Thomas Donelan, a Florida minister, offered this description of tolerance.
To tolerate means I can disagree with you while still respecting you.
One person is a Republican, another Democrat. We put aside our differences and get along.
One person is a (Florida) Gator, another a (FSU) Seminole. We put aside our differences and get along.
Some of us are NY Yankee fans, the rest of you hate baseball. I love you anyway, and we get along.
While this may sound rather simplistic, it does speak to the heart of the issue of tolerance. Mutually respecting one another regardless of different opinions. Getting along with others with whom you disagree. And loving others who may not love or even like what’s important to you.
Tolerance is not specifically a Bible word. But the concept is found in the Bible. Our Bible reading today from Romans 14 and 15 speaks to the idea of tolerance among brethren.
There were differences among Jews and Gentiles. Not just racially, but in their practices, customs, and their personal conscience regarding religious matters. Paul identifies some who are “strong in the faith” and others who are “weak in faith.” Yet, they are urged to treat one another as brethren, get along, and not judge one another.
There is a challenge for weaker Christians to unfairly judge stronger Christians in matters of expediency and judgment. However, it is incumbent on the strong in faith not to despise the weak. Paul says to “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters” (Rom. 14:1)
Tolerance is not a begrudging, embittered, weary endurance of someone, but a patient, kind, and loving acceptance that seeks another’s welfare and cares about his feelings. In Romans 15:1-2, Paul put it this way:
“We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.”
Maintaining a balance in tolerance is tricky. On one extreme we allow ourselves to tolerate sin, error and ungodly attitudes. Thomas Mann wrote that “Tolerance becomes a crime when applied to evil.” Numerous exhortations in the Bible require us to reprove, rebuke and warn those who are sinning. Being silent when sin is present, is not tolerance, but cowardice or maybe indifference. Sir James Goldsmith, the French-British financier and politician opined “Tolerance is a tremendous virtue, but the immediate neighbors of tolerance are apathy and weakness.”
Tolerance, on the other hand, is not an excuse for unconcern, disregard or a patronizing attitude toward others. “Tolerance,” wrote religious journalist John Cogley “implies a respect for another person, not because he is wrong or even because he is right, but because he is human.” Or as Timothy Keller observed, “Tolerance isn’t about not having beliefs. It’s about how your beliefs lead you to treat people who disagree with you.”
My friend and preaching colleague, Gary Henry, correctly observed that “True tolerance (the kind that’s tough to learn) wisely balances courage and consideration. It doesn’t sweep significant issues under the rug, but neither does it break relationships over disagreements that don’t require such a break.”
Unfortunately, our politically correct culture has corrupted the correct meaning of tolerance. It now goes beyond respecting others with whom we disagree and treating them with dignity to accept every idea as equally valid, every philosophy as equally true, and every lifestyle, no matter how bizarre, as equally right.
This perverted notion of tolerance is fueled by the philosophy there are no moral absolutes. So, what is truth for me, may not be truth for you. And what is truth for you, may not be truth for me. But the new tolerance says, “It really doesn’t matter as long as you’re honest and sincere.” The fact is some things are right. And some things are wrong.
Ironically, some of those who cry for tolerance are very intolerant of Christians, Bible believers and religious conservatives. Many of us can relate to the frustration of columnist, Cal Thomas, who wrote, “ I grow weary of having to tolerate everything when none of those making such demands seem willing to tolerate much of what I believe. Shouldn’t diversity be a two-way street instead of a roadblock?”
Finally, tolerance is summed up succinctly by H. Thompson Barnhart III, who wrote, “Tolerance is nothing more than patience with boundaries.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman