Thursday, December 07, 2006


Tolerance. What a word. What a loaded, heavy, misused, misunderstood, misappropriated, lousy word.

Among others, defines tolerance thusly:

tol·er·ance [tol-er-uhns]
1.a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry.

2.a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one's own.

3.interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc., foreign to one's own; a liberal, undogmatic viewpoint.

In other words, it's permitting another to have an opinion or belief different from my own while being fair and free from bigotry.

Tolerance is easy to demand but difficult to truly extend.

Tolerance is about embracing the person not necessarily their beliefs.

Tolerance requires humble conviction.

One thing I have noticed about my friends' idea of tolerance is that anyone who has a belief that excludes others' beliefs is intolerant. In other words, they're not asking for tolerance, they're asking for universal acceptance of all beliefs. It usually sounds something like this "why can't Christians just be tolerant of others and stop being so closed minded". me: "what do you mean?" "well, Christians say that their way is the true way. That's so intolerant". me: "so, you're intolerant of their intolerance?" *said with a smirk*.

We all believe something. So really, there aren't believers (Christians) and non believers (non Christians) - a phrase which I don't like anyway. There are simply those who believe in various things.

Jesus followers have a very bad reputation as being closed minded and intolerant. Know why? Because we have been and still are. Those who claim to be Christians are constantly being disrespectful and outright rude toward others.

They do things like refuse to let their kids play with a Buddhist kid. They hug their child closer when they see a lesbian couple walking by. They go to the other side of the sidewalk when there's a homeless person playing a banjo to get some change in their hat. They avoid any kind of intelligent discussion on issues they hold dear for fear that those types of interchanges will melt their sacred cows.

We have done a very poor job at being fully BUT HUMBLY convinced of our own beliefs while tolerating and fully accepting other PEOPLE. So my friends have a "right" to feel the way they do. Christ has often been poorly represented to them. They haven't really been introduced to the Jesus of the Bible. They have been introduced to the fringe Jesus of American Right Wing Evangelicals who have a loud platform in the Church and politics.

And for that I ask forgiveness of my friends who do not claim Christianity as their religion and to those within Christianity who have been hurt by such bigotry.

But here's the tricky thing about tolerance - it has to be both ways. This is something I try to explain to my friends and something that needs to be grasped by Christians.

Even within Christianity, bigotry runs rampant

big·ot·ry [big-uh-tree]

1.stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one's own.

One thing I am finding increasingly frustrating is that most "progressive"/postmodern Christians I know are at least trying to link arms with those in Christianity who adhere to a more modern practice of their faith. Sometimes we're reactionary and zealous and present a caricature of modernism and fundamentalism instead of an accurate and fair characterization...but most are truly trying.

They recognize the need for cooperation in the age in which we live. They know that there is still a need for modernist ways of thinking about and doing church.

But the frustration is that by definition, modernism does not allow for the "flex" and wrestling with the Scriptures, doctrines and ideas that postmodernism embraces and celebrates fundamentally.

So I guess what I would like to see is followers of Jesus who celebrate individuals and embrace communities of diversity. Christians who can at least be tolerant and respectful of fellow Christians even if they are not willing to consider the person's beliefs.

I would like to see Christians who reject the notion that unity equals uniformity (thanks David), Christians who reject the idea that in order to work together, we have to not only share a common creed but a common doctrinal statement, method of evangelism, style of singing and way of preaching.

I would like to see us embrace a unity of overarching vision: to do the the work of bringing the Kingdom to earth. To unify to do the things that Jesus did - to LOVE generously, extravagantly and unconditionally, to bring justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with God, to be peacemakers and to bring reconciliation and restoration to others.

I'm not suggesting that we all go to one big happy ecumenical church. Orthodox First Apostolic Episcopal Baptipresbycharismaticatholutheran Commity Bible Reformed Brethren Church of the Saints or something. I'm suggesting that at least in small ways, we demonstrate the unity and love that we're supposed to be known for.


paul said...

Thanks Mak, always good to be invited to look into my own yawning chasm of intolerance and bigotry...

One of the reasons why I think as a postmodern it is easier for me to appreciate modernity is that all of my routes and heritage lie back along that path. So I know that I react against a lot of my past I am also becoming extremely grateful for a lot of it too...

On the other hand people who are not wired for postmodernity may not appreciate the changes in the same way. I think there is a distinct resonance between the deconstruction of modern practices and the perception that it is the principles that underlie these things that are going too.

If you like modernity has been very good about trying to hold on to the ancient and apply it into the modern with out that context corrupting it - but in being for something it has also had to be against of lot other good things too...

I wonder if the best thing to do is try and hang out with moderns more, in fact the whole idea of a Deep church/generous orthodoxy, of capturing and highlighting our common share tradition even as we are diverse within it?

Makeesha said...

I practically LIVE with moderns, my pastor is one, all the leaders I serve with are... I don't need to hang with them more. hehe ;)

I come from about 25 years of being a modern Christian, so I can relate, I can empathize and I can respect where they're coming from. I also believe we have a lot in common. I have no problem working together...and that's the point - *I* don't have a problem with it - they on the other hand often do.

But I take solace in the fact that Jesus spoke very harshly against pharisees.

David said...

Orthodox First Apostolic Episcopal Baptipresbycharismaticatholutheran Commity Bible Reformed Brethren Church of the Saints

That's even better than the one I wrote on that silly skit we did.

John Lynch said...

Awesome stuff, Mak ... “Jesus followers have a very bad reputation as being closed minded and intolerant.” That’s so true for a lot of very sinful reasons. Then again, Jesus also had a very bad reputation as being closed minded and intolerant... & not just against the jerky Pharisees! Even people who were looking for a little sympathy for their jumbled, yet seemingly noble loyalties, got none (e.g. Luke 9:57-62 or even Luke 8:19-21).

Maybe our confusion in the present social vocabulary we’re bound to is between TOLERANCE & LOVE. Jesus loved Peter. But He calls him "Satan" when he stepped over the line... Yah, “Satan”! The thing is that with Jesus, you got ALL of His love & ALL of His truth at the same time. Sometimes it was hard to see them both, like when He was whipping you for trying to make a few bucks in the Temple. But His love & truth always went hand in hand.

The Bible says that God love the whole world but that He casts those who reject Him into the “lake of fire” for eternity. Does He love those people He sends to hell? The cross tells us He does! Does He tolerate them in their sin? No.

I don’t think Jesus is asking us to be more tolerant but rather more loving... a practice that takes a TON more work & sacrifice & selflessness than tolerance does.

This is so contrary to the ethics of democracy... a system based on a selfishness that only works if people commit to not offend or restrict so they will not be offended or restricted. And while that might look nice, it's far from love. In contrast, Jesus, like His disciples, offended countless people... but He loved them enough to die for them. How do we work that out in our own lives?

I know it’s not easy... In fact, it's terribly messy; & I wish I had it all dialed in, but I struggle. For instance, does this mean I love my gay friend but refuse to tolerate her beliefs & practices? I can't figure any biblical way around that. But do I or don’t I attend her wedding, or go on a double-date with her? Or how do I react when she sells her old place at a great price & moves in with her wife? Should I be excited for the financial gain or mourn for her further entrenchment in a lifestyle that tears her soul apart & separates her from God’s life?

I love her so much... & that’s just one example. I love a lot of my friends that aren't Christ-followers & believe the craziest, most self-destructive stuff. And it would be easy for me to simply "tolerate". But I can’t... because I also love the TRUTH & most of all I love Jesus. So where does obedience to Christ lie in all of this? How do we LOVE but not TOLERATE?

paul said...

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said "Stop! Don't do it!" "Why shouldn't I?" he said. "Well, there's so much to live for!" "Like what?" "Well... are you religious?" He said yes. I said, "Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?" "Christian." "Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant ? "Protestant." "Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?" "Baptist" "Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?" "Baptist Church of God!" "Me too! Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you reformed Baptist Church of God?" "Reformed Baptist Church of God!" "Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?" He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!" I said, "Die, heretic scum", and pushed him off...

guess that makes me a pharisee too :)

John Lynch said...

I'm not sure I understand what you're getting at here, Paul?

Molly said...

Great great great post, Makeesha.

paul said...

oh sorry, i was just reflecting that there is bit of a pharisee in me, i'm very good at deciding who is in and who is out, who is right, who is wrong etc...

John Lynch said...

Thanks Paul, that helps. And I can definitely relate to that. Peace, brotha.