The Cross: The Reason for Tolerance
The West is deeply divided regarding the Muslim refugees. Some welcome them, others oppose their presence, and most are nervous. One reason for nervousness is obvious: the West values its free press, the right to assemble and express one’s opinions, including criticisms of the majority and the monarchy, of sinners as well as of sages, of priests and kings. That freedom intimidates Islam as it threatens all authoritarian systems.
Western freedom is frequently abused. Some corrupt liberty to express their opinions into a licence to offend others, even when such offence serves no public good. The system provides mechanisms to punish the guilty, but terrorism is not one of those mechanisms. To terrorize someone into silence is to deny their humanity. To be made in God’s image means to be creative, not mechanical. Machines produce, people create. The difference is freedom. A machine produces what it is programmed to produce. We create what we choose to. Freedom to choose is an essence of being human. Terrorism and coercion rob people of that freedom — of their God-likeness.
The Prophet Muhammad liked poetry and told Hassan to “Lampoon them (the pagans) in verse, and Gabriel is with you.” Yet Islamic sources document how men and women, Jews and Arabs were murdered for satirizing the Prophet or bewailing those killed. Following that founding precedent, terrorists attacked the free press in Paris on 7 January 2015. The brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi killed 11 people and injured 11 more in the offices of the weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The two belonged to Al-Qaeda in Yemen. They were incensed over publication of a satirical cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.
About two million people, including 40 world leaders, gathered in Paris on 11 January for a rally of national unity and to support freedom of the press. In total approximately 3.7 million people came out for public demonstrations all across France. The Jihadists who murdered the Charlie Hedbo artists and writers succeeded in turning millions of French against Islam.
Any individual, be they Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jew, or atheist can be tolerant or intolerant. Even though Europe drove the Muslims out of Spain, it adopted Islam’s coercive tactics. The European church turned extremely intolerant, burning heretics at the stake. Often, the state acted as the Church’s brutal enforcer. It curtailed individual freedom that proclaimed the Gospel and exposed abuse and corruption in the church.
German reformer Martin Luther demonstrated the reforming power of the cross on 31 October 1517. The cross gave him the freedom of conscience and expression. It enabled him to expose the errors and corruption of the Church by nailing his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church. During his trial at the Diet of Worms (1522) he had to choose between life and death. The cross enabled him to stick to his convictions even at the risk of death . His prayerful decision began Europe’s historic reformation.
In England, tolerance began to be institutionalized as a public policy in the 1640s. Public intellectuals such as the Puritan poet John Milton argued that the coercive power of the state, the sword, must not be used to back particular religious ideas. Truth and falsehood must be given the freedom to grapple with each other in the public sphere, without coercion or fear. For, in free and open discussions , the truth will always win. Milton’s worldview was shaped by the Bible’s idea that the human mind can know the truth. In fact, it is our duty to seek truth. The quest for truth is enhanced when people have the freedom to test and critique ideas. Since the Church is the custodian of truth (2 Timothy 3:15), it should not be afraid of critical inquiry into truth.
The Puritan leader, Oliver Cromwell, argued for religious freedom on the grounds of conscience. All of us have an innate ability to distinguish good or evil, right or wrong, true or false, beauty or ugliness. The Bible explains this faculty as evidence that humans are different from all other animals. We are spiritual beings, endowed with a conscience, which is part of God’s image in us. All of us are capable of saying and doing horrible things. Our conscience can even become corrupted to where we interpret murdering innocent people as a God-pleasing act of piety.
Jesus predicted Islamic Jihad when he said:
. . .the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.” (John 16:2 NIV)
Yet conscience is a God-given faculty. It is one of the instruments that God will use to judge us when the books recording our deeds will be opened and the final auditing will be done.
Since God will judge each individual according to his or her conscience, we must educate (disciple), but we must not control or coerce an individual’s conscience. The church and the state must allow people to walk with God in tune with their conscience.
Although the doctrine of conscience was in the Bible, it became an institutionalized aspect of Western political philosophy through the Westminster Confession of Faith. This summary of the Bible’s worldview was crafted by a committee of 121 theologians and pastors in 1646. It was adopted by the Church of England and the Church of Scotland in 1647. Most of it was ratified by the British Parliament in 1649 and 1690.
The cross was one of the most decisive arguments in favor of tolerance. Christian philosopher John Locke, famous for his Letter Concerning Toleration, wrote to the Anglican bishops and rulers that they could not claim to be the followers of Jesus Christ and his apostles and use the sword to coerce people into their particular church. Because Christ never used coercion. His method of winning people was the self-sacrificing love demonstrated on the cross. Through his sacrifice on the cross, the Lord Jesus wooed sinners to repent and get right with God.
God has the power to destroy sinners. God does not immediately kill us when we disrespect or curse him. For God does not want the wicked to perish. He seeks to save those who reject Him, hate Him, and mock Him. For this reason God is patient with sinners until the final judgment day, waiting for us to turn back to him. The Apostle Paul asked those who rebel against God,
. . .do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance [tolerance] and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)
If God is patient with sinners, if the Lord Jesus Christ accepted the mockery, shame, cruelty, and violence of the cross for our salvation, so also we must love those who hate God, Christ, or us. We must pray for and pay the personal price for the salvation of our enemies and God’s enemies. That is the culture of the cross.
God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. He transformed the shame of the cross into Christ’s triumph.
Islam hurts itself because it rejects the kingdom of God’s love in favor of the brutal kingdom of a sinful caliph.
Islam hurts itself because it rejects God’s incarnation — the supreme fact that confirms our unique dignity.
A rejection of God’s unity as an infinitely complex Trinity makes it difficult for Islam to embrace unity with diversity, to treat women as equal to men, to build nations that can be great in spite of denominational, ethnic, or linguistic differences.
Islam hurts itself by rejecting salvation through the cross on which God made the sacrifice for our sins. Yet, God does not want to destroy militant Muslims. He loved them enough to send the Messiah to the cross for their salvation. The cross is God’s power for the healing of the Middle East.