A TALE OF TWO METHODISTS
Today, I would like to briefly address a history of Christian tolerance. Where did the idea of religions tolerating other religions come from in terms of being participants in the public square? I don’t think there was ONE particular moment in human history where this happened, it was sort of a social development that just sort of happened, and today, “tolerance” is being emphasized because we live in a multi-religious, culturally pluralistic society. Of course, there have always been religiously pluralistic societies, where the prevailing religion was polytheistic, like with the Ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans. But in reality, with imperial politics playing a role in subordinating the masses, the emperor/king served as god with his own group of worshippers. If you did not bow to the emperor, you paid with your life. Religious tolerance then must be seen as ever elusive, even back during Pax Romana.
In recent days, violent events in Libya and Egypt have been used as opportunities for liberals and conservatives to use their talking points. For conservatives and arc-conservatives like Mark Tooley of The Institute on Religion And Democracy, it’s see, I told you so, those Arabs are inherently wild, uncontrollable and violent, and they must be put down (under the foot of the U.S. Military of course!). See Mark Tooley’s: Libyan Horror as an example. Chris rightly responded to Tooley Tooley, the United Methodist?: The IRD Prez TAkes aim at Moderation, tolerance, in the wake of Libyan Slaughter.
Tooley argues that religious tolerance is a liberal idea and must be squashed, and religious freedom includes the free speech of speaker (he is no pastor, I refuse to call him that!) Terry Jones of “Dove” World Outreach Center to start a race war. Burning the sacred books of people, and publicly doing so for the sake of intimidating them, is the exact same strategy that the Ku Klux Klan used(uses?) in burning crosses in front of Black Christian audiences to scare them. The notion that Terry Jones has the right to believe what he believes and to do what he wants to do is just not true. We are not allowed to go to movie theaters and shout, “Fire!” anymore than Jones can continue to yell for “War!” There are limits to our freedom of speech. Tooley would probably acknowledge that there are, but not when it comes to folks who agree with him and his crusading churchianity agenda.
For the first 3 centuries of the Common Era, Christians were persecuted, suffered from the “tolerance” and “enlightenment” of the Roman Emperor cult. Marcus Aurelius, he was more spiritual than religious. Each citizen in the Roman Republic was face with the Jewish Question which was transformed in the Jewish AND Christian Question. According to conservative evangelical scholar Peter Leithart, in his work Defending Constantine, Diocletian treated himself like the god Jupitor incarnate , dressing in fancy clothes, and it was his pax deorum Peace of the gods, for two decades which saw no persecution of Christians at first. But once Christians started to criticize ideas like the Tetrarchy (four rulers over Rome), Diocletian became threatened by what was then a vocal minority of 10% in the Roman Empire. Constantine, according to Leithart and others, understands toleration as “disapproval of certain religious expressions but refrains for principled reason from using state power to suppress the disapproved religion.” Constantine moves away from toleration to concord, a move towards unity. Constantine’s Edict of Milan is a putting of Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek into practice. Leithart criticizes the anti-Jewish flux of Constantine’s policy of religion (the Jewish Problem still a problem in the name of religious liberty).
Mark Tooley argues for religious freedom, with Terry Jones, and with protecting conservative evangelical Christians rights’ to their anti-abortion principles, see his conversation on “Young Evangelicals And Politics”; he claims he wants freedom and tolerance for his side,, but at the same time, he is taking away freedom from American Muslims. Tooley is following theories of religious freedom that are oppressive, as Leithart points out, with people like John Locke, who argued that religions should only be tolerated if they did not threaten the unity of the nation-state. Tooley, as I have argued in the past, who continues to get pacifism wrong, is far more concerned about the unity of the nation-state than he is Christians being free to be faithful to the Gospel. Country takes precedent over the Triune God.
Joel is right to criticize Tooley’s narrative of Conservative Christians being persecuted (oh no’s!); it’s just not happening. We as Christians are not being the sources of entertainment at Hollywood garden parties like what happened in the days of Emperor Nero. Just not the case. The problem is for folks like Tooley and the Washington, D.C., based think-tank Institute for Religious Democracy (that’s my awkward nickname for the IRD), they have deviated from conservative heroes such as Constantine, and would prefer the likes of John Locke instead.
Another Methodist who is more close philosophically to Constantine more than Locke is Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Clinton, according to Living History, was raised Methodist, attended a Methodist youth group growing up, and it was there she learned about the grace and love of God, as well as the Methodist quest for justice in the world. Say what you will about her feminist politics or her association with Wal-Mart, I found her speech on Egypt, Libya, and religious freedom to be inspiring:
Perhaps instead of cannibalizing fellow Christians, Tooley and his Institute for Religious Democracy, should follow the Christian examples of Emperor Constantine and Secretary Clinton, in remaining faithful to religious traditions but still working for the freedom of other religious practitioners. Further, we as Christians and “THE” Church should take the steps promoting Christian nonviolence and love to overcome hostilities around the world.