I suspect if you ask your friends or neighbors if they are tolerant, you will most likely receive an affirmative answer and perhaps an explanation as to why they are so. It seems like everyone claims tolerance these days whether you are politically left or right, whether you are a church going human being or one who thinks religion is simply mankind’s answer to the question of mortality.
To be considered or labeled intolerant in our enlightened society, is the ultimate social stain or stigma. Strong words describing the offender usually follow this narrative, such as, hater, ignorant, or much worse. It is very difficult to remove this kind of stain once it’s been applied by the judges and enforcers of such labels. Therefore, individuals are cautious and careful to not be labeled with this form of social leprosy. I know far too many moderates who choose to remain silent on social and political issues rather than take the chance of being labeled intolerant. Unfortunately, this non-action, creates an opportunity for the vocal minorities to take more land out of the middle with the assumption that silence is agreement.
Elder Marion G. Romney, who, at a BYU devotional in 1955, observed and perhaps speaking prophetically, declared, “Now there are those among us who are trying to serve the Lord without offending the devil.” I think his statement is more relevant today than when he spoke those forewarning words 60 years ago. This appears to be the trial of the rising generation. Many wonder if they can serve God, follow His doctrine and remain tolerant of those whose opinions may be the polar opposite of our own.
How does the socially aware and compassionate Latter-day Saint, process or navigate their desire to love their neighbor as themselves and demonstrate tolerance while holding fast to revealed doctrine that may conflict with evolving laws and shifting social norms? How does one manage this process without being labeled intolerant? Is that even possible?
The hard reality is we all fall short of perfection in the tolerance game. We are all subject to the trap. I define the trap this way: “I’m tolerant of everyone, except those whom I deem to be intolerant, I am therefore, justified in my intolerance towards them, because I perceive they are intolerant of others”… thus becoming the very thing I abhor – Intolerant.
My mother and her classmates were once asked by a teacher in the 1940s if they, the students, were prejudice to any particular race or creed. They went through a list of prejudices, contemporary to the day. The students insisted they were not prejudice until the teacher asked them how they felt about the wealthy. My mother stated they were the depression babies and rich people were not thought of fondly. This changed the dynamic of the conversation. She recalled it as a defining moment and a great lesson that we all have our prejudices and may not be as tolerant as we believe we are.
I don’t believe we consciously think in these terms but it has been my observation that we are all subject to this snare. It takes lots of processing and energy to convince ourselves or others, of our tolerant nature. Perhaps the biggest challenge is how we define tolerance. Many assume that acceptance and tolerance are synonymous. They are not.
Tolerance means, “Showing willingness to allow the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with” (Google dictionary) or, “marked by forbearance or endurance” (Merriam-Webster)
We do not have to accept or fully embrace another’s way of life to be tolerant but we must find the path towards forbearance and civility or we will fall into the crevasse that divides families and society.
I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I don’t expect everyone to understand my membership in the church or even my belief that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world, but I would hope they would not shun me, take away my rights as an American citizen or burn my religious books. I would hope they would not mock my beliefs but be willing to judge me for me and not for a perception of me. One only needs to look at social media posts to realize my hopes are not always founded in reality. I also hope those who have a dramatically different perspective than I will enjoy the same privilege.
I often worry about those that read, watch or listen, exclusively to the narrative that only supports their own hypothesis. Social media is ablaze with thirty second soundbites and pictures that put every politician, religious person or atheist in a conveniently narrow box. This only adds fuel to the fire of intolerance. Half-truths or snippets of a larger dialog are designed to stir emotion but generally don’t represent the complexities of social, political or spiritual issues.
I’m concerned that far too many individuals draw conclusions within seconds or minutes, based on limited information and then label anyone with whom they may disagree, as intolerant, out of touch, or oblivious to reality, since the ‘facts are so obvious’. Critical thinking begins with searching out firsthand information and then making sure one understands the broader context in which a stated opinion is presented. How often have we been caught in the trap, that because it’s in the media it must be authoritative?
Turning the channel once in a while will help us gain perspective on how others view the same issue or topic. It may not change our minds and may even solidify our own beliefs but it will help us to understand the “why” of opposing viewpoints.
Why is it becoming so difficult to agree to disagree? We must find better ways to work together. Those who do not believe as I do, hope for the same respect for their belief system as I, yet also find disappointment as they read comments in social media and in the blogospheres that may not truly represent their viewpoint.
I worry that too many of us take the bait of those posting emotionally charged stories and statements, determined to make every issue into an “us versus them” debate. I see summarized statements of “proof” or soundbites from longer discussions posted on social media as though they are a definitive political or theological work.
Many of these types of posts are effective at stirring emotion but often shut down or eliminate civil discourse because they are deeply polarizing. Social media seems to foster this trend. Perhaps we become more emboldened when we are behind the screen of technology and don’t have to face the opposition in person.
I’m convinced the majority of humanity is not in this mind set, yet many remain silent, fearful of being painted with the intolerance stain. Most peacemakers I know, just stay out of the fray.
I keep asking myself, how can we have so many tolerant people while we are rapidly becoming an intolerant society? What role does political correctness play in all this?
The broadminded members of the “tolerance militia” have doubled their efforts in a plan to eliminate all things deemed to be intolerant. I have lived in places where my children’s “Holiday Concerts” were turned into endless songs about snow, snowflakes and snowpersons to ensure no one would be offended by mixing church and state. Let’s be honest, one can only listen to so many songs about snow before your ears start to bleed. This is where our striving for tolerance is killing our rich culture and trading our diverse heritage for a monochromatic sameness.
I don’t know about you but I am excited for my children to experience the richness of many different religious and cultural points of view. Are we so afraid of being labeled that we allow a pasteurization of culture all together?
The overarching and undeniably troubling question is, how do we as Christians agree to disagree with those of opposing views and learn to get along when laws and principled beliefs are at stake? How do we extend the loving hand of fellowship and tolerance without condoning contrasting behavior and comprising our core values?
I have learned many lessons on this subject, inspired by Jesus, who taught that when love is our driving motive we find a way through the disagreements.
I’m convinced the answer to being tolerant and at the same time serving God and reverencing His commandments is found in the commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. When we have a deep and genuine love for our neighbor, our loving relationship is what they will focus on even when they know we do not approve of their behavior.
This being said, it’s difficult to love whom we have not served. As a Mission President, I learned to love all 605 missionaries with whom I labored because I served them, prayed with them, listened to them, cried with them, laughed with them and knew much about their personal struggles and idiosyncrasies. We regularly communicated, one on one.
Our capacity to love others and become more tolerant comes from understanding the, who, what, where, why and how of the person sitting across from us. Tolerance and understanding increase as we serve each other. Sometimes our greatest victories come when we serve the neighbor we understand the least.
It seems we, as a society, have slipped away from neighbor helping neighbor and community helping community.
With all of the advantages of increased production, better medical care, improved efficiency and institutionalized welfare brought on by the industrial and technology revolutions, it is ironic that with lightning fast communication capabilities we know less about our neighbors than ever.
As individuals we have been slowly extracted from the process of getting our hands dirty by changing a stranger’s tire along the road or wiping away the tears from off our neighbor’s faces. The process of serving has become very sanitary. We are more likely to give money, send an email and post our support of others on social media rather than commit the time it may take to lend a physical hand. Unfortunately, real physical hand-dirtying service is how we learn to love our neighbor.
I’ve talked with hundreds of returned missionaries who felt their capacity to love their fellow man increased dramatically as they served. They provided spiritual, emotional and physical assistance to a diversity of people from many different places and cultures in the mission field, only to struggle to find meaningful service upon their return home. I’m sure that those who have volunteered for Americorps, the Peace Corp (or other service organizations), or served in the military have similar experiences and feelings.
I have had two people in my life that I love very much though we disagree on matters of politics and theology. We connected through their kind service to me as a struggling teenager. They were great mentors of love, compassion and service. They seemed to have a clear understanding of the statement found in 1st John 4:19, spoken in reverence of the Savior, “we love him because he first loved us”. This, I believe, is the first step and most critical, to breaking down the barriers of intolerance.
Jesus lived at a time of great religious intolerance yet encouraged His followers to focus their energy on the change that comes from within. He reminded His followers that Discipleship requires one to Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. He stated that upon these two commandments hang all the laws. He actually encouraged His disciples to carry the burdens of those who oppressed them for an additional mile, doubling the requirements of the law. This divine assignment is still in effect today.
Jesus asked His followers to make personal changes and accept hard but liberating doctrine on the subject of how we treat others we deem to be intolerant towards us. He stated, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14). To forgive others is a requirement to obtain forgiveness, perhaps this is why many didn’t show up again for the second day of what we know to be the Sermon on the Mount. Perhaps the no-shows were so focused on their demands for justice that this outweighed a willingness to look at their own motives in regard to tolerance.
More hard doctrine from the Savior, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5: 38-44).
Is this not the true test of Christian tolerance? Tolerance begins and ends with our ability to love others. It may not change the hearts of others but will certainly change our heart for the better and be the evidence to others of our Christian Discipleship and of our striving to be a more tolerant and kind individual.
More words of encouragement from Jesus, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). How are we doing in this department? Do we look for opportunities to get involved as peacemakers or does our demand for justice cloud our reasoning in this department?
In the end our ability to love and serve is what sets us apart from the chaos and misery of the world. I believe the formula for tolerance is simple; we learn to love whom we serve and we learn to tolerate whom we love. The overarching knowledge of our divine heritage, our divine purpose and our divine destiny, should be the source of motivation we need to step up our service towards our neighbor, the neighbor Jesus defined as the one on the periphery of our acquaintances. Surely our tolerance improves when we recognize the critical doctrine that we are all sons and daughters of the same God.