In 1996 I attended my second Southern Baptist Convention in the New Orleans Superdome. One of the speakers was the well-known Christian apologist Josh McDowell. In his sermon to Southern Baptists that year, McDowell surprisingly did not speak about the evidence for the Christian faith. Instead he discussed the rise of what he called “the new tolerance” in America and the challenges it would present for the Christian church.
According to Josh McDowell, the “old tolerance” as he described it was the type of tolerance that had been ingrained in American culture. Intertwined with the American ideal of personal freedom, McDowell described the old tolerance as the idea that I can respect your right to have your beliefs and practices without sharing or affirming them. The old tolerance meant the free exchange of ideas, thoughts, and practices for everyone. Then McDowell described the rise of what he termed the “new tolerance” which is a totally different concept. The new tolerance demands affirmation. The new tolerance says you do not have the right to do anything but affirm my beliefs – even if you don’t share them. If you do not affirm whatever I believe or want to do, then you are a bigot according the new tolerance and unworthy of respect or a voice in society. McDowell went on to describe the effects of this rising new tolerance that he was seeing on college campuses where he spoke. He shared how the new tolerance sought to silence and ostracize anyone who did not go along. He predicted that the new tolerance would eventually lead to the overthrow of American morality and present the greatest challenge to the American church of the 21st century.
As I walked out of the Superdome that day, I saw a pastor friend who was a mentor of mine. He looked at me and said, “That was a prophetic word by Josh McDowell, he is exactly right.” To be honest, I really didn’t think much more about it. After all, I was a busy young pastor and seminary student struggling to keep my head above water. However, I have gone back in my mind to that day in New Orleans many times recently.
A simple check of the news reveals what is happening. Gay marriage is now legal in 36 states. Christian photographers and bakers are being sued because they refused to participate in gay weddings. Each week brings new stories about how our public schools and colleges are descending into moral insanity while they are busy affirming every lifestyle or belief system – except any lifestyle or belief system that refuses to affirm all other lifestyles and belief systems! Many who work in corporate America report the unspoken pressure that is felt to keep conservative Christian beliefs to yourself or risk losing promotions, positive reviews, or even the job itself. The city of Atlanta just terminated its fire chief because he espoused his Christian beliefs regarding sexuality and marriage – beliefs which could not be tolerated by the new tolerance running rampant in Atlanta. Incredibly, at some point in all of the controversy, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed was quoted as saying he took action against the fire chief because he (the mayor) works everyday to ensure that Atlanta is “a welcoming city for all citizens – regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, race, and religious beliefs.” Chief Cochran and the many thousands who share his beliefs certainly don’t feel the welcome.
The message could not be more clear: Biblical beliefs about marriage, sexuality, and morality cannot be tolerated. Why? Because the new tolerance only works for those who go along. Anyone who dares to disagree must be ostracized and silenced. Their views cannot be tolerated. We are assured by many leaders that everything is fine because we can believe whatever we wish in our “pews, hearts, and homes.” Everyone still has “freedom of worship” in the church of their choosing. They say everything is fine. Don’t you believe it for one moment. Our nation is headed down a path that will inevitably lead to tyranny and a loss of freedom for everyone. Even more tragically, many millions of people will enter the eternal destruction of a Christless eternity in hell having tolerated everything except the one message that could have saved them.
Josh McDowell saw it coming.