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Jun 08 2015


Is tolerance Biblical?

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We live in an age that is becoming increasingly difficult to navigate in terms of faith and those who are different from us. In fact, Christian Americans have had it so easy for so many decades that it’s no wonder in the last 30 years or so we’ve misstepped a few times (okay, repeatedly) when it comes to this. Consider that even just a generation ago, a large majority of people were either Christian or had at least been exposed to church and had moral beliefs that were roughly similar to those found in the Bible. And those who didn’t, were often quiet about it. We can probably all agree that is no longer the case, and the word “tolerance” gets used on a regular basis. So for us who are Christians, it begs the question, “Is tolerance Biblical?”

Diplomacy is something for which I’ve been known for most of my life. That’s not to say I haven’t had my dogmatic days (in fact, I still do), but oh the efforts I often go through to cushion with disclaimers and preface with explanation. Ask anyone who knows me. I can be annoying with it. Sometimes, however, it’s best to just shut up and answer the question.

So, is tolerance Biblical? No. Not in the least. Not anywhere in the Bible do I find anything akin to tolerance. Why? Because God calls us to so much MORE than that.

I have no issue with tolerance or following it by it’s definition which is, “A fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs, practices, racial or ethnic origins, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.” Here in The States, we have freedom of speech and freedom of religion because even our forefathers (whose backgrounds were predominantly Christian) believed in tolerance. I believe the word “permissive” in this definition equates to acknowledging the right of others to exercise their free will, something God given. So the problem isn’t with tolerance by definition; the problem is stopping at merely tolerating. Not once did Jesus command us to “tolerate” each other.

One of the legal experts heard their dispute and saw how well Jesus answered them. He came over and asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus replied, “The most important one is Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31 CEB)

Allow me to choose a topic of controversy. There is a growing number of people within the Christian community who are supportive of a homosexual lifestyle while many still hold that the Bible teaches it is a sin. For those who are among the group who believes it is wrong, how does tolerance–or even the higher calling of unconditional love–apply to interaction with those practicing that lifestyle?

I have no pat answers, no nice little blog post that makes everything simple. I believe this, along with a number of other subjects, is one with which we will wrestle for quite a while. So here is my real message: Let us wrestle… let us fumble… with love. The Bible says that love covers a multitude of sins, so let’s submerge ourselves in that, shall we? No matter how wrong we may be about something, if our heart is sincerely fixed on love, people are much more likely to give us grace on the occasions we mishandle something.

In working on my own life, I often use two things in tandem as my measuring stick. They are my Bible and my son. My Bible gives me the path, but I’ve found that my son often gives me the motivation to walk it. While sin can be erased with a mere drop of Jesus’ Blood, and He will remember my sins no more… my son will remember. If he sees me act, respond, or speak in a given manner, I can’t go back and change it, and he is most likely to grow up and live in the way I’ve modeled for him. So my attempts to keep myself in check often begin with asking myself not only, “What would Jesus do?”, but, “How would I want my son to act in this situation? When he’s 43 and faced with something similar, what action on his part would make me proud?” Sometimes my own choice becomes much clearer to me that way, and I endeavor to act accordingly so that I am a model for him to follow.

It is very important to me to do this in the area of tolerance, but this issue is a messy one. It makes me feel like a trapeze artist sometimes. Balance in my teaching is critical if I want my son to grow up understanding how to live a life of holiness before God while loving others who don’t or who believe in a way that looks different from us. That requires making choices that divide us from the norm while simultaneously bridging that gap with love rather than judgment for those who live differently from us.

Sometimes Christians are nervous about showing blatant love and acceptance to someone who is living a life of sin because they don’t want to appear like they condone their actions. They’ll show them love during a ministry outreach, but they’re not likely to spend time with them “just because”. In other words, they’ll love as long as it’s obvious to any onlookers that it’s a “saint” loving a “sinner”. And to be fair, I don’t think most of the Christians in this category are meaning to be arrogant. I believe the majority of them are afraid of watering down the Gospel. They don’t want to muddy the waters or blur the lines between the godly and the ungodly. And honestly, it is a bit of a risk. If we are wide-open loving and accepting of someone while they’re living opposite to our belief system, there will be those who think we’ve gone to an anything-goes-Gospel. But here’s the thing: God is big enough to handle it.

You may recall that even Jesus was accused of being a sinner because it was sinners with whom He spent His time. He hung out with drunkards and thieves. But any sullying of His reputation was in the short-run and worth every rumor. I assure you, God’s got this.

When I was in college, I had a professor who said something that became a landmark moment in the development of my own understanding of Biblical tolerance. He asked, “What is it about Jesus’ brand of holiness that made sinners WANT TO BE AROUND HIM, and our brand often repels them? Who do you think actually has it right?”

Loving sinners is not a watered down Gospel, people. It’s the ONLY Gospel.

It’s okay–even RIGHT–for us to hate the sin, but if our love for the person doesn’t equal or even exceed our hate for the sin, then WE ARE DOING IT WRONG.

Jesus definitely hated the sin, but do you know why? Because God is holy, and sin separates us from Him. He hated the sin because He didn’t want anything to keep us away from Him. He hated the sin BECAUSE OF HIS LOVE for us. He loved first. So when we sinned, He gave His life to pay for our sins out of His love in order to erase the sin and restore our relationship with Him. His hate for sin is a blip on the radar in comparison. The only reason hate for sin existed is because of LOVE, LOVE, LOVE.

Is tolerance Biblical?


I fully believe there is a time to call sin out for what it is. I believe there is a time and a place to be separate and take a stand. I feel quite passionately about that, in fact, and I may address that in more detail at a later time. But I can tell you this: Whatever I do, whatever you do, if it’s not done in love, it’s done wrong. We can vote opposite to each other, watch the other news network, and even be vocal about our differences and still do it with respect.

Allow me to give you an example. When I was 14, I had a brief car ride with a 26 year old athiest. We were with a mutual friend, and he already knew that both of us were Christians, and so he brought up the topic. This was my first time to meet him, and I had never knowingly had a conversation with an athiest before. I prayed under my breath that the Lord would give me wisdom to handle this opportunity in the right way.

You know what I did? I asked open, honest questions, and I listened intently to his answers. I gave him the same opportunity to share which I wanted him to give me. I gave him respect. He then asked me questions and returned the respect of listening to what I believed and why. Once we had built a little rapport, I gently said, “You know if I’m wrong, it’s not a big deal. I’m living a happy life, but–.” He interrupted with, “And if I’m the one who’s wrong, I’m in a lot of trouble. You’re right about that.” We pulled up to where we were dropping him off, and he said something to me that still brings tears to my eyes nearly 30 years later. He said, “You know, you’re the first Christian I ever talked to who actually cared what I had to say. I would very much like to talk to you again someday.”

Two weeks later I learned that he had been killed in a car accident. I have no way of knowing where his heart stood after our conversation. All I know is that I am left with the haunting reality that every other Christian to whom he had ever spoken made him feel like his own views weren’t important to listen to. And with that, they unwittingly communicated to him that he wasn’t that important.

God forgive us.

I mentioned feeling like a trapeze artist as a parent, trying to balance between teaching my child what I believe to be right and wrong without that translating into judgment of others. It’s tough sometimes, but here’s the good news. This trapeze girl has a safety net for when I miss the mark, and so do you.
Grace. Accept it with open arms; give it away by the basketful.

I’m guessing it would give us all a little less stress and a few more smiles, and in this crazy world, I’m all for that. Who knows? If we all started to love a little more like Jesus, we might stop repelling people and find out they’re not as opposed to this Gospel of ours as we think.

From the heart of Dixie Mama… always say grace.

If you agree with this message on tolerance, I’d love for you to share it with your friends on social media!

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