I want to thank everyone on facebook and twitter and wherever else on the blogosphere for recommending, liking, and retweeting the post on Christians and the gay marriage response from yesterday. I had people from all over the USA, Canada, and India contacting me to let me know that their friends were posting and commenting on this post. Perhaps the Lord is working through this post to bring about His kingdom. And I am all in for that.
Many readers posted comments asking me where tolerance fits into this discussion. I think part of the appeal of yesterday’s post had to do with this 21st century notion of tolerance and how we all kindof have to admit that, while we all want to embody this ideal of being tolerant, none of us practices tolerance in a consistent manner. This goes for Christians and non-Christians alike. What I want to do in this post is weigh in on tolerance and provide some pastoral/Biblical thoughts on the subject.
First, let’s use the wikipedia definition for the sake of blogging. The word tolerant is defined as “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own.” Take note — tolerance begins with the understanding that two or more people are going to disagree. Where tolerance becomes recognizable is in the manner by which people disagree, while practicing fairness, objectivity, permissibility, and charity.
So, just to be redundantly clear, the act of being tolerant requires that two or more people A) disagree and B) are charitable towards one another. In other words, tolerance is the practice of Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4:15 to speak the truth in love.
Second, the definition of tolerance is rarely practiced by many who claim to practicing tolerance. As an anecdote, I have found that many of my friends who use the word “tolerance” in describing their own manner of conversation, actually mean the word “acceptance.” According to wikipedia, acceptance is “a person’s assent to the reality of a situation, recognizing a process or condition without attempting to change it, protest, or exit.” Again, take note — acceptance means acquiescing to a situation without an attempt to change or protest it.
Acceptance, mind you, is a foil to tolerance in many respects. When we are practicing acceptance we are deciding to embrace something despite our consideration of or personal opinion about the situation. In other words, acceptance requires that we turn our minds and our hearts off in order to acquiesce to the situation. This act of checking out is far from what God wants believers to accomplish with our momentary lives on Earth.
Four Common Responses:
The trouble with the state of dialogue and conversation today is that many folks, Christians included, think tolerance means acceptance. This confusing switcharoo can lead to three common kinds of responses.
- The Doormat Response: Whenever conflict arises, people believe that the best practice is to shut off and acquiesce to whatever the opposing viewpoint is. Perhaps we misquote something like Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek!” There is never a discussion of what is really true and what may be false. We just avoid the conversation to save face and bring about an absence of conflict. This approach is short on both the factual recognition of conflict (which is part of tolerance) as well as on charity. Silence is not an act of charity (Ask any hungry person in need of food).
- The Additional Conflict Reaction: This occurs when people respond to a point of conflict by embracing the combative possibility and leveraging it as a symbol of their being. I think about the scene in Coming To America when Aresnio Hall’s preacher character says, “If loving the Lord is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.” I also think about this trendy counter movement on facebook to put the blue cross up as your avatar. It is one possible Christian response to the HRC’s equal love icon. While some of my good friends and really neat Christians have chosen to display it, I have refrained for this reason. The line at the end, “If this makes me ignorant, a bigot, and hateful, then so be it.” I do not personally think that I am being the least bit ignorant, bigoted, or hateful to state the Biblical position on marriage. So I don’t want to concede that ground. Again, what this move does is rightly observe conflict, then embrace the idea that conflict is inevitable and then make it symbolic of one’s followship.
- The Charity Without Truth Response: I’ll be honest. On the surface, this approach looks awesome and I lean heavily towards embracing it outright. It is a step up from the doormat response because it takes on the form of action. Folks who practice this approach will likely throw resources at any problem. They are quick to hug and love and have mercy and cry. The only issue is that there is never an instance of talking about things like the real factors that lead to a problem or conflict in the first place. For example: one might say, “Let’s just concentrate on feeding the hungry and homeless.” That is an awesome first step. But along the way, we might also need to discuss the institutional, personal, and societal factors that lead to hunger (what folks like Jeremy Everett are doing at the Texas Hunger Initiative at Baylor). And this complementary discussion might need to inform the way we feed and give and love and hug. It certainly does not hinder us from giving and loving and hugging, it just informs us.
- The Truth and Love Approach: This is one of the many things I love about the Holy Week of Easter. It reminds us of the reality that Jesus Christ was someone who did not shy away from conflict. He boldly spoke truth and did so in a loving manner. You can see this in the various reactions of people in the crowds. Despite His best efforts to demonstrate the love of the Father, Jesus was still crucified for speaking about the Truth of the Kingdom of God.
As Christians, we cannot side-step or check out of the reality of the balanced truth and love approach of tolerance. The very ethos of following Jesus beckons us to the very real potential of conflict. But this call to take up our cross is also not a hall pass to be jerks about Bible truth. Taking up our cross is always a loving and charitable action. The harshness of the truth of the atonement is balanced with the beautiful hope of the resurrection.
So, during Easter week, may God’s Church learn to embrace the art of tolerance. And in so doing, may we preach the gospel with our words and our actions.