Friday, July 26, 2013

Rejecting Tolerance

*I wrote this in my journal at the beginning of February and had completely forgotten about it. I ran across it tonight and became challenged by the thoughts it contains, and so I thought I would share it.

Although I know should not do this for the sake of my blood pressure and out of respect for the analytical skills I am supposed to be honing in graduate school, and not destroying, I often will scan user comments on news articles after I read them, especially articles that deal with controversial subjects. An article discussing the issue of marriage will invariably have a few users who chime in with the “ultimate answer” to Christians who support traditional marriage. These comments usually say something like, “God is love, and that means love in whatever way it manifests itself. He accepts everyone equally, and Christians who hate homosexuals do not reflect who God really is.”

Yesterday at church I heard a sermon that dealt with the rich young ruler, and how Jesus immediately pinpointed that what was lacking in that man’s life was the inability to understand the depth of his sin and his need for a Savior. It was far easier for him to believe in his wealth and position than to admit those things could not save him and turn to the One who could. This morning as I went to do my devotions, I realized how deeply the Gospel as Jesus presented it to the young ruler rejects tolerance.

“Tolerance” is a huge buzz word right now and has been for awhile. It hit me today that the rise to prevalence that it has enjoyed in America may be one of Satan’s more brilliant moves. The idea of it sounds so…American. You accept everyone as they are, and everyone lives how they want to. No one steps on anyone’s toes. This is how true freedom manifests itself in society.

I think this concept sounds innocent enough and carries a small grain of truth that makes it sound acceptable that it has proven to be the biggest thorn in the church’s side. This wolf in sheep’s clothing has blindsided us. The saddest part about it is the concept of love has been weakened to the point that it is now equated with tolerance. 

Tolerance, however, only extends as far as the Tolerant Line. If you have opinions that do not line up with that, then you lose your right to freedom of speech to express such offensive feelings. If you do open your mouth and say something that does not fall on correct side of the Line, then you are expected to at the very least apologize, and hopefully take sensitivity classes or write a check that will prove that you actually are tolerant of those you offended when you held a view contrary to their way of life. Even with those measures, you can expect to be branded for life as someone who is stupid or ignorant or, even worse, intolerant.

What started off as such an innocent sounding word has done more to hurt the church in the past decade than anything else. Tolerance has become America’s god, and its priests are political activists who remain on the prowl to subdue any sign of resistance. The concept of what love truly is has been lost. Explaining God’s love, then, becomes that much harder. The phrase “God is love” has become one of the most misunderstood truths in America today.

God is not tolerant, in any way, shape, or form. A quick glance through the history of Israel in the Old Testament will prove that, as will reading any of Jesus’s words to the Pharisees or New Testament stories like Ananias and Sapphira. God’s holiness leaves no room for tolerance. These examples, however, also serve to illustrate just how beautiful God’s mercy is. No one is righteous—anyone who has ever told a single lie and taken anything at all that did not belong to them (a paperclip from the office, for example) is a lying thief. The depravity we all live in is so deep, and God does not tolerate it at all. His mercy, however, is open to everyone. Without judgment He will extend the mercy of Christ’s sacrifice to anyone who recognizes the depth of his or her sin and turns to Him for life. The law of God still applies, and tolerance offends God’s holiness. A metaphor I heard in church yesterday was that the law is like a needle that must pierce the human heart (“for without the law I never knew what sin was”) to create a hole that the thread of God’s mercy can then enter to bind the heart to Him. Tolerance only stands in the way of God’s salvation, because if the depth of sin is accepted, then the need for Christ is hidden.  In ignoring, or, at worst, embracing, tolerance, the Church has allowed an idea that blocks the Gospel to become so prevalent in society that we now have to overcome it before we can share the message that brings Life, and that abundantly.

As long as Tolerance is the driving force behind societal policy, the Church can never be. The two should not, and cannot, exist side-by-side. For God’s love to truly be understood and communicated, we must recognize that sin exists and is wrong, admit that we Christians, too, are sinners and that we hold ourselves accountable to the same line of judgment as we hold everyone else, and then point to the Truth that comes not from ourselves, but from a higher authority. Only then will the depth of God’s grace truly be revealed.


  1. Wow. Karissa, this is an outstanding post. You really laid out how the modern view of tolerance is opposed to the Gospel and I completely agree. I am working on launching a new blog focused more on Biblical issues and less on politics and I might link to and/or quote from this article in a future post if that is OK.

    One thing I sometimes like to say, if I am speaking to someone who is not a Christian, is that I am not against tolerance in its original and best sense. The word tolerance has been hijacked in recent years by people with a ideological agenda against Christianity. What I think tolerance has historically meant is showing respect and kindness toward people and their beliefs and getting along with them to the best of your ability, even if you believe they are wrong. That is a good thing and something I think Christians should seek to practice. Nowadays, as you pointed out so well in your point about the Tolerant Line, tolerance has come to mean that you must accept everyone's beliefs as equally true and valid or you are branded as "intolerant" and a menace to polite society. In other words, modern-day tolerance is fiercely intolerant. I think I can say without hesitation that I embrace the idea of tolerance in the sense of its original and proper meaning, but I reject what it has become which is the enforcement mechanism for a very militant form of moral relativism.

    1. Thanks! You are welcome to quote from it if you would like to. I'm glad you mentioned your new blog. I did not realize you had one.

      I would definitely agree with your thoughts about the definition of tolerance. The original definition is a good thing to practice, since that would allow you to love someone regardless of differing beliefs. Far too often Christians get caught up in trying to convince people to change their beliefs, when the focus should be on loving and witnessing to them in order to hopefully one day see a heart change. Hoping for a belief change when the root of the problem—the heart—is still a mess is like obsessing how to scrub blood off of the floor when the source of the blood has not been taken care of. If I am standing there with a deep gash in my leg, you are wasting your time cleaning the floor, because until I run out of blood, my leg will keep bleeding without the proper treatment.

      It is amazing how society has managed to make "tolerance" mean the exact opposite of what it should. Had tolerance kept its original meaning, I think it could be something that Christians should embrace and practice, if for no other reason than it would allow us to better love without distraction. In the form it's taken, though, it ends up being a mental obstruction of God's grace.

    2. I completely agree with what you said about behaviors and beliefs being the symptom of the problem rather than the problem itself. As Christians, our greatest goal should be to see others come to know Christ. When God changes someone's heart, his behavior and beliefs will inevitably change. I don't think that means that we shouldn't discuss issues relating to behavior and belief with non-Christians though; those type of discussions could open up opportunities to share the Gospel later. But it does mean that we shouldn't expect Christian behavior or beliefs from non-Christian people.

      I forgot to mention earlier that I can identify so much with the first paragraph of your initial post. Like you, I often find myself wasting a lot of time reading user comments on news articles, and like you I always find it raises my blood pressure! Is there a cure for this addiction???

      The reason you did not realize I had a new blog is because I haven't officially launched it yet. :) I will be telling people about it in the next few days. I wanted to wait until I had a couple of substantive posts up.