What is Tolerance?

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, January 23, 2017 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

This week I’m taking a brief break from the book of Judges to ask a question that’s very relevant in our world today: what is tolerance? Are we actually practicing tolerance - both society as a whole, and Christians specifically?

The definition of tolerance that applies here is: “the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.” When I was in school I was always taught that you couldn’t define any word by using that same word. So what does it mean to tolerate something? The definition of tolerate is to “allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference.” It also means to “accept or endure (someone or something unpleasant or disliked) with forbearance.” (Forbearance is similar to patience and self-control.)

So to put those together, tolerance should be defined as “the ability or willingness to allow the existence of something that one does not necessarily like or agree with, without interference.” That’s my definition, based on combining the dictionary ones above.

My favorite cartoonist is Adam 4d, and he has a cartoon (here) that defines tolerance like this: “We’ll just have to agree to disagree and that’s ok.” But then in the second panel, he shares what people really mean when they use the word tolerance: “We’ll just have to agree that you have to agree with me.” See the difference?

Another one of Adam’s cartoons that’s somewhat more lengthy (but even more applicable to this blog post) is here. Please take a moment to go read it. Now. (Here’s the link again.) He puts together a similar definition of tolerance to what I did above, but his example is especially important to our discussion.

People who practice tolerance should be tolerant of (allow to exist) all viewpoints, even those they don’t agree with. We don’t have to agree with everything, but we do have to allow people to believe what they want to believe. We can share our beliefs with them, and we should expect them to share theirs with us. But that doesn’t mean we all have to agree on everything. As the link above emphasizes, “Disagreement is not intolerance.” We all need to treat one another in love - the same love that we all receive from God - and that means sharing God’s truth with them, while respecting that people choose to not follow that truth.

A passage from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians sums this up well: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6).

What are you doing in your life to show true tolerance? Not the stuff we see in society where “tolerance” means only liking those who agree with you, but actual tolerance that means loving and showing respect to all people? Don’t be the tolerance police; instead, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

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