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Are Christians supposed to be tolerant? 

Hate sign
A demonstrator holds a sign reading 'Stop the Hate' at a protest against President Trump's visit following a mass shooting, which left at least 22 people dead, on August 7, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. |

If you are 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 or conservative 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 on the evolved meaning of the word.

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.”  In fact, 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 everyone, 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. In fact, 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.

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 when someone violates a tolerance code of conduct.

A perfect example of this is the attack 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 Twitter’s “tolerant” members deemed an “intolerant restaurant,” and there is no forgiveness for this.

Love, on the other hand, requires forgiveness. Why? Because in order 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.

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 real compassion requires action. As a Christian who loves, the actions we must take and the words we say need to promote and reflect 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 face rejection. Love requires us to rejoice with truth, no matter the personal costs.

A tolerance culture also tries to promote the notion that truth can be exclusive. No doubt, you have heard someone say that another person “shared their truth.” But while one can have their own opinions, one cannot have his own truth. But tolerance 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. 

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 very likely that you wouldn't feel welcome. 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. Therefore, instead of saying “God is love,” as the Scripture teaches, in the tolerance worldview we say, “Love is god.”  This perspective is reflected in today’s popular phrases like, “All we need is love” or “Love wins.” So, we make an idol of “love” and worship it, instead of the God who created love and is the source of love.  But, 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

God sent his only begotten Son to call us to himself, not to tolerate us, but rather to love us. Accordingly, we must do likewise to others. So, Christians must reject the cultural mantra to be tolerant. Why? Because we have a higher calling. We are called to love.

Roland Warren is the president and CEO of Care Net.

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