Knock It Off! —Tolerance for the Intolerant
Week 2 Series Blog
Enduring with Forbearance, without Interference
When I was a kid in the 80s, I used to hear this phrase a lot. “While I don’t agree with what you say, I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” I laughed when it resurfaced in an episode of Family Guy in season 3’s Fish Out of Water episode. For many men and women in my generation, this is how we view tolerance (except with our siblings), and there are a few things embedded in the phrase that should be highlighted.
1. Freedom of expression is good.
2. Disagreement is expected, and dialogue about those disagreements is healthy.
3. If we can’t agree, we don’t have to be enemies.
According to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary:
1 allow the existence or occurrence of (something that one dislikes or disagrees with) without interference.
2 endure (someone or something unpleasant) with forbearance.
Let’s face it, dealing with people that disagree with our world views is often very difficult. Sometimes it’s downright grating. However, it’s well within our capabilities as rational human beings to accept that while we may not agree with everybody we can at least acknowledge and accept that other views do exist, and that their mere existence isn’t necessarily harmful.
At some point in the last couple of decades, the cultural definition of tolerance has had a major shift and is now in direct conflict with the first definition of what it means to tolerate, such that interference (even to the point of violence) is encouraged.
Simply stated, it goes something like this: If you don’t agree and accept my view as true, you’re intolerant.
Or the even more extreme version: If you don’t agree and accept my view as true, you’re a bigot and I have the right to harm you in order to change your mind or remove your harmful presence from my space.
We’re facing two distinct views of what tolerance is, then. The first that acknowledges the existence of other views and encourages a spirit of dialogue and truth-seeking to resolve differences. The second which says disagreements shouldn’t exist at all and we must accept all views as true, lest we be labeled as intolerant! Yikes!
What Does the Bible Teach?
How are Christians supposed to navigate this mess? It’s impossible for all things to be true at the same time. Based on the second definition of tolerance we’re all intolerant bigots! How as a Christian can I tolerate Islam if that means I must now accept Islam as truth to avoid being labeled Islamophobic in the process? Should I tell people they’re intolerant bigots for not accepting my Christian worldview? Somehow I think spreading the Gospel would be less effective if after sharing the message I add “and by the way, if you don’t believe Jesus was the Son of God, you’re an intolerant bigot” at the end.
Navigating the balance of holding to objective Christian truths in a world that’s increasingly hostile to Christian faith is tough. Let’s be honest, much of the intolerance floating around is directed at Christians, because from the outside looking in, we’re the very definition of intolerant bigotry. Why? It’s because we pin what we hold as true, good, and right onto God, and not man.
Here’s the TL;DR answer: Holding to the first view of tolerance will more and more bring with it a high cost, from those who think you hate them or even want to harm them if you disagree. That said, the Bible has some things to say about all this and what to expect.
1. Persecution should be expected (John 15:18-25)
It’s harder to get upset by something you were told in advance would happen. I don’t mean you have to be happy about it. I’m just saying that if we remember this fact, it can take some of the personal edge off the accusation of intolerance (and every colorful metaphor that goes with it) when they come.
2. The Bible’s high view on peace (Romans 12:8, Jeremiah 29:7)
We’re not doing the Gospel any favors if we’re fighting all the time. Pick your battles. Let compassion and the Holy Spirit be at the center of all disagreement. Some questions to ask yourself that might help with this one:
- If I don’t speak up, (in a compassionate way) is someone’s salvation at stake?
- Am I being pressured into accepting a view or action that would cause me to violate God’s Word?
- Is my acceptance of a view or action impeding my willingness to carry out The Great Commission to spread the Gospel?
3. Be prepared to defend yourself (1 Peter 3:15)
If the answer is “yes” to any of those things, then, by all means, engage in winsome apologetics to draw someone into the beauty of the kingdom, remembering that Peter put a condition on this imperative.
but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,
Have you ever walked away from a discussion or debate knowing that you spoke Truth and yet known at the same time that not one word of it pierced the heart and mind of the listener for the Kingdom? Yea, I’m guilty as charged on that one. It’s because my delivery of that truth was completely devoid of compassion, gentleness, and respect. These things must be part of our toolkit as we engage with a post-truth culture that’s desperate for truth but is deaf to it when presented harshly. Makes sense, right? If people view the church as full of hate because we don’t affirm and agree with every whim and desire of humanity, then a harsh delivery of truth pretty much confirms that view to the person we’re sharing with.
I’m fond of saying this: “The further this country gets away from God, the worse things are going to get.” Things are going to get worse, and the worse it gets, the more the culture around us will need what we have to offer them. The Gospel.
As Christians, we can be model citizens of the first brand of social tolerance (endurance without interference) without sacrificing the truth of the Gospel in the process. Like anything else in the Bible that Christ followers are asked to do, it’s just not easy. Expect conflict as our placement of objective truth and moral values upon God flies in the face of the ongoing culture war that says such things don’t exist. Be effective peacemakers within our neighborhoods and workplaces by choosing our battles wisely. Finally, when those battles do come, defend the faith winsomely, respectfully, and gently to the glory of the One who is eager to welcome all who will come to Him. Given the stakes, I think that’s something we can all tolerate.
-Written by James Boerner