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Are Christians Called to Be Tolerant? What would Jesus say?

Posted by Roland C Warren on Sep 3, 2019 10:00:00 AM

As a Christian, I am sure you’ve been told that you should be tolerant. You see, to some, especially those of older generations, tolerance means to “live and let live.” But today, tolerance means the exact opposite. Increasingly in our culture, those who adopt a tolerance worldview believe that if they disagree with your words, actions, or what they think you believe, they must fight to prevent you from even expressing your convictions, let alone live them out.

Robin Phillips, in a Salvo magazine article about the influential philosopher Herbert Marcuse entitled, “The Illusionist: How Herbert Marcuse Convinced a Generation that Censorship is Tolerance & Other Politically Correct Tricks,” illustrates how tolerance has been manipulated. He wrote:

Whereas under the old notion of tolerance, a man has to disagree with something in order to tolerate it, under the new meaning, there can be no disagreement; rather, a person must actually accept all values and viewpoints as being equally legitimate (the obvious exception being that we must not tolerate the old notion of tolerance.)

So, when someone shouts down a Christian speaker on a college campus, or destroys a pro-life exhibit, or even physically attacks someone with opposing views, they are actually being “tolerant” based the evolved meaning of the word. Indeed, gone is the notion that the truest measurement of tolerance is one’s ability to tolerate someone they find to be intolerable.

But in contrast to tolerance, love is a key attribute of God, 1 John 4:8 says, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but will have eternal life.”  Jesus showed us what love looked like in the flesh. He didn’t “tolerate” the former prostitute Mary Magdalene or the self-righteous Rich Young Ruler.  He loved them enough to help them find transformation instead of leaving them in their sin.  Moreover, because Jesus Christ loved us, he died a painful death. Tolerance doesn’t require one to endure the cross for others.  Only love does. Indeed, love and tolerance are very different. Here are four reasons why.

Tolerance does not separate “doing” from “being”, but love does.

With a tolerance worldview, your “doing” is your “being.” Tolerance does not separate who you are from what you do. This is exactly the opposite of what happens with love. In the case of love, we are called to see every one, even our enemies, as created in the image of God, despite what they’ve done. A perfect example of this is Christ’s interaction with the thief on the cross. When Christ told him that he would be in paradise that very day, Christ saw the image of God in him and he loved him, despite the crimes this man had committed. One of the best ways that we know we are truly loved is when we have hurt or disappointed someone and yet they still love us–they separated our doing from our being.

It’s also worth noting that the Christian faith is built on this concept of love. For example, Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrated his own love us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” In other words, while we were sinning in our doing, Christ separated our doing from our being and gave his life for us, so like the thief on the cross, we could be with him in paradise.

Here’s a good way to illustrate the distinction between love and tolerance in terms of separating doing from being. Imagine that you have two pairs of identical glasses: a pair of “love glasses” and a pair of “tolerance glasses.” Now, although the physical appearance of the glasses is identical, their lenses are not.   The “love glasses” are two-dimensional because they allow you to separate a person’s doing from their being. However, the tolerance glasses are one-dimensional. The way you perceive people is determined by their actions. You see, Christ wore the love glasses constantly when he engaged with our sinful world.  Indeed, Christ did not tolerate sinners. He loved them, all while calling them to stop doing the sins that held them in bondage. Because Christ loves all humanity, he calls all to come as you are but not to stay as you came.

Tolerance does not require forgiveness, but love does.

One of the most troubling aspects of the tolerance worldview is that it does not tell us how to treat people who we believe, rightly or wrongly, hate us. Moreover, tolerance does not require forgiveness; a wronged person is not encouraged to give it.  In a tolerance-based culture, people seek retribution and revenge rather than restoration and reconciliation when someone violates a tolerance code of conduct.

A perfect example of this are the attacks Twitter CEO John Dorsey faced in 2018 on his own platform.  What was his “sin?” He ordered food from Chick-fil-A and tweeted about it. After a storm of criticism, he apologized…for eating a chicken nugget. He violated the “code” by supporting what some of Twitter’s “tolerant” members found objectionable and there is no forgiveness for this.

Love, on the other hand, requires forgiveness. Why? Because to love, one must separate another’s doing from their being. So, when you are hurt or wronged, you must seek to forgive. In fact, this is the underlying principle behind Christ’s instructions in Matthew 18:22. Specifically, Peter asked how many times he was to forgive his brother or sister who had sinned against him. Peter thought seven times was pretty good. But Christ responded, “seventy-seven times,” which meant that our forgiveness should be as boundless and abundant as God’s is for us.

To illustrate this principle, imagine that you have two identical cups: one labeled love and the other labeled tolerance. Now, imagine that you fill these cups with a liquid, which represents wrongs, slights, and wounds against you. Of course, in time the cups will be filled to the top and will overflow. But there is a key difference. The love cup has a valve at the bottom called forgiveness to release the fluid. Therefore, its capacity, unlike the tolerance cup, which lacks this capability, is limitless and boundless. In other words, loving people and tolerant people may act the same until they are wronged. Indeed, as 1 Corinthians 13:8 reminds us, “Love never fails.” However, tolerance always fails. In fact, the word tolerance in engineering is used to determine when something will fail.

Tolerance does not rejoice with truth, but love does

No doubt, one of the best-known explanations of love can be found in 1 Corinthians 13. This passage goes into detail to explain what love is and is not. First, love is patient and kind. In other words, love is compassionate. Second, love rejoices with the truth. In short, love is compassion and truth in balance. Therefore, compassion without truth is not love. Why? Because embedded in the word compassion is the word “passion”, which means to have an intense desire or enthusiasm for something. And, the Latin root of the prefix “com” means “with.” Therefore, compassion is an action word. And, as Christians who love, the actions we must take and the words we must say need to promote and reflect the truth, even if they would offend others. But we must share this truth compassionately—that is, in a patient and kind manner, even if by speaking truth we will make someone feel uncomfortable or the other person rejects us. Love requires us to rejoice with truth, no matter the personal costs.

A tolerance culture also promotes the notion that truth can be exclusive. No doubt, you have heard someone say that another person “shared their truth.” One can have their own opinions, but they cannot have their own truth. It’s true that truth is exclusive but only in the sense that there can be just one truth. But the truth is also inclusive, in that everyone can know it and rejoice with it. Tolerance, on the other hand, rejects objective truth because rejecting someone’s “truth” is to be “intolerant.” As a result, when you operate with a tolerance worldview, instead of rejoicing with truth, you rejoice in a “narrative” that reflects how you feel or believe, whether it is true or not.

A few years ago, my wife and I were standing in a TSA security line waiting to board our flight.  One of the TSA agents brought a dog through the line so that he could smell all the luggage and the passengers. Eventually, the dog came to one guy who looked normal and harmless. Then, the dog started to bark excitedly. The dog’s handler then gave it a treat. It was clear that this was just a training exercise for the dog.  However, it was also an example of what rejoicing with truth looks like. The dog didn’t look at outward appearances. It was focused on finding the true threat. Regardless of how well something that’s not true or that violates God’s principles is redefined and packaged by the culture, Christians have to focus on truth, like that dog, and when we find it, we have to acknowledge it, communicate it, orient our lives by it and encourage others to do so as well. Because, if we don’t, just like an undetected bomb in a passenger’s backpack, others and we will perish.

Tolerance seeks to imitate love

Let’s face it, no one really wants to be tolerated. For example, imagine that you just moved into a new home and your neighbors came over and introduced themselves with these words, Welcome to the neighborhood. We just wanted you to know that we plan to tolerate you for as long as you are here…”  It’s likely that you wouldn’t feel welcome. Or, imagine a marriage proposal where a man says that he wants to marry a woman because his tolerance for her has grown and he wants to have children that they can tolerate together. Better yet, read 1 Corinthians 13, the Bible’s most quoted love chapter, and replace the word love with tolerance.  Does tolerance “keeps no record of wrongs” ring true to you? The fact is that we all long to be loved, and we were created by a loving God to give and receive love. However, increasingly in our culture, we are rejecting God as the ultimate source and sustainer of love.

So, we want the attributes and benefits of love, but we want to disconnect them from God, the true source of love. And that is how we came up with tolerance. You see, tolerance is a secular imitation of love like an artificial sweetener is an imitation of real sugar. Therefore, instead of saying “God is love,” as the Scripture teaches, in the tolerance worldview, we say “Love is god.”  The perspective is reflected in today’s popular phrases like, “All we need is love.” So, we go on to make an idol of and worship “love” instead of the God who created love and is the source of love.  But, the problem is that what we are worshipping is not truly love.  It’s tolerance.  Why? Because you cannot have real love apart from God. Moreover, whenever we elevate anything, even a good thing like love, above God, it turns from being a virtue to a vice.

Christians are not called to be tolerant

To truly value another person, especially someone with whom you strongly disagree, requires love. Why? Because love requires you to find your story in their story.  And, the common story of the humanity we share is the creation story—one that was penned by the one and only true God of love, who created all men and women in His image. Moreover, God sent his only begotten Son to call us to himself—not to tolerate us—but to love us. Accordingly, we must do likewise to others.  So, Christians must reject the cultural mantra to be tolerant because we have a higher calling. We are called to love.

An excerpt of this post appeared in The Christian Post. 

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