Why I Refuse to be Tolerant

It is all the rage today, the call to be tolerant. It has reached such a fevered pitch that one of the most brutal things you can say about someone is that they are intolerant. To be intolerant has become the worst of all possible character flaws. It immediately casts the intolerant person in the light of being a neanderthal, a brute, narrow minded, bigoted, and self righteous. It is taken as a given by many in our society that tolerance is the highest of virtues and to be intolerant it the greatest of social evils. Listening to the rhetoric will quickly convince you that anyone with half a brain would see that tolerance is what we need to save the world from all the evils that divide us. High on that list is the evil of people who are convinced they are right about something and others are wrong. According to the call for tolerance they are the epitome of intolerance and all that is wrong in the world.

Well count me among those who are responsible for all that is wrong in the world. I refuse to be tolerant. In fact I think we are being sold a bill of goods by all this talk of being tolerant. We are being told it will fix everything when in fact I think it is making everything worse. I will go so far as to say that if I am tolerant of you, I am actually treating you in a way that is demeaning and even condescending. How can I saw that? Let me give you a description of what tolerance is really about. Picture yourself as a child in the back seat of your parents car. Your younger sibling is next to you and he or she is just being a pain, bugging you, poking you. sticking their tongue out at you and doing all the little annoying things that younger siblings are so good at doing. You complain about it and your mother says something like, “Now, now, you are the older one, you need to learn to not get so upset by your younger brother or sister. Just don’t let it bother you.” Of course they keep doing what they do and actually ramp up the annoyance by a factor of ten because they know mom won’t do anything about it. You find it incredibly difficult to deal with and protest again. At which point mom has some harsh words for you about not being more understanding of your younger sibling. Suddenly you are the one who is wrong for not “tolerating” their behavior. If you figure out how to tolerate your younger sibling and not react to them I can predict what your relationship will be like over time. You will not be close to them. You will not want them around. You will mostly be annoyed by them and try to avoid interacting much with them. Why? because tolerance means to put up with someone by basically ignoring them. So much for tolerance helping us to care more about one another.

As a follower of Jesus I have to ask myself the question, “Does Jesus want me to be tolerant?” The answer is a loud and resounding NO! Jesus never said to be tolerant. Being tolerant is the least virtuose way to approach relationships and it does nothing to bring people together. Jesus never said, tolerate your neighbors. He never said tolerate your enemies and put up with them. Jesus called us to something higher and harder than tolerance. He called us to love our neighbors and our enemies. If Jesus was just tolerant of us then He would have never gone to the cross for us. He would have simply sat in heaven and said, well I disagree with what they are doing and what they think, but if I am going to be tolerant then I need to not say anything and must leave them to their own devices. Instead Jesus came into the world and engaged it, out of a deep and eternal love for us.

Jesus was unwilling to settle for tolerance. Instead He set the bar far higher. He made love for one another the highest ideal. This is where the world gets love and tolerance confused. Tolerance allows us to ignore others and not engage them. Love requires us to engage people even when we disagree with them. In fact, love at times requires us to disagree with people. Jesus disagreed with people on a regular basis. He told the Pharisees and other religious leaders how wrong they were on several occasions, even calling them whitewashed tombs and hypocrites. He once rebuked Simon Peter by saying, “Get behind me Satan”. Jesus would fail the tolerance test today. And it is a good thing. Why? Because be understood that love is the higher calling and love sometimes requires disagreement. If I really love my sons and I think they are doing something that will ruin them, tolerance says I can’t disagree with them. Love says I do whatever is necessary to protect them and help them avoid disaster.

So for 2017 I refuse to be tolerant. What I commit to being is a follower of Christ who shoots higher than tolerance. I aim to demonstrate the higher calling of loving my neighbor not just tolerating them. I commit to loving enemies as Jesus would want me to, not just ignoring them out of an ethic of tolerance. I commit to having conversations with people who I vehemently disagree with and loving them with Christ’s love as best I can. Care to join me?