Thursday, January 25, 2007

Paul and Tolerance

Paul the apostle, dead for 2000 years, suddenly appears on a modern university campus. He has stayed with his friend, Don, a professor of Hebrew Literature, for three years. Now Paul answers questions in the university.

Kevin: (A music major) Paul, it is an honor to meet someone as world famous throughout history as yourself.
Paul: Well I thank you, but I think I had little to do with my fame.
Kevin: I have been impressed by your writings and I think they show some wisdom. However, in discussing this with my friends, we often have speculated why you were not more tolerant of those who had different standards than you?
Paul: What kind of different standards?
Kevin: Well, like homosexuality and others who did not hold to the sexual mores you have. You were certainly oppressive to women and you had some racial remarks as well. I don’t understand why you were not more like Jesus—he was tolerant of all people and welcomed them all.
Paul: Which racial remarks were you referring to?
Kevin: Well, you spoke badly of the Jews. And you made a racial statement of those who lived at Crete.
Paul: (Laughing) Of course, I was not speaking badly of the ethnic group, Jews, because I was one myself. As far as the Cretans, I was actually quoting a Cretan who said, “All Cretans are liars.” It was a clever statement, so I repeated it. But I was not implying that Cretans were any worse than any other ethnic group. We all have our failings.
Kevin: Even so, you could have been more tolerant.
Paul: This statement is just so amazing. Do you realize that in my day, I was accused of being far TOO tolerant of people in general? I welcomed Gentiles into the church as full members, when many Jews wanted the church to be limited to Jews and Jewish proselytes. I was the one who opened the church up to those who were “unacceptable”, as I was led by the Lord Jesus. From what my friend, Professor Don says, if it were not for my work, we would not have any kind of tolerance today.
Kevin: But why couldn’t you be as tolerant as Jesus? He accepted everyone.
Paul: Jesus? Oh, yes, he welcomed people. Just like that Canaanite woman whom he ignored and then insulted because of her race. Or the Pharisees who held a different theological opinion than he. Or anyone who refused to repent. Jesus didn’t welcome these people—but he tolerated people who displayed faith in him.
Kevin: (Flustered) I- I’m sure you’re wrong. Jesus taught love and welcomed the sinners…
Paul: Actually, I have found the modern American idea of tolerance amusing. It is the illusion that we need to be accepting of everyone, no matter who they are or what they’ve done. While the fact of the matter is that Americans are no more tolerant of people than anyone else. Americans are intolerant of child molesters. They are intolerant of revolutionaries—or anyone who enacts violence— that do not hold to their political ideals. Americans are intolerant of anyone they consider “lazy” although that “lazy” person may be very hard working. Look, prejudice exists in every society, in every person. Anyone who denies their own prejudices is simply self-deceived. We all have lines that we draw as to those who are “acceptable” and those who are not. It is a principle of judgment, that every single human being has—even Jesus. Especially Jesus.
Kevin: But didn’t Jesus tell us not to judge?
Paul: Yes and no. It depends on what you mean by judgment. If you mean that Jesus insisted that everyone needed to be “accepted”, then he didn’t teach that. He taught that hypocrites, the sexually immoral, the coward, the ones who cause others to sin, will not enter into God’s kingdom. These were evil folks and excluded. But Jesus did teach that inclusion into the kingdom was God’s choice, not man’s . We can’t determine, by our own standards and mores, who is in God’s kingdom and who is not. That’s not our job—it’s God’s. And so Jesus taught the principle that we can’t just look at someone and say, “Sorry, you’re too evil, you can’t get in.” Jesus said that EVERYONE without exclusion deserves a second—or third or twentieth—chance. No matter what they’ve done. Only those who don’t repent need not apply.
Kevin: So if Jesus was so exclusionist, then why were you so… “tolerant”?
Paul: Again, why do you think I was so intolerant?
Kevin: Well, let’s take your view of homosexuality, for example.
Paul: Please… I’ve had enough of talking about homosexuality. Every time you want to say, “homosexual” say “ a greedy person”—I had the same opinion of both.
Kevin: Okay… So you called… greedy people… evil because they were doing something that culturally you felt was unacceptable…
Paul: Uh, wait. I know you’re just talking about homosexuals, but I have to say that homosexuals weren’t culturally unacceptable in broader Roman society. Frankly, in Gentile culture, homosexual practice was a normal part of society.
Kevin: But not a part of Jewish culture.
Paul: Yes, that’s true—because it was against God’s law, just like incest or greed.
Kevin: And so you excluded these people from your churches.
Paul: That’s not true. We had people who were practicers of greed and homosexuality in our churches.
Kevin: But they had to stop that activity and call it sin first.
Paul: Yes… Okay, hold on. This conversation doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere. Let me just tell you how we were tolerant and how we were intolerant, is that alright.
Kevin: Sure.
Paul: First of all, I want to make it clear that we were tolerant of almost everyone who was out of the church. It was not our place to tell people how to live outside of the church, or God’s rule. If they were a follower of Athena, they would follow the tenants of that god, and we understood that. We weren’t out to condemn or to give a hard time to anyone who believed something different. That is their business, between them and their god. Even if someone followed our God, the Lord of heaven and earth, in a different way, it wasn’t our business to punish them in any way. No matter what anyone did, outside of our church, we had no business to get on their case for living out what they believed was true and right.
Kevin: But your writings seem to say…
Paul: I don’t believe that I wrote anywhere that it was the church’s job to punish outsiders. In fact, I think I made it clear that we were compelled not to judge outsiders, no matter what they’ve done. If there was any punishment to be done, it was to be done by God, not by us. God is the Judge of heaven and earth, and we haven’t been appointed as judges. At least not yet.
Kevin: Not yet?
Paul: In the last times, some will be appointed by God, but not now. There are some who are outsiders who I did condemn—those who tried, from outside, to tell us in the church to live against how Jesus taught us to. I spoke harshly against these, not because they lived differently than us, but because they were punishing us unless we lived like them—they were being intolerant of us.
Kevin: But were you really surprised that they acted that way?
Paul: Not really. It was to be expected. Nevertheless, I needed the church to know how serious it was that we, in the church, remained people of Jesus, no matter what anyone else said or did to us if we did.
Kevin: But isn’t it just enough to believe in Jesus…
Paul: Faith in Jesus isn’t just intellectual assent, but a lifestyle. We need to LIVE Jesus, not just talk about him.
Kevin: But you implied that you were intolerant?
Paul: Yes. We were intolerant of those who claimed to be of Jesus, but lived a different life than Jesus commanded. Again, being a part of the church is a lifestyle and those who rejected that lifestyle isn’t to be a part of the church.
Kevin: So homosexuals…
Paul: Greedy people, you mean.
Kevin: Yes, okay… So greedy people weren’t accepted into your communities?
Paul: Of course they were, if they were willing to set aside their sin of greed. They had to be generous because that was part of what it meant to be a part of us. Look, if you had a woman’s club, everyone would find it awkward if a man tried to join the club. After all, it’s exclusive. That’s the same in the church. It’s for Jesus livers only. Other people could observe and see if they want to join us, but only if you are committed to following Jesus can you actually be a member.
Kevin: And if you decided that living for Jesus just wasn’t for you…
Paul: Well, if you made a commitment to Jesus it just isn’t that easy. We don’t give up on people who were a part of us, and neither does God. But if someone decided that the lifestyle wasn’t for them, and they were up front about it, we would pray for them, and they wouldn’t be a member anymore and that would be that.
Kevin: Wouldn’t you punish them?
Paul: We would exclude them from the things that originally made them a member. They couldn’t take the Lord’s supper. But they wouldn’t be harmed in any way.
Kevin: This seems so different than the practice of the church throughout the centuries.
Paul: Well, it’s not because it isn’t clear in the apostles writings! People feel the need to condemn and punish, even if there is not call for it before God. People feel personally offended for how others treat God. But if they are spitting in Jesus’ face, that is Jesus’ issue, not ours! We can feel hurt or even emotionally torn apart because of another’s actions, but it is not our place to punish. We leave that to the government to do, or God. But it is not the church’s place to punish or control anyone.

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