I’m am tired of the tolerance movement – at least as far as it is defined by the University of Texas and so many other campuses across America. In about two weeks incoming freshman will descend on UT’s campus for freshman orientation. There they will get what I call the “Tolerance Beat Down.”
There they will be told that they can judge no one, that there are no moral absolutes (except that statement), that everyone’s view point is true as long as it works for them, and that we should be “tolerant” of everyone (except those who believe in absolutes). This is not “tolerance.” It is “moral relativism.”
Don’t get me wrong here. I do believe in tolerance, but I don’t believe in relativism.
True tolerance means that I love and respect people with whom I disagree. I can disagree with them but still treat them well and be a good friend. I have dozens and dozens of unbelieving friends and family with whom I disagree, but I still love and respect them and grow in friendship with them.
I can treat people from other religions with respect but still disagree with their belief system. I can love and care for a friends and family who practices lifestyles which I disagree with. I can hold to my own political convictions and still work side by side with those who have different political views. Shoot, I can even get along with Aggies!
Tolerance means that a respect another person’s right to believe and live how they choose. It means we talk about our differences of opinion. We don’t just mask them as if we believed the same thing.
Tolerance and Evangelism
I was privileged to attend a gathering hosted by a group of Mormons last week. It was meant to be an open dialogue about their belief system where we could ask questions and get honest answers. What I love most about the gathering was that they were honest about their beliefs.
They were honest about their views on continued revelation through their prophets and their views about Jesus not being fully God. I told them I disagreed with them, they told me they disagreed with me, and we had a great conversation about why we believe what we believe and how it is different from each other. We listened to understand each other and respected each other’s free will to believe different, and we could still go share a meal or hang out together as friends.
I much prefer a Muslim, atheist, Hindu, or Jewish student to tell me they believe I am wrong. They do believe I am wrong. We believe different things about Jesus along with many other things. We’re either both wrong or one of us is right. Why can’t we have conversations like this from time to time and then go drink a beer together or even find ways to serve together in a way that honors both of our convictions?
Sadly, often Christians are not tolerant as I described above. In fact, we’re so bothered by the beliefs and behaviors of those who are not Christians that we do not even know how to be friends with them. This is a tragedy!
Christian friends, we need to learn how to love people who are not like us. We need get out of our bubbles and make spiritual friendships. Stop sitting on the side and judging people. Instead, get to know someone. Listen to their story and listen to understand, not to debate.
Equally sad are those who judge Christians as intolerant just because we believe in absolute truths. It is not just Christians that separate themselves from people. Those who are not believers are also guilty of not making meaning friendships with Christians. You also judge us and do not care to hear our story and why we have chosen to follow in Jesus.
Non-Christian friends, give us a chance. Ask us what we believe and why. Maybe we’re not as judgmental and scary as you have experienced before or as you conclude from the media.
Bottom Line: We don’t have to pretend to believe the same things in order to “tolerate” each other. Maybe we can actually learn more about our own beliefs and the beliefs of others in a way that move us past mere tolerance and toward spiritual friendship.
Justin Christopher is the director of Campus Renewal Ministries at the University of Texas and author of Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission. He gives leadership to the Campus House of Prayer and the missional community movement at the University of Texas.