Is Tolerance Enough?

by: Clayton King

I'm all about tolerance...sometimes.

There are things I tolerate that I don't like or agree with.  I hate traffic but I know it's necessary in a society with individual car ownership.  I dislike the security checkpoints in the airport, but I tolerate them because they serve a greater purpose.  I even tolerate the taste of certain foods that are healthy even though they taste nasty (think Kale and beets).

On the other hand, there are things I most certainly will not tolerate.  I would never tolerate termites in the foundation of my house.  I would not tolerate an employee at our ministry who continued to take a paycheck but never showed up for work.  I would not tolerate a bogus charge on my credit card bill.

Somehow it seems as if our collective American culture has lost the ability to discern between tolerating good, necessary things that are essential for living in a civilized society, and being intolerant of things that we find destructive, distasteful or dangerous.

As a free society governed by Democratic principles, tolerance is a lofty virtue.  But is tolerance enough?  Is that all we need to get along?  Or is there a greater virtue that supersedes mindlessly accepting all sorts of deviant behavior and speech under the banner of "tolerance?"

I suggest that there is a virtue that compels us as Christians to go deeper than blind acceptance of any and all sorts of ideology.  That virtue is love.

If we love our neighbor, then we are compelled by love to not only accept them as our equal, but to also warn them truthfully of certain dangers.  How unkind would it be for me to see that the lug bolts on my neighbors tire were loose but refuse to warn him for fear of offending him, or making him feel bad for not noticing it himself?  Love compels me to go beyond tolerance, to risk offending his sensibilities, so that he might live beyond his morning commute to work.

Love compels me to go beyond tolerance.”

We all know that the concept of tolerance only goes so far.  Everyone is intolerant of something.  I don't tolerate cilantro or spiders.  State Troopers don't tolerate speeding.  Teachers don't tolerate failing grades.  The IRS doesn't tolerate tax evasion.  We all have to be intolerant at times because some things are just dumb, or destructive, or both.

Our modern idea of tolerance is often an excuse for intellectual laziness (we just don't want to think about what we actually believe to be right and wrong) or cultural cowardice (we fear that we will be marginalized or called weird if we speak out on an issue that puts us at odds with pop culture).  And yet our love for God, His Word, and our neighbors compels us to speak truth even if it puts us sideways with the overall culture.  

And yet our love for God, His Word, and our neighbors compels us to speak truth even if it puts us sideways with the overall culture.”

This summer I found a copperhead snake in my backyard and I immediately killed it.  A friend, who is an animal lover, was offended that I would be so brutal toward one of God's creatures.  When she asked me why I killed it instead of taking it down into the woods to let it go, I told her that I have two sons who play in our yard everyday.  They have friends who come over, too.  Because I love those kids, I won't tolerate even the possibility that they would be bitten by the snake.  There are some things we shouldn't tolerate.

Someone once said that if we marry the culture today, we will be widowed when the culture changes tomorrow.  As the world around us constantly shifts and changes on a whim, we are called to remain steadfast, grounded on God's unchanging truth, speaking that truth to those around us with grace and love.