Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: intolerance

Divine intervention

Daniel was in a dilemma. He was a captive in a strange land, yet now he was being offered training that would prepare him for a lucrative career. The only problem was that one of the benefits of this training program was that he would be given the same food to eat that the king ate. The food itself was not what troubled Daniel. It would be healthy, nutritious food; but it was food that had been offered in sacrifice to the king’s god. Daniel knew that he was in captivity because God’s people had compromised for years with the gods of the heathen peoples around them.

So Daniel purposed in his heart not to defile himself. What a momentous decision for a young man to make. He knew his decision might result in being barred from the great opportunity before him, it might even have fatal consequences. But that was his decision and he held to it.

God blessed Daniel’s decision. That gave Him a man in Babylon who was fully devoted to Him and He would use Daniel to move the king of Babylon to protect the people of God. We know how things went from there. The king had dreams, Daniel interpreted them. The king promoted Daniel and his three friends to the highest administrative positions in Babylon.

Daniel’s three friends were cast into a super-heated furnace and came out without even the smell of smoke on them. The king then decreed severe punishment for anyone who would say anything against the God of Daniel’s three friends.

The king lost his mind and was put out to pasture with the animals. I imagine that all the time that he was out with the beasts he kept telling himself “I am the great king Nebuchadnezzar, I can just get up and walk back into the palace any time I want and continue as before.” But he couldn’t. It wasn’t until he admitted that the God of heaven was greater than he was, that his reason returned to him. Now Nebuchadnezzar fully acknowledged and submitted to the God of heaven as supreme.

Nebuchadnezzar’s son learned nothing from his father’s experience. When he became king he threw a great party and called for the vessels from the temple of God to be brought out and used for drinking wine at his party. Then he saw the writing on the wall. No one knew what it meant, finally his mother came and told him to call for Daniel. Daniel told him the writing said that he had been weighed and found wanting and the kingdom would be taken from him.

Babylon was overthrown that very night by the Medes and Persians. Daniel continued as a trusted advisor to the king of Persia. They were others in the Persian kingdom who put their lives on the line to be faithful to God, such as Esther, Mordecai and Nehemiah. It appears from history that as long as there were people who refused to defile themselves with paganism, God intervened directly in the affairs of great heathen kingdoms to protect His people.

At what point in time are we in North America. Is God about to reveal the writing on the wall for Canada and the USA? Or will the writing on the wall be for us as Christians in these countries? Is God about to weigh us in the balance and declare that we have come up short?

God has intervened in the history of our two countries to provide for our religious freedom. Yet it seems to me that we have been to prone to honour men for what God has done, even to the point of calling our nations Christian nations. They are not, and never have been. Is labelling a nation of this world as Christian and regarding men and historical places and events almost as saints, sacred writings and shrines much different than defiling ourselves with food sacrificed to idols?

God has intervened directly to provide freedom of conscience in our two lands. Delegates at the Continental Congress in 1774 debated which church should be the official state church of the new nation, because almost all delegates agreed that such a thing was necessary. The New England states were Congregationalist and allowed no other church. The southern states allowed only the Church of England. Maryland was Roman Catholic. Only Rhode Island and Pennsylvania had no official state church. Because of these divisions the delegates were not able to come to agreement and finally abandoned the idea of having a state church for the new republic.

This was not the work of great men with a true vision of liberty of conscience. It looks to me more like a direct intervention of God to prepare the way for the establishment of His church in North America.

Likewise in Canada, as long as Upper Canada and Lower Canada (Ontario and Quebec) were separate colonies, The Church of England was the state church in one and the Roman Catholic church was in the other. But when they were united under a single government in 1841 it was no longer possible to have a state church for the whole country and as the country expanded eastward and westward it was not possible to make any one church official.

When Mennonites first settled in Upper Canada around 1800, they were tolerated, but could not conduct legal marriage services. The Orange Lodge was very powerful in Ontario and fiercely opposed to any groups who were not White, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. The Roman Catholic church in Quebec was equally intolerant. I see it as divine intervention that Canada was brought together in such a way that neither camp could dominate the country, thus allowing freedom of conscience for God’s people.

New belief systems have emerged and become predominant in both countries, propagated by the cathedrals of learning (the universities), and the whole educational system. We are now coming to a point where freedom of conscience is seen as a dangerous thing, almost treasonous.

The freedom we have enjoyed was not granted to us by great and noble politicians, but by the direct work of God. The solution to our present situation will not come from political sources. We must seek God’s mercy and purpose in our hearts not to defile ourselves with ideas, beliefs and programs that come from other sources.

The value of history

Some folks dream of the coming of a golden age, when the gospel will have created a state of peace and benevolence on earth almost approaching that of heaven. Most of us dismiss such ideas as folly, the pride of man.

What about the good old days? Many folks believe things were better in the past. Such an idyllic view of the past is evidence of a selective memory which chooses to ignore the wars, oppression, violence, immorality and cruelty that have marked the history of mankind. There are sincere Christians who think that is how history should be taught; future generation will be better off if they learn nothing about wars and conflicts of the past. I believe there is a fatal flaw in that line of thought.

Most people consider their own country to be the greatest example of human civilization. China, for example, has called itself the Middle Kingdom since 1,000 BC, the centre of the world around which everything else revolves. There is a similar tendency in the USA. I am a Canadian, but my roots in the USA go deep. When my grandparents came to Canada with their sons in 1908, the Goodnough family had been in the USA for 270 years, going back to before there was a USA.

When we reminisce about a golden era in US history, let us not forget that there has never yet been a golden era for black people, or native people. We put people of the past on pedestals, telling ourselves that they were the very models of Christian public figures. Take the Puritans of New England, for instance. (This includes my ancestors who landed in Massachusetts 18 years after the Mayflower.) They were such kindly, peace-loving people; didn’t they have the wonderful Thanksgiving meal with the native people? That was nice, to be sure; but it didn’t last.

The Puritan settlers believed that they were God’s elect and therefore could take any land they wanted for their growing settlements with no consideration for the original residents. Their attitude eroded the trust of the Indian peoples and finally led to what is called King Philip’s War in which thousands of Indians were killed.

Neither did they tolerate any variation in Christian doctrine. When Roger Williams, one of the Bay Colony (Boston) preachers, advocated believer’s baptism he was forced to flee for his life in the dead of winter, with only the clothes on his back. The few Quakers in the colony talked about non-resistance. They were expelled from the colony, but some came back. Two of them were burned at the stake.

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Roger Williams (right) being sheltered by Native Americans after fleeing Massachusetts Colony to avoid arrest, 1636. Image from Shutterstock 

“I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know,” Thomas Jefferson, 1819. Jefferson considered Jesus to be the greatest moral teacher of all time, but rejected anything that smacked of the supernatural, or the divinity, the miracles or the resurrection of Jesus. He was the main author of the Declaration of Independence, which begins by saying:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Jefferson most definitely did not believe that black people were created equal, nor had they any unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Lafayette urged Jefferson on several occasions to free his slaves. His response always was that black people were not fit for freedom. That did not prevent him from fathering six children by one of his slaves. Four of those children lived to adulthood and were the only slaves that Jefferson ever freed.

Those children were only one eighth black ancestry. Their great-grandmother was an African woman who was made pregnant by a British ship captain. The daughter who resulted grew up as a slave on a Virginia plantation and was in her turn made pregnant by the plantation owner and gave birth to Sally Hemings. When her master’s daughter married Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings went to Monticello. When Jefferson’s wife died, he turned to Sally Hemings to satisfy his carnal lust. She was only 14 at the time, a half-sister to Jefferson’s wife and three quarters white ancestry. As a slave, she had no choice in the matter; this cannot be termed a romantic relationship.

For years people have argued passionately that someone else was the father of Sally Hemings’ children. A few may still hold to that argument, but the evidence seems conclusive that Jefferson was the father.

Slavery was brutal, people were forced to work long and hard, with poor food and whipped savagely if they faltered or dared to ask questions. From the time slavery ended until well into the 20th century, at least 3,000 black people were lynched in the US South. These were not clandestine events, carried out in the dark of night. They were publicised, postcards with photos of lynchings were sold in the stores, in one case an excursion train was arranged for people wanting to witness a lynching. Law enforcement officers looked the other way.

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Anti-slavery poster of 1780

In the “Red Summer” of 1919 there were anti-black riots in more than three dozen cities across the USA. In 1943, with auto plants converted to war production, the Packard plant in Detroit promoted two black workers to supervisory positions. The white workers walked out and a riot ensued as the news spread. In the evening, unemployed white youth traveled to black residential areas, looting and vandalizing homes. The police ignored the white vandals and arrested black men trying to protect their homes and families.

It is good for us to read history, especially those parts of history that jar our illusions of the sweetness and light of our forefathers. We are not better than the people of past generations. The most important lesson of history is that the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. My heart is no different than the heart of any of the villains of the past. It is when I ignore the true nature of my heart that I become a villain, while believing that I am doing some great and noble good. As Blaise Pascal wrote: “Man is neither angel nor beast; and the misfortune is that he who would act the angel acts the beast.”

Solomon said: “Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10).

Newspeak at work

There is an article in Montréal la Presse today about the horrified reaction of some women to the Dico des filles 2014 (2014 Girls dictionary). This is a book, published in France, written to help girls aged 12 and older face questions of conduct and morality. What is it that some women find so inappropriate? Here is a free translation of a few quotes from the book:

On the subject of abortion: “Although this is permitted by law, that does not make it just and moral. Abortion is a serious act which brings into question the value of human life.  . . .  An abortion always causes a wound that takes a long time to heal.” And: “Moral authorities and the major religious families all have something to say [on the subject of abortion] because it is their role to set out the priniples for guiding human activities. . . . . It is true that abortion is a serious act. But it is possible to condemn the act without condemning the person who had an abortion.”

On the subject of homosexuality: “It is true that some stable homosexual couples do exist. But the relationships are often ephemeral and unstable.” And: “Life is not simple for homosexuals and the road to happiness is full of pitfalls.”

Such words as these, which seem so mild and tolerant to me, are judged as being hideously intolerant by certain women’s groups.  They want the books removed from public libraries and anywhere that girls might have access to such retrograde ideas of right and wrong.

George Orwell coined the word “newspeak” in his dystopian novel 1984.  He foresaw a world where the thought police would take a word and make it mean the the direct opposite of what it originally meant. Are we there yet? It seems that we are getting close when some people  label as intolerant any hint of a view that is different than their own and try to prevent it from being heard, then say that they are the tolerant ones.

Nevertheless, the Dico pour filles appears to be selling well, bookstores are sold out of the 2014 edition and awaiting the arrival of the 2015 edition in a few weeks.

What has happened to tolerance?

George Orwell’s dystopian vision, expounded in his novel Nineteen Eighty-four, appears to be slowly and inexorably taking shape around us.  The thought leaders of our society have constituted themselves into an unofficial Ministry of Truth, changing the meaning of words and inventing new words.  The result — and make no mistake about it, this is the intended result — is that we are gradually losing our ability to think clearly.

Some of the same women who deplore the supposed subjugation of women to men in marriage will proclaim that the degradation of women by prostitution is evidence of the liberation of women, because a woman’s body is her own and she has a right to use it as she pleases.  Orwell labelled this kind of thinking as doublethink: the ability to believe two opposing ideas at the same time and to believe that each one is entirely true.

In like manner, it appears to be possible to be an advocate for women’s “liberation” and at the same time be a supporter of the application of Sharia law in western society.

When it comes to homosexuality, the only acceptable point of view in our society today is unqualified approval and admiration.  This is called tolerance, and no other point of view is tolerated.  This sounds remarkable like the old definition of intolerance.  Those of us who do not endorse the homosexual lifestyle but who harbour no hostility or ill will towards individuals caught up in that lifestyle are labelled intolerant.  The meanings of tolerant and intolerant have been completely reversed.

Christians are labelled as intolerant if we actually believe and live as the Bible tells us.  Any hint of disapproval of things approved by society is called intolerance.  How can I be tolerant of things that I know to be wrong?  I believe that it is right and good to be tolerant to the extent of not using force to prevent others from engaging in immoral conduct.  That is not the same as approving such conduct.  “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11).

On a slightly different aspect of tolerance, is it enough for a Christian to be tolerant when it comes to cultural differences that are neither right nor wrong?  The apostle Paul wrote: “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

If Christ is all, and in all members of the church, then cultural differences (not sin but ordinary differences in outlook and practice that distinguish cultures) should not be seen hindrances to Christian fellowship, but as evidence of the grace of God to all mankind.  They are significant in allowing us a broader vision of how saving faith in Jesus Christ is, and always has been, accessible to all people, anywhere, in every era

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