“Intolerant.” Teens Don’t Want the Label


The ‘Intolerant’ label hurts. But should it?

Troubled Teenager

OMG. It’s hard being a teen today, right? You worry about a million things, including what you look like, and how other people view you. “Do they like me?” you ask yourself. “Do they think I’m cool?”

If you happen to be a Christian, you probably feel the added weight of that pressure, too.

Tell a classmate that you’re a Christian, and you might hear, “That makes you intolerant, right?”

We all get pretty good at making snap judgements and tossing out labels, even on issues we know nothing about. It’s why some people view all Muslims as terrorists, or all Christians as weak people who need a crutch (Jesus) to get through life.

Teens are especially good at tossing out labels, because you’re trying to make sense of this crazy thing we call “life.” Placing ideas, groups of people, even objects in tidy categories or boxes helps to compartmentalize all the information being thrown at you. “This goes in the ‘Good’ box,” you might tell yourself. “And this goes in the ‘Bad’ box.” Or you might say, “The things in this box I believe in, but the things in this box are totally bogus.” 

Christians, as a group, are often placed in the “Intolerant” box. Because we bring up that pesky word sin. If only non-Christians understood that we don’t like the word any more than they do! Because like them, we’re so good at it! The difference is that we choose to acknowledge that God has the right to to tell us how to live, and we repeatedly repent. 

We All Must Choose

Does the possibility of being labeled “intolerant,” particularly while you’re walking your school hallway, or perhaps while you’re in class, make you break out in sweat?

Let’s park here a second, so you can do a self-evaluation.

Choose the statement that is closest to your current life view. You have 10 seconds. Go:

1) I believe that God, as the creator of the universe, has the right to ask me to live according to his moral truths.

2) I believe that it’s okay for me to develop my own “personal truth,” because I am the boss of me. 

Now spend a few minutes identifying why you believe the statement you chose.

Are you basing your choice on the life experiences you’ve had so far? Or what you’ve been taught at school? Or what you’ve been taught at church? Or, perhaps, on what you feel God has been placing on your heart? 

The challenge of being a Christian, particularly in a society that yells, “Life is all about ME!” is that daily we must choose to make life all about what God wants, instead. Every thought, word, and action we take is a choice that broadcasts to the world (and ourselves) whether we’re committed to making life about us—or God.

God already knows, and forgives the many times we mess up. God has unlimited tolerance for our humanity, right up the second we breathe our last breath. We must have tolerance for ourselves, then, and tolerance for those who can’t stand God.

What’s the Christian “Purpose”?

It’s not our job to go around judging people. And it’s certainly not our job to tell people that God doesn’t love them because of their behavior. Because he does, no matter what. God’s grace is too boundless (Psalm 103: 11-12) for our saying such an ignorant, hurtful statement. (Don’t get me started on how badly it hurts my heart to see “Christians” holding signs that shout, “God hates you!”)

God does not hate that which he creates. But he does tell us, in his word, his expectations for our behavior. We’re not to lie, steal, or covet what other people have that we do not. We’re also to be kind, loving, gentle, grateful, and strong in our self-control.

It often sounds like we need to be perfect. We’re not, which God fully knows and understands. But as a group, Christians are really good at beating themselves up—and pointing out the sin in others.  So, yes, we do have a reputation of being “intolerant.”

Is Intolerance Bad?

As I mentioned in this earlier blog post, what makes the word “intolerant” good or bad is how it’s used. Mother Theresa was intolerant of poverty. Bono was intolerant of AIDS. Martin Luther King was intolerant of racism. Jesus was intolerant of bigotry. And each was moved to action to make the world a better place.

If, as a Christian, someone labels you “intolerant,” make sure it’s because you’re fighting evil in the world.

The “intolerant” label is often used by the media and others who want to erode God’s influence in society. Slowly, but surely, the media and other voices of power are lulling people into thinking that they will be happiest if “personal truth” trumps God’s moral truth. Live with a boyfriend? Have an affair? Steal from my boss? So what? If that’s what I want to do, who are you to tell me it’s wrong or bad? Mind your own business!

Fortunately, we’re not yet at the point where all sin is celebrated. But we’re edging ever closer, and the bible tells us that day will come. That’s how Satan works. One small step at a time. I often think of the Harry Potter movies when I visualize the ongoing battle of good versus evil. Like a snake, Satan slitters around, whispering in our ear, “So what? So what? So what? Do it for YOU!”

He said something similar to Adam and Eve in the garden. Look where it got them—and us.

God’s ways are good. His precepts are perfect, saving us from lives of defeat, guilt, and regret. But he won’t force himself on anyone. His tolerance even extends to our choosing to turn our backs on him forever.

People say God is “intolerant.”

Of sin, yes. Of people? Never. But he is intolerant of our not showing the world his love.

Think on This

The label “intolerant” loses much of its sting when we realize the label doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we are wise and loving in our response. Love the people who just don’t “get” how following Christ brings freedom. Be loving to the people who seem hell-bent on removing God from society. The only intolerance that should upset you is when you aren’t loving. Jesus was always loving, even as he pointed people to God. Discuss this with your family and friends this week.

The Beauty of Intolerance by Josh and Sean McDowellThis blog post has been adapted from the book The Beauty of Intolerance, by Josh and Sean McDowell. To purchase a copy of this book, please visit our Store page.

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