News from the Tennessee Valley Religion

James L. Evans

The virtue of tolerance and religious freedom

A reader in Montgomery took me to task recently regarding a column I wrote about Harry Potter. The gist of the piece was that Christians need not fear the influence of the Potter series. The Christian faith has stood the test of time and there is no reason for us to advance our ideas by eliminating or silencing other ideas.

Although I did not use the word tolerance, the reader responded in the Montgomery Advertiser by writing that the kind of tolerance I was advocating was dangerous to our society. She went on to suggest that tolerance was responsible for the "tragic, factual evidence of what's been truly happening in our society."

She closed her letter with a quote from someone she described as a "wise man." She quoted this unnamed purveyor of wisdom as saying, "The last virtue of a depraved nation is tolerance."

I became curious as to what sort of "wise man" would issue forth such nonsense. It didn't take long for Google to locate the source. The quote comes from D. James Kennedy, pastor of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Coral Ridge Florida.

Kennedy is famous on several fronts. Years ago he developed "Evangelism Explosion," an aggressive tool designed to help Christians share their faith with non-Christians. Kennedy's resource provides a fully scripted way to present the plan of salvation and includes a handy reference for answering objections raised by those who resist conversion.

He is also well-known for his widely televised worship services. Kennedy, with his bright smile and royal blue clergy robe, delivers his message to thousands of homes each week via Christian television networks.

Kennedy is also known to Alabamians because he was the only "media" allowed to video Judge Roy Moore's dark of night installation of his 21/2 ton monument to the Ten Commandments in the state courthouse. Copies of the video were subsequently sold to benefit various Coral Ridge initiatives.

It is not without significance that Kennedy would be present at the installation of the Ten Commandments in a public building. He is a proponent of many of the tenets of Christian Reconstructionism. One of those ideas is the belief that America should be governed by the laws of the Old Testament. In fact, Kennedy believes that only born again Christians are fit to lead the country at all.

So when Kennedy tells us he despises tolerance, he is not kidding. If he had his way, the Constitution would be scrapped in favor of an Old Testament theocracy.

Of course, I wouldn't mind a theocracy, which literally means "rule by God," if God was in fact the one who ruled. But what usually happens in theocratic states is someone who claims to speak for God ends up running things, and normally not too well.

Getting back to tolerance, mere tolerance, in my opinion, does not go far enough. Simple toleration of someone or some idea is not the ideal expressed in our founding documents. In America we don't promote tolerance among religions; we practice "religious freedom."

In America, as far as the law is concerned, all human beings and their various religions are created equally. If we fail to protect this basic constitutional ideal, we will find ourselves on a path that leads to totalitarianism.

Intolerance is the primary virtue of those who would end the American dream.

James L. Evans, a syndicated columnist, also serves as pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church. He can be contacted at

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