Every society and its institutions are intolerant of some sort of behavior. Unqualified toleration is not only nonsensical; it is impossible and lethal. A society's toleration can be either coercive or non-coercive. Since coercion is the exclusive province of the state, the state's intolerance is necessarily coercive. There is, of course and there must be a non-coercive intolerance: society can shun or frown on certain behavior or attitudes that it deems sinful, unjust or in some way inappropriate. Intolerance, whether coercive or non-coercive, always occurs in terms of a society's or its institutions' religious premises. A Christian society, for example, coercively refuses the toleration of murder, rape, and theft. To tolerate these acts would be culturally suicidal. A Christian society will, in addition, use non-coercive measures by means of its families, churches, and other institutions to express intolerance by frowning on and shunning liars, immoralists, con men, and so on.
Conversely, a humanistic society like our own will establish its own unique standards of intolerance. A humanistic society will not merely tolerate, but actively encourage sodomy, abortion, and racism, while creating a coercive, statist intolerance for vocal, public opposition to sodomy, abortion, and racism. A prime example of this is how Jerry Falwell's Biblically warranted opposition to homosexuality was considered to have incited "hate crimes" against homosexuals. Such crimes are truly evil and criminal, but the answer to that problem is intolerance of crime against homosexuals, not intolerance against godly, non-coercive opposition to homosexuals. It is highly likely that, unless the religious premises of the United States' society changes soon, within a few years it will be illegal to declare publicly what the Bible says about homosexuality. Meanwhile, the society's non-coercive, as well as coercive, tolerance for homosexuality will increase as homosexuals will be given superior rights and privileges, quotas, and so forth. It will be a crime to criticize homosexuals, but not a crime to persecute Christians.
There is tolerance on America's secular campuses today for almost any belief or practice besides historic Christianity. Professors are forced into humiliating "sensitivity training" sessions if they criticize homosexual behavior, but they may mercilessly ridicule Christianity. The rationale for the prohibition of non-coercive intolerance against homosexuals and other egregious sinners is the desire to avoid offending members of, for example, a particular sexual orientation. There is, of course, no interest at all in wanting to avoid offending members of a different religious orientation if that orientation is orthodox Christianity.
The New Immoral Majority
Much the same is true in the non-coercive sphere of the modern church. In most denominations, vocal Biblical teaching against apostasy, liberalism, Biblical criticism, radical feminism, euthanasia, aborticide, and homosexuality is simply not tolerated. These practices themselves, of course, are widely tolerated and encouraged. The modern "liberal" agents of ecclesiastical intolerance are quick to point in horror to the medieval church's unhealthy collaboration with the state by which the former coercively enforced standards with which the state should be unconcerned. We Christian lovers of liberty do not defend this collaboration. However, we should expect that these same modern "liberals" horrified at the sinful collaboration of church and state in past Christian eras will invite the arm of a godless, secular state today to coercively enforce intolerance against those who cry out against depravity in the modern church and society. It's not intolerance they oppose, you see, just intolerance of sin.
Intolerance is an inescapable concept. If Christ's church does not employ non-coercive means of intolerance to suppress apostasy, unbelief, homosexualism, abortion, racism, and feminism, secularists and liberals will employ the arm of the state to coercively suppress (at the end of a gun barrel, if necessary) non-coercive intolerance against these sins.
- P. Andrew Sandlin
P. Andrew Sandlin is a Christian minister, theologian, and author. He is the founder and president of the Center for Cultural Leadership in Coulterville, California. He was formerly president of the National Reform Association and executive vice president of the Chalcedon Foundation. He is a minister in the Fellowship of Mere Christianity.. He was formerly a pastor at Church of the Word in Painesville, Ohio (1984-1995) and Cornerstone Bible Church in Scotts Valley, California (2004-2014).