Jesus rebuked church leadership for being tolerant of certain people who, being members of their church, were leading people astray into idol worship and sexual sin.
On the other hand, Jesus taught us to love all people… ESPECIALLY our enemies (and most enemies are intolerable).
So, we are called to be both tolerant and intolerant?
It is no secret that the meanings of words change over time, and the word in question is an excellent example.
The word “tolerate” originated from the Latin word “tolerare”, which meant ‘to endure pain’.
Tolerance originally conveyed the meaning that I could disapprove of someone’s behaviour while ‘enduring’ their behaviour.
Nowadays the word “tolerance” has changed from accepting that people have different views, to agreeing that all views are equally true… that we must accept AND allow.
The original tolerance said: “I accept you but disagree with you.”
The modern tolerance says: “I must agree with you to accept you”.
The original intolerance said: “I love you but won’t allow your behaviour in my home.”
The modern intolerance says: “If I don’t agree or endorse your behaviour, and if I tell anyone else that I disagree with you, then I hate you.” (hate-speech)
So, it seems that there are now two tolerances. The original (old) tolerance, and the modern (new) tolerance.
The ‘old tolerance’ believes that there is a Truth and this Truth can be known. Disagreements are welcomed because it gives us all an opportunity to learn about the Truth together.
The ‘new tolerance’ insists that there is no absolute Truth, only personal truth – therefore any disagreements are a waste of time and only resulting in prejudice.
Now, I understand the dilemma that happens when two people are convinced that their truth is the One Truth, and this can be terrifying when intolerant people impose their belief on others. This has resulted in the ‘convert or die’ mentality and this is neither right nor moral.
Jesus and the early Christian Church never did this – They neverimposed their beliefs on others, they proposed their beliefs to others. There is a BIG difference. In fact, the early Christians faced intense persecution because the ‘tolerant’ people were intolerant of them.
Getting back to my opening statement where Jesus rebuked the church leaders for being tolerant of erroneous teaching… Remember that this was IN their church, not outside it. The leaders were giving their endorsement to immoral behaviour when they had the authority to do something about it.
We should all be free to not tolerate behaviour that offends us, within our domain of authority. This may sound extremely severe, but it happens all the time and definitely has its place.
For example, would hospital staff tolerate the person lighting up a cigarette in a hospital waiting room? No.
Would the traffic warden tolerate an able-bodied person parking in a space reserved for the physically impaired? No.
Would the education ministry tolerate a reformed paedophile working at a childcare centre? Of course not.
Would we tolerate a person coming into our home and behaving in a way that we would consider personally offensive? I would hope not.
But the ‘new tolerance’ would have to say yes to all these examples. It loses the freedom to choose, and must accept ALL behaviour, whether it is acceptable or not.
The ‘old tolerance’ can accept the person as a valued and loved human being while not accepting their behaviour at the same time.
It is the best of times, it is the worst of times…
A tale of two tolerances.