When Tolerance Must Become Intolerance

In his book, The Intolerance of Tolerance, D.A. Carson carefully parses old notions of social tolerance from the new: the difference is that, under the old concept of social tolerance, a person can maintain dissenting opinions without incurring judgment from others of being intolerant1; while, according to his view, under the guise of the "new tolerance," not only is absolutism allegedly rejected,2 but all opponents are inevitably labeled intolerant.3 Do you find this ironic -- that someone from among the evangelical and Religious Right is complaining about intolerance?

Few other groups in this country are as intolerant of dissenting opinions as evangelicals and the Religious Right. But I disagree with Dr. Carson's insistence that the so-called new tolerance rejects absolutism; for, what seems obvious to me, the "new tolerance" at least embraces its own absolutes. Many in today's culture may reject Religious Right values, rejecting such as universal and absolute, but they at the very least embrace their own values as absolutes to be accepted and embraced.

I realize that he is also referring to and including a post-postmodern notion of relativism rife in our culture. Many espouse notions of equality to the effect that one person's opinions and experiences are just as relevant and equally valid as those of any other person -- not only relevant but of equal value and deserving of respect and expression. He correctly notes, I think, that there are limits to this tolerance; we, after all, reject as equal in value concepts related to Nazism and racism.4 But I think he is missing the point of the so-called new tolerance agenda.

Of course there is a limit to tolerance. We cannot tolerate opinions validating child abuse, rape, racism, misogyny, and child molestation. We cannot tolerate nefarious desires for some to torture animals, own slaves, or abuse the elderly. There are circumstances in which our tolerance must become intolerant. We cannot tolerate bullying, much of which leads to character assassination, or overt violence and/or death/murder.

This includes, however, protecting minorities such as those among LGBTQ-oriented persons. Using disparaging words, glances, or being discriminatory or causing physical/emotional harm directed at such people should not and cannot be tolerated; and our culture has become increasingly intolerant of those -- especially among conservative religious persons -- who perpetrate the same toward these precious individuals.

Please do not misunderstand me: Dr. Carson's book is relatively good. He addresses notions of our modern sense of tolerance that relate to most other fields, such as the scientific community, religion, education and politics. He then addresses, however, "The Domain of Homosexual Behavior." Less than a paragraph in and I was already sighing. The phrase "homosexual behavior" itself is a term worthy of at least one good eye-roll; as though "homosexual behavior" is this specialized form of depravity that is inherently monstrous, unethical, or criminal. This type of language, used by Dr. Carson and the likes of Michael Brown, is what is wrong in evangelicalism regarding all-things-LGBTQ-related.

Dr. Carson, carefully controlling the narrative, turns our attention to the Boy Scouts of America and the organization's struggle in allowing homosexual men "to serve in any leadership capacity."5 This overt discrimination has been fought by the ACLU. Carson suggests that homosexuals can form their own scouts group, adding, "No, that will never do: what the new tolerance means is that government must be intolerant of those who do not accept the new definition of tolerance."6 I wonder if Dr. Carson would render a similar argument regarding the Hobby Lobby case. Or is tolerance and freedom rights from the government only to be granted privilege to conservative religious groups?

I also wonder how many gay dads or gay moms with children Dr. Carson knows personally. I personally know a few and they are among the most wonderful human beings anyone has ever met. Their children and their neighbors and friends agree. You see, from Carson's perspective, homosexuality in toto is sin. Hence his use of "homosexual behavior" when he addresses homosexuals (i.e., human beings created in the image of God). Allow me to give you some much-needed insight into my "homosexual behavior" and then conclude for yourself whether such should be tolerated by the Religious Right and others in our society.

I awake each morning much the same: I thank the Lord for another day, telling Him that I love Him, and ask for His help, grace, and mercy. I usually pray the Daily Office (morning prayer, noontime, and evening prayer) from the Book of Common Prayer. I then pray from my own heart for my parents, brother, and others. I thank God for a good house in which to live, my truck, my parents, brother, and boss. I get ready for work, a job that I have maintained since 1997, and I try to please my boss. I message my boyfriend throughout the day, telling him I love him, and can't wait to talk with him in the evening. I listen to country music, drive a truck, and support our military. I go home, eat dinner, and watch re-runs of The Big Bang Theory or Friends. I'm in bed usually by midnight and then I start my day all over again the following morning.

This life I live is referred to by the likes of D.A. Carson and Michael Brown et al. as "homosexual behavior" -- except, with few tweaks, my life resembles the daily lives of countless heterosexuals. I want what they want: I want a good-paying job so that I can pay my bills and enjoy my life. I want to love someone faithfully and be faithfully loved by him. I want to worship God at a local church, spend time with my parents and friends, and be treated fairly and equally in this society.

This, friends, is the fearfully-dreaded "gay agenda." This is merely a fight for what I should already possess: an equal standing in any American community -- a right to vote, a right to work, a right to love. Now, anyone who opposes these rights must not be tolerated, and we should not be labeled unjustly intolerant; that is why I still insist that, sometimes, our tolerance must become intolerant. If the Religious Right want the government to protect their rights then they, by mere consistency's sake, must also be willing that the government protect the rights of LGBTQ persons. Be careful, then, when your complaint against the intolerance of the tolerant is not masking your own double-standard intolerance.


1 D.A. Carson, The Intolerance of Tolerance (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012), 6.

2 Ibid, 13.

3 Ibid., 15.

4 Ibid., 13.

5 Ibid., 35-36.

6 Ibid., 38.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.