LWAYG: What Does Christian Tolerance Look Like?

Dictionary.com defines “Tolerance” as “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own.”  Here’s a video that’s not only hilarious, but insightfully pokes fun of the extent to which many have taken “tolerance” today.

TOLERANCE ASSUMES DISAGREEMENT.  Think about it: If we both agree that Tom Brady is far superior to Peyton Manning, then there’s nothing for us to tolerate about each other’s opinion!  However, if you believe that Manning is better than Brady then there would be a need for some tolerance in our football preferences (and you’d be wrong!).  You simply can’t tolerate what you don’t disagree with.

I also believe we’ve all seen people with different beliefs “tolerate” each other by ignoring the huge differences that are real.  If tolerance ignores or undermines differences then it isn’t really honest, it’s irresponsibly cutting the two beliefs down to make them the same.  Saying that Christianity and Islam are both equally good because they both teach that there’s one God and you should do good things is totally offensive to both Christianity and Islam because it isn’t taking their beliefs seriously.

So in a world where tolerance has gone rabid, what does Christian Tolerance look like?

Matthew 7:1-5 – Examine your own sin before you go around pointing out other people’s sin.  Your job is not to be a “sin detector.”  Before you point the finger, honestly and humbly pray that God would deal with your own sin first.  Many non-Christians twist this verse to mean “Don’t ever judge people.”  But that’s simply not what it says: It says we must take the log out of our own eye so that we can effectively remove the speck of sawdust from our neighbors’ eye.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 – The Bible is “God-breathed,” and is our measuring stick for truth and life.  Sure, the Bible was written a long time ago, but as we read it we discover it is intensely relevant to our daily lives.  If you’re not a Christian you won’t accept something as true because the Bible says so, but if you believe the Bible really is God’s Word then it’s worth your time to learn what God says so you don’t get sucked into believing whatever’s popular to believe among your friends.

1 Peter 3:15 – “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” – Ultimately, we are convinced that God’s Word is true.  But the Bible does not teach us to go around bashing people over the head with Scripture until they believe what we believe.  A few things to note about this verse:

  • “Be prepared to give the reason.” This doesn’t say, “Always be prepared to preach a sermon…” it says “to give the reason.”  Live your faith in Christ wherever you are, and be prepared to tell people why you’re different when they ask.  This means that people have asked you a question, “Why are you so different?” or “Why are you a Christian?”  If you fit in with those who aren’t following Jesus I think it’s time to ask yourself if you’re really following Jesus or just fooling yourself into believing that you are.
  • “Do this with gentleness and respect.” Speaking the truth without love makes the truth taste like battery acid.  Being loving without any truth leads to a foundation made of Jello.  We need to be men and women who are good listeners and ask good questions.  When we listen to others and show them respect, even if we have to speak some very hard words of truth they will be received much better than if we blast away with truth.

Christian Tolerance does exist, but it’s unfortunately too often eclipsed by brashness and arrogance.  Just as Jesus showed grace and compassion to prostitutes and lepers and tax collectors, we Christians must also show grace and compassion to those who often find themselves on the receiving end of Christian judgmentalism.  We must not compromise on what Scripture teaches, but we must be quick to give grace and mercy to those who need it most.

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