Tolerance is a Dirty Word

I must be honest I wish churches wouldn’t preach tolerance. I wish we would stop talking about tolerating people. I wish we wouldn’t tolerate those who are different than us. All of this misses the mark. Jesus didn’t call us to tolerate people He called us to love them. As one preacher pointed out, can you imagine if I told my wife, “I tolerate you.” I would be sleeping on the couch for a week.

How unfortunate that we have reduced the call of Christ to tolerance. I don’t believe that Jesus tolerated anyone, even the Pharisees. He loved them and dare I say he even liked them. He wanted to be with people, all people, even the people whose attitudes infuriated him the most. It was for them, for you and me, that He lived and died. If it were for mere tolerance that Jesus came to Earth I doubt that He would die in my stead. You don’t die for people you tolerate; you die for people you love.

I appreciate Jesus’ declaration that the world will know His followers by the way they love one another. This goes just a step or so past tolerance doesn’t it? If we only tolerate people that we minister to or share the Gospel with then how miserable would eternity be when we are surrounded by people that we can only tolerate? However, if we learn to love them, I mean truly love them in a self-sacrificial, life-giving sort of way, then heaven will be glorious not only because we rest in the presence of God, but also because we are always surrounded by those we love and who love us.

Of course a more pleasant eternity isn’t our only motivation, nor our primary motivation. Imitating Christ is, or at least should be. If we imitate Christ then our attitude and life has to be one of loving service; one where we consider others better than ourselves, and I don’t think we consider others better than us if we are just trying to tolerate them.

Can you imagine John 3:16 saying “For God so tolerated the world…?” That would be terrible, but instead we are charged with the task of loving because He first loved us. So next time you hear someone talking about tolerance remind them that it is a dirty word.

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13 Comments on “Tolerance is a Dirty Word”

  1. Hanitra Says:

    God loved us so much but he didn’t tolerate us or our sins, if not Jes wouldn’had never been crucified on the cross, because the cross does not means only love of God but also His holy wrath.


  2. You’re absolutely right in saying that God didint tolerate us, He desired us, cherished us, He would rather die than live without us. You are also right in saying He didnt tolerate our sins, He hated them, abhored them and would do anything to rescue us, His beloved ones, from them.


  3. Wonderfully written! Although, I am not a Christian, your words apply to all. It’s as though the world has thrown up its hands and conceeded there is no more love and all we can hope for any longer is merely tolerance.

  4. rogueminister Says:

    I know it is certainly a sad state when people would rather settle for the homliness of tolerance than the beauty of love. Do you think it is because we have gotten lazy and settled for what is the easiest to do? How do we go about changing this?


  5. I don’t think it’s a matter of being lazy. The world is in chaos and people have lost respect for one another. If members of families can’t get along and love one another, then unfortunately it stands to reason that entire countries won’t see eye to eye. The most we can hope for is tolerance and civility. As for changing things, sadly I wonder if this is at all possible.

  6. Brian Says:

    Good post. You know, tolerance is much easier than love. If I tolerte you, pretty much all I have to do is keep my mouth shut and leave you alone. Now if I love you, that means something really different. I actually have to get up off my lazy/complacent/fearful but and interact. I might even like you. Crap, now what do I do with my smug tolerance?

  7. rogueminister Says:

    LL, it seems to reason that if we have lost respect that means it can be gained/regained as well. I still believe love can triumph because of people like Jesus, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, and even more modern folks like Shane Claiborne. Each of these had quite an impact on the world because of love. I think things can be changed, it will just take a lot of brave people willing to stand up and say I wont settle for tolerance any more.

    Brian, its a scary thing to think that you might actually like somone who you thought you could barely tolerate huh? Thanks for stopping by.

  8. jimmymccarty Says:

    This is a very profound thought. In one of my seminary texts the idea of tolerance was discussed as a form of extreme arrogance. The text said this is so because it claims power over others. It claims to have the power to say, “I will let you stay here, stay the way you are,” but doesn’t take the time to know others, learn from them, and be transformed by them.

    Great thoughts. Love is so much more costly than tolerance.

  9. mattdabbs Says:

    That is a really good thought. The knee jerk reaction of our society is – talk bad about tolerance…how dare you! Tolerance is one step toward apathy and a step away from genuine love. Really, really good thoughts. Do you think there is a difference between tolerance and acceptance?

  10. rogueminister Says:

    I think there is certainly a difference between tolerance and acceptance, acceptance is at least moving in the right direction. However, I think that both miss the mark. Anything short of love, agape, is falling short of our calling.

  11. mattdabbs Says:

    I re-read my comment and meant to say that Tolerance is one step toward apathy and a step away (as in the direction away from…) from genuine love.

    Again, amen.

  12. Adam Says:

    Great post. I like to refer to tolerance as a virtue of impotence, which is part of what you get at in your post. We are called to so much more, to love is such a higher, more demanding, and yet more transformative task. I wrote a similar post a few months ago, I even used that same analogy with my wife. You took the words right out of my mouth:)

    http://existentialfaith.blogspot.com/search/label/Tolerance

    I am interested to know what exactly sparked this post for you. For me it was a public service announcement that was obviously secular in nature. But you seem to suggest in your post that this is a message the church is putting out. Just how widespread do you think this message is in the church, and what circles do you think it runs mainly?

    Peace,
    Adam

  13. rogueminister Says:

    Brother Adam, I honestly cant remember what sparked this thought. I do remember at some point hearing that wife analogy from a preacher in Nashville, but I cant remember when or at what church. I dont think it is widespread enough, but I would imagine it runs in emergent churches and within new monastic type communities. Thats just a me guessing though.

    By the way I really like that phrase “virtue of impotence.”


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