Tolerating Intolerance

One of the flags that new churches wave right now is that of tolerance. We love to tolerate other people’s beliefs and perspectives. We find value in everyone and where they are coming from. I wrote a few posts on my ideas of seeing everyone’s perspective as truth (read them before you assume.) There ends up being one major flaw in most people’s approach to this kind of tolerance.

Let’s say there is a group of us in a room and one person ends up being really rude and distasteful to someone else because of what they believe. This group of people however has a very strong tolerance policy. People are allowed to question without penalty, and everyone’s perspective has equal opportunity to be known and join in the conversation. However, there is one person who just doesn’t get it. He rags on someone telling them their ideas are too liberal and that their beliefs are unfounded. He has absolutely no tolerance for the people around him and their opinions.

Usually what ends up happening is that we drive people like that out. There is no place for those that are intolerant towards others. We shut them down, make them feel out of place and mostly talk about them behind their backs in disbelief. We end up disliking them quite a bit and are in awe at how rude to everyone they are. We have very little tolerance for those that are intolerant.

It fascinates me to watch a group of people be transformed from their core beliefs by one person who doesn’t believe it. One intolerant human being has the capacity to make a room full of people who claim tolerance extremely intolerant. This is unfortunate. The key to tolerance is not tolerating those with crazy beliefs and wild ideas but to tolerate those who refuse to play by your rules. Tolerance is at its strongest when facing intolerant behaviour. Tolerance is defeated when we are intolerant to those that are intolerant.

This is a true test of this kind of characteristic I believe. Are we as people able to uphold our positive beliefs of tolerance in the face of intolerance? Can we tolerate intolerance? This is I think the true proof of a community of people who truly want to embrace and love the other. I hope we can do it. I truly hope we can learn to accept those that refuse to accept our rules of acceptance.

13 thoughts on “Tolerating Intolerance”

  1. I am intolerant of your support of intolerance, you intolerant intolerance-supporter.

    It’s your wordy blog posts about hypothetical situations on intolerance and people’s opinions and creation and blah blah blah that I am intolerant of. You bore me, Nathan Call-Cue-Hound. Write something you actually believe… like that you scored a woman way out of your league or that you ride the coat-tails of strong leaders or that you built a web design company on the backs of other people’s design work or that even when you shower, you smell bad within an hour or a myriad of actual subjects you have some knowledge or experience in. I can no longer tolerate your weak, fragmented, ugly looking blog. Get a life.

    Hey, you’re right, being intolerant is where it’s at! I will not tolerate you, but you now have to tolerate me; Truly tolerate me.

  2. Absolutely.
    To love those that are unlovable and to love those that don’t love you or don’t believe in your love.

  3. You know Pernell, for a person who swore of blogging, your site is still quite active. Also, are you that ashamed that your still blogging that you have to cut your head off all the header pictures?

  4. There is a healthy dose of sobering irony when we are preaching love, and yet getting angry at each other or speaking of tolerance while rejecting those around us.

    Interesting blog Nathan.

  5. Nathan, I read this a couple of days ago and it’s been rattling around in my head ever since.

    I wonder if there’s a fine line between tolerating someone who’s intolerant and being intolerant of abuse. Sometimes we humans miss that line because it gets fuzzy. OTOH, sometimes we end up tolerating being abused by an intolerant jerk because we’re trying to be tolerant.

    Protecting one’s heart and soul from harm is not necessarily a bad thing.

    My question is how to be loving, tolerant and accepting of differences without being a doormat for a bully? Because my experience is that many times intolerance, hate, and bullying all seem to walk together in a person.

  6. I don’t really know if tolerance done properly is ever dangerous, or being a doormat. But you are right, the threat to become that is there.

    But its a good question. I’m not sure what the answer is. Anyone? Maybe that deserves a post on its own, trying to figure out the balance between tolerance and an unintelligent doormat

  7. Tolerance is fine and good as far as it goes, but we do well to remember a couple of points:

    a. Tolerance, per se, is not a biblical value, and

    b. At least as strong as the biblical call for love and acceptance is the biblical call to fight (consider, for example, Ephesians 6).

    Sure, tolerating is easier and more generally less risky than fighting. The former may require us to eat a certain amount of skubala, but at least we don’t have to worry about having our teeth kicked in, figuratively or literally. But there’s a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. Many ideas are worth tolerating or even embracing; others are worth fighting. If Western culture once erred on the side of the latter, today we run the risk of forgetting it altogether.

    Please don’t merely tolerate these ideas or write them off as the ravings of someone born and reared south of the 49th parallel; think about it.


  8. Tolerating to me is not an acceptance or agreeing. Rather it’s more about perspective and seeing people for who they are because they are broken humans instead of seeing them as a sum of their beliefs or ignorances.

    I don’t think its our job to ‘fight’ human beings. Principalities and powers….yes…but I’m becoming more and more uneasy about fighting type language when it comes to other humans.

    I’m curious, when would be a time to refrain from embracing? Part of me feels as if that is the same thing as refraining from loving.

  9. sonja, I think Nathan does have the answer to your question, but he’s losing it the framing of it.

    The so-called “fine-line” is not who to tolerate, but rather WHAT to tolerate.

    I can tolerate all people because I am called to love all people, therefore I value them. Intolerance of others is the antithesis of the commandment that Christ sums up the Law in “Love One Another”

    But, that does not mean I need to tolerate abuse, bullying or hate.
    I find the distinction easiest to see when I think of raising children. I will always love my children, my tolerance for them, my acceptance of them, my valuing of them is unlimited and unconditional. BUT, they requently engage in behaviour that I will not tolerate.

    If we treated each other with unconditional love, tolerance would be a given, it would be the unspoken rule regardless of what our behaviours are.

  10. Nathan,
    great thoughts. I actually think ‘tolerance’ is another way of saying “we just have to put up with you.” That’s why i think the church should move to a posture of loving correction rather than tolerance.

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