The Inadequacy of Tolerance

One of the great buzzwords of our day is "tolerance".

It's on a million bumper stickers, it's frequently used in statements after some act of terrible violence done against a specific group of people, whether it's cultural, religious or otherwise.

Along with tolerance, we see calls for all religions to "coexist." A whole county near where I live started handing out bumper stickers that said, "choose civility." They quickly became ubiquitous.

I'm not a big fan of this concept, and let me explain why:

I don't want other people to tolerate me. I don't want people to feel that if they coexist with me, we're achieving something of value. Being tolerated and coexisted with feels like thinly veiled repulsion.

I don't think I'm alone in this sentiment.

There's no section of Hallmark where you can buy cards which say "I tolerate you," or "We coexist well together."

If somebody said that to me, my initial reaction (before the whole 'trying to be like Jesus' thing kicked in) would probably be to want them to put their tolerance and coexistence where the sun doesn't shine. 

I was to be seen as a human being who is worthy of being cared about.

I want to be loved. Even when I don't deserve it.

So when Jesus tells me to do to others what I want them to do to me, it means I need to more than just tolerate other people. To coexist with them.

I have to love them first. It's probably why he said that I should love not only people who love me, and not only strangers, but even my enemies.

Now listen, I'm not some idealistic noob. I drive on the highway with homicidal maniacs just like you. I drive my family nuts sometimes and they return the favor on occasion.

But when we set our aim on tolerance, I don't think we'll ever stop someone from shooting up a party or a school or a theater or whatever.

I don't think we'll have much of a chance to helping somebody to transform their life out of an opioid addiction.

Nobody goes to bed at night wondering if they're tolerated. Nobody comforts themselves with the idea that they coexisted well with other human beings.

We want to know if we are loved and accepted. We want to be known for who we are and loved in the midst of it.

That is why I am a Christian. I believe the Gospel which teaches me that God knows everything about me - everything I've ever said, through and done - and yet he loves me in the midst of that. I've made the choice to base my identity and self worth on that truth.

How horrible would it be to find out that God simply tolerates me? Or is just willing to coexist with me?

I understand that people who put these bumper stickers on their cars are trying to find some advice to help our world from continuing to spin towards violence and hate. I'm grateful they want to help, but I respectfully submit that what they're doing is useless.

No teams rally around the effort to be mediocre. Tolerance is the very definition of luke warm. It feels like a courteous ignoring.

But our deepest desire is for connection - to have a community where we belong. Tolerance is the opposite of that.

Some may say it's the first step to getting to that point, but I honestly don't think it would work. 

Dr. King didn't start a tolerance movement - he started a movement about forming community. He didn't say his dream was that people would tolerate his children. He said: 

"I have a dream that one day...little black boys and black girls will he able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers."

That's so much more than tolerance, and it is so much more inspiring that the idea of tolerating and coexisting.

So I reject these calls in favor of something far more meaningful. Something that can actually transform human beings - Love.

I'm still learning to love. I don't naturally love well, because I'm selfish and like things to be efficient. Love is selfless and often disorganized and messy.

As a selfish and efficient person, tolerance and coexistence is easy for me. I'll leave you alone and you leave me alone, and the world is unchanged.

Loving requires vulnerability. It takes courage. It will lead to pain.

And it is the only tool through which this world will be changed. Because God is love.

So let us choose to reject tolerance and coexistence in the face of something else: loving those who are different. Loving those who are strangers. Loving those who hate us. And loving God who calls all of us sons and daughters made in his own image.