One of the most commonly misunderstood and misapplied Biblical parables in the modern church is the parable of the wheat and the tares, found in Matthew 13:24-30. People who reference it often do so in such a way that they indicate that they’re certain that they’re the wheat and the people they’re criticizing are surely the tares. I’ve heard it referenced on anything from how to vote to how to treat people who don’t fit in at church to, most ridiculously recently, how or whether non-journalists should follow a journalistic style guide when discussing members of the church.
All of those things miss the point of the parable. The point of the parable is that only God knows which people are wheat and which people are tares. We don’t know, and until the harvest, we can’t know. We are not charged with separating the wheat from the tares, and when we try to do so, we are usurping God’s job and doing it poorly to the detriment of the saints.
In the parable, once it has been discovered that there are tares in the field, the servants ask the master whether they should go and root out the tares. The master says to leave the tares alone because attempting to root them out would damage the wheat. His explicit instruction – “Let both grow together until the harvest.”
The reason for this is twofold. The first is that until it’s time for the harvest, wheat and tares look so similar that it’s not possible to conclusively tell one from the other. The second is that the wheat and the tares are growing closely together and their roots are intertwined such that pulling out tares, even if we’re certain they’re tares, will also pull out wheat.
This has application to the modern church. In our wards and stakes there are people who practice the faith differently from us. We might be so sure that our way is the “right way”, so therefore, anyone who disagrees with us or with our favorite policy must be a tare and must be sent packing to spare the saints. But we’re wrong. We don’t know if they’re tares, and even if they are, the collateral damage to the surrounding wheat would be high, and souls might be lost due to our careless self-righteousness. And God told us to “let both grow together until the harvest.” God will judge, and we might be surprised at the results.
We should also take care not to design policies that push people away. And if we do find that our policies push people away, we shouldn’t throw up our hands, claim “well, that’s just separating the wheat from the tares” and go on about our business. We should repent of our harm, fix things, and lovingly welcome people to the fold of God.
Jesus also cautioned us against judgmentalism in the Sermon on the Mount. “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” Matthew 7:1-2. If we go around accusing people of being tares for being different, then at the day of judgment, when the tares are truly identified, we may be dismayed to find that we’re among them.