We have become intolerant of disagreement. We cannot simply disagree and move on—something healthy and necessary. Now, we demand uniformity of opinion. Our unity then no longer centres on Christ alone but on public statements of loyalty.
Tolerance is not enough anymore. Now, we must affirm someone else’s position and identity or be guilty of transgressing a social law code. “You cannot be silent and be affirming,” writes AnyYelsi Veleasco-Sanchez—she even associates silence with “cowardice.” In the past, such statements generally came from the politically left.
Surprisingly, however, Christians have begun to make similar arguments. They criticize others for their lack of perceived support of their opinion. One pastor even wrote on the sin of silence. Even in Christian circles now, silence is no longer tolerable—only public and vocal acts of support are.
In both cases, the form of argument is similar. Silence is betrayal. Only a vocal and public affirmation of someone’s opinion and cause can prove that we are allies. The result is schism. The “pure” group cuts itself off from the rest.
I find this form of argument profoundly unhelpful for three reasons.
First, it hurts the body of Christ.
Over the years, Christians have had their share of radicals. They tend to follow a similar pattern. A leader takes a radical stand and claims purity. He and his group then splinter off.
For example, The North African Donatists maintained a schism, claiming they were the most pure church for more than 300 years. And in doing so, they weakened immeasurably the witness of the Church in North Africa. When Islam rolled over the Sahara, they overwhelmed both them and their ecclesial opponents completely.
Certain radicals in the Reformation like Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt caused all sorts of mayhem. In doing so, they hardened Martin Luther against dissent in the German Reformation, and thus prepared the way for Luther to reject Huldreich Zwingli as another of the same ilk, though he was not. Such radicalism might have the appearance of boldness for Christ, but its fruit speaks otherwise.
I see a similar pattern forming in our day. We have created a new honour and shame hierarchy. We feel that we need to show our strength by taking the most extreme positions. We think it signals dominance. Perhaps so. But it often does not signal kindness. Kindness is still a fruit of the Spirit. So is love and patience (1 Cor 13:4). So is not insisting on our own way (1 Cor 13:5).
Instead, we shame others into submission. We bind free men. We call their silence sin. And so we create a system of honour and shame whereby the top-dog gets acclaim for being the most zealous. The rest get kowtowed into submission. It forms a system of allyship and loyalty which by practice conflicts with the Gospel (Gal 3:28).
All of this hurts the body of Christ.
Second, it gainsays our freedom in Christ.
When someone demands public affirmation of their opinion or preference, they bind the conscience of a Christian in ways that gainsay Christian freedom. In Christ, we are free from the yoke of slavery, from the yoke of human rules. We may choose to submit to someone’s preference for the sake of love. But we are not bound to it.
For this reason, calling silence a sin or requiring others to support a cause as we do only creates a burden for Christians who are free. As Martin Luther wrote: “Now do not make a ‘must’ out of what is ‘free,’ as you have done, so that you may not be called to account for those who were led astray by your loveless exercise of liberty” (First Sermon, March 9 1522).