November 12, 2020

Intolerant of Intolerance

It must be 10 years ago or so that a member of my congregation – now an ex-member – was upset with me about a sermon I had preached. He said that his issue with it was that I was intolerant (how I dislike that word) of those who were bigots and haters. I sought to clarify – are you saying (I asked in my best pastoral voice) that you are upset that I am intolerant of intolerance? His answer? Exactly! I asked further (in a probably less pastoral voice) – so, if a Nazi came to church dressed like Adolf Hitler, I should welcome that person with open arms? He puzzled over this, and then (because he is a very intelligent guy) said, If we say all are welcome, shouldn’t a Nazi be welcome too? I had to take a minute with that. What did Jesus do in these situations? Was He ever intolerant of the intolerant?

In fact, He was. He didn’t attack them physically, but He did confront them and challenge their behavior. I think first of the man who was possessed by demons in Mark 5: Jesus spoke with this violent man, listened to what he needed, and then cured him by casting the demons out of the man into a herd of pigs, which then ran into the lake and drowned. This, of course, displeased the community, and Jesus left after He was asked to go away. This man wanted to go with Jesus, but Jesus sent him into his community as an evangelist to tell what had happened to him. He is the first evangelist in the Gospels.

I don’t want to go too deeply into this comparison, but there is something demonic about people who hold hateful views. I heard a professor/author from the University of Mississippi being interviewed yesterday, and he spoke of his confusion growing up. He didn’t understand why the white people in his community hated him and his family so much. He was respectful to them; he worked for them! – and in return, they legislated in ways that oppressed people of color. He was no threat to them, yet they did all they could to keep him and people like him from succeeding in life.

Jesus welcomed all to listen to Him, but He also called them to repent. We are all imperfect people, and we all sin, so we are all expected to confess those sins and seek to do better in life. A person who is a Nazi, or a White Supremacist, or a member of any kind of hate group, is, at least metaphorically, demon-possessed. And please understand: I am not the kind of person who goes around doing exorcisms. I am faith and fact-based person. So, while I believe that Jesus did what Mark 5 says He did, I do not see it in my life, and do not claim that kind of authority. I do believe, however, that evil exists in people’s hearts and minds, and that anyone who commits a violent crime or maliciously hurts people, is doing evil. It is not a far leap to believe that people like that are demonic and in need of healing in their souls.

So if a Nazi walks into our church and wants to participate, I will welcome that person to the altar to confess the evil in his/her heart. I will invite that person to atone for any evil and hateful behavior he or she has committed, and I will pronounce God’s forgiveness. If we believe that every person is created in the image and likeness of God, then we must believe that those who have embraced evil can be forgiven – if they have repented and atoned. If that Nazi, however, refuses to stop being a Nazi, I will ask that person to leave. The church must, at the same time, be forgiving of sin, and intolerant of intolerance. I think that is a Jesus thing to do – that is our job. We offer hope – and we protect each other from evil – just like the Lord’s Prayer says.

Prayer – Help us, O God, to remember the times we failed, so that we are able to be more forgiving. Also, encourage us to stand with those who have been victimized by hate. You have called us to pray for everyone. Amen.

Today’s art is called “Day of Acceptance” by Juli Cady Ryan.