The cry for tolerance has long been a plea for groups feeling oppressed and marginalized. For hundreds of years, religions, economic classes, political parties, and racial and ethnic minorities, and more recently – the LGBTQ+ community – have asked for freedoms and forbearance from the majority of society. As a teenager and into my young adult years, I grew to hate the word tolerance. The root word TOLERATE left a bad taste in my mouth. I thought I could either “like” someone or “tolerate” them, but I couldn’t do both. Almost as if “tolerate” and “disdain” were first cousins.
I’m not sure how I arrived at my skewed interpretation. Maybe it’s because I only ever heard the word bandied about in circles of hatred. Maybe because each occurence of it in the news involved protests or violence or the like. But somewhere along the way I decided I would never say I tolerate anyone. I loved everyone – whether we agreed or not. That was that. And I felt like a much better Christian because of it.
In our current, volatile, easily offendable climate we seem to have forgotten some basics. Like how to love, how to disagree, and even how to converse. People and groups of all walks of life wish to be seen and heard – but don’t offer the same courtesy. We all want people to see through the same lenses we wear. And since the bulk of our communication is done by computer or phone, we no longer have to look at someone and see his or her pain and frustration.
To love is to agree. That seems to be today’s unspoken mantra. We vilify those who see things differently in this country and rarely try to walk a mile in anyone else’s shoes. In A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World, the authors refer to this as ad hominem fallacy – attacking the person rather than the argument.
Brett Kunkle, one of the authors of the book, spoke at my church recently. He gave this definition of tolerate – “to recognize and respect others beliefs without sharing them”. I found a similar explanation on thefreedictionary.com. “To recognize and respect (the rights, beliefs, and practices of others).” I searched several dictionaries, and more negative definitions exist, but I prefer this one. Tolerance assumes there IS some disagreement. And yet respect and recognition coincide with it. All people are created equal. We are all image bearers of the Creator. “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1:27 NASB All ideas and behaviors, however, are not necessarily equal. So as long as there are people, we will have differences of opinion.
We need to once again embrace the idea that debates can be civil. Love and disagreement can lay side by side…in the same bed…under the same roof. We need to recognize that one belief or characteristic does not a whole person make. Just because you vote differently than I do, does not mean I can’t see that you are kind and generous and fun to be with. And just because our socio-economic backgrounds are like night and day doesn’t mean you aren’t smart and dependable and humble. My race, class, religion, sex, family status or sexual orientation are not the whole of who I am. And they don’t define you either.
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body [a]to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NASB
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