My on-line Merriam Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary defines tolerant as 1). willing to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own, and 2). able to allow or accept something that is harmful, unpleasant, etc. Given both these definitions, actually just the second, I am NOT tolerant and I am becoming less and less so every day.
For far too many years I tried to be. I drank the kool-aid that taught me to submit to leadership, remain silent, not cause division, smile and nod, pay the tithe, pray for a right heart and a right attitude, submit, be quiet, submit, hold your tongue, submit, SHUT-UP! And that was just the Church. Many social-political attitudes toward women, political affiliations and educational institutions are almost as bad and my submission to them was almost as complete. But, I’m not that person anymore. Even though I never was very good at the hold your tongue part I’m grieved I ever thought I was supposed to be, ashamed I tried to be. And, angry at most of the powers that be.
Seriously, since when are the people of God (or political parties in a nation founded on the principles of freedom and equality) called to be cowards? Because allowing or accepting something that is harmful or unpleasant is cowardice. And much of what the westernized Church has become is tolerant toward (if not out spoken in favor of) a host of attitudes and behaviors that are both unpleasant and harmful. And, I for one refuse to be counted in that number any longer.
I do not accept an interpretation of scripture or a characterization of God that places Old Testament law ahead of New Testament love. I will not follow a call to worship that expects us to act out of fear rather than fellowship, greed rather than grace, or self preservation rather than compassion. I will not accept racist, sexist, and anti-GLBTQ attitudes that cause one set of people to deny another set of people the rights they claim for themselves. I will not allow such attitudes to be expressed in words or actions around me, especially by those who claim to represent my God, and remain silent.
Where human rights and human dignity are involved I do not accept that we merely have a difference of opinion. Right and wrong, good and evil should not be that difficult to discern. And, when something is wrong or something is evil it must be resisted. Silence is the same as support–patience and tolerance the same as silence.
I am tired of bigotry hiding under the lie, “The Bible clearly states…” or “It has always been seen/done like (fill-in the blank)“ In fact, the Bible clearly states very little about race, gender, and godly human sexuality. And, no present day doctrine or practice has always been the way it currently is. Like everything else in the Bible what it does say needs to be understood through language differences, time differences, and cultural differences. And, how we put into practice what we believe scripture advocates looks considerably different today than it did a hundred years ago let alone 2000 years ago.
I’m not asking you to doubt God, or to spit in His metaphorical eye. But for anyone willing to learn I urge you to study out for yourself the serious questions facing the Church today–race, gender equality, sexual orientation, stewardship of the planet. (And, hold on to the promise implied in John 14 that the Spirit will teach you). Don’t stop with one person’s interpretation of a single verse taken out of context and translated into a modern language. Look at the whole of scripture. Ask if the Bible has more than one example. Find out who was writing or speaking, under what circumstances, and to which group of people. Discover whether key words have alternative translations. Find out if and how the position of the Church has changed over time. Determine what over arching principles are highlighted and if you are looking at an illustration to a point or a specific tenant. Read between the lines–in other words, look at what is NOT said and examples of behavior, as well as the words which are spoken.
At the very least, if you are unable to defend your point of view when confronted with a different point of view (because you haven’t studied out the issue for yourself) then kindly do not tell me what you’ve been told the Bible clearly says in an effort to give your ignorance, bias, prejudice, bigotry, (fear) or hatred more weight. I don’t have a problem with the first definition of tolerance. I am willing to accept feelings, habits, and beliefs that are different from my own, especially if they are founded in careful study. However, when those feelings, habits or beliefs harm someone else I will act. And, when they misrepresent the God of my faith I will speak out.