Updated: Mar 11
Just a few months after I started attending services at a church in New Jersey, I wanted to become a member. So I attended a few classes with the pastor and met with the elders for coffee.
The following Sunday, the pastor called me to the front and told the congregation, “This is Pat. He’s been coming to services here for a while. So the elders and I had a little meeting with him and well, we decided that we should tolerate Pat as a member.”
It was kind of a letdown.
Okay! Okay! That’s not really what happened. The words the pastor used were “welcome” and “accepted”; and it was actually kind of cool. But you get the point.
I tolerate strawberry ice cream; but only because the vanilla, chocolate, oreo, mint-chip, and dozens of other flavors are not available.
I tolerate people with body odor because I understand there may be cultural, health, or economic reasons behind it. But I’d prefer not to sit next to them for too long.
I tolerate crying babies on an airplane because I understand their little ears hurt. But after a couple of hours, even the parents daydream about airplane windows that open.
Do you want to feel tolerated? Or would you prefer to feel welcome and accepted?
Not too long ago, I watched a news video about homosexuals in the Christian church. A pastor was extolling the virtues of his flock because of how they tolerated a same-sex couple and their two children.
He was right about one thing. An interview with the couple revealed that this is exactly how the flock made them feel: tolerated. Worse than that, the motive behind the tolerance was brought into question.
“Right now, we feel like their token gay couple. I believe we make them feel better about themselves more than I believe they will ever be able to make us feel truly welcome.”
The Google definition of “to tolerate” is “to allow something that is bad or unpleasant to exist or happen.” Tolerance is “to tolerate” the existence of behaviors or opinions we don’t agree with.
Even the scientific definition is “an allowable variation.” In other words, a little upward variation of sugar in my coffee is okay; but another teaspoon will make it unpleasant and yet another makes it undrinkable.
Do you want to feel like part of a variant? Do you want to wonder if, at some point, you will be considered undrinkable?
Acceptance, understanding, and welcoming are far better than just tolerating someone. It is unfair to tell someone that you are welcoming them to your church or community when you really mean that you will tolerate them.
“You are here. I will speak to you when I have to; but if there is ANY more preferable option available, you can assume you will feel the isolation of tolerance.”
Some Christians believe it is impossible to be anything more than tolerant. Doctrine is doctrine. Their churches simply cannot accept certain behaviors or allow certain individuals to join their congregation.
I don't understand these churches, especially since I read the same Bible and have to believe exactly the opposite.
But many other churches will. And when yours does, everyone has to remember one thing: another person has joined your community.
He or she is undoubtedly a sinner. You are undoubtedly a sinner. Look! You have something in common already! When Jesus tells us to love one another, I cannot believe He means that we should just say “I love you, man!” and tolerate one another.
Maybe you don't approve of everything every member of your church does in their own time. But I got news for you: there are probably folks who don't like how you behave every day, too.
We need to look past behaviors we don’t agree with, histories that make us cringe, and habits that make us blush and look further at the person behind them.
And if you really feel the need to speak out against such things as divorce, homosexuality, and drag queens, that conversation can be more cordial if you acknowledge those folks are your brothers and sisters, equal in God's eyes, meant to be loved the same as anyone else.
Jesus spoke out about behaviors and lifestyles, but he didn't push the offenders away. He engaged them in a loving and matter-of-fact way and thought nothing of sharing a meal with them afterward.
And Jesus knew some of the folks to whom he said, "Go and sin no more" were destined to sin some more. He accepts all of us as the flawed humans we are and loves us all the same.
That's good enough to convince me that everyone is my equal. And that in turn makes it easier to have some uncomfortable conversations about behaviors and expectations with all kinds of folks.
As convincing as I might try to be about my position on things, I know that I know nothing except that Jesus will one day judge me against the same standard as everybody else.
And I'm pretty sure acceptance and Love will count for more than tolerance.