TODAY’S DEFINITION OF TOLERANCE
Almost 20 years ago I wrote an article for Old Paths Advocate dealing with what I perceived to be an effort by our culture to rede ne the meaning of the word “tolerance” (“Rede ning Tolerance” OPA March 2000). I thought it might be worth revisiting that subject to see if we can determine exactly where we stand today. In Webster’s 1997 edition of its New World Dictionary, “tolerate” is de ned as, “To recognize and respect [others’ beliefs, practices, etc.] without sharing them,” and [“to bear or put up with someone or something not especially liked]” (1407). Although the word “tolerant” is not found in the NT Paul expresses the essence of the word in 1 Corinthians 13:7 when he says, “charity endures all things.” The word endurance derives from the Latin “tolerare,” meaning to endure. Because we are told not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers (2 Cor 6:14), and are warned that “evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Cor 15:33 NKJV), brethren have sometimes wished we could isolate ourselves from the world completely. However we are commanded to be the “salt of the earth ,” and the “light of the world” (Mt. 5: 13-14). We cannot ful ll those obligations to the world if we are isolated from it. There is a difference between being separate from the world and isolated from the world. Jesus was separate from the world’s rebellious attitude, sinful behavior and God-defying lifestyle, but He went among worldly people daily. He talked with them, ate with them, and opened His heart to them in an effort to save them. During my college days I had classmates and work associates whose lifestyles were clearly ungodly. I did not endorse their sinful activities and I did not participate in them. I was never tempted by these associations to forfeit my belief in God or my hope of heaven, and when I had opportunities I explained to them my faith and my hope (1 Pet. 3:15-16). I did my best to get along with all my classmates and co-workers, treating them with courtesy. Paul says, “If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with ALL men (Rom. 12:18). Again, he says, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto ALL men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). Based upon the meaning of the word at the time, I exercised tolerance toward these people. Traditional tolerance values, respects, and accepts the individual without necessarily approving of or participating in his or her beliefs or behavior We hate the sin, but we love the sinner-a soul created in the image of God (Gen. 2:7), worth more than the world (Mt. 16:26), and therefore in need of saving. In the past 20 years, however our culture has gradually foisted upon us a new de nition of tolerance. Today, if you do not APPROVE and ENDORSE a person’s beliefs and lifestyle, you are accused of “hating” the person and being intolerant, insensitive, and bigoted. Almost every time you hear the word “tolerance” spoken today outside the walls of the church-by school teachers, news anchors, government of cials, activists, celebrities, perhaps even your own children and grandchildren-this is the de nition that is meant. The new de nition is based upon the premise that there is no such thing as moral absolutes-moral laws that apply to everybody. One sociology textbook says, “Everything is right somewhere, and nothing is right everywhere.” According to the new de nition, anyone who believes uncompromisingly in anything and especially in absolute truth-is guilty of intolerance. The Bible makes it clear however that all values, beliefs, lifestyles, and truth-claims are NOT equal. God’s words are absolutely true (Ps. 119:160) and if something is not right in God’s sight it is wrong (Deut. 6:18). Naturally, our convictions about these teachings offend the proponents of the new tolerance. Consequently, Christians are viewed as the greatest sinners in our culture, committing the only serious sin left in our world-intolerance. It is the pariah sin. America is sick of intolerant people and is not going to tolerate them anymore! Since the 1990s, a primary tactic used by the new-tolerance advocates is “jamming.” It is part of a three-pronged approach devised by two Harvard-educated marketing experts named Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen. Jamming is the use of name-calling to smear Christians, traditionalists, or anyone who opposes the new tolerance. They will not engage you in rational discussion if you disagree with them, they will just attack you by calling you names such as “homophobe,” “hater” and “bigot.” The tactic is used almost every day in our present culture war and has been very effective over the past 20 years. Our best defense continues to be preaching the gospel in love to ALL those in sin, and living our lives in a way that is consistent with what we preach (Rom. 1 :26-27’ 1 Cor 6:9).