Millions of people marched in France yesterday to promote tolerance. Everyone, it seems, wants more tolerance.
I don’t understand this at all. As far as I can tell, tolerance kind of sucks.
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 then met with the elders for coffee. The following Sunday, the pastor called me up front and told everyone in the church, “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 kind of sucked.
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 several others varieties are not available. I tolerate people with bad odor because I understand there may be cultural, health or economic reasons behind it; but everyone understands I’d prefer not to be sitting right 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 are daydreaming 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 much 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. The second part of the definition is “an allowable variation of a specific quantity.” 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 the variant? Do you want to wonder if at some point, you will be considered part of a problem?
During my single years, I had a few dates here and there, a couple of which resulted in “friends”. My daughters’ ages at the time ranged from upper-teens to mid-20s. There were a couple of friends who got to meet my daughters. In retrospect, this is a brutal thing to do to a new girlfriend. But, my girls were raised right. They were always polite and only said nice things to me about the other women; (at least until the relationship was officially over, at which point their true opinions were used to “console” me.)
Then came Yesenia. The difference is amazing. For sure, my girls tolerated the previous girlfriends. Just as sure, they accepted and welcomed Yesenia. The manner in which Yesenia handles herself when my girls are around is totally relaxed and loving. They are frequently messaging back and forth to each other on social sites, even while I am on the same site being ignored. (None will tell me what they share.)
The point is that 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.”
Of course, when it comes to churches, sometimes it is impossible to be anything more than tolerant. This blog will not get into whether homosexuals, divorcees, or crying babies should be allowed to join your church. Doctrine is doctrine. There will be some churches that cannot accept certain behaviors or allow certain individuals to join their membership. But many others will. And when you do, 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 each another. 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.
The ironic part is this: if a person feels accepted, it is much, much easier to face their imperfections. If someone knows you are just tolerating them, a discussion about any controversial topic is bound to get testy. But if someone feels that you love them and will continue to love and accept them, there is a good chance that discussion – whether it resolves an issue or not- will be congenial and probably more fruitful. At the very least, each of the participants will likely walk away with a new bit of information about the other’s position.
This is the way to talk with someone who is not a Christian, too. The march in France had to do with religious tolerance and freedom of speech. Whether we are speaking with a fellow church member, a Muslim neighbor or an atheist friend, if we approach them with a sense of acceptance and love, we put ourselves in the position of advocating for Christ. Acceptance and love is why Pharisees and other Jews, and Greek philosophers and Roman centurions became followers of Christ after being challenged by Him. He could make them feel loved and accepted in spite of their differences. We can, too.
Tolerance sucks. Let’s aim for acceptance and love instead.