Is Christian Intolerance a Good Reason to Reject the Faith?

Before you dismiss evidence for Christianity because of Christian intolerance, keep this in mind.

By Sean McDowell Published on November 11, 2017

Guilty as charged. Christianity has its fair share of judgmental and intolerant people. I have no interest in covering up the misbehavior of Christians. But before you are tempted to dismiss the evidence for the Christian faith because of Christian intolerance, keep something in mind:

When Christians act in an arrogant, judgmental way towards others, they are not following Scriptural teachings. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins (Prov. 6:16, 17). It’s an evil that comes from the heart (Mark 7:21–23). I apologize for judgmental Christians.

Remember, though, when Christians act “holier than thou,” they act inconsistently with what Christianity itself requires. True Christians aim to be at peace with others (Heb. 12:14). They build relationships with people regardless of creed, race, nationality or sex (John 4:1–42; Luke 9:1–10). They’re called to be humble and gentle (Eph. 4:2).

Behavior vs. the Message

We must distinguish between Christians’ behavior and genuine Christianity. To condemn the entire faith because off some Christians’ actions is another way to commit the “genetic fallacy,” which is dismissing a claim because you think there is some fault in where it came from.

Yes, Christians often express judgment and intolerance of a sort that fails to follow the example and teachings of Jesus. But even if Christians were kind and gracious in their attitudes, the critic might claim, wouldn’t they still be intolerant for condemning the beliefs of others? My friend Mark Mittelberg, an author and speaker, offers an wise response:

What’s fascinating is that the people who condemn Christians for acting as if they’re right and others are wrong are, in that very action, acting as if they themselves are right and Christians are wrong. So they are at that moment doing the very thing they say is wrong. When you think about it, it’s pretty silly to condemn people for thinking they are right — because aren’t you simultaneously thinking you are right in saying they are wrong?

Mittelberg continues,

Or, broadening the point a bit, who in their right mind doesn’t consistently think that they are right? … I mean, really, do you ever think you’re wrong while you’re in the midst of thinking that very thought? I don’t think so; I think as soon as you start to realize your thinking is wrong you change your belief and start thinking differently! Therefore, for two reasons no one should condemn Christians just for thinking they’re right and others are wrong: (1) everybody else does the same thing, and (2) Christians might really be right, after all.

A Distorted View of Tolerance

Those who accuse Christians of being intolerant have a distorted view of what the word really means. Rather than saying “all views are equally valid,” true tolerance means we respect others when we don’t approve of their values, beliefs and practices.

After all, we don’t use the word “tolerate” for what we enjoy or approve of — such as steak or good movies.

When Christians act in an arrogant, judgmental way towards others, they are not following Scriptural teachings.

There is a close connection between tolerance and truth, too. That is, we only tolerate what we find to be false or mistaken in some capacity. If we all agreed, we wouldn’t need tolerance. Only when people genuinely disagree does tolerance become necessary. Claiming that someone is wrong for holding a different viewpoint, then, isn’t itself intolerant. The attitude that accompanies the claim may be, however. But to disagree charitably and kindly can be an act of genuine tolerance.

Jesus Was An Apologist

This is what Jesus did. He was an apologist who advanced arguments for his Messiahship. And yet he treated his opponents with charity and respect.

And this is how the American founders viewed tolerance as well. The founders saw tolerance as strongly disagreeing with people, and yet still treating them with dignity and respect. Strong religious convictions on religious matters, according to the founders, is not incompatible with tolerance. In fact, one of the leading proponents of early modern tolerance, John Locke, was an outspoken apologist for the Christian faith.

Help us champion truth, freedom, limited government and human dignity. Support The Stream »

So Christian intolerance really isn’t a bad reason to reject the faith. In fact, disagreement is actually one of the highest honors we can give someone. If you have been tempted to dismiss Christianity because of the intolerance of Christians, I hope you will think again. Maybe now is the time to consider the evidence for Christ.


Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:

Republished by permission.

Print Friendly
Comments ()
The Stream encourages comments, whether in agreement with the article or not. However, comments that violate our commenting rules or terms of use will be removed. Any commenter who repeatedly violates these rules and terms of use will be blocked from commenting. Comments on The Stream are hosted by Disqus, with logins available through Disqus, Facebook, Twitter or G+ accounts. You must log in to comment. Please flag any comments you see breaking the rules. More detail is available here.
  • tz1

    Intolerance is rare among Christians, common among the rest.
    We tolerate those who we consider wrong that we cannot convince through reason and evidence because the case is not obvious or air-tight or otherwise limited.
    But “climate change”, the “bell curve”, etc. are treated as dogma and heretics are to be burned at the secular stake.
    Worse, it is usually the heretical leftist Christians who are intolerant of those pointing out what scripture and tradition have taught for over 20 centuries about a subject.

  • Bezukhov

    Intolerance is only a small reason to reject Christianity. A bigger reason may be this. You Have Jesus here teaching: Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; Matthew 5:44. The same sentiments are echoed elsewhere, by Jesus and other New Testament writers. But even the most cursory glance at Christian history shows that Christians practiced the exact opposite. If you’re a Christian today, you should be glad that they ignored advice like Matthew 5:44. Ignoring it allowed Christianity to thrive and prosper.

    • GPS Daddy

      So you agree that this is the ideal. It not automatic and takes time to develop.

      >>Ignoring it allowed Christianity to thrive and prosper

      Maybe in some twisted sense. But when the church has not followed the example of Jesus the church does not prosper spiritually.

    • Wayne Cook

      Your cynical vitriol doesn’t change the teaching.

  • davidrev17

    “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44/HCSB)

    • • •

    I do agree Sean, that you made some great points with regard to “our” collective, empirically validated moral failings as “ambassadors” for the Lord Yeshua/Jesus the Messiah; especially in the eyes of an already “fallen” human race, literally cut-off from the “life” and/or revelation of God (i.e., 1 Cor. 2:1-14; Ephesians 2:1-10), or “dead in their transgressions and sins.” But the reason(s) undergirding one’s continued UNbelief, can’t possibly be laid-at-the-feet of JUST the genuine “children of God” – or even those self-deceived, hypocritical professing followers of Jesus. (e.g., the “Parable of the Soils.”)

    After all, according to the wise counsel of God’s Word, it would seem that the issues surrounding mankind’s wholesale, UNregenerate “volitional intransigence” re: the bowing-of-one’s-knee in this life – thus receiving forgiveness for their sins through Christ’s substitutionary atonement, and physical/bodily resurrection from the grave “on the third day” – is a bit more nuanced, or inscrutably complex than what you’ve touched upon?

    We simply can’t forget, that even those professing militant/evangelical atheists we so often encounter today, are already living in vehement denial of the indwelling presence of the “imago Dei”; or Gilbert Ryle’s infamous, pejoratively labeled “ghost in the machine” – why else are they “compelled” to do any kind of “good” in the first place? – resident within each, and every one of them, let alone ALL RATIONAL/MORAL, specially-created spirit creatures created in God’s image.
    Remember those high-dollar theological biblical concepts called “general” and/or “special revelation,” through and by which Almighty God ultimately & equitably holds all members of the species Homo sapiens accountable? (e.g., Genesis 2:7; Ecclesiastes 3:11; Ezekiel 18:4; John 5:24-30; Acts 17:30-31; Romans 1:18-22; 2:14-15; Hebrews 1:1-4.)

    And lastly: Please consider that NO ONE could’ve loved people more perfectly, or treated each, and every human being more compassionately and respectfully, than Yeshua of Nazareth; yet look how “fallen” mankind ultimately treated Him, though in perfect accord with the Father’s will. (i.e, Acts 2:22-24) For Pete’s sake, WE even accused the “God Man” (Yeshua/Jesus) of being “demon-possessed,” and “out of His mind”! We Homo sapiens ain’t so smart, or wise – let alone loving!

    • • •

    “This, then, is the judgment: The light [Son of Man] has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who practices wicked things hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed. But anyone who lives by the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be shown to be accomplished by God.” (John 3:19-21; but see entire context beginning in John 3:1)

    “At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, because this was Your good pleasure. All things have been entrusted to Me by My Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son desires to reveal Him. “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.’” (Matthew 11:25-30)

  • Jones Howell

    Sean, didn’t you mean “Christian intolerance really isn’t a GOOD reason to reject the faith”?

  • Vince

    All humans are intolerant to some degree – progressives too. Anyone who accuses others of intolerance has his own list of people he hates.

  • Trilemma

    If I disagree with someone, that doesn’t make me intolerant. If I accuse someone of being intolerant, that doesn’t make me intolerant. It’s when I try to force someone to accept or live in accordance with what I believe that I become intolerant.

    A Christian becomes intolerant when they refuse to entertain the possibility of being wrong and feel entitled to impose their beliefs and behaviors on others.

    • davidrev17

      So…does your last paragraph both rationally & logically qualify as an absolute truth, a relative truth, or just your subjective opinionated “belief,” of which you’re attempting to impose upon others with whom you’re in obvious disagreement?

      • Trilemma

        I was addressing the definition of intolerant. I believe my last paragraph is an accurate illustration of the definition of intolerant. Would you consider a Christian who refuses to entertain the
        possibility of being wrong and feels entitled to impose his beliefs and
        behaviors on others tolerant or intolerant?

        • davidrev17

          My relevant point was explicitly made, thus phrased as a question. So your demonstrable penchant for either ignoring point-blank questions, or answering questions, by evasively asking even more questions – especially where I’m concerned – certainly disqualifies you from what’s typically regarded as dialogue.

Don’t Despair: There is Light
Aliya Kuykendall
More from The Stream
Connect with Us