Getting Past the Hollowness of “Religious Tolerance”

So this is freakish. But … well, here it is. I woke up this morning from a dream in which I had been hastily summoned to a crowd that was gathering in a vast hilly meadow of tall green grass. Unprepared, I was wearing pants but no shirt. A Christian-market literary agent I used to know tells me that my turn to speak to the crowd is coming up. I have no idea what he’s talking about—but he’s on to other things.

I move with the growing mass until we come to a makeshift performance platform of dark raw timber. It’s clear that this is where the speaking will be happening. The agent, accompanied by some pastors, reappears at my side. He ushers me around to the back of the platform and tells me that I’m up next. I look at the stage and see that it’s empty. A pretty strong wind starts blowing. I begin to panic. I look out at the crowd to see people of every race and ethnicity waiting for … well, me. My acute anxiety is replaced with a deep sense of peace. These people are good and kind. They aren’t going to hurt or judge me. That’s not what they’re here for. And it’s clear that I am supposed to be speaking, that in the past I must have agreed to speak at this meeting and then forgotten about it.

I spot an old trunk in the grass. Inside are a bunch of clothes that are old but clean. I pull out a worn brown flannel shirt. I put it on. It’s soft, but crazy: the sleeves are unwieldy, the front of two different lengths. While still trying to properly button the thing I resign myself to walking on stage. I have no idea what I’m going to say. But I feel that God is with me, and that I’ll be okay if I just remember that and think of nothing else. I stand for a while dumbly looking out at the crowd. I’m hoping God will give me something to say. I don’t rush it; I can tell the people are okay with me waiting for as long as it takes. This relaxes me; I’m with friends. Still, they’re friends who are expecting me to actually say something. I stop fiddling with my shirt; it’s hopeless. I slowly scan the crowd. This is it; I have to talk. I open my mouth and these are the words that come out:

Every time you look at a newspaper. Every time you watch TV. Every time you go online, there it is: evidence that if people don’t resolve their religious differences we will all fight and kill ourselves until there is nothing left to live for.

So what do we need? How do we solve this problem? Well, what we hear all the time these days is that we need religious tolerance. But do we really? Is that really what we’re after: tolerance? Is our goal to be tolerated? Is anyone’s? No. Who wants to be tolerated? You tolerate a cold, a barking puppy, a wart. You tolerate things that annoy you. To “tolerate” a person is to look down upon them. Nobody wants that.

So what do we do? Because we do, after all, believe that our God is the only God. The best God. The right God. The exclusively right God. There’s no way to believe in God and feel any other way.

Our God is the only true and real God. Ergo, everyone else’s God is a terrible mistake. Everyone who believes in a God who is not our God is wrong.

So when we are talking to someone who does not believe in our God, we cannot help but feel that they are beneath us. Because they are. We have what they need. We are the person they should be.

How could they be so stupid as to believe in their God, we think. So ignorant. So lost. So fundamentally wrong about everything they should be right about?

What a tragedy, we think. How happy they could be if only they knew the one true God.

But they don’t. They are lost to the truth. They are stubbornly lost to the truth. They prefer their ignorant blindness to liberating enlightenment. They prefer their God over ours.

They think we’re the lost ones!

And so on and so on. This is how enemies are made. This is how one group comes to view the other as fundamentally immoral animals.

So how do we solve this ancient problem? How can we not just tolerate someone who believes differently than we do, but actually respect them for those beliefs? Because nothing less than that will do. It can’t. Simply tolerating someone who believes differently than we do isn’t enough. “Accepting” them isn’t enough. Having true and abiding peace with them means loving them. And that means respecting them. Because love without respect isn’t real love at all. It’s at best condescending patronization.

I am a Christian. How do I fully, earnestly, deeply and truly respect the Muslim? The Jew? The Hindu? The Buddhist? The atheist? How do I embrace each one of them with the same respect and love with which I want and even expect them to embrace me?

Here’s how: by telling myself the truth—and reminding myself of that truth, over and over again, for as long as it takes—that what another person believes is none of my business. None. None! The second I start thinking about someone else’s religious beliefs is the second I move out of the realm of my proper concerns and into the realm of concerns that are God and God’s alone. The moment I concern myself with what you believe is the moment that I screw up. That’s the moment in which my claim to be a person of God is shown to be a sham, since I have just proven that I am more concerned with who you are, and with what you believe, than I am with my own relationship with God.

I’ve shown that I’m not a religious person at all. I’ve shown that I’m nothing but a busybody.

If it is not resulting in harm being done to anyone else, then what a person believes about God is entirely, fully, one hundred percent their business. I must resolutely put that area of concern out of my mind. What a person believes about God is a matter between that person, God, and no one else. Anything else is a lie that I tell myself in order to feed my own ego.

Do unto others as they would do unto you? Great! How? By loving them. And how to do that when in your heart of hearts you know that you know God better than they do? By trusting the God whom you love so much to work out his/her/its relationship with everyone else in the world, the same as he/she/it did with you.

Then I woke up. That was the whole dream.

P.S. On a separate but related note, if you’re a Christian disinclined to throw out Jesus with the bathwater, consider joining us over at Unfundamentalist Christians (which for months now has been growing at the rate of 10-40 new members per day.)

P.S.S. Not too long ago I had another dream kind of like this one. See An Open Apology From Christians to Gay People.

P.S.S., etc. I know saying that I had these dreams can’t help but make me seem like I’m trying to … I don’t know, start a cult or whatever. But what can I do? These are actual dreams that I actually have and start typing as soon as I wake up. I just have to trust that most of you know me well enough to know that trying to position myself as Joe Divine Visions, or whatever, is hardly my thing.

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  • Paul Bogan via Facebook

    Hope you don’t mind if I crib something I wrote a while back and put it here:

    Tolerance is a noble idea, but one more often honored in the breach. It’s an ugly word when you get right down to it, and it’s an idea that, however noble, somehow manages to come up short when the time comes to put it into practice. While the idea of tolerating other cultures, religions, and ideas sounds lovely, there’s a whiff of condescension about the whole thing; it’s easy to tolerate something, after all, that doesn’t much challenge (much less threaten) what you might think is the best way of doing things. It carries also a hint that we’ll only allow you to be you, or to express yourself, to a certain point but no further; if that line–however fuzzy it may be–is crossed, you stand to be rebuked (or worse) in no uncertain terms. In other words, it’s the kind of benign neglect that suggests that those being tolerated had better know their place.

    All of which is rather a long way of saying, we’ll get a hell of a lot farther with respect and unconditional love, not tolerance.

  • Mary June Rose via Facebook

    this may be my favorite thing you’ve ever written. thanks.

  • For the past couple decades, I’ve figured that the world’s varying religions are all paths to the same ultimate destination. That’s what works for me and my brain.

  • Mary June Rose via Facebook

    (and Paul, what you said makes sense to me, also)

  • I like your piece, but I can’t fully agree with it. Because, most god beliefs — it doesn’t matter which god — *do* cause harm to unbelievers. God beliefs compel followers to bigotry and wars. It *is* my business to try to end this.

  • Thank you for sharing John. You have helped me get the perspective I was needing. Respect one another not tolerate.

  • Robert

    Ditto Amanda… I recently have come to the understanding that I have always had god in my life… tugging, nudging and pushing me along my path… sometimes it has been uncomfortable… often it has been difficult… but I have always ended up at the right place, at the right time and usually doing the right thing… I now see god as being in everything and everyone… as not only the creator of all… but part of all creation… there is no separation between creation and the creator… we are all living in and are all part of the mind of god… every stone, tree, star, person and spiritual path is part of god… I may not agree with some people’s path… but who am I to limit the limitless… I choose to have faith… I have seen how the AIDS epidemic has led to a greater acceptance of gay people as human beings… I have seen how the Holocaust led to the formation of Israel and a greater acceptance of Jews as human beings… I have seen the world become a more open, tolerant and loving place… and I have seen reactionary forces attempting to force us back in rigid thinking and fear based mindsets… this all is part of god… and the dance of life, love, light and darkness… ever unfolding… forever surprising.

  • I’m Christian whose friends come from all walks of life, be they Wiccan, atheist, or otherwise. We don’t look down on each other and treat each other with acceptance of who the other person is, not what we want them to be. Bottom line I took from this article: live and let live.

  • Barbara Rice

    I still cringe when I look back on the days I went around with other good Baptist teens, trying to convert the unsaved.

  • Lynne Jacobson via Facebook

    Spot on. Thanks. This helps me get back on track.

  • Barbara: I think you missed the ” If it’s not resulting in harm being done to anyone else … ” part.

  • thanks, mary june, very much.

  • Jesi

    Some would say, “What about evangelism? Aren’t we told to spread the truth?”

    I would love to hear your thoughts on that subject as well. Maybe another dream?

    I tend to think evangelism has been turned into an ego-feeding monster that holds people hostage. Then again, in saying so, I make myself a prisoner of the same monster of judgement.

    I believe the most effective proof that anyone believes in the one true God is a life that shows it. A life of compassion and genuine love for all people.

    I think it was best quoted by Saint Francis, “Preach the gospel at all times, use words when necessary.” I hope I quoted correctly…

  • I wrote a whole book about this issue and how it relates to evangelism. It’s I’m OK-You’re Not: The Message We’re Sending Nonbelievers and Why We Should Stop.

  • Allie

    Lovely, John. And something I have to work on every day. It’s especially hard when the other person is visibly miserable in ways that it seems to me a relationship with God would fix. But, I remind myself, God knows where he lives.

    Re: evangelism. My policy is based on the truth that every since person I have ever encountered in my entire life knows who Jesus is. I have no duty to inform people of what they have already chosen to reject. If someone ASKS me about my beliefs, I tell them.

  • My kingdom for a “like” button! Well said 🙂

  • Allie

    edit: since every, not every since. I swear I feel dyslexic sometimes!

  • Allie

    Well… okay, but that’s a little insulting to people who believe they’re going to heaven, and people who believe they’re going to escape the endless round which includes heavens. If they’re both going to the same spot, someone is mistaken.

  • Barbara, I find the idea you are advancing just as bigoted as anything coming out of Westboro Baptist. No, ALL “god beliefs” do not compel bigotry. Bigotry happens when you view all members of any group as exactly alike and equal to the groups lowest common denominator. There are those in every group (including yours, apparently) who have no respect for the right of others to believe as they see fit. Bigots are those who see only themselves as possessed of the TRUTH, and are dead set on converting everyone else to their view point. The guide-post of my God/dead belief is, “And it harm none, do as ye will. Pretty difficult to foment war with that one.

  • Rayne Reyna Kelley via Facebook

    you are so right, it’s time to stop shooting for “tolerance” like that’s the best we can do…LOVE & RESPECT must be the standard!

  • *God/dess belief (DYAC!)

  • “Belief” is defined by some as a “Non-experiential way of knowing…” It’s what we think about something, and what we think is colored, shaded, informed or misinformed by our filters, worldview, environment, etc. “Tolerance”, to me, interprets as “I think I’m right but because I’m polite I’ll be kind in my response to what YOU think…” I’ll “tolerate” you.

    The mystical Christian tradition (curiously enough, so similar to OTHER mystical traditions) offers us the insight that we are, behind our individual identities, ONE Self. St. Chrysostom, writing in the 4th Century, reminded us that bread is made of many individual grains merged to form one substance. Likewise, wine, many individual grapes shed of their “outer skins” is merged together to form one substance. Hence the important symbolism in the Communion story.

    What happens when we all move to a place where we recognize that our model of God is simple that – a model of God. It isn’t God; it’s an image or view. And, it may be unique to each of us. Would it be helpful to ratchet up our views to something more unifying?

    As Rumi wrote, “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase
    ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense.”

  • John, I feel just as you do, that trying to get God to see things are way does two things, displays our arrogance and fails to consider that God’s interaction with us silly people is quite likely far more expansive than we can begin to fathom. I think we should be thankful that we do understand the divine, just a little bit, and have a desire to discover more and more and more…accepting we’ll not figure it all out this side of heaven. You are so right, being concerned with our relationship with God should matter so much more, than our assumptions on what others think when it comes to faith. Sure sharing the love of Christ with others is important. How better than by simply being loving to them? Which reminds me of my favorite quote “preach the gospel daily. If necessary, use words.”

  • dan(Chicago)

    You and me both. I do not like the person I was(for a very long time) at all.

  • Don’t worry, you guys: Nobody every listened to you anyway. Would YOU? (And no offense intended, of course. But you know what I mean.)

  • Eh, the last really interesting dream I remember having involved nuclear disaster and superintelligent apes Planet of the Apes-style trying to kill all humans…

    Call me cynical, but I’m not sure it’s possible. People discriminate and treat each other badly over things that they’re *supposed* to be far more accepting of than religion (which most people think is a “choice.” ) I’ve had to defend my adult-status to the most well-meaning people who, because they’re dealing with someone with a “disorder,” speak to me like I am a child. (In some ways, I kind of am, but it does get frustrating to *know* that I’ve got a status in their eyes of “less than them” even if they would deny such thinking up and down of it were brought up). And those are the people who *don’t* fire me when they find out I have a “something wrong with me” because they’re scared and find some other, non-sueable excuse why they wanted me gone…

    I think with religion, it can get even trickier. I’ve been friends both on and offline with people with different beliefs than me, but it always seems to me like (though it may just be my personal paranoia and non-inclination to truly trust *anybody* )… that as much as they respected and liked me for many areas I shared interest with them in, and as much as they respected my brain, that was always an area where it didn’t apply, an off-limits area where, as smart as I was, I was mildly delusional, or just a tiny bit dumb/gullible, or “weak” enough to need a crutch. Even though they never spoke in such language to me, in my own paranoia, I’ve suspected that kind of condesencion… Maybe it *is* just me.

    When around fellow Christians (who aren’t on this blog), I feel weird becuase I haven’t gone to church in years and have a few “heretical” Unfundamentalist beliefs now – this makes me “not enough” or “fallen” in their eyes I suspect. On the other hand, believing in a spiritual dimension to life or anything I’m willing to call “God” makes me a dumbass in a lot of eyes, or emotionally and morally “weak” or some kind of “enemy” because of the clinging shreds of affiliation… It seems these days when I speak of my beliefs (offline) to anyone because I find myself in a position where I have to… I feel… well, very much like I do when I talk about my bipolar disorder (a thing that is an indellible part of who I am that I can manage but cannot cure but is something “wrong” with me that makes me “wrong” in society), or like when I talk about being a one-time-criminal (I did something stupid once that had me in and out of court for a while)… It’s like I have to explain that *despite* this aspect of my life that will not go away, I’m actually not a threat and not a horrible person who wants to hurt you.

    Leaves me feeling like I want to die sometimes. I’d say I won’t hurt anyone when I’m dead, but I know that I’ll be hurting the people closest to me, so I guess I’m trapped in life for the time being.

  • Duncan Beach

    An interesting concept, but ultimately, the question has to be, ‘Do I respect this other person and their beliefs about God?’

    If the answer is no, as it seems to be from Christianists and Evangelicals, then you get into their face and browbeat them. If the answer is yes, then you leave them alone. One question I’ve always had for these two groups, from whom I’ve never received a satisfactory answer is this:

    From what, precisely, am I supposed to be saved?

  • Thing is, I don’t say everyone has to believe this. This is just *my* take on the situation… it works for *me*. I certainly don’t go around telling everyone that My Way Of Handling This Is The One True Way.

    I can’t control whether or not others feel insulted by my own, very personal, non-proselytizing beliefs. There are, of course, always those who will look for offense; no one can please everyone.

  • true!

  • mike moore

    Dear John,

    It seems appropriate to say that, in this post, you really nailed it. Stuck it. A perfect 10 with no mental gymnastics required. The Gold Medal goes to the guy in the hilly meadow with no shirt.

  • I guess I can’t wrap my head around taking offense because I figure if I’m wrong, I’m wrong. I’ll be dead. It’s not as if there are a bunch of alternatives I’ll have at hand by that point, yanno? I’m not going to stress myself out here and now worrying about just who happens to be the rightest-of-the right. Because we can battle on this to the end of time and, ultimately, no one is going to be able to empirically “prove” any of this to anyone else.

  • Jerry C. Stanaway

    It’s good to be religiously tolerant. Therefore if we think homosexuality is okay and others don’t we have to tolerate the position taken by others, right? Doesn’t tolerance go both ways?

  • dan(Chicago)

    Well, I did listen once, though the witnessor was a friend. I grew up marginally Catholic and ended up a very zealous charismatic through her efforts. I in turn brought a couple of my friends, who ended up on the same path. Not sure where they are now.

  • Really? That’s your response?

    Okay, well, no, Jerry, we don’t have to tolerate the idea that homosexuality is in and of itself a moral abomination, because that “religious” belief brings a great deal of harm to a great many people. You must have missed the part where I wrote, “If it is not resulting in harm being done to anyone else, then what a person believes about God…”.

  • Hey, dan. Always good to hear from you. This is a WAY off-course tangent, but … it beats vacuuming my living room. Did did you like-like the girl who “witnessed” to you? I ask because it’s been my experience that the ONE kind of evangelizer who ever actually has any kind of real luck in that regard are female Christians evangelizing to guys who sort of basically have a crush on them. Did that happen to you here?

  • mike moore

    No. We do not have to tolerant certain positions taken by others. The Christian right has proven that tolerance does not go both ways.

    I’m content to live and let live. The Christian right is not willing to do same. They believe their religious values ought to be codified into law in a way that emotionally, materially, and even physically, harms my family and me.

    I will not tolerate and will fight any attempt to legislate my life.

  • mike moore

    thank you, John, you said it better than I.

  • Jerry C. Stanaway

    I’m not part of the religious right and I have nothing against homosexuality, but I’m a consistent life ethic right-to-lifer. I guess I’m willing to concede not everything can be tolerated. I certainly don’t want to tolerate lethal child abuse against our unborn sisters and brothers.

  • dan(Chicago)

    No, I am gay. She was kind of a mentor/big sister to me, and a neighbor. She was also a marginal Catholic prior to her conversion and quite liberal. She was brought into the church by a woman(coworker) who was very successful as a lay evangelist, and those she brought into the church often ended up mini evangelists themselves. I was pretty vulnerable as an 18 year old gay kid and no match for someone who saw evangelism as their calling.

    Later I became that person. So strange, it seems like someone else’s life!

  • mike moore

    But should a woman tolerate having her body put under state-control and violated because of your personal beliefs?

    This seems to be what John is saying above. It’s not your body. It’s not your decision. It’s none of your business. If you don’t approve of abortion, don’t have one.

  • dyslexics of the world UNTIE! You are in good company Allie. Fortunately most of us are quite fluent in typo.

  • Jerry C. Stanaway

    If you believe in abortion you believe in legalized murder. Legalized murder shouldn’t be tolerated. It is a practice only fit for barbarians and should not be legally permitted. If you have no compassion for innocent little babies who are being sliced up and dismembered you must not be concerned about basic human rights.

  • Allie

    Dude, if you can’t tell the difference between a ball of cells and a baby, I feel sorry for you.

  • Diana A.

    Oh, we’re still trying to figure that one out ourselves. Seriously. I’m taking a class at my church right now and last week we were supposed to attempt to define what we meant by salvation. Of course no one had the same answer. And so it goes.

  • Okay, let’s not do this here. Jerry, stop: you’ve made your Very Dramatic Point. Allie: though of course a tad snarky, that’s a solid response. I’d really appreciate now letting this drop. This just isn’t the place for this particular debate. Thanks a lot you guys; I appreciate your consideration.

  • I’m with you there Mike. Unless you’ve ever found yourself at the difficult crossroads, then it is best to reserve your judgement and/or condemnation.

    I also shake my head in frustrated wonder how people can pick and choose their pet intolerable, and just run with it, never considering that there is almost always more to the story.

  • Oz in OK

    And it’s this rhetoric right here – the ‘I’m right and you’re an immoral bastard and I’m going to tell you how monstrous you are’ attitude – that makes John’s post so absolutely relevant. This comment is moral absolutism at its very worst.

  • Oz in OK

    mike moore, exactly. ‘Christians’ who want to codify discrimination into law will say over and over again ‘It’s because we love you’ – but they don’t… and there’s no way to possibly even believe that they do.

  • Jill

    double ‘like’

  • Either of these two pieces might be a good place to take this discussion:

    Christians and abortion: What are we, babies?

    From a Christian woman who chose abortion

  • gotcha. dig it. love it. thanks for sharing.

  • Why do I have this overwhelming urge to cross a wooden bridge to get to the yummy grass on the other side, and have this feeling that there is someone under that bridge?

  • Diana A.


  • Jill

    And I don’t think it’s about focusing on where I’m ending up after I die because right now, today is all I’ve got. And God asks me to make the most of today.

    Allie, I’m not sure who is it that’s mistaken from your comment, maybe I missed your point, but is it possible that no one’s actually mistaken? Heaven is spelled nirvana in the Buddhist belief and vaikuntha in Hindu.

  • Jill

    AHAHAHAHA!! I’m still SO grateful I sucked at proselytizing and conversion! Oh man I could talk it up, but I just stunk at convincing anybody to ‘come over to the other side’.

    Could it be in part because I couldn’t convince MYSELF that knocking on people’s doors with ‘the message of the good news’ was a good idea? Perhaps.

  • I never attempted the feat Jill. Partially cause I’m an introvert, partially cause quite frankly I suck at sales. I also never saw the need, or the point. It’s not like, at least in my neck of the south, you couldn’t find some evangelical themed aid somewhere.

  • Without respect, there is no love. Brilliant, John. Lovely dreams, too.

  • Jill

    John, mike, Oz– sheer perfection that.

  • The only time I ever tried converting anyone, a bird crapped on my head.

    Even then, I took that as a sign 😛

  • Carol VanderNat

    I’ll see your double, and raise you one…..

  • Jill

    This post is making Christianity new again for me, and that is a very big deal. I always strive to see things in a different way, especially when the ‘old view’ has pain and grief attached to it.

    Knowing (and loving) people through other lenses, other faiths and belief systems, has made me a better human being. I don’t know how it couldn’t. To leave Christianity so long ago in abject sadness and now to turn around and see it again, maybe really for the first time with all these other world views in my back pocket, it is different this time. To see Grace from the perspective of Maitri, to understand how this all does fit together!

    The power of this realization is tearfully lovely. Kinda had no idea this was possible. You just floored me again.

  • I think the point was to more than tolerate *people*, which you can do while simultaneously being less than tolerant of things, behaviours or practices, whatever they are. John is intolerant of lots of terrible things, which is great.

  • This is somewhat nit-picking, but there is no such thing as legalized murder, because murder, *by definition* is illegal killing. You can have legal killing, like in self defense, which we are generally all ok with, so it is a question of where to draw the line. Each human right is always held i. balance with all other human rights. It’s necessarily complicated because the rights of one individual and another will necessarily come into conflict.

    I won’t weight in on the question itself here, to avoid the off-topic-ness, but I did want to comment on the idea of telling other people that they don’t care about human rights when they view that balance differently. There is space to disagree on how human rights should function in practice.

  • Kirsten A.S. Mebust via Facebook

    So, it’s none of my business if someone believes their God is telling them to kill gays? It’s none of my business if someone believes God thinks white people where meant to rule over people of other colors? I don’t think “none of my business” gets us out of the “tolerance” category. Sorry, our respect for others beliefs has to go far enough that we are curious enough to ask and listen to what they have to say and challenged enough to discuss the implications with them– and also, reciprocally, be willing to be challenged by them.

  • Jill

    Let’s just say I didn’t really do it with a great willingness. But it was part and parcel of the doctrine, of the activities involved in that faith. And I was 10 years old, so I didn’t have much choice in the matter.

    I took a digger down a full flight of apartment stairs once — that SHOULD have told me what’s what. Ah, God’s such a prankster!

  • I’m not sure I understand how that is insulting.

  • Shadsie, I have found my changing beliefs and identity really painful too. I really struggle with shame, and I know what you mean about feeling judged everywhere you turn, and about the most personal things–things we feel so, so vulnerable about. I hope it’s not out of line that I’m replying to you, but your last paragraph caught my eye, and as a person who has suffered from severe depression, I wanted to say that I hope you choose to live–not because you’d be hurting people around you, but because you are valuable and worth loving, because there is something beautiful in you even if you struggle with deep shame, and because you are loved even when you are too depressed to feel it. I don’t know if that is meaning ful to you, but I am sending you a big hug and wishing you light and love.

  • It doesn’t hurt to ponder: in the creation story, Adam’s body was complete, whole and functioning. But he was still not a human being. It wasn’t until God breathed life into him that he became a living soul. God brings life. Not us.

  • I agree with the statement that another person’s beliefs are none of my business (well, except that I might learn something from them!), but I’m wondering if believing that is enough to really promote love and respect. I’m thinking also about the importance of being open to the possibility that we might be wrong. I don’t mean being wishy-washy about what we believe, but simply acknowleging that there is a distinction between reality and how any person perceives reality. I wonder if just acknowleging that we might be wrong (as you also do on your blog) opens the door to respecting another person and their beliefs. Probably a lot of other factors as well….

  • Diana A.

    Good point!

  • Read Joseph Campbell’s works, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, and, The Masks if God. You’ll find them most enlightening.

  • Karen F. Roth via Facebook

    AMEN ON Joseph Campbell! Was just talking about him to my Guitar Instructor!

  • dan(Chicago)

    Humility. Yes!

  • dan(Chicago)

    Usually the ones who do well at converting others are the recently converted, at least in my old circles. They often ended up bringing along a couple of their old friends or family members. Those that grew up in the church were rarely good at it. They just didn’t have the contacts.

  • re: Your first two sentences. John spoke to that with this sentence. “If it is not resulting in harm being done to anyone else, then what a person believes about God is entirely, fully, one hundred percent their business.” Did you miss that?

    Of course, if what another believes is potentially harmful or actually causes harm to another, then it IS our business. That’s what civil lawmaking is all about. It’s why we tell our children, as I did, to not engage in ridicule and harassment of others or lie about others, or steal or physically harm others or property.

    But I get what John is saying when evoking the golden rule. Anyone who lives by that principal deserves to expect that how and if they believe in a Supreme Being or Power is none of my business. And none of yours.

  • there is a profound difference between words and actions. words, even hateful ones are protected under the Constitution Actions are subject to law as well- I think re-considering MLK’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial most succinctly outlines the path forward.

  • Beautiful as always John,

    From your atheist friend, with love


  • skip johnston

    Long ago I came to the conclusion that absolutely everyone alive on the planet is in exactly the right place God wants them to be for God to reach them in the next moment. This led to a few more insights. First, my understanding of “God” is pretty limited. Some days I just don’t understand the Universe. God’s working with folks in really weird ways. But if I watch, I can see God really is working! And sometimes all God needs from me is to get the hell(!) out of the way.

  • Love love LOVE that Skip!

  • Lymis

    While I agree with what you say, I’ve found I need to pay attention to another aspect – that I can be absolutely correct that my answer is the right one for me, and that doesn’t mean it is the right answer for everyone else, or that acknowledging that someone else’s answer is (or may be) right for them doesn’t mean I have decide my way is wrong.

    What’s the right way to get to the airport? Well, for me, it is getting into my car and driving north. But you’d better not take my car, at least without permission. But you might take your car west – to the train station, and take the train in. Someone else may call a limo, or (lucky bastards) have a helicopter pick them up on their lawn and fly them there, and so on.

    What is the right way to be open to the presence of God in our lives? It could be regular church attendance in the franchise of your choice, but it could be time alone in nature, or time working among the poor, or time alone in contemplation.

    I don’t have to evaluate someone else’s path. I only have to honor that they get a vote about their path, and I don’t, unless they specifically ask me.

  • Lymis

    Actually, no it’s none of your business what they believe. It may well be your business to intervene if their actions based on those beliefs harms others.

    If someone believes that white people are inherently better than black people, but as a result is unfailingly gracious, kind, and completely fair in all their social and business dealings with people of “the lesser races” and supports complete equality under the law because the inherent superiority of white people is God’s business, is that any of your concern if they don’t ask you for your approval?

    No, it’s their actions and the impact they have on others that are the issue.

    They’re still wrong. And I’d hope that those fair and gracious dealings with people would gradually sink in to their bigoted heads and hearts, and those beliefs are still up for discussion, but not suppression.

  • Lymis

    I’ll take the bait.

    I’m perfectly happy to tolerate someone’s belief that I am immoral and perverted. Well, maybe not “perfectly happy” – they do tend to tick me off.

    But I’ll be happy to tolerate someone who believes that way, by avoiding them when possible and letting them live their narrow-minded lives in peace.

    But tolerating a bigot, or the knowledge that their belief is bigoted, is entirely different from tolerating being treated badly, or being discriminated against. When I go for my marriage license as an equal citizen of my state and country, I expect them to do their job professionally. They don’t have to gush with well-wishes, but they do need to do their job.

    The same at the grocery store, or even on the street. I am willing to tolerate someone who disapproves of my marriage, but that doesn’t mean I have to put up with being called names by total strangers.

    And none of this happens in a vacuum, especially today, because “disapproving of homosexuality” isn’t just a viewpoint – it is tied into legal and financial systemic actual harm being done to LGBT people every day. Discrimination is written into law, into corporate policy, into the very constitutions of many US states, and one major political party has made it a party platform to write it into the US Constitution. That’s not merely “a position.” That’s an ongoing an concerted set of concrete actions intended to harm people.

    Show me the person who says, and actually means, “I disapprove of homosexuality, but that has nothing to do with civil equality. I will work tirelessly until there is not a single law or corporate policy which in any way discriminates against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and then and only then will I start to have the discussions with people about why I think that they can and should choose differently.”

    That would be a person I could not only tolerate, but respect. The probably wouldn’t have either been invited to or shown up at my wedding, but that’s a different issue.

    The question of whether something goes both ways presupposes that the playing field is level and that “both ways” are essentially equivalent. They aren’t.

    But you know that, and you think you have a way to use our principles as a “gotcha.” Doesn’t work that way. Because we actually have thought this through. It isn’t just some bumper sticker we’re quoting.

  • Lymis

    I don’t think the question really is “Do I respect this other person and their beliefs about God” but rather, “Do I respect this other person and their right to have their own beliefs about God?”

  • Allie

    Isn’t it funny how bigots don’t ever decide that others being inferior means you should be especially nice to them, since they’re suffering under a handicap? That’s how you know someone’s belief isn’t real, but just a justification for doing whatever evil they were planning on doing anyway.

  • Allie

    Since you asked… speaking for myself I never had any trouble understanding what I needed to be saved from. It may be you have no habits you wish you didn’t have and at all times treat other people well and do good in the world. I don’t. Even when I try really hard, much of the time I am mean and lazy.

    If you have no similar troubles within yourself and you always do what you wish you were doing, I guess you don’t need saved.

  • Rob B

    Preach it, Skip!

  • charles


    that was rather studly (no gender politics intended).

  • Gordon

    This is inspired. Truly.

    What do you eat and/or drink before you go to bed? I want some.

  • Gordon

    Me neither. And what does “heaven” have to do with anything?

  • Diana A.

    That Holy Spirit is such a clown!

  • Gordon

    When I was in my early 20’s my church lost its collective mind and decided to organize 2-by-2 teams to go door-to-door and preach the Gospel. I was the Minister of Music, so I was considered “Management” in a churchy sort of way. I had to do it. I didn’t want to do it. I had to do it.

    First door we knocked on: A big heavy man in a dirty white tee-shirt answered the door. He had an open beer can in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The TV was blaring in the background and he took one look at me and my companion and looked very pissed about being interrupted. I turned around and threw up over the side of his porch railing.

    They didn’t make me do it anymore after that.

  • Diana A.

    10? Good Lord, you were just a kid! Don’t slam yourself for the things you did when you were too young to know any better. You learned and you changed and that’s what counts.

  • Diana A.

    The Lord works in mysterious ways!

  • Gordon

    I won’t tolerate being tolerated.

  • Diana A.


  • Jill

    Damn I wish I tried that trick! 😉 Would’ve saved me years of fear and humiliation!

    That was a great share Gordon.

  • Jill

    Yup, unfortunately my beautiful 6 year old niece is being brought up the same way, and I can say nothing in opposition to it unless I want to risk losing her from my life.

    I agree– I’m much more forgiving of the whole affair many years later, but the tentacles of deception sure took a while to remove. And lots of therapy. 😉

  • Jill

    Oh hell yes!

  • Diana A.

    Talk is cheap anyway. Be the example. Be the good Christian aunt who focuses more on the Love of Christ than on Hellfire and Damnation. Ask kind, loving questions rather than making statements so that she can see that there’s more than one way to be Christian. Christianity isn’t bad, it’s just that there are a lot of bad Christians in this world.

  • Jill

    And that seems to be the clog in the drain– respecting someone else’s belief is NOT the same as respecting someone’s RIGHT to have said belief.

  • catrenn

    Can’t help but wonder if the other prophets woke up in the morning and went, “Oh, no, God, not again….” 😉

  • Michael A. Foughty via Facebook

    Interesting, but how do we reconcile with “The Great Commission,” which I think expects Christians to do more than just be nice and accepting.

  • mike moore

    I think the idea is to act like Jesus, rather than preach Jesus while acting like a pharisee.

  • Lymis

    Funny, I don’t remember the command to go out unto the world and condemn everyone.

  • Jill

    And the reality that Jesus himself is recorded to have been a person, not a religious zealot bent on converting the whole world to his way of thinking, but to ask people to think about what compassion means in the broader context.

    I doubt the stories about the good Samaritan, the woman at the well, etc. would be valid if he couldn’t respect others not of the same ideology as he.

  • Well, if you’re me, you write this book: I’m OK – You’re Not.

  • Jill

    Yeah, or that.

  • Don Rappe

    Good dream John! And good remembering of it too.

  • charles

    if you dont have God’s love- you aint got no commission.

  • This brought tears to my eyes. I believe the Great Commission is simply to live with such utter and complete love that we draw people to us and to GOD through that love. You have an amazing gift with words. Thank you for sharing your words into my life.

  • When I have a dream where I am half dressed in a public place and everyone is staring at me, they *never* turn out as eloquent and profound as this. Rats. 😉

  • mike moore

    oh man, I bet you’re one of those good guys who is actually changing the world rather than just posting snarky comments on blogs. ugh.

  • Mark

    Whenever we impose our view of God on someone else, we limit God. Who am I to think that the view of God I received while growing up is all of God? When we listen and show respect to those whose beliefs about God are different from our own, our view of God has a chance to grow — and everyone wins!!

  • Allie

    Tell me, have you ever met a person over the age of four who did not know who Jesus was and what he was about? I haven’t – and I include in my group of friends people who were raised in traditional tribal religion in Africa, Sikhs, Jains, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, pagans, and members of other faiths I’m not thinking of. People from India, Korea, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Norway, Finland, Belgium, New Zealand, and dozens more. And not one of these people needed ME to tell them who Jesus was or that he died for our sins. Every single one of these people had already heard that, before even coming to America. There may be some remote regions of the Amazon rainforest which contain people who haven’t heard of Jesus, but I doubt it, since there’s a special patrol designed to round up all the missionaries who insist on going down there to bother remote tribes and give them all the flu so they die even though it’s against the law to approach them.

    I don’t recall the Great Commission being to bug the heck out of people until they agree with you, or to tell people who have decided not to accept Jesus that they are wrong. Every person I know has the power to look Jesus up on the internet and read the Bible if they want to do that. If they have chosen not to do that, it is not my business to tell another adult what to do with their free time.

    I try to witness with my life. I talk freely about my relationship with God with anyone who asks. And I’ve had some very interesting conversations as a result, including one with a coworker of my father’s from Communist China who said that anyone claiming to be altruistic was just lying, and he couldn’t understand why Christians were all such big liars. As far as I can tell, a handful of people have converted following such conversations, which is something so amazing it takes my breath away. But not one of those conversations that went well happened because I started out to force my faith on someone else. Human beings don’t operate like that.

  • Jill

    You talkin ta me? Are you talkin ta me? (I’m sorry…)

    Seriously have you seen the glut of posts I’ve been putting out here? If I was out changing the world, I’d probably not have enough time to chat so. No, I’m just a good girl crusader with a day job, and even my good girl status depends on who you talk to. And I’ve already admitted (somewhere out here) that I’m addicted to this blog. It’s about conquering my fears, and I’m afraid of Christians. There, I’ve said it.

    Full disclosure: no use in hiding behind my fancy avatar. 😉

    And snark is merely a tool that comes in handy every now and again. I wield it carefully.

  • Jill

    I’m thinking you probably meant to embed on John’s comment, since he’s the one actually doing that whole world-changing thing that he does.

  • Jill

    Exactly, which is a truth that the bulk of proselytizers just don’t grasp.

  • mike moore

    you are very correct … my comment was meant for John. (he is such a do-gooder!)

    And I love your snark. You’re a Goddess of Snarky Goodness.

  • Lymis

    Exactly. The point is to have people approach you and ask, “Would you tell me why you are so happy and loving and so able to handle life so well? You must have something I don’t and I’d like to know what it is.”

    The point is not to have people approach you and ask, “Would you please stop telling me I’m going to hell? You don’t seem to have your life together and you’re just annoying at this point.”

    Remember when the goal was to have people look at a group of Christians and have their overwhelming impression be “See how they love one another”?

  • Kevin

    Wasn’t His guidance to the woman at the well to go and sin no more? Isn’t there a difference in condeming the behavior and condeming the person?

    I believe we are called to both preach and act like Jesus.

    John 8:7-11 KJV

    So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

  • charles

    I think acting like Jesus is a pretty tall order- Preaching like Jesus is something that goes way beyond that as well. I think we CAN however TRY to act like Jesus- and do everything in our power to not diminish His words with our actions. Its a matter of moving in humility and forwarding HIS message- not our own. And his message was Love God, and Love one another.

  • Diana A.

    Nah. A little less talk and a lot more action. The best sermon is a good example. Walk your walk and demonstrate by your walk that you are moving in the correct direction.

    Seriously, a big mistake made by too many Christians is that we spend so much time preaching to others about what they should be doing that we never get around to practicing what we should be doing. Let your actions speak for themselves.

  • Diana A.

    Amen! Preach it Charles!

  • Jill

    Encouraging someone for whom you care about their wellbeing to stop self-destructing is one thing. I’ve told friends of mine that certain choices and certain chemicals were literally killing them, and I didn’t want to sit idly by while it happened. But no preaching of any variety came out of my mouth.

    I think we ought to try to assume that people not of the exact same make and model of Christian ideology as you (or whomever) have their God-given brain just as powerful and their God-given heart just as loving as yours or mine. And their God-given brains and hearts can and do lead them into the path that God has given them to follow. And we can be there to support and love them as Christ exemplified the way.

    If you think a person in true need is going to turn to a proselytizing zealot for help, advice, support, you might be waiting a while. Not everybody got an earful of theology when they turned to Jesus for help. Sometimes compassion was all the sermon He gave.

  • Kevin

    Diana…I agree with you that the the best sermon is a life lived as a good example. I also agree that too much time is often spent policing others before we clean our own house. I think what I was trying to say is that there is more to the Christian faith than love…there is also obedience. Obedience without love is hollow…but so is love without obedience. This may not be the first message that a non or new believer should hear…but as we grow in our faith we must also grow in our understanding of our faith, or else our behavior, our obedience to our faith, can’t grow into something that is a good example for others to follow.

  • Lymis

    Yes, but notice something that is usually overlooked when this passage is cited: even though in other recorded Gospel stories, Jesus is vocally opposed to adultery and condemns it in no uncertain terms, he doesn’t do that here.

    Notice, Jesus doesn’t say, “I won’t punish you, but I will condemn you.” He says he won’t condemn her.

    Notice Jesus doesn’t say, “Go, and here are clear and rigid rules I expect you to follow going forward. Here are the specific things you have to do in order not to sin.” He says, “Go and sin no more.”

    He doesn’t even say “Go home to your husband” or “Leave that other woman’s husband alone from now on.”

    He doesn’t say “If you promise not to sin any more, then I won’t condemn you.” He says he doesn’t condemn, and only then tells her to go an sin no more.

  • Allie

    Madeline L’Engle’s commentary on this passage was that she feels that not only did Jesus say this, but because it was Jesus saying it, it gave her the power to do it. Like “take up your bed and walk.” Someone not Jesus saying that would just be a jerk, not a healer.

  • Jill

    That is so clear for me Allie, thanks for posting it.

  • Allie

    Speaking of religious tolerance, I am very sad about the Sikhs. My dad used to work in the Punjab with Sikhs and I liked them. It breaks my heart that some ignorant fool may have attacked this temple because he didn’t know the difference between Islam and Sikhism.

  • Barbara Rice

    I know what you meant here, but attacking them because he didn’t know the difference between Islam and Sikhism is still hatred.

  • Delwyn X. Campbell

    This all sounds nice, but then, based upon what you are saying, the Apostles were all just a bunch of busybodies, and Paul of Tarsus was the biggest busybody of all (remember Mar’s Hill?). I understand that there is a way to rightly preach the Gospel, and a wrong way, nevertheless, the primary method of proclaiming the Gospel is still, according to Jesus and the Scriptures, preaching. Not everyone is called to be an evangelist, just like not everyone is called to be a teacher, but that doesn’t mean that you dismiss the necessity of teaching. My friend, I think you’re “doing too much,” with all due respect.

    So how do you reconcile the biblical call to preach the Gospel, with your philosophy of nonintervention in the spiritual/eschatological destiny of others? If, for example, there is only one God, polytheists are, well, to use a bad word, WRONG. If we cannot be good enough to earn our way into God’s favor, those who say that we can are MISTAKEN, and if Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life, those who say that he is just one of God’s spokespersons are BELIEVING A LIE.

    Now, I can be what you might call nice, and keep that to myself, but what if God chose to use people instead of angels to proclaim His Good News? Does He not have the authority to command those who claim to believe in Him to “preach the Gospel to every creature,” and to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father , and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you?” Who should I obey, God and His Word, or you and your dream? After all, I wasn’t there to witness your dream, and have only your word that it is as you say. You did not create me, nor do you have the power of life and death over me. In the words of Peter, “”Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.”

  • Oz in OK

    That question has already been asked (and answered) in the comments below. I think you would be well-served in looking there.

  • Allie

    Go read Romans, chapter 2.

    But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:

    For there is no respect of persons with God.

    For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;

    (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.

    For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:

    Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)

    In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.

  • Thanks, Allie. 🙂 Christ is the final judge no matter what anyone believes. He won’t be consulting the current day Christian church members when he opens the doors to heaven to whomever he chooses.

    Delwyn, there are a lot of dreams in the Bible that people take for God’s word, such as John’s in the book of Revelation and Paul’s own vision of Jesus. No one but those men saw what they saw. And yet (I assume) you believe their word.

  • Beautiful. Thanks for sharing that.

  • One thing the Lord showed me about this passage was that he got alone with the woman to speak with her. He didn’t have anyone around. We need to trust that Jesus can lead a person into who they are to become; all we need to do is put down our rocks and leave them alone.

  • A real live GSG! Awesome! 😀

  • Jill

    well said!

  • Delwyn X. Campbell

    I believe what the Scriptures report. The dreams that you refer to are recorded in Scripture. So, it isn’t “their word,” but God’s word, that I believe.

    Regarding the larger issue of how one gets into heaven, I agree that Christ is the judge. The Scriptures provide the parameters, as given by the Lord, not by me or anyone else, including the host of this website.

    I reread Allie’s quote of Romans 2, trying to see how that as germane to my question. I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I’m not the dunbest either. Nevetheless, I do not see the connection betwen my statement, made in reference to the contention that God does not judge people based upon what is proclaimed in the Gospel, but on some other, aparently unrevealed basis connected to how well we love others. If you are trying to use Romans 2 to claim that God judges us upn how well we obey the Law by loving our neighbor, then you are claiming that we can justify ourselves by our works. The same Paul who wrote Romans 2, however, also wrote Romans 3:20-28 and Ephesians 2:8-9 – there are no works of the Law that we can present before God as our defense. Paul’s argument in Romans 2 was directed to the Jew who claims superiority over the Gentile based upon the Law. Acordingto his hypothetical Jewish adversary, the Gentiles were all condemned because they were not under the Law; in order to be accepted before God, one had to be under the covenant of the Law. To that argument, Paul replied that under the Law, it was the DOERS, not the HEARERS, who were justified, thus, a Gentile who, albeit as a result of conscience, kept the Commandments, was in a better state than the Jew who, while knowing the Law, violated it with the expectation that Abraham’s favor was sufficient to cover him.

    The soteriological question is not answered by being “better” (since no one is perfect but Jesus), for even our “better” falls short of the glory of God. Only the righteousness of faith is sufficient to meet the standards of the Holy One, because, in His grace, He is “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

    If there is a way to be justified, apart from faith in Jesus Christ, then there is another Gospel. In fact, according to Paul, any message that offers a way to God apart from faith in Christ is, in fact, “another Gospel.” Consider these words:

    I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.

    (Gal 1:6-8 NKJV)

    What Gospel did Paul preach? Did it present Jesus as one of many messengers, an avatar, or a good teacher to be emulated? Did it not present Jesus Christ as the ONLY One through whom we have peace with God, forgiveness of sins, and “access by faith into this grace in which we now stand?”

    To the one who said that my question was already answered, I can only reply, “no, perhaps YOUR question was, but it was all of your answers in praise of these ideas that criticized the ministry of preaching that brought forth my question.” IF Francis of Assissi said, “”Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words,” we have no record of it, and, given that he was known to be a fervent preacher, it is unlikely that he ever uttered those words. More importantly, Jesus and the Apostles did not model that as the method of evangelism – it is the Word that brings salvation, not your goodness. Even Peter’s words in 1 Pet 3:15-16 do not exclude preaching, on the contrary, we are called to make sure that people DON’T look at our conduct and conclude that we are wonderful people who should be emulated, but instead we are to tell them that we act the way we do BECAUSE Jesus did what He did (see 1 Peter 3:18).

    I understand that Mr. Shore is well thought of because of his books. I have not read them, but the comments that I have read here do not commend them to me, because they praise a man for saying that there is a way other than that of the Cross, a way that those who reject the Gospel can yet use to please God the Father of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

  • charles

    something to measure against……

    1 Corinthians 13:1 >>

    If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

  • Delwyn X. Campbell

    Ok. We are talking past each other. Love is not the antithesis of ministry, but the motivation for it. Love does not denigrate ministry, nor does it dismiss the Word as a minor accessory. I have no wish to argue about words. Either a person repents and believes the Gospel, or he do not, because he is convinced that he has no need to do so. There are many today, who ask the question, “From what do I need to be saved?” I have seen some of them on this site. Apparently, those who ask such a question have never heard the Law proclaimed, for they feel no conviction, thus, they feel that they have no need for the deliverance that Christ offers through the Gospel. I cannot wish them well, but only that God, in His mercy, would awaken them to godly sorrow, which brings repentance, not to be ashamed of. Otherwise, the Word declares but one end for those who do not believe the Gospel. The lake of fire is as real as is heaven, and is as much the place of torment as heaven is the place of joy. God takes no joy in the death of the wicked, nor do His people. Until God removes the words, “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2) from His Word, we are to continue to preach the Gospel, for it yet remains “the power of God unto salvation for all who believe” (Rom 1:16).

  • Jill

    *bashful* but digging the moniker

    I might have to borrow that mike.

  • Jill

    Perhaps our two directions are unable to meet. Delwyn I won’t attempt to reason with you scripturally, to hopefully have you see another side of the story. I think you’d have me beat, hands down. But using vast swathes of scriptural text to hammer your point home isn’t entirely effective for someone like me, who’s been battered and bruised by having the Bible not so gently compressed down my throat during a childhood in a fundamentalist upbringing.

    Preaching the Gospel may be your calling, and I make no judgments. But I challenge your comment about the necessity of teaching, as if denying all other manner of teaching as invalid. I can attest to learning, grasping, and gaining more about the Gospel in two months from John’s writings along with his stalwart bloggers than I did over 12 years of church three times a week and door to door proselytizing on Saturdays as an awkward kid.

    For me as I can only speak for me, the witness of Christ’s love and wisdom has only recently become a path of forgiveness for the shoddy treatment of Jesus’ true message by people claiming to be staunch representatives. A lot of damage can be done, my friend, in the name of preaching the Gospel. A LOT. And some of those wounds leave life-long scars.

    Not to turn the dialog to one of pity, but I’m hoping that using a different angle of the mirror of belief can help inform others that there’s so much more to preaching than preaching. Please understand my point is only to give a broader context. I believe loving others (no exceptions) as yourself as solid Gospel for my life, as I’ve seen that love create miracles. I believe this is the intent on this blog as well, which is why you see my name attached to praise for the love shown here that I didn’t see during my days as a ‘good Christian soldier’.

    If love isn’t the big deal I think it is, that I think Jesus thinks it is, then color me ignorant. That’s all I’ve got. I wish you peace.

  • charles

    the point Delwyn is that too often, the word is preached without the heart of Jesus for the lost- many of us believe, frankly, that being in the LGBT community is not something that excludes membership from those who both need, and desire to be in the Christian fold- anymore than the gossip or liar. In fact, to put things in a sort of perspective- the gossip and liar are doing more harm to the ministry than anyone of the LBGT community- because they are living a lie themselves. We ALL need the blood of the Cross for redemption- and as the Word says- judge not, lest you be judged. for me- coming from a Catholic, and then Charismatic background that means that my judgement as to condemning my brother or sister is neither requested nor desired from Jesus- Especially since he is indeed the man who found his friends among those found detestable to the Pharisee’s and Saducees. We are meant be a becon of hope for the hopeless- not a crushing epression of Gods judgment to those who already know their neediness.

  • charles

    and as a postscript- Romans 3:23

    New International Version (NIV)

    23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

    which says succinctly that we ALL are sinners and worthy of judgement- and that our salvation and rescue come through the loving act of God in redeeming us not through who we are, but who HE sees us as.

  • Believing in the reality of a literal hell is hardly the mark of a “real” Christian, Delwyn. I think hell is a manifestly childish absurdity developed and used by the power of the church to prey upon people’s natural guilt and fears. And I promise that I know as much about “godly sorrow” and the reality of Christ and God as you do.

    The coded language of your first comment revealed that you believe yourself to be one of those specially selected by God to speak for God, to righteously convict others of His power and glory. But you are not, in fact, such a person—and neither is anyone else. You have no unique insight into the truth of the Bible, the mind or will of Jesus, or the workings of the Holy Spirit. Neither does anyone else. You’re just a guy trying, like everyone else in the world, to be as correct, knowledgeable and wise about the biggest things anyone can possibly be.

    If you want to hang out and chat with us, you’re more than welcome. I’d like to have you. But if you’re essentially stuck with the conviction that God desires you to evangelize to us all, then … well, for one, it’d be great if you’d read What Non-Christians Want Christians to Hear. (And also, if you would, Accosted by a Christian). Then consider that maybe this isn’t the place to evangelize. It is a place to engage, show some love, get about all the love you want, and explore the idea that from us God may not want anything at all beyond that we earnestly and in the best possible faith share our journeys with one another.

  • Allie

    Okay, you don’t see the relevance? REALLY? really? You don’t see how it’s relevant that Paul says those who haven’t received the law (through preaching) and yet keep it will be JUST FINE. That doesn’t have any relevance to anything you’re saying.

    What’s the point in even having a conversation with someone who might as well be speaking another language due to lack of ability to comprehend simple words? I’m out.

  • Bro Shore, thank you for your welcome. For the record, I do not attempt to use “coded language,” but endeavor to speak plainly. Do I feel that I am called to a particular work of ministry? Yes. There are gifts which God has given to the church, which I am sure you are familiar with. Just as not all are called to pastor, nor all called to the work of an evangelist, so not all have any of the gifts of ministry. Each person DOES, I believe, have at least one gift, for all who are members of the Body have been empowered by the Spirit to represent/reveal Christ through the gifts of the Spirit.

    Does it mean that I feel called to “to righteously convict others of His power and glory”? No. It is neither I, nor anyone else, who has the above quoted power, other than Christ Himself – the Word made flesh.

    Regarding Hell, or, more accurately, the lake of fire, since Jesus declared its reality, I can do no more than accept His word as truth in the matter. Neither your reasonings, nor mine, should carry more weight than His Word. As much as I might wish that there were no judgment coming upon those reject the Gospel, for I have family members who have died about which I have no certainty, nevertheless, “let God be true, and every man a liar.” We do not get to embrace heaven, the reward of the righteous, but dismiss hell, the just sentence of the wicked, when Christ proclaimed the reality of both.

    It is clear that you feel called to speak “prophetically” to the Church regarding our inconsistancy regarding revealing Christ’s love in the world, as reflected in your recounting of your dream, so for you to say that I “have no unique insight into the truth of the Bible, the mind or will of Jesus, or the workings of the Holy Spirit. Neither does anyone else,” is ironic, for your statement apparently excludes you, yourself. Others have extolled your writings as a refreshing tonic to the Body of Christ, and some are even using them as teaching aids in their work of equipping the saints for the work of ministry. I am inclined, out of curiosity and to get a clearer understanding of where you are coming from, to get some of your books, and, between my other studies, read them, for I am troubled by some of what I HAVE read so far.

    You are not me, and we are not all called to the same work. I no more expect you to mirror me than I expect Michael W. Smith to mirror Fred Hammond. On the other hand, I do expect that we would hold fast to the traditions that have been delivered to us, above all, submitting every teaching, utterance, and act, to the authority of the Word of God. In the final analysis, it is God, rather than men, to whom we will each give an account. I did not come here because I saw you and your friends/fans as souls in need of saving, but came across this page on an acquaintance’s page. For the record, I am heavily engaged in preparing to enter pastoral ministry, and have more than enough on my plate. I do not spent my time “heresy hunting.” You have become famous for making some rather provocative comments about American Christians, and some of them, in my opinion, go farther than you need. Unlike you, I do not have any book deals, nor are people clamoring to read my next words, so at the very least, I think it is fair to say that you are a better writer than I. When your words, however, conflict with the Word, and I see it, I can no more look the other way than I can avert my gaze while a prosperity pimp “hustles” the Gospel for his own gain. While I agree with you that we are not to “not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18), given that the author of those words did not fail to proclaim the truth of God’s Word, I do not take those words as flying in conflict with our call to minister in Word and Sacrament as well as in deed. We are not to ONLY speak words of building up, but we ARE to speak them while we do those things that help those who are in need.

    “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the face of his friends” – I hope that I can both give and receive a blessing from these pages, and I feel the warmth of those who found a sense of healing from the painful wounds inflicted wrongly by those who claimed the name of Christ, yet did not apparently walk in His steps. While I do not have the other side of the stories that I have read here, I do not deny the real pain that those who have found comfort in your writings experienced. Their experience is not my testimony, and although I, too, have my own share of horror stories from “church-folk,” I do not think that I need to reject Christ, or the ministry of the Word and Sacrament, in order to find Him to Whom it testifies.

    Even if some, claiming His name, have lost their way, He is still The Way. There is still “no other name given under heaven whereby we must be saved,” and, as one of your commenters wrote, it is not that “I am Ok – You are not,” but that we are all sinners, “but God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8 NKJV). I still need, after all these years, to remind myself of these words, for I am still awaiting the redemption of the body – the good fight of faith is still to be fought while we live in this flesh. So I come to you, not as your judge, but as your brother in the struggle. I don’t know it all, but I know in part. I only desire that you would see His face in peace, as “He is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory, with exceeding joy.” This same joy, I delight to offer to all, because He has called me to do so, your earlier words notwithstanding. Just like I wasn’t in your dream, and cannot speak for or against it, other than to point out my concerns where it seems to contradict God’s Word, so you were not there when the Lord showed me the work of ministry to which He called me. You are doing what you feel you must do, and I am doing what I feel I must, but “we shall each stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” May we each see His face in peace.

  • Bro Charles,

    I understand where ou are coming from, and I agree true ministry cannot flow where love is absent. “Christ came into the world to save sinners,…” Paul wrote to Timothy, and He came out of love. If we do not love those with whom we share the need of His grace and truth, then we are not sharing His Word of grace. There are many who DO preach Law, thinking to do God’s service, but not all are guilty of this wrong. “Rightly dividing the word of truth” includes allowing God, working through us, to minister the aspect of the Word to the individual that will bring deliverance to that individual. If I am complacently walking in the flesh, then I need the corrective of the Law, while if I am burdened with condemnation and fear, then I need the good news of His grace.

    One of the reasons that a novice should not be given the responsibility of pastoral oversight, regardless of his abilities as a speaker, is because of this responsibility to rightly divide the word of truth, the responsibility of binding and loosing. God does call us in love, and He does call us to holiness. He does not excuse the gossip and the liar, nor does He excuse those who “exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.” The practicing homosexual is not going to be in a special part of Hell (and I am using this term as most people understand it, the place of God’s ultimate judgment, rather than its more biblical use as the place where the dead await that judgment), separate from the adulteror, fornicator, liar, and murderer. Nevertheless, what the Bible calls sin is still sin, no matter how we as a culture have embraced it.

    It is not “love” to tell a rebellious sinner that his rebellion is overlooked by God, anymore than it is love for a parent to refuse to correct his child, no matter how the world clamors to the contrary. If you love your neighbor as yourself, you will encourage her, first of all, to seek the Lord Jesus Christ, if you have been found by Him, as the One who can give her life and that abundantly. Then, you will encourage her to be holy, as He is holy, and has made us to be partakers of the Spirit of holiness. You would encourage your brother, when he stumbles, to get back up again, reminding him that “if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

    We do not say, “I’m Ok – you’re not,” when we understand that “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Tit 2:11-14 NKJV). I need Him now, as much as I needed Him the day I first repented and believed the Gospel. The biggest difference is that now, after almost 40 years, I am comfortable with the fact God is my righteousness, and that I am not working for my salvation, but working out my salvation, by loving those whom Christ loves, in what I say AND what I do. There is no dichotomy between ministering the Word and ministering His presence in us; there are only differences in HOW we do each, as God has enabled and equipped us. You are going to be held accountable for how you used what God placed in you, and I am going to be called to account for how I used what God has placed in me. While we are to “bear one another’s burdens…, each one shall bear his own load” (Gal 6:2,5).

    I encourage you to press on, keep the faith, leting God use you. Just don’t restrict how God can use you, simply because others may have abused the Word of God for their own purposes.

  • DR

    Delwyn, simply put. People cannot stop being a “homosexual”. God would not put anyone into a position where they go to hell for something they actually can’t repent of and change so while you seem well-intended, you’re doing a horrific amount of damage to the GLBT community with this perverse theology. Especially children who are gay. You need to start opening your mind and heart to the inconsistencies of your position and the impossible place it puts gay men and women spiritually. You really do, time is running out. Consider it. Thanks.

  • Allie,

    When you read, do you read deeply, or just skim? If you did mor ethan skim, you would have read my fuller thoughts on your comment. HEre is what you apparently missed:

    “Nevetheless, I do not see the connection betwen my statement, made in reference to the contention that God does not judge people based upon what is proclaimed in the Gospel, but on some other, aparently unrevealed basis connected to how well we love others. If you are trying to use Romans 2 to claim that God judges us upn how well we obey the Law by loving our neighbor, then you are claiming that we can justify ourselves by our works. The same Paul who wrote Romans 2, however, also wrote Romans 3:20-28 and Ephesians 2:8-9 – there are no works of the Law that we can present before God as our defense.”

    My point is that, while Romans 2 speaks to the context of how a Jew under the Law looks at a Gentile, Romans (and Ephesians) on the whole, addresses a deeper question: how IS a person justified before God, by their deeds of righteousness, as defined by the Law, or by faith in Jesus Christ, with Paul’s answer being with the latter. In that context, your remarks about Romans 2 answers a question that I wasn’t asking.

  • Diana A.

    “I have no wish to argue about words.” Yet that is exactly what you are doing.

    If you think John is full of it? Fine. Don’t listen to him.

    Personally, I think you’re full of it. And when I say “it”, I’m not referring to the Holy Spirit.

  • Diana A.

    What irritates me most about people like you, is when you say things like “I still need, after all these years, to remind myself of these words, for I am still awaiting the redemption of the body – the good fight of faith is still to be fought while we live in this flesh. So I come to you, not as your judge, but as your brother in the struggle,” and then proceed to stand in judgment of the rest of us.

    You’re not coming to us as just another “brother in the struggle.” You’re coming to us as an obnoxious older sibling who thinks he has all the answers.

    “No doubt you are the person, and wisdom will die with you!” (Job 12:2, NKJV, paraphrased.) See, I can quote Bible verses too!

  • Diana A,

    Grace2U, and Peace:

    I don’t think John is “full of it,” and I’m sorry that you feel that way about me. I think that John cares enough about what he writes to express himself, and I care enough about the things upon which I comment to make those observations. Since we do not know each other, your assessment of me is limited to the words on this page, and that is a rather short and shallow pool from which to draw.

    I only ask that you do me the respect of not putting words in my mouth. As for me, I have sent a specific leter to Bro Shore, and I hope to get to know and understand him better, if that is his wish. At the end of the day, we are to “bear one anothers burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ,” and yet, “each one shall bear his own load.” I am not the Holy Spirit; I am not here to “convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment.” I am here to serve the Lord, by loving Him, and my neighbor as myself. How I do that is dependent upon the ability which my God will supply. The same applies to you, for “apart from [Jesus we] can do nothing.” Without Him, even our righteousness is as filthy rags; with Him, we can do all things.

  • Diana A.

    Yes indeed!

  • Diana, that was FUNNY! I do apologize for sounding condescending, for I am not that. What I said before, I meant. I am over 50 years old, and I KNOW how easy it is to lose focus and stumble. One of the reasons that I became a Lutheran asfter serving as an Elder in the Church of God in Christ was that Luther recognized the simple reality of life as a Christian. We are Simultaneously Saint and Sinner, as long as we are in Christ AND in the body. If I had all the answers, I would get ready to die, becasue that is the only thing left to do.

    Again, I do have some life experiences that undergird my thoughts, and they may differ from yours.

    Nevertheless, though I may disagree with your thoughts, I do not dismiss you. I hope you can do the same with regards to me.

  • Jill

    Well there’s a kind way and a superior way to engage such a debate as the one just had. Coming over to a blog you may not be familiar with, telling people who comment on said blog that you are “troubled by what you have read”, and then throwing up scripture to prove yourself right ISN’T the kind way. You’ll have to trust me on this point.

    I for one didn’t link into your embed for your blog and feel the need to criticize your thoughts in your space… hmmm. Perhaps the link to your blog and comments about no book deal is really where the trouble lies. Advertise much?

    I’m not dismissing you Delwyn; I am dismissing your dismissive tone and the dismissive way you started this derailed conversation. Any disagreement you’re finding now is of your own making. I sincerely hope you weren’t taught this in your ministry training.

  • This is to our new friend Delwyn X. Campbell:

    Delywn: Got your email this morning. I see that you have, after all, continued to engage with others on the page. Works for me. What isn’t working for you, though, is the lack of paragraph breaks in what you post. I went in and put breaks in your long response comment to me (urwelcomeverymuch), without which it wasn’t readable. And right now I’ll go put breaks in your other stuff. But if you could do that yourself from now on, that’d be great.

    A few quick points relative to your email to me:

    1. My writing has nothing to do with me being gay. Because I’m not gay. Promise.

    2. Sometimes I’m dismissive of those who disagree with me; sometimes I’m not. I certainly haven’t been with you, and how or why I interact with any other person is, of course, wholly between that person and me.

    3. I can be accused of many things, but one of them is not dismissing the Bible. The concluding chapter of my book “UNFAIR: Why the ‘Christian’ View of Gays Doesn’t Work” is titled “Taking God at His Word: the Bible and Homosexuality.” It can be read here. I take the Bible as seriously as you. Promise.

  • Delwyn: see this (which I placed there for convenience’s sake, narrowing-the-chain-wise):

  • Gordon

    John, to go back and add all those paragraph breaks tells me you have the patience of Job.

  • Gordon

    I have only one question for you, Delwyn: What does the X stand for?

  • Hi John,

    I wasn’t planning on commenting here, but I just got in and saw your post. I wasn’t under the impression that you are homosexual; did I say something that caused you to think that I thought so. I could have sworn that you said you were married in your bio.

    I have noticed that you, and some of your friends here, assume certain things about people, based upon their positions vis-a-vis certain hot-button issues like homosexual marriage. For example, to take the conservatie position regarding Romans 1:24-27 seems to be generally because the person doesn’t know any homosexual people. I assure you, in most black churches, we know SOMEBODY who is overtly homosexual. Most of us LOVE the late Rev James Cleveland, and, yes, we KNOW that he was homosexual. Still, he wrote some great choir songs.

    In Pentecostal and Baptist churches, the homosexuals tend to be found in the music department. To be honest, I can never recall anyone making a big deal about the issue. We tended to operate on the DADT policy long before the DoD did. I am not aware of ever serving under a pastor who was homosexual.

    I think, along with a friend of mine, that the definition of marriage/civil unions should be revised so that marriage is the term for a religious union, and civil union is th eterm for a state-sanctioned ceremony, with neither term having any gender related qualifications. All rights, responsibilities, and obligations shoudl b the same for each, with the difference being solely in that the Church oversees one, and the state oversees the other.

    In terms of morality, I see no difference between a homosexual who, based upon Romans 1:24-27 is sinning when s/he is engaged in sexual activity. Regarding gender issues, I believe that gender is determined by chromosonal structure. If yours is XX, you are a female, and if XY, you are a male. Personal preference, mental self-assessment, or other subjective determinant, should carry no more weight than if I were to become convinced that I was a dog, even if I started crawling on all fours, craving Purina Dog Chow, and raised my leg to pee.

    I don’t know why, contrary to biology and genetic structure, some people are sexually attracted to people of the same gender. Since I am not a practicing therapist, I do not get worked up over it, since there is nothing that I can do t0 change the situation, other than pray for the person if s/he requests it. I only know that, just as some people cannot help being attracted to people who are much older or much younger, or some people cannot help being attracted to animals, these situations exist. I see nothing in Scripture that requires that I view them as anything other than another aspect of the fallenness of creation.

    Whatever direction the U.S. goes, I will still understand, based upon Scripture, form and function, that the normative arrangement is for men to desire women, and for women to desire men, with one of the functional purposes of that desire to be for procreation. Thus, in an uncorrupted world, there would be no homosexuals, and no one would be barren. Both now exist, as a result of the fall.

    As you said, that is an opinion, and there are people who disagree, and people who agree, both looking at the same texts, and some of them are scholars, both of the biblical languages, and of theology. That is the end of my thought process on this subject.

    On abortion, I cannot stop others from doing whatever they will do. I can make sure that my wife never feels forced to have an abortion because of economic or relationship issues. I will make sure that my daughter, if we have one, will ever feel like her back is against the wall, althuogh I hope that she will wait until she meets a man who loves her “as Christ loves the Church.” If not, then we will look out for her, so that she won’t be left alone. I am curious, however, as to why women don’t see a sort of unbalance in the fact that she be totally autinomous regarding the decision to carry or not, but is not required to be equally autonomous when it comes to the economic consequences of that decision. If I have to be financially responsible, then I should have some say over the life of that child, because it is supposedly unconstitutional for me to be deprived of life or property without cause or compensation. I take this position now, because laws are now supposed to be neutral, taking no account of race, ethnicity, or gender. Nevertheless, child-support rules are not gender neutral, but are skewed in the woman’s favor.

    I hope that I have covered this groups main hot-button issues. I should there fore, have no need of futher comment on them. If someone brings up something else, I will happily discuss it. I am not here to convert you Bro John, or the others who are here. You already know what’s up, so we can just quash any beefs over those issues. I know how you all feel, and now, you know how I feel.

    Your friend,

    Delwyn Campbell

  • Xavier. Iwas named after St. Francis Xavier. I don’t know that much about him, nor do I know why my mother chose that name, since we are not Roman Catholics.

  • Gordon

    Cool. Your Mom had style. Any name that starts with an X, Q, Z or G is good with me.

  • Blake

    There is so much in your response that is just plain offensive. I don’t have time to point it all out. But this:

    Thus, in an uncorrupted world, there would be no homosexuals, and no one would be barren. Both now exist, as a result of the fall.

    Kills my soul exactly the same as when a fellow gay person has a racist position. How can us who have experienced persecution based on prejudice then dish out such prejudiced statements?

    How do you know that gays are a result of the fall? I’m sure we could argue ad nauseum about how you’re sure that we are and I’m sure that we’re not, so let me preclude said argument with the following: do you deny the parallels between your line of reasoning and the following:

    1. Black people have different color skin than white people.

    2. Skin color is a mark of fallenness with White being the least marked & most pure and darker shades progressing as an outward sign of falleness.

    3. Black people must have black skin because they are greatly fallen

    4. Therefore white people are totally justified in enslaving black people.

    The above is terrible. Wrong. Pigheaded. Arrogant.

    They had no proof that skin color had anything to do with falleness or the morality of enslavement. But they need slavery to be moral. So they reverse engineered their religion to make sure that it justified their society and then their prejudices after the civil war.

    Similarly, you have no proof or reason to think that gayness is a result of anything. But you do have the need to justify your belief that two men who have joined their lives together in fidelity, honor, trust, and love for the benefit of each other, each other’s families, and wider society are somehow acting immorally.

  • Ruby

    Thank you! This was exactly the point I was trying to make at a recently seminar. If only I had been able to put it so eloquently! I sincerely dislike the term tolerance when dealing with other people’s beliefs or lifestyles. It implies that we merely “put up” with them rather than respecting them. I once had a discussion (and it was truly a discussion surprisingly enough) with a fundamentalist friend of mine. The only point that I hope got across to her was that respecting other people beliefs didn’t diminish or invalidate your own.

  • Sure. That and the fact that this whole passage isn’t original and was added after to later manuscripts…

  • I heard that one of the arguments used to justify segregation and banning interracial marriage was this: “You can see that God intended for the races to be separate because he put them on different continents.”

    I feel like the appeals to biology that get used to say that LBGT is outside normal are much like the above appeal to geography. It sounds absolutely silly now, now that we know why and how different skin tones exist and why people of the same race come from the same areas, but before that I wonder if such a geography arguemtn had been any bit convinving.

    Similarly, now that we know more about anatomy, chromosomes, biology and genetics, the idea that LBGTI is outside of normal now seems equally silly.

    The temptation to describe everything we don’t yet understand as abnormal and/or broken is seriously disturbing. Different doesn’t equal bad.