Robert Jeffress - The Most Misunderstood Word in America
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. For several years, tolerance has been America's favorite buzzword. We're encouraged to be tolerant of other religions, other cultures, and other lifestyles, but the contemporary version of tolerance has taken a whole new definition in our day. Today I'll expose today's rendition of tolerance as a farce, and explain how Christians should respond. My message is titled The Most Misunderstood Word in America, on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
It was the British writer G.K. Chesterson who said, "Tolerance is a virtue for a man with no convictions". That statement certainly explains why there seems to be an inverse relationship between our cultures embracing tolerance and also our culture's rejection of the moral and spiritual absolutes. If you listen carefully to the voices around you, you'll conclude that tolerance is the most important character quality that any of us can develop. The conviction that all beliefs are equally valid is celebrated as the highest ideal in our culture, and by the way, that's not by accident. There are many educators today who believe that encouraging tolerance of all beliefs and behaviors is the highest educational goal of educators, and that's why we elevate in our culture tolerance over truth.
I want you to listen carefully to the words of Stephen Bates, a conservative writer in an article that he wrote for the American enterprise. Bates said, "Tolerance may indeed be the dominant theme in the modern curriculum. The authors of a recent study of American high schools concluded that tolerating diversity is the moral glue that holds schools together. One study of American history books found that toleration is presented as the only religious idea worth remembering". The effort to indoctrinate students to embrace tolerance is having a profound effect on our culture's attitudes and beliefs. It has led to an increasing acceptance to those beliefs, those behaviors once thought morally wrong.
As you know, George Gallup regularly surveys the attitudes of Americans, and over the last 20 years, Gallup has noticed a general increase in those who believe homosexual relationships should be legal, 60%. Those who believe that sex between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman are permissible, that's 59%, those who believe that divorce is acceptable, 65%, and those who believe that having a baby out of wedlock is an equally valid moral choice, 54%. Do you see the relationship between culture's embracing of tolerance and the rejection of moral absolutes?
However, I have to say to you tonight, and those of you watching on television, listening by radio, I'm not that concerned with the general public's embracing of religious beliefs and behaviors that we find objectionable. What I am concerned about is the effect that relativism is having on Christians themselves. A 2008 poll of 35,000 Americans revealed that 57% of evangelical Christians said that they believed that many religions lead to eternal life. A poll by George Barna a few years ago discovered that 68% of those who identified themselves as born again Christian adults, and 91% of Christian teenagers rejected the concept of absolute truth. They said there is no such thing as truth that applies to everyone and every situation. 68% of born again adults, 91% of born again teenagers.
And instead of embracing absolute truth, what people have embraced now is relativism. And if you wanna know what relativism is, understand this simple phrase that expresses it better than anything else. Relativism says everything is right sometime, and nothing is right everytime. What is the net result of Christians embracing relativism? We become tasteless salt and diminished light. Remember the whole thesis of this series, "Twilight's Last Gleaming," is our collapse as a country is inevitable, but we can delay that collapse by being the salt and the light Jesus commanded us to be. But if we don't believe that there are absolute rights and absolute wrongs, we become, first of all, tasteless salt.
For example, if we really don't believe that abortion is tantamount to murder, why insist that we elect pro-life candidates? If we're really not convinced that homosexuality is a perversion, why would we oppose efforts to teach schoolchildren that homosexuality is a valid lifestyle choice? Once we bind to relativism, we quickly lose any motivation to stand up and push back against the tide of immorality that is sweeping our country. To continue the analogy I used a few Sunday nights ago, if the Hoover Dam is crumbling, why bother to stand behind it and try to prevent the flood that's going to occur below, if you don't believe a flood's a bad thing to begin with. It's the same thing in our culture.
When Christians lose their motivation to be restrainers of evil, because they no longer believe these behaviors are evil, it's only a short time until society crumbles under the weight of its own sin. Jesus said it this way in Matthew 5:13, "You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt becomes tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing any more, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men". When Christians embrace relativism, they lose their distinctive taste, they lose their saltiness. But relativism also diminishes our light as a Christian. Remember, we're to be that preservative pushing back, delaying evil, but we're also to be light pointing people to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, when you don't believe in the exclusivity of truth, you become a diminished light.
Let me illustrate that for you. Media entrepreneur, Oprah Winfrey claims to be a Christian, however, she does not believe that Christianity's truth is exclusive. She said in an interview one time, quote, "One of the biggest mistakes humans make is to believe that there is only one way. Actually, there are many diverse paths that lead to what you call God". Now, that's Oprah Winfrey. Of course, her own belief that there's not an exclusive way to God violates the beliefs of the founder of her religion, Christianity, because Jesus Christ, the founder of her faith and our faith said in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the father except by me".
However, when it comes to this subject of exclusivity, unfortunately, polls reveal that more Christians believe Oprah Winfrey than believe Jesus Christ. Of course, the most obvious result of believing that all religions are offering an equally valid path to God results in the loss of motivation to try to point people to faith in Jesus Christ. Why risk offending somebody about their religious beliefs, if you believe their religion is just as valid as your religion?
Dr. Roy Fish, a professor at Southwestern Seminary, who was one time interim pastor here for a period of time, believes that spiritual relativism is the primary culprit in the loss of our evangelistic zeal. Dr. Fish says, "Very little will stultify evangelism and missions any quicker than the belief that nobody is really lost and everybody is going to make it to heaven, sooner or later. Why go across the sea, or even across the street, with the message of Jesus, if everybody is already saved, or everyone will make to heaven ultimately anyhow"? Jesus said the same thing in Matthew 5:15. He said, "It is unthinkable to light a lamp, and put it under a peck-measure".
Have you ever read that before and wondered what in the world is a peck-measure? It's a clay bowl. Jesus said you don't light a light and then put a bowl over it, where nobody can see the light. And yet, when we buy into relativism, the idea that all religions are equally valid, we are effectively placing a bowl over our light. We are hiding the light of the Gospel.
Now, up to this point, I have equated tolerance with relativism. In today's world, and most of you who are students, you'll understand this. When people say, "I am tolerant of something," they're saying, "I believe that that belief, behavior or choice, is just as valid as mine". For example, if somebody says, "I am tolerant of homosexuality," they're saying, in today's culture, we think, I'm saying that I believe that homosexuality is just as valid a lifestyle choice as heterosexuality. When somebody says that, "I'm tolerant of other religious beliefs," usually what they're trying to communicate is that they believe other religions are just as valid as their own religion. However, what I'm gonna call tonight true tolerance, not only allows for, but it requires a belief in absolute truth, and that's what I want you to understand more than anything tonight. True tolerance requires a belief in absolute truth.
Author Gregory Kouki says, "Probably no concept has more currency in our politically correct culture than the notion of tolerance. Unfortunately, one of America's noblest virtues has been so distorted, it's become a vice". And I have to confess I've been guilty of doing that. I have allowed our current culture to distort the meaning of tolerance and I've treated the idea of tolerance as a vice rather than a virtue, but tolerance when correctly understood really is a virtue that ought to be embraced. But what society understands tolerance to be and what true tolerance is, are vastly different things.
Many years ago, my grandmother wrote a widely published poem, entitled, "A Plea For Tolerance". However, my grandmother's understanding of tolerance and today's understanding of tolerance are vastly different. Let's go back to the historic understanding of the word tolerance. It's best understood from Webster's New World Dictionary. Tolerance is defined as to allow or to permit, to recognize and respect other's beliefs and practices without sharing them. To bear or put up with someone or something, not necessarily liked. You get that? It's to allow something that you don't agree with.
Gregory Kouki again, identifies the three critical components of true tolerance. Number one, there's a permitting or allowing something you dislike or don't agree with. Secondly, a conduct or point of view with which one disagrees with in the process while number three, respecting the person in the process. Here is the most obvious, but overlooked truth about tolerance. It is a conduct or point of view, one disagrees with. Not one accepts. You can only truly be tolerant of something you either dislike or disagree with.
Let me illustrate that for you if I could. Let's say, I go to a dinner and for dessert, they serve Häagen-Dazs, vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce over it, which happens to be my very favorite dessert. And so Amy ask me, "How did you enjoy dessert"? And I say, "Well, I tolerated it". Tolerated it? Would that be an apt description for my reaction, when I practically licked the bowl clean? No, that's not what you would say. Tolerated it, no, no. Now let's suppose, that instead of Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce, they serve key lime pie, my least favorite dessert. And so I nibble at it little bit to be polite and Amy asked me, "Well, how did you enjoy your dessert"? And I say, "I tolerated it".
Now that would be an accurate word to describe how I dealt with the dessert. I permitted it to be served to me. That is, I didn't throw it across the room, okay. I permitted it to be served nevertheless, it was something that I very much disliked and yet I respected the person who served it to me in the process. I didn't call her a bunch of filthy names for serving me, key lime pie. Do you see that as what tolerance is. It's permitting or allowing something you disagree with or dislike while respecting the other person in the process.
However, the concept of tolerance has undergone a radical transformation today. Today, when people say you must be tolerant, what they really mean is you must accept all ideas, beliefs, or behaviors as equally valid. For example, Hinduism and Christianity are equally valid belief systems. The pseudo-tolerant person says. Heterosexuality and homosexuality are equally valid expressions of human sexuality. Choosing to abort a child or to keep a child are valid moral choices, depending on the particular circumstances. Cohabitation or marriage are equally valid options in a relationship. Key lime pie and Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream are equally delicious desserts. See, that is what false or pseudo tolerance is. It's the belief that all things are equally valid and desirable. To suggest that one idea belief or choice is superior to another, is to be called intolerant.
Now this pseudo tolerance, this new tolerance resembles historical tolerance in some ways, but it's also radically different from the historic understanding of tolerance in four distinct ways. I want you to write this down. First of all, pseudo-tolerance, this is the new perverted idea of tolerance. Pseudo-tolerance rejects the idea of absolute truth. Now, today we throw around the term absolute truth all the time and maybe you're not sure exactly what that means. An absolute truth is a truth that is true in every circumstance. That is an absolute truth.
Seven times eight equals 56 is an absolute truth. There is no situation, no culture in which seven times eight does not equal 56. However, there are also relative truths in our universe. Not every truth is an absolute truth. For example, the statement 72 degrees is the perfect temperature. Now, that's not an absolute truth. That is a relative truth. That statement depends upon somebody's gender, somebody's ethnicity, think Eskimo for a moment, somebody's metabolism, all kind of things lead a person to believe what the perfect temperature is.
Now, there are many areas, even in morality that are relative, instead of absolute. For example, the statement, we should obey the law. Is that an absolute truth or relative truth? Is there any circumstance in which we shouldn't obey the law? Of course there are. I mean, if you're racing your child to the hospital at two o'clock in the morning, it's an emergency and you come upon a stoplight and there's no traffic coming, the morally right thing to do is to run that red light, isn't it? To preserve the life of your child. Acts 5:29 tells us, there is going to be a time when we as Christians need to be willing to disobey the government, to disobey the law. Peter said, "We must obey God rather than obey men".
So we should obey the law is a relative statement. It's true most of the time, but it's not true all of the time. However, the proponents of pseudo-tolerance, this new tolerance, want to say that every moral and spiritual principle is relative rather than absolute. In fact, the embracers of pseudo-tolerance find it almost impossible to label any behavior as absolutely right or absolutely wrong. For example, if you ask somebody who embraces pseudo-tolerance, were the perpetrators of September the 11th, 2001 evil? Was that an evil act? They would him and huh and say, "Well, you know, it depends on your perspective". I mean, if you're a family of one of the victims of 9/11, yes, to you, that was evil. But on the other hand, if you happened to be a poor oppressed Muslim, living in a third world country that has been oppressed by the "Great Satan America", no, that wasn't evil, that was justified.
In fact, we had a muslim imam here in New York who made a similar statement. You see to the relativist, there is no absolute right and wrong. Pseudo-tolerance requires rejecting the belief that all truths apply to all people. So therefore, instead of saying, abortion is wrong, what we're supposed to say is abortion is wrong for me. Instead of saying, homosexuality is a perversion, we're supposed to say, homosexuality is not my particular choice. Instead of saying that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven, we say, and you even hear some Christians say this, Jesus Christ is the way to heaven for Christians. That is pseudo-tolerance, a rejection of absolute truth.
And of course, by rejecting absolute and spiritual truth, a pseudo-tolerance has to become what they say they despise and that leads to our second characteristic of pseudo-tolerance. Pseudo-tolerance is intolerant of other points of views. That's the most ironic thing about the whole thing. Those who say they're tolerant usually end up being the most intolerant people of all. Let me give you some illustrations of that. While he was the editor of a publication entitled "Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington" Dr. Richard Sternberg, received a submission from an author, Dr. Steven Meyer of the Discovery Institute and institute not unlike our own Creation Research Institute, that the Morrison's had up. It's an institute that is dedicated to promote the intelligent design theory of the origins of the universe.
So Dr. Meyers submits this article for publication. When the publication was received by the editor, Dr. Sternberg, he was so impressed with it that instead of asking for peer group review, he as editor made the decision to publish the article. Something that was clearly within his rights as editor. Dr. Sternberg was immediately attacked by his peers for allowing the publication of an article that allowed for intelligent design.
The incident by the way, is not isolated. In June of 2006, the National Science Academies of 67 countries, warned parents and teachers about any attempts to undermine the teaching of evolution or allowing students to be taught that the world was created in six days. Have you ever heard anything so preposterous? I mean, I thought the whole basis of education was questioning different theories and re-questioning and retesting different theories. The intolerance of these pseudo-tolerant people reaches into spiritual issues as well.