that this very denial threatens all, including their own, right to dissent.

The Christian right are intolerant of free thinkers. They feel they have little or nothing to learn from perspectives other than their own. They wish to raise their children in "closed" sometimes "Anglo only" environments, exposing them as little as possible to the "corrupting" influences of the outside world. Indeed, by isolating their children this way, they pass on their intolerance to their progeny. Music and art to the Christian right must conform to their biblical beliefs.

For example, lyrics or art labeled "pornographic," films and/or books that accept, not necessarily promote, homosexuality as an alternative life style are condemned as corrupting influences on youth. The Christian right, almost gratuitously makes homosexuality a rallying point, a way to raise "true believers" in thoughtless, easy condemnation. They readily claim that the country is run by homosexuals and blame them for numerous social ills. To many of the Christian right, AIDS represents God's punishment of homosexuals. To even write the last sentence is abhorrent to me! Actually, one perhaps should say that God shows his love the most to those who suffer and the world persecutes.

Christians of the right slant science to their own preconceived views. Any science or research that they think confirms their views is uncritically accepted. Scientific research that opposes their views is dismissed summarily- without thought. In some cases they deliberately misrepresent the writings of historical figures such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to make it appear as if these men, if alive today, would support their stand on issues.

As I said in the beginning, writing this saddens me. Faith in God is ultimately, just that, a deep abiding personal faith. Not a blind faith, but a faith in the universal, in that which is good and the pursuit of truth. Many who are Christian have a deeply held faith in God, Christ and the Holy Spirit and a great desire to serve and love their fellow man. Their faith is fully consistent with the teachings of Christ in the gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, John and Thomas. To the Christian right I say this. If you think that intolerance is acceptable to God -you are sadly mistaken. I truly believe that if so many who call themselves Christian were alive when Christ was alive, they would roundly condemn him as a social radical - a disheveled vagrant, a disturbance, a false prophet, a delusional man who claimed he is God or a messenger of God.

Perhaps most objectionable is the Christian right's belief that the only way to serve God and achieve "salvation" is by accepting their views. In their thinking Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Agnostics, Atheists and others are lost souls -at best who need to be converted -at worst, who are condemned. To me this is hubris at its very worst. Its ugliness becomes manifest when one who openly disagrees with them worships in their midst.

Rather than accepting him or her as a fellow traveler in pursuit of truth and service to God and/or mankind, they all to easily reject this individual as a threat to their own beliefs and an "outsider." Finally, it would be false to say that only the Christian right can be characterized as above. Unfortunately, intolerance is alive and kicking in many of today's religions and philosophies and/or those that claim to be their practitioners.

Recently I have seen the epithet, "Truth not Tolerance." Tolerance does not imply taking another's beliefs as your own. Tolerance does connote respect, acceptance and love of another regardless of their beliefs. However, most agree that when another's beliefs, actions and words cause physical or mental harm, they must be legally and ethically opposed.

Tragically, some equate tolerance with a passive acceptance of "evil" and see evil as any belief opposed to their interpretation of religious doctrine. Gladly admitting to intolerance, they deny their doctrinal views are subject to interpretation and simply state their beliefs are THE TRUTH.

As is often the case, men use words as obfuscation- twisting meanings to placate their emotional longings and needs. Later, they confuse the words with reality, and from this springs wars and the many faces of human hatred.