SEOUL, South Korea–Tolerance is a biblical value which progressive Baptists must embrace in responding to fundamentalism, a Texas pastor told world Baptist leaders this week.
“Fundamentalism seems to be growing, and tolerance is not a value which fundamentalists esteem,” said Philip Wise, pastor of Second Baptist Church, Lubbock, Texas. “To the contrary, it is a value which they deplore.”
Finding themselves living in a “sea of fundamentalism,” Wise told a joint session of the Christian ethics commission and doctrine and inter-church cooperation commission of the Baptist World Alliance, non-fundamentalist Baptists must hold tolerance as an esteemed, biblical value.
Wise’s paper was presented after Nigel Wright’s paper on “Tolerance, the Church and the Challenge of Secular Ethics” at meetings this week in Seoul, South Korea.
Citing the well-respected Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, often called Kittel, Wise said the Greek word translated as forbearance in the King James Version of the Bible may also be translated tolerance. It means acceptance or restraint, and it is a key word for progressive Baptists today, he said.
“Fundamentalists are not going away, and we need to develop a philosophy about how we can best relate to them,” Wise said. “Of course we cannot decide how fundamentalists will relate to us, but we can decide how we will relate to them.”
Wise urged progressive Baptists to accept fundamentalists as “fellow Christians who are sincerely attempting to do what they believe is right” and to avoid the fundamentalist mistake of dehumanizing others with the charge that they are not “true believers.”
Another step is to treat fundamentalists with kindness, he said. “Kindness is not a characteristic for which fundamentalists are known. It is my hope that kindness will become characteristic of progressive Baptists,” said the Texas pastor.
Wise identified a third step as forgiveness, which is necessary due to the actions of fundamentalists who have “deeply hurt” many progressive Baptists.
“Christians have a special responsibility when they have been mistreated, for Christ calls his followers to forgive their enemies,” he said.
Wise distinguished between forgiveness and reconciliation.
“Forgiveness is something you can do alone, without reference to what the person what the person who has hurt you does,” he said. “Reconciliation, however, is not something you can achieve on your own. It takes two to be reconciled. Reconciliation is possible only when you forgive those who hurt you, and they also apologize for what they did and ask for your forgiveness.”
Wise, whose paper was based on a newly co-authored book, acknowledged that sometimes reconciliation is not possible.
Biblical and theological conversations offer fourth way to relate to fundamentalists, he said.
Wise said progressive Baptists should engage in such conversations with humility.
“The Christian message is absolute, but our understanding of it is not, and authentic conversation with others means that we listen for a better understanding than we presently have,” he said.
Wise that the fundamentalist characteristic of separation from others “is not the Christian ideal.”
However, he said that “sometimes this ideal is not possible” and being separate from fundamentalists “may be the best available option for many progressives.”
When progressives find themselves unable to relate to fundamentalists, they should engage other Christian groups.
“I believe that … ecumenism holds enormous promise,” Wise said.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics and executive editor of EthicsDaily.com.