Tolerance. We hear a lot about it today, and many Christian teens (and adults alike) have come to see tolerance as either acceptance or putting up with things they don't like. Yet, there is more to tolerance when it comes to looking at it through the lens of your faith. There is tolerance that endangers your faith, and there is tolerance that enhances it. So, what is the difference? It starts with understanding the definition of the term and how honesty plays an important part in a world bent on tolerance.
Definition of Tolerance
According to Dictionary.com, one definition of tolerance is that it is "a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one's own." While many Christian teens see tolerance as being politically correct, that is not a true definition of tolerance.
Being tolerance, according to this definition, is to be nonjudgemental. The Bible tells us in Matthew 7:1, "Do not judge or you too will be judged" (NIV). Christians need to demonstrate love, and it can be done without being judgmental or putting conditions on that love.
Using Tolerance Wisely
So, when can tolerance go bad? Tolerance has a fine line. When we mistake tolerance for political correctness, we run the risk of becoming dishonest. Showing love means being honest, and there are ways to be tolerant of another's viewpoints while holding onto your own beliefs and values. We can be honest if we disagree with a person by being respectful in explaining our views.
Yet, today that honesty is often perceived to be politically incorrect. We live in a society that says it is for free speech, but does not always like it when we exert that right. Even the most carefully chosen words can elicit a harsh response. Yet, true tolerance allows us to listen to what the other person is saying. When we listen, we can have great discussions that bridge divides rather than grow rifts.
Still, it is easy to be tolerant of another person when the differences between you are minor. It is a whole other thing when the differences are large, and the span of those differences are often subject to an individual's beliefs.
The Dangerous Tolerance Line
When does tolerance become dangerous? Christian teens face some difficult situations, and our views of tolerance can become challenging. For instance, what happens when you're around a group of friends who are gossiping? Do you stand by, because you know they don't share your faith and values? Or do you speak up for what you believe in the hopes that they won't do it around you anymore?
There is such a great need for acceptance, that it becomes easier to sometimes tolerate the behavior than put our faith out, front and center. Sure, the Bible tells us not to judge, but that doesn't mean we sit back and let things happen. There are times when you need to make a judgement call, or that you have to judge the situation, not the person. As Christians, we know that God is the only one to judge us, so we need to live by His guidance. 1 Corinthians 2:15 states, "The spiritual man makes judgements about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgement" (NIV).
While it is dangerous for Christian teens to become overly tolerant, it is also a problem when we are not tolerant enough. Christians have been criticized over the years for their lack of tolerance, which has come from some Christians being overly harsh and judgmental. In some cases, that lack of tolerance has resulted in violence. Historically, the Crusades and Inquisition were examples of religious intolerance. Today we seen bombings of abortion clinics as examples of religious intolerance.
When intolerance turns to hate...that's when people become increasingly dangerous. God does not call us to hate people. We do not have to like what they do, we can even speak out about it, but hate is a powerful and dangerous emotion. We must be careful not to allow ourselves to become so intolerant that we then become blinded by an emotion.
It is important, then, that we learn to speak the truth from a place of love. We can have discussions with people that are respectful, even if we don't share the same viewpoints. None of us should have to compromise our beliefs to be "politically correct," but we should be tolerant of one another enough to listen and love one another despite our differences.