By Walid Zailaa
Contemporary societies seem to have abandoned the idea of a single overarching narrative—one story— that defines their existence. Instead, we rely more today on the concept of “tolerance” to promote peaceful coexistence among diverse individuals and communities. Though tolerance is a positive value, it has become the primary force behind matters of life and ethics and in most of our social interactions.
As Christians, we have sometimes embraced the idea of “tolerance” as a means of survival and avoiding rejection or persecution. In modern times, many Christians have become more accepting.
Where does the Church stand in relation to the new and complex changes our societies are facing? Changes such as the growing movements of LGBTQ practices and their impact on families and children; where does the Church stand when such practices challenge our biblical teachings and speak against our values? In a society where there is no clear hierarchy of values to guide our behavior, and individuals are encouraged to follow their own feelings and desires, what is the position of the Church?
As a pastor of a local church, I often grapple with complex issues such as how to address the increasing prevalence of immorality in our Middle Eastern society, where the family in its traditional fabric is still perceived as the main pillar of a healthy society and church. I strive to approach these challenges with love and compassion, while remaining true to the principles of my faith and the Bible. It is a question that I confront on a regular basis. As Christians, what are the consequences if we choose to remain silent and merely embrace and tolerate everything around us?
The Bible in the final verse in the book of Judges describes a society in which individuals do as they please, akin to our modern notion of relativism, which claims that all judgements are relative to the perspective or context of the observer. Relativism implies that all points of view are equally valid, but the book of Judges condemns that perspective when it describes: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg 21:25).
Are we Christians becoming a community where everything is tolerated and accepted? The Bible speaks about a similar community of tolerance where sin was tolerated and not accounted for, where everyone does as they please. Isaiah 5 contains a parable that depicts a disappointing vineyard that, despite all the efforts of the landlord, has yielded only bad grapes. For the contemporary reader, it was easy to understand what this vineyard represented. But it was not until later that Isaiah’s hearers were able to link the parable to themselves. The efforts involved in cultivating grapes were considerable in the ancient world, between digging up the soil, clearing the stones, and planting the worthiest vines; it was not only the amount of work that counted, but also the time needed to cultivate the first fruit. The farmer needed to wait two years for the first grapes. The hearers realized the kind of grapes this vineyard had produced: worthless ones. To the question of what would happen now in this supposed relationship between farmer and vineyard, the answer became clearer in verse 7 – that this parable was describing the relationship between God and his people. The story described the kinds of grapes that God was anticipating from his vineyard, his people. He expected justice and righteousness, but instead, he saw bloodshed and heard cries of distress. And God’s response was, “Now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” (Isa 5:5-7).
In this broken world, we often find ourselves facing challenges and obstacles that require us to make efforts and strive for change. It is during these times that we as Christians should extend our tolerance and understanding towards others who are also on their own personal journeys of transformation. Just like the farmer in the parable of Isaiah 5 who invested in his land and patiently nurtured it, we too can invest in those around us by supporting them in their endeavors to make things right.
Being there for someone during their tough times requires empathy and compassion. It is about recognizing their struggles and extending a helping hand or a listening ear. However, it can be impossible to tolerate someone’s behavior when they continue to engage in actions without recognizing the need for change. We have all sinned; nevertheless, pride in one’s sins indicates a lack of understanding of its consequences, which can harm not only the one doing it but also those around them. While it is important to forgive and tolerate, it is even more important to lovingly speak the truth.
Going back to the example of the LGBTQ, this movement has undoubtedly been a significant development in our society, both globally and locally. This growth has brought with it demands for recognition, often in what I believe is a contradiction to our Christian faith and values.
Ultimately, the decision of whether to capitulate or speak up rests with each individual or congregation. Some Christians may choose to adapt their perspectives and embrace LGBTQ demands and practices, recognizing that society is evolving and that inclusion and acceptance align with core Christian values such as love, compassion, inclusion, and equality. Others may feel compelled to stand firm, viewing any deviation from traditional teachings as a sin and betrayal of biblical principles. Whatever path is chosen, there will undoubtedly be consequences. Nevertheless, regardless of a church’s decision, it must be motivated by love and compassion for all individuals.
In light of these societal developments, many are left wondering where the Church stands. Should the Church conform to societal changes, or should it speak up against what it perceives as challenges to its faith and biblical teachings? These questions raise important considerations about faith, tolerance, and the price that might be paid for taking a stance. The challenge lies in finding a way to engage with love and understanding without compromising our theological integrity. In grappling with this challenge, it is important to reflect on the underlying principles of our theological convictions. Are they rooted in what the Bible explicitly and consistently teaches about sexual behaviors, and also rooted in love, kindness, and justice? Honesty is key throughout this process. Being honest allows for genuine engagement without compromising our theological integrity. Finding a path forward requires embracing complexity and seeking to create a safe space where genuine dialogue can take place. It is within this framework that I, personally, believe that it is the Church’s responsibility as the people of God to voice its biblical and theological standpoint. The Church has a responsibility to fulfill its biblical obligations both within its congregation and beyond, by being the body of Christ impacting its local community and the wider world.
Walid is the Academic Dean of ABTS and the pastor of Faith Baptist Church that meets in Mansourieh, Lebanon.