Intolerance! It has to be one of the most used words on the news lately. Our religious (and anti-religious) world is continually tossing it about in response to Islamic violence, homosexual bigotry, school bullying and even in political Democrat versus Republican stalemates. Tolerance is a world wide necessity many claim. Some go even further by preaching that intolerance is a sin. Even the government has gotten in on the game. But what is tolerance? More importantly, what does tolerance mean for the Christian believer? These are questions worth exploring.
First, let’s define the word tolerance and the opposite word, intolerance. A quick look at the dictionary sums it up as follows:
Tolerance: Noun a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.
1. lack of toleration; unwillingness or refusal to tolerate or respect contrary opinions or beliefs, persons of different races or backgrounds, etc.
2. incapacity or indisposition to bear or endure: intolerance to heat.
Based on the above definitions we can begin to respond to the act of tolerance as it pertains to the Christian church. For the sake of this discussion, I’m going to use the issue of homosexuality as an example. This is a perfect boilerplate since we can easily recognize how it applies to our modern age. Additionally, it’s all over the news (Christian, mainstream, etc).
We regularly hear tolerance preachers state that the Bible is a book of love. Indeed it is. Not only do the Scriptures contain the greatest love story ever told, it is an interactive story where we are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves. That certainly sounds a lot like tolerance. After all, how can you claim to love your neighbor if you’re verbally bashing him or worse, trying to physically assault him in the name of Jesus!
A simple glance over the pages of history will tell you that Judaism was not a very tolerant religion. In fact, Old Testament law was VERY intolerant. Violating the wrong statute could easily get you killed. Homosexual relations would get you the death penalty. This is still true with some relgions in regions of the world today. Are they incorrect in their intolerant attitudes? In many ways that answer depends on the religious creed involved and the angle you’re analyzing it from. Let’s focus on Christianity since this is after all a Christian Theory website.
Was it sinful for the Old Testament Jews to be “intolerant”? It doesn’t appear that way. They were commanded by God to enforce a rigid set of laws (most of which are done away with in the new covenant). If anything, ‘blame’ gets pushed upstream so I suppose you can consider God to be intolerant. This opens up an interesting discussion point.
Religion is not required to be tolerant. In fact, the more intolerant the religion, the more its belief system stands out in society. I’m not offering that as a justificaiton for violence, I’m just pointing out what I see in various world religions. Religions are religious because they have defined boundaries of behavior. Without those defined boundaries, the distinctive characteristics of that religion would be lost. Religious intolerance begins forming the minute that religion interacts with another relgious (or anti-religious) belief system. The reactions of such intolerance differ with each religion.
Do not confuse co-existence with tolerance. Christianity requires that we love our enemies and our neighbours and that requires co-existence (albeit to limited degrees). However, Christianity requires a degree of intolerance to the point that we actually call sin what it is. That type of opposition is intolerant but it is required by the Bible:
And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. (Eph 5:11)
There is no “I’m ok, You’re ok” philosophy in the Bible. The pervasive attitudes dominating mainstream media seem to think we are required to “live and let live” by not saying anything that would be offensive to someone’s overly sensitive feelings. Such an attitude is not tolerance, it is acceptance. Homosexuality is a sin in the eyes of God. Am I intolerant for saying that? I do not advocate violent actions towards gays nor do I think they should be verbally insulted but neither do I accept that homosexual relationships are permissble to God.
From an action standpoint, I will not “stand in the way of sinners” (Psalms 1:1). The Bible does not give us a place for such action. Christian intolerance is limited to the realm of preaching and the decisive actions that we take to conform our own behavior to God’s instruction:
Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. (2Ti 4:2)
The words intolerance and discrimination go hand in hand. Discrimination implies that I prefer (by attitude or action) someone else over you. That’s not entirely a bad thing (racial intolerance is a bad thing). Christian beliefs require that we prefer our time and energies to be spent around other believers. I would bet you can find a similar attitude among Muslims via the koran. Homosexuals appear to the most vocal about intolerance because the Christian refusal to condone their behavior as acceptable is “offensive to their feelings”. Sometimes the truth hurts. If it’s your belief that I can’t contradict you with my belief system then you’re the one being “intolerant”. If that statement seems a bit circular it’s because I intended it to be. Our boundaries of religious discrimination and intolerance will, by their very existence, clash in some form.
I am happy that Christianity is a non-violent religion. Your refusal to conform to my belief system doesn’t require me to kill you. I hope the reverse is true. However, everything I believe, everything I do and everything I promote may very well condemn your behavioral choices by virtue of the fact that my lifestyle is a direct contradiction to yours. I can not tolerate sin by conforming to it mentally or in any other way:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Rom 12:1-2)
Since I’m illustrating the concepts of tolerance and intolerance with homosexuality as an example, the Christian reaction to gay marriage is a valid topic point. This subject is likewise a touch point for the political sector, Christian churches and the mainstream media. Homosexuals are demanding more and more that we “recognize” their marriages as valid. Is there a peaceful solution?
For starters, the foundation of the discussion is COMPLETELY misplaced. Marriage is not an institution of government, it is an institution of God. Government regulates marriage for the purpose of taxation. If the United States legislative bodies want a completely peaceful resolution, they need to get out of the marriage business entirely. Tax everybody the same and let religious institutions define their own boundaries. In otherwords, get government out of the bedroom! That being said, a government recognition of gay marriage does not constitute a Christian acceptance of it.
A homosexual claim to marital rights does not require any different action/reaction on the part of Christians. Why? Government support should not serve as the primary reinforcment for your religious belief. The foundation of my belief system will remain in place regardless of any federal laws that are enacted. I can “tolerate”gay marriage by co-existing non-violently. I remain intolerant to the degree that I refuse (and refute) the belief system homosexuals are engaged in. This is the proper Christian response, to be in the world but not of it.
The whole issue of intolerance becomes inflamed when abusive behavior comes into play. Picketing funerals is an excellent example of such abuse (as is violent action). If more Christians would learn how to tolerate in accordance with the Bible, there’d be less vehemence on the subject. Non-relgious bigotries likewise douse the flames and government becomes more and more involved. At some point, it is inevitable that the belief systems placed into law by the government will no longer tolerate the belief systems of Christians (or others). Governments have long been intolerant of many things and nations have oft been intolerant of their governments.
What we as Christians tolerate is defined by the Bible and scriptural guidelines alone must determine for us if intolerance is sin. I encourage everyone to check (and recheck) their behavior patterns against Scripture. Perhaps you might find your intolerance to be sin. On the flip side, it may be your tolerance that is an issue. Either way, Scripture is the standard by which we measure.