“Tolerance”: Differing Definitions.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that the Christian community is divided from modern culture when it comes to 1) what it means to be tolerant and intolerant; 2) who or what is to judge what is morally right and wrong; 3) what it means to accept without approving; 4) how we are to demonstrate proper respect and care for others; and 5) what steps must be taken to narrow the divide and resolve conflict.
Ultimately, as a Christian parent or gatekeeper of young people, you probably want to know how best to instill biblical values and morals in your young people—amid a culture that most definitely does not embrace Christian thinking.
If we look to Webster, we find tolerance defined as recognizing and respecting other’s beliefs and practices without sharing them, and bearing or putting up with someone or something not especially liked. Fortunately, scripture tells us how to put this into action.
Scripture Is Our Guide
Ephesians 4:2, for example, tells us to be humble, gentle, and patient with each other, allowing for each other’s faults. Ephesians 4:32 tells us to be kind and tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God continually forgives us. Colossians 3:13 says the same.
Traditional tolerance is perfectly compatible with scripture. Cultural tolerance on the other hand, which is now bombarding our youth via the media, at school, and perhaps even church, is not.
Traditional tolerance enables us to live peaceably with others. To build relationships with all people, as it doesn’t require our approval of or participation in their beliefs or behavior. Traditional tolerance grants people the right to believe and behave as they like—unless their beliefs and actions hurt others.
Appropriate intolerance prompted Christians to fight for the abolition of slavery, shelter Jews from Hitler’s Nazis, and be leaders in America’s early civil rights movement.
Cultural tolerance, on the other hand, not only expects us to approve of the beliefs and actions of all persons, it demands that we also accept all viewpoints as valid. So, the thinking goes, if each person’s beliefs are valid, then no person can be judged or criticized. In other words, with no hierarchy of truth, all truth becomes relative. (Though if we follow that thinking to its logical end we find that my subjective “truth” crashes into your subjective “truth,” and we’re left with no truth.)
Survey Results Illuminating
These study results are concerning: from 1995 to 2005 the Barna Group tracked the views of Americans on moral relativism. During the period of time, fewer than 32 percent of Christian adults believed in a universal truth. And only 9 percent of professed Christian teens acknowledged a universal truth. That statistic has remained flat. That means that to the vast majority of our culture, moral truth is subjective and to be decided by the individual—not God.
It should be noted that throughout Western culture today, a growing number of government legislators are speaking out against ministers, churches, and Christian schools. The government technically isn’t allowed to legislate the kind of morality churches and Christian schools adopt. But it is beginning to apply pressure that is having the same social effect as legislation.
California legislators in San Francisco, for example, wrote a letter to Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone. They urged him to remove the morality clause from the Catholic high school teachers’ handbook. The morality clause included a stand against sex outside of marriage, pornography, and gay sex. The letter was signed by every San Francisco lawmaker. It stated that the church’s morality clauses “foment a discriminatory environment” and send “an alarming message of intolerance to youth.”
What This Mean for Us
Christian parents and gatekeepers who hold to a biblical standard about moral truth will have difficulty countering cultural tolerance as long as young people use it as their standard for morality. But we are not called to be tolerant of others are the culture defines it; we are called to be loving as the Bible defines it.
Thought to Ponder
Understanding the difference between traditional tolerance and cultural tolerance is the first step in reaching our young people with a message of biblical morality. But let’s start with your own beliefs. How do you personally define tolerance? How do you think Christians should show love and tolerance in modern society? Discuss this with your family this week.