Last year I took a group of middle school students to a diversity conference. After some of the workshops, several of my students commented that students from other schools sighed and rolled their eyes if they even mentioned the word God or Christian. Imagine that! Here we were at a conference designed to celebrate the differences among us and there were some who were practicing intolerance towards Christians and their views. Our students were willing and open to hear the beliefs and views of others, but they just wanted to share their beliefs as well.
“What the heck does tolerant mean?” If the word intolerant means, not tolerant of views, beliefs, or behaviors that differ from your own, then I am confused by this growing idea that Christians are intolerant. Now to be sure, there are probably many Christians around the world who would refuse to listen to others that hold different beliefs than they do, but I don’t know many Christians like that. Is it truly that Christians are intolerant? Or is it that Christians just have views, beliefs and behaviors that differ from those that are not Christian.
I do believe that there are Christians that are intolerant of anyone who thinks differently than they do. But, I think they are in the minority. I do not believe that the majority of reasonable Christians would not listen to the views and beliefs of others. However, what makes them Christian is what they believe. Therefore, what they believe and the worldview that they embrace, will cause them to have a difference of opinion on some matters. Is that intolerance? I don’t think so.
So what is tolerance? And what is intolerance? Tolerance is the ability to hear and understand views and opinions that may differ from yours without closing the door on the conversation before the other person fully expresses their heart. It has everything to do with the posture of your heart and sometimes even your physical posture towards someone with opposing views. Love the person, value the person and hear them out. However, tolerance does not mean you agree with the person’s views or opinions. It also does not mean you cannot share your views and opinions with them. Just make sure you are respectful and not working too hard to change their mind.
Intolerance would be just the opposite, it would be the lack of desire and willingness to hear and understand views and opinions that differ from yours. It is closing your heart and mind to the possibility that you might learn something that you did not originally know about someone else’s views. It is also not valuing what someone else feels passionately about. It is offensive when someone fails to acknowledge something that is very important to you.
No one likes intolerance. But intolerance is not having differing opinions. It is closing your mind and heart to someone else that is sharing their beliefs, views, opinions, etc. Christians who voice their beliefs, views, and opinions are not necessarily intolerant, they just hold differing views based on their beliefs. Christians should not be judged on their refusal to embrace others’ belief as their own, but rather on their willingness to listen and understand those differing beliefs.