Tolerance: the New Love
This past week Ireland held a referendum regarding the legalization of same-sex marriage in that country. The result was an overwhelming affirmation. In and of itself this is not a surprise in Western Europe were it not for the fact that Ireland is predominantly conservative Roman Catholic, or so I thought. In addition, Ireland is the first country in the world where the people went to the ballot box to vote for the legalization of same-sex marriage. This is a country that only decriminalized homosexuality in the 90s. For these reasons, Ireland can be regarded as a test case for the rest of the Western world. In light of the overwhelming YES vote a few questions immerse: where was the voice of the Church in Ireland, and, on what grounds did the citizens of Ireland vote?
It seems that on the issues of morality, the Church capitulated to the norms set by the culture at large. The message of the culture that is adopted by so many Christians is the message that involves the issue of tolerance. In that regard, the Church of Ireland is not atypical as compared to the Church in the rest of the Western world. We are told that tolerance is the highest virtue and those who oppose the rights of anyone are intolerant and evil.
Ancient Greek philosophers, like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle recognized four cardinal virtues: prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. Early Christians — such as Ambrose, Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas—took over the list as an acceptable summary of the teaching of the ancient philosophers and of the highest excellence at which they aimed. To these four, Christianity added the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. These were taken directly from the Apostle Paul, who not only distinguished these three as the specifically Christian virtues but singled out love as the chief of the three. In the Christian ethic, love, or charity, which is omitted from the list of the pagan philosophers, becomes the ruling standard by which all else is to be judged and to which, in the case of a conflict of duties, everything must yield. The problem in the contemporary Church is the interpretation of this Christian virtue. Love has been made synonymous with tolerance. This erroneous interpretation has wreaked havoc in our society, especially in the area of Christian ethics.
The people of Ireland, and people everywhere in the Western hemisphere, are duped. They have exchanged “love” for “tolerance” with devastating consequences. The task of the Christian Church is to offer a proper biblical interpretation of the word “love” and point out the inconsistencies of culture’s take on tolerance. For instance, a number of Irish Anglican Evangelical clergy in voicing their opinion regarding those who opposed same-sex unions were “presented in a pejorative, negative and demeaning manner, being variously portrayed as holding indefensible views, being opposed to human rights, unintelligent, un-Anglican, likely to be oppressive, racist, sexist, homophobic, and, by extension, evil” (http://www.virtueonline.org/ireland-anglican-evangelical-clergy-denounce-erroneous-teachings-their-bishops-same-sex-marriage). In addition, John Waters, an Irish journalist, who campaigned for a NO vote remarked, “Not just the gay, LGBT lobby, but virtually the entire journalistic fraternity turned on me and tried to basically peck me to death” (http://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/ireland/waters-referendum-result-catastrophic-for-ireland-678538.html). It is ironic that those who preach tolerance for all, seem to practice very little of it themselves.
The Church must not allow itself to be pushed to the peripheries of society and must continue to preach the biblical message of love because when the time comes and the devastating results become apparent, not only from the LGBT community but from all sexual immorality, people will need the biblical message of the Gospel more than ever.