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The title of this article is IS CHRISTIANITY A RELIGION OF BIGOTS?

Sometimes ideas for articles in this journal come in ways that seem almost mystic in nature. In a class study recently, I used the word “bigot” in discussing a challenge that Christians sometimes face. One of our members responded energetically to that comment saying she had been accused of being a bigot just because she believed in Christ. That experience led me to prepare a presentation on the subject, and several people responded to the lesson saying that they had been accused of bigotry just because they had a habit of going to church on Sunday. A few days later I had a vitriolic e-mail in response to our ministry accusing me of being a bigot. Apparently, the culture of pluralism we live in has led people outside of Christianity to feel that Christians are good targets for the use of this label.

The fact is that most religions teach that they have the right answer to the challenges of life. Islam teaches clearly that only the followers of Muhammad have paradise after death. There are passages in the Koran clearly teaching that “people of the book” [Christians and Jews] are enemies of Islam and are lost. Jesus did say “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Does this make his followers bigots?

Webster's dictionary says that the word “bigot [is] from ‘hombre de bigote’ meaning a man with a mustache.” This is rooted in the South American gaucho masculine viewpoint of what a real man is all about. The dictionary goes on to say that it “refers to a person of spirit, firm character, and conviction.” My college slang dictionary defines bigot as “a person who holds blindly and intolerantly to a particular creed, opinion, etc.” The second use is “a narrow-minded inflexible, intolerant person.” Most reasonable people will agree that believing something does not automatically make you a bigot. Refusing to hear another view, being unwilling to concede that you have something to learn from someone else, and/or denigrating someone else because they do not share your view does. We would suggest four reasons why the Christian system does not validate the charge that Christians are bigots.

1. Bigots refuse to reason together to share views
and get an answer to a question.

A young man with mouth and lips sealed with tape to prevent from speaking freely.

From cover to cover the Bible encourages all people to come together and reason. In Isaiah 1:18 we read “  ‘Come now, and let us settle the matter,' says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be like wool.’  God has always called people to think and not respond as robots. When Jesus was in the temple as a twelve year old, he was “listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). Paul's approach was to reason with people. Acts 17:2 says, “As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures.” This statement is repeated in Acts 18:4 and 18:19. When Paul is talking to Felix in Acts 24:25 “… Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come.” This went on for two years. Paul did not just chew out Felix in a bigoted, self-righteous way but reasoned about the things that were destructive in the society in which they lived.

Individuals who claim to be Christians may not always act as Christians should, but the Christian system is one of reasoning and logical approaches to solving the problems we all face.

2. Bigots do not tolerate or see good in
opposing views.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus set the standard for Christian conduct when a Christian is involved in a discussion with someone holding an opposing view. Christ told his followers to turn the other cheek, love your enemy, do good to those who hate you, do not be judgmental (Matthew 5:39, 44, and 7:1). Paul demonstrated the Christian approach to those with opposing views in Acts 17:16 – 30. He was speaking at the Areopagus in Athens to a group of belligerent philosophers. He began by complimenting their devotions and in verse 28 refers to some of the good teachings of their local poets and leaders. Christians can believe that there is only one true path to God, but they also believe that there is value in other religions. Islam's view of morality is in most points shared by Christ. The Hindu view of the environment values the creation as the Bible does. Buddha's teaching about personal relationships is very close to the perspective of Christ. Bahá'u'lláh understanding of the importance of unity is shared by Christ. The charge of intolerance cannot be substantiated against the Christian.

3. Bigots wish harm to those who oppose them.

In Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31 Jesus says, “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Buddha made a similar declaration, but in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gave specific help as to how to do this:

  • Matthew 5:21 — You have heard … don't murder … but I tell you don't get angry.
  • Matthew 5:27 — You have heard … don't commit adultery … but I say don't look with lust.
  • Matthew 5:38 — You have heard … eye for eye, and tooth for tooth … but I say turn the other cheek.
  • Matthew 5:43 — You have heard … “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” … but I say, love your enemies
    .... and pray for them.
  • Matthew 5:22 — But I tell you anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone
    .... who says to his brother “Raca” [a term of contempt] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says “you
    .... fool” [which in modern slang is “go to hell” — condemning someone else] will be in danger of the fire of hell.
Two angry friends or roommates arguing and threatening each other

It is difficult if not impossible to read through this discussion and suggest that this is a bigot speaking. There was no physical harm intended in the teachings of Jesus Christ.

4. Bigots cannot disagree
without being disagreeable.

In 1 Peter 3:15 Christians are told to “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. … WITH GENTLENESS AND respect” (emphasis mine). I can tell you from personal experience that this is a challenge. When you know you have the right answer to give someone, and you also know that you must be kind and gentle, there is a real challenge to being the Christian Jesus calls you to be. I have a dear friend who was a missionary in Italy. The local people in the town where he served had a nickname for him — “the sweet one.” This man was so kind and gentle, that even though he was an American who had an opposing view to their traditions, he expressed that view with so much kindness and gentleness that they labeled him accordingly. That is what real Christianity is about.

In Luke 23:9 – 12 we see Jesus living out a response to any charge of bigotry that anyone could bring against him. The Roman ruler “plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate.” I have had the experience of being publicly mocked and ridiculed in my presentations throughout the years. I know how hard it is not to respond in kind. That hot burning sensation up the back of your neck is hard to ignore, but Christians are constrained to follow the example of Christ. While we may fail at it, the cause is not bigotry but human weakness.

Two friends  sitting on a couch in the living room talking

The Christian response to charges of bigotry is laid out in Galatians 5:22 when characteristics of a real Christian are listed — “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” These are not characteristics of a bigot. Jesus said that the way people would know that we are his disciples was the opposite of bigotry. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

— John N. Clayton

Picture credits:
© digitalskillet1. Image from BigStockPhoto.com
© Ocus Focus. Image from BigStockPhoto.com
Bottom two pictures: © AntonioGuillem. Images from BigStockPhoto.com