Tolerance, Intolerance, and the University of Oklahoma

I’ve noticed an interesting trend among several of the comments in response to my letter to the President and Board of Regents at OU. A few people have suggested that Kirk Humphreys is being “intolerant” of those who engage in homosexual intimacy. But that is not true. The problem is that in recent years the meaning of “tolerance” has undergone a significant but often unnoticed shift.

No one has pointed this out with greater clarity than D. A. Carson in his book, The Intolerance of Tolerance (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 186 pp. The older, long-accepted definition of tolerance referred to our willingness to acknowledge and accept the existence of different views. But the newer, more recent understanding of tolerance has in mind the acceptance of different views. By “acceptance” I mean the assertion that all views are true together with the insistence that no one has the right to tell another that his/her view is wrong.

Today, to be tolerant one must affirm not only that a view has a right to exist and to be discussed openly and freely in the marketplace of ideas. No, today it means that no one has a right to reject a view as wrong. To be “tolerant” today means that you must affirm the legitimacy of everyone’s view, regardless of its moral quality or intellectual cogency.

In his book, Carson points to the shift “from recognizing other people’s right to have different beliefs or practices to accepting the differing views of other people” (3). Again, “to accept that a different or opposing position exists and deserves the right to exist is one thing; to accept the position itself means that one is no longer opposing it. The new tolerance suggests that actually accepting another’s position means believing that position to be true, or at least as true as your own. We move from allowing the free expression of contrary opinions to the acceptance of all opinions; we leap from permitting the articulation of beliefs and claims with which we do not agree to asserting that all beliefs and claims are equally valid” (3-4).

Kirk Humphreys never once has challenged or opposed the right of those in the LGBTQ community to believe what they do or to act in accordance with it. He has never attempted in any way to hinder the freedom of those in the LGBTQ community to attend the University of Oklahoma and take full and unhindered advantage of all the educational opportunities it provides.

But that is not the same thing as affirming the moral legitimacy of any particular view. It is not intolerant for you to tell me that you believe I am wrong in my evangelical beliefs about the moral status of homosexual practice. Nor is it intolerant of me to tell you that I believe I am right and that you are wrong. We are tolerant when we acknowledge the right and freedom of others to embrace a view on human sexuality that is different from our own. And it is altogether intolerant for the Board of Regents to insist that unless Mr. Humphreys affirms the moral legitimacy of homosexual practice he cannot serve the University in that capacity.

All that we are asking, all that Mr. Humphreys desires, is that he be granted the same right and freedom to embrace his views on human sexuality that is granted to the LGBTQ community. He is more than willing to affirm the latter’s right to believe and live in accordance with their convictions concerning homosexuality. He simply is asking that he be shown the same dignity and granted the same freedom when it comes to his beliefs about what the Bible says concerning homosexual behavior.

While we’re on the subject of tolerance and intolerance, a brief comment is needed concerning another loosely employed and ill-defined term: love. I assume that everyone would agree that, at minimum, love means pursuing by all manner and means what will contribute to the flourishing and well-being of another human, both in this life and the next. It is not loving to tell someone they are right to believe something or engage in some behavior that one is convinced puts that soul in jeopardy of eternal damnation.

Love does not mean you suspend moral judgment lest a person is made to “feel bad” about himself. Love does not mean you keep silent about someone’s beliefs or actions for fear of hurting their feelings. Of course, no one should deliberately and without cause labor to make someone “feel bad” about herself or labor to hurt someone’s feelings or to undermine their sense of self-esteem.

But there is something far worse, eternally worse, than feeling bad about yourself. The Bible calls it hell. So much for political correctness. The Bible is quite clear that there are certain beliefs and behaviors that if persisted in, without repentance, put a person’s soul in danger of eternal separation from God. If I believe that to be true, then it is not loving in any proper sense of that term to encourage them in the practice of something that will do them unrelenting eternal harm.

Simply put: You can’t love someone by lying to them. Telling someone the biblical truth about the consequences of unrepentant homosexual behavior is the most loving thing you can do, regardless of how it makes them feel in the here and now. If what you tell them truly contributes to their well-being both now and in eternity, you have sincerely and genuinely loved them. They may not feel loved. They may feel judged and rejected and unwanted. But neither their feelings nor yours are the standard of ultimate and eternal truth. The Bible is. And the Bible declares that those who engage in unrepentant homosexual conduct, and yes, unrepentant heterosexual conduct as well, “shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

Never were more loving words spoken by the Apostle Paul. In telling us without hesitation or qualification what has the potential to exclude us from the eternal kingdom of God is the highest expression of authentic and heart-felt love that one person can show to another. The only thing that might be regarded as more loving is telling them about Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross that has made possible the forgiveness of all sin, whether homosexual or heterosexual sin.

The most unloving and unkind thing that Mr. Humphreys could have done would be to deny what he believes the Bible to teach and to affirm the moral legitimacy of unrepentant homosexual conduct. In standing firm on his Christian convictions Kirk Humphreys has demonstrated, at great cost to himself, how much he loves all people, regardless of their sexual proclivities.

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About Sam Storms

Sam Storms is the Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Sam is on the Board of Directors of both Desiring God and Bethlehem College & Seminary, and also serves as a member of the Council of The Gospel Coalition. Sam is President of the Evangelical Theological Society. Visit http://www.samstorms.com