One definition of toleration is “the acceptance of an action, object, or person which one dislikes or disagrees with, where one is in a position to disallow it but chooses not to”1.
As we move hopefully and eventually into spring, and each day takes us closer to Brexit, with more talk about US politics than I have seen before—I wonder are we also moving to becoming a less tolerant society?
I know that there are many injustices in our world and much that needs to still be fought for—such a extremes of food poverty, fuel poverty, the grooming and abuse of children, and the continued issues around addictions of many kinds, which all ultimately lead towards reduction in the perceived value and wholeness of people. But as our society fights for many rights, others are being trampled and I fear the loss of vigorous free speech and debate are being stamped out.
Tim Farron, who resigned as leader of the Liberal Party last year said in a speech “People talk about shared values today. But when they do, what they mean is ‘These are my values – and I am going to act as though they are also yours, and will demonstrate contempt for you if you depart from them.”2
So, for those whose Christian faith is central to their being and identity, to their daily lives, it can be a problem in our perceived ‘progressive’ society, because the Biblical views of many Christian people does not necessarily match those of the wider society. I would also suggest that other faith groups will likewise not share the standpoint of some in our society today regarding many social and identity matters—it is not necessarily a particular Christian ‘thing’.
So how does toleration come in to it? My concern is that today, if one departs from what society (and I suggest that agenda is set by local and national government, and the media) considers the ‘normative position’ on contentious issues, then the immediate response is to be labelled as bigoted and have ones opinions discredited. The long-time feminist author and commentator, Germaine Greer remains somewhat embattled on her comments regarding the trans-community and gender. Last year, students at the University of Bristol attempted to ‘no-platform’ Greer to stop her speaking for holding and voicing such views. Recently a minister in Scotland has had a petition set up by high school students to remove him as chaplain to the school for his views on marriage.
It seems that toleration may in these and many other instances to be one-sided. Now there is a case to answer that ‘the church’ has had many issues regarding the ‘judgment’ of people and lifestyles. It has not always been a particularly welcoming place—it was a place where one was expected to behave before you could believe and once those two boxes were ticked, you could belong. But that is not what we are taught by Jesus— the greatest commands we are taught are “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength”…”and to love your neighbour as yourself”. Jesus’ neighbours were the leper, the blind, the physically and mentally ill, the outcasts, the rich tax collector who was also hated for collaborating with the Roman overlords, the prostitutes and so many more. He came alongside those who were different and did not fit the mould of societal expectation. But he went beyond toleration, to acceptance of who they were at the point of encounter— and then He sought change. He knew that none of us are perfect—far from it; we can be self-centred, selfish, jealous, domineering, and yes intolerant. He sought repentance and change.
Those who claim tolerance today are often intolerant of others views. To consider another’s position, wholeheartedly disagree with it, and yet still accept their right to hold that view is extremely hard to achieve.
Jesus called Zacchaeus, the tax collector, telling him “I must be a guest in your home today”. At the end of his stay with Zacchaeus He says “Salvation has come to this home today … For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost”.
We are all of us to one degree or another lost. My concern is that the message of the Gospel has become too toxic for many, for those who rely on human definitions of acceptance rather than the Lord’s, and therein lies intolerance.
1.Wikipedia (accessed 2/5/2018)