This was a challenging blog to write, requiring much prayerful reflection. It started as a simple blog based off a Bible podcast comment, regarding Jacob loving Rachel but tolerating Leah. However, the more I explored the contrast between love and tolerance, the more complex it became. As I was pulling all the threads together, I decided it was an ideal Easter blog based on its message of love and experiencing that love through the heart and not the eyes and ears.
Tolerance is a highly controversial topic these days. In my opinion, we have broadened our perception of the word tolerate and confused it with acceptance. Acceptance is based on loving. Tolerating is not the same as accepting. We have also lost our focus on loving our neighbor regardless of whether they are “like us” or not. Some of us feel that if we are tolerant – be it race, religion, sexual preference, politics – that we are accepting. Other’s feel that their ideas must be accepted and if not, we are intolerant to them. Neither of those are correct.
Tolerance does not mean agreement or acceptance of an idea or viewpoint. Disagreement does not mean intolerance to an idea or viewpoint. By definition, tolerance involves three parts: (1) permitting or allowing (2) a conduct or point of view one disagrees with (3) while respecting the person in the process. We can’t tolerate something unless we disagree with it. This essential element of tolerance—disagreement—has been completely lost in today’s distortion of the concept. Today, if we disagree, we can be called intolerant.
To understand love and tolerance, we must first distinguish people from ideas or ‘being from doing.’ The rules are different for each. God’s standard is that we must love others. The Bible does not say “tolerate thy neighbor” or even “be civil with thy neighbor,” it says, “love thy neighbor.” Love the person. It is what is required to improve society. Jesus loved the centurion, but not his position and acts of oppression; Jesus loved the woman at the well, but not her acts of infidelity. Love requires acceptance, respect, and understanding. We can allow and be civil with ideas, that is tolerance – even if we disagree with them. We should not tolerate thoughts and acts that are immoral and evil in which society is harmed.
When it comes to God’s standard, there’s a major distinction between love and tolerance. Love is intentional, tolerance is incidental. Love is being empathetic, tolerance is unfeeling. Love seeks to understand, tolerance seeks to move on. Love is inclusive, tolerance is shallow. Love demands engagement, tolerance breeds indifference. Love stands with the oppressed, tolerance sits on the sidelines. Love cares about the person, tolerance couldn’t care less. Accepting people and tolerating people may look the same from the outside, but they are not.
An accepting team, organization, community, even a nation will love and embrace differences among people. Most teams in work, sports, and the community are not anywhere near the concept of loving each other. Using the word love in the business or athletic environment can create push-back or at least hesitancy. People often want to stick with the word “respect.” However, Vince Lombardi said the word love so often, he meant it. He is quoted, “Teamwork is what the Green Bay Packers were all about. They didn’t do it for individual glory. They did it because they loved one another.” Lombardi was discriminated against as a dark-skinned Italian American when he was younger and passed up for coaching jobs that he deserved. He knew the pain of discrimination, so he built his principles on the acceptance of everybody. Lombardi, as the ultimate example of the ‘old-school football coach,’ was accepting of all players on his team, no matter their race or sexual orientation. All his players and their families were integral, respected members of the Packer community.
We all have people in our lives who do things that drive us crazy or make us cringe. Regardless, we need to accept the person without the ongoing undercurrent of wishing they were different. We need to accept their idiosyncrasies and even respect that person regardless of those idiosyncrasies.
We respect those who hold different beliefs by treating them courteously and allowing their views a place in the public discourse. We may strongly disagree with their ideas and vigorously contend against them in public debate, but we still show respect for the person despite the differences. Respect is accorded to the person, whether the behavior should be tolerated is an entirely different issue. We can reject another’s ideas or behavior without being accused of being disrespectful. Ideas can be opposed without inviting the charge of incivility.
Tolerance is a must for both sides of contrary ideas and issues. Questioning of a belief or opinion does not constitutes intolerance. We should question and seek to understand. Both sides of an issue must be able to have open conversations and voice opinions without fear of retribution. It is a necessary part of growth for a strong society. We should hear and say, “I respect your viewpoint” as opposed to accusing intolerance and bigotry. Tolerance can also be called “civility.”
Demanding acceptance and respect as a person is right and just. Discrimination is against the person and wrong. If a person is not employed or granted service because of their gender, color, faith, age, or beliefs, that is wrong in society’s eyes and God’s eyes. However, demanding acceptance of a specific ‘belief set’ or opinion is a problem.
In a free society, a person may believe what they like and has the liberty to express those beliefs. However, a person may not behave as they like if that behavior is immoral or a threat to the common good. Everyone cannot be allowed to act however they want; everything cannot be permissible. To paraphrase Abe Lincoln: there is no right to do wrong. Our issue today is how broad society is defining moral limits and whether that morality is based on man’s definition or God’s. God’s moral guidelines have served us well for thousands of years while man’s failure to follow God’s guidelines has brought chaos and disorder for thousands of years.
As Christians we can love the person and tolerate disagreeable behavior by enduring or bearing it. St. Paul wrote several passages indicating that there are times when we must put up with the undesirable actions of others, without condemning anyone because condemnation belongs only to God.
In Ephesians (4:1-3) Paul encourages us to bear with one another for the sake of peaceful unity, “I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.” In Colossians (3:12-13), “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.” And in Corinthians (1 Cor. 4:12), “When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure.”
I love people whose ideas I do not accept. Their ideas and beliefs may concern me, none the less I love and accept them as a person. Love transcends being morally right. It is not easy, but Jesus’ Law of Love is a demanding one and the reward is great. That is why we have been given the Holy Spirit to help us. God is experienced through the heart more than eyes or ears.