The dictionary defines tolerance as "a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own." The year of 2013 has offered a plethora of opportunities for men and women, organizations, political ideologies, and religious communities to practice this ideal of "fair and objective" considerations of diverse beliefs, opinions, and practices. Our definition about sexuality, it's ideas within the culture and specifically religious institutions, are becoming more pronounced. Consider the differences in political thought regarding Christmas trees, healthcare, national security, and the role of government. Even within in my Christian faith, one can observe the lines drawn between Catholic and Protestant, Arminian and Calvinist, Reformed and Neo-Reformed. We would hope that such distinctions would exist in an atmosphere of peaceful harmony. My concern is that many implicitly communicate tolerance leads to some type human paradise.
The desire for tolerance is a noble goal that honors the diversity of thoughts, experiences, and solutions which are germane to humanity. It is a safe assumption that two persons maturing in the same neighborhood will arrive at different conclusions about life on the basis of multiple internal and external factors. What keeps these two individuals from verbally or physically bludgeoning one another is the realization that opinions and ideas should be heard, considered, and judged. Tolerance does not and should not exclude the engagement of those ideas in the realm of reality. When persons and organizations stifle intellectual engagement under the guise of tolerance, no one wins. Samuel Taylor Coleridge once stated, "I have seen great intolerance shown in support of tolerance." I am beginning to understand that complete devotion to the ideal of tolerance creates chaos.
So I must ask myself, "Am I supposed to tolerate everything in my human experience? Does the person who sits across the table from me sincerely believe we are to tolerate other beliefs, opinions, and behaviors to create some type of paradise? What would my personal world look like if I were completely tolerant?"
In my personal life should my wife tolerate a situation in which I never verbally affirm my love for her? What would my home become if I tolerate my children speaking to one another in a manner that I deem detrimental yet a child argues, "It makes me feel good." Should my wife tolerate a situation in which women are not given options regarding healthy birth options?
What about my city? Should I tolerate the existence of trash on my street? Should I tolerate the emphasis of city improvements for one socio-economic group while another is left ignored?Should I tolerate the practice of landlords charging high rental fees in exchange for substandard maintenance? Should I tolerate political or religious ideology which obscures vision and restrains activity to aid another?
Finally, I look at the larger world. Maybe I should tolerate human trafficking because what right do I have to tell someone that they can not kidnap, sell, and enslave another human being? Maybe we should tolerate the number of children who remain in foster care and not encourage families to participate with organizations such as the CALL or Together We Rise. Maybe we should tolerate the presence, practices, and beliefs of Joseph Kony, Kim-Jong-un, and Al-Qaeda.
Can we not agree that tolerance does not usher in the paradise we seek?
If I understand the argument for toleration, why should any of us lift a finger to inspire, influence, or liberate a precious soul from their personal chains or the chains of another? Am I misunderstanding the call for tolerance? As I observe the ardent voices of tolerance, I wonder what specifically they are asking for and more importantly, "What objective standard governs what is tolerated and what is not tolerated?" We can not apply the ideal of tolerance equally across the human experience just as we can not apply the ideal of intolerance across that same experience.
The ideal of complete tolerance while noble creates a situation in which people have no hope. If one truly believes in this utopian ideal of tolerance, then consistency must be demonstrated. It is a moral relativism that influences a man or woman during their journeys to avoid getting involved in the multitude of lives strewn down the Jericho road. The Good Samaritan refuses to live in a world of complete tolerance. His or her actions demonstrate an intolerance for those behaviors, opinions, and beliefs which contradict a higher objective law. It is by that same higher objective law he or she determines what behaviors, opinions, and beliefs are tolerable.
What is that higher objective law? I contend that love - love rooted and grounded in God who frees people to live and restrains destructive passions - stands as the great principle by which we determine tolerable and intolerable opinions, beliefs, and behaviors. Love liberates a person to form opinions, beliefs, and carry out behaviors that are in the best interest of one's neighbor. Love does not seek to do harm by stifling right opinions, beliefs, and behaviors. Yet love does act in such away to eliminate opinions, beliefs, and behaviors which are detrimental to your neighbor. Therefore, love is more than an emotion or flutter of the heart. Love is simultaneously liberating and restricting.
In 2014, I hope that our discovery of tolerance would be governed in love.
Bombs and Fruit
I am the product of war. I had the privilege to lead and train America’s finest U.S. Army tankers to engage and destroy enemies of the United States. The training and combat activities included the use of all calibers of ammunition. The results though were the same once an engagement was completed. The sound of tank rounds being fired off rattled your body. The rhythmic noise of casings falling to the ground and vegetation swallowed in a billow of dirt had one conclusion; target obliteration.
The environment of war comes to fruition because all means of civil engagement has failed. Each party moves to their perspective corners, studies the strengths and weaknesses of their enemy, and then launches into full scale assault. The environment of war moves to a radically different normal when one opponent imposes its will upon its adversary. As it has been famously said, “there are no victors in war.”
Martin L. King Jr. stated, “Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.” When we drop massive payloads, launch drone strikes or send a tank round down range, the statue of a new tomorrow will look less glamorous. It is a statue carved out by tools that do not recognize the humanity of its targets. If a peaceful tomorrow does arrive, that which was envisioned prior to war and what becomes reality, are radically different.
Today we approach many of our conversations as if we are headed into full scale combat. Civil engagement with mature intellectual discussion fails and we load our mouths with all types of ammunition. We want to impose our will on another individual. We regress and with each word we fire at our neighbor, co-worker, political opponent, or religious brother; we slowly deny our own humanity and that of our opponent. Even if I beat you into submission, we both lose.
If war and vitriolic words are poor chisels for peaceful tomorrows, what options do we have? James offers the possibility that men and women become peace farmers who harvest fruits of righteousness (Jas 3:18). James recognizes the destructive nature of the tongue and concludes by reminding men and women that as sons and daughters of God we can work the fields of humanity in the soil of peace. Peace is the necessary soil with the rich nutrients of God’s grace to receive the seeds of gentleness, reason, mercy, impartiality, and sincerity. This righteous harvest does not produce the destructiveness of a tongue set ablaze to destroy my life and yours but serves to produce a harvest of life which we both can sit at a table and enjoy.