Tolerance is the new buzzword. Google it and you’ll get 138 million results in 14 seconds!
There is a modern myth that holds that true tolerance equals agreement – that the tolerant person occupies a place of complete impartiality where each person is permitted to decide for himself. No judgments allowed. No forcing personal views. But that is not what tolerance is all about.
According to Webster’s New World Dictionary the word tolerance means “to allow or to permit, to recognize and respect others’ beliefs and practices without sharing them, to bear or put up with someone or something not necessarily liked.
Tolerance, then, involves three things: (1) Permitting or allowing; (2) A conduct or point of view one disagrees with; (3) While respecting the person in the process.
True tolerance is not about agreement – it’s just the opposite. If I agree with a person’s viewpoint I have no need of tolerance. It’s only when I disagree that tolerance needs to be exercised.
Today, however, we have distorted tolerance from defending the rights of those who hold different beliefs from us to affirming all beliefs as equally valid and correct. This “new tolerance” is not only socially dangerous and intellectually debilitating it also leads to genuine intolerance of all who struggle to hold fast to their beliefs. This is particularly true for those of us who wish to hold fast to a Biblical worldview. Cardinal George Pell put it this way: “Ironically, intolerance of Christianity and Christian culture is proclaimed most often in the name of tolerance: Christianity must not be tolerated because of the need for greater tolerance.”
This has been seen in a number of ways in recent times. For example, the debate surrounding the abortion law in Victoria. Pro-abortion commentators attacked “conscientious objection” as nothing more than a way for doctors and nurses to impose their morality on their patients.
Antidiscrimination laws are also raising serious freedom-of-religion issues for churches in counseling, education, the hiring of facilities, and employment of staff.
Intolerant tolerance could also threaten the belief that there is only one way to God – a view that is not only taught in Christianity but also by Islam and many other religious groups. As a Christian I believe that salvation is only found in Jesus Christ. People of other religious faith (or of no faith) would disagree with me. That’s when tolerance kicks in. I am tolerant of the fact that others hold other views and I expect those same people to be tolerant of me – and we are to be respectful and kind towards each other in the process.
I believe it’s in the area of respect and kindness that the “tolerance” debate is seriously missing out these days. If we disagree with someone we are told we are intolerant, homophobic, unchristian, judgmental and the like. People who are crying out for tolerance are in turn intolerant of others who hold – and are entitled to – a different opinion.
Christians should be leading the way in expressing tolerance towards others because we claim to have a relationship with a God who reveals Himself to be tolerant: “do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” (Romans 2:4)
Tolerance comes from the Greek word “Anochēs” which means “the ability to put up with things.” This is wonderful truth. If you have messed up, God is not looking to get you back and beat you up. God is rich in the ability to put up with things. He is exercising patience and kindness towards you as an attractive force that ultimately draws you to him so he can forgive you.
Sadly some Christians are not tolerant. They will not put up with anything. If you sin you’re out the door. They are not tolerant because they do not know the tolerance of God.
Two Baptist pastors from the US clearly illustrated this intolerance recently. Pastor Charles Worley told the 100 or so congregants at Providence Road Baptist Church in North Carolina, “I figured a way out, a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers but I couldn’t get it past the Congress – build a great big large fence, 50 or a hundred mile long. Put all the lesbians in there, fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals. And have that fence electrified so they can’t get out. And you know what? In a few years they will die out. You know why? They can’t reproduce. If a man ever has a young’un, praise God he will be the first.”
About the same time Pastor Sean Harris of Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, NC said this in a sermon, “Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give him a good punch. Ok?”
God is gracious! God can put up with things – but obviously these pastors can’t. Christians need to lead the way in demonstrating true tolerance to the world around us – not agreeing with everyone, but rather allowing others to hold different points of view while maintaining respect, kindness and patience.
In the meantime it appears that all views are equal, but some views are more equal than others!