Is My Tolerance More Important Than Yours (or Vice Versa)?

I’ll just get this out of the way up front: if you are a living, breathing, thinking, feeling human being, you’re a hypocrite. Obviously this includes me, but it also includes you, whoever you are.

I say this because I’ve been trying to figure something out. Why is it okay to call someone an idiot or a garbage person or spew some other sort of hatred at them because they have said or done something you disagree with? Better stated: if someone does something that you see as an act of hatred, why does the preferred response seem to be the return of hatred.

I’ll be more specific. Yesterday, a group of American pastors and church leaders released a statement on the beliefs regarding marriage that they felt should be embraced by the church based on Biblical tenets. This so-called Nashville Statement contains nothing that should surprise anyone who understands even the basics of evangelical Christianity. Essentially that marriage is meant to be monogamous and between a man and a woman, and the expression that concepts such as homosexuality and transgenderism are sins. The decision to go against these in any regard is a choice, just like a decision to lie, cheat or steal or commit adultery or any other sin.

Not surprisingly, the backlash has been quick and angry, and this is where I am lost as to what opponents of this see as acceptable. I just find the hypocrisy of telling someone that they are an asshole or unloving or worse because you think they are being unloving is ripe with irony. Furthermore, and this has bothered me for years, but why is the supposed idea of tolerance only a one way street? Doesn’t anybody see that by denouncing someone’s belief system because they disagree with you is the exact thing that tolerance is allegedly meant to avoid? Instead, it looks like this:

“Oh, everyone needs to be tolerant of everyone. No matter if you’re gay or straight or bi or transgender or Jewish or Muslim or Agnostic or Atheist, people must be allowed to make their own choices.”

“I believe that my faith is correct, which means, frankly speaking, that those other religions are wrong and that all non-heterosexual relationships are essentially sin.”

“Well, then you’re wrong and I can’t allow you to think that way, so I’m going to call you an idiot and continue to tell you how wrong you are at every opportunity.”

Okay, yes, this is an oversimplification of the issue; and I grant that it works on the other side of things, too. There are people who are Christians who actually are hateful human beings, who may consider themselves correctly motivated, but whose actions are far from that. The situation in Charlottesville shows me that without a doubt, all humans are capable of hatred and violence, of being wrong about what they believe.

And I guess that’s where I struggle the most on this whole thing, and I feel this way every time these issues cycle back through the news feed. Why are those who look negatively on the issue allowed to tell the other side they are wrong, but if the situation is reversed, there’s no accounting for how hate-filled the responses will be? And those responses will be applauded, even though they are essentially the same level of hate that these people claim is coming from the other side. So even if the creators of the Nashville Statement never said they hated anyone, those who oppose the document read their words, see hate and then spread hate right back at them?

Do I have that right?

Because if I do, it doesn’t seem very tolerant. It just feels like hypocrisy piled on top of a brand of tolerance that allows most people to say and do what they want, but not all.

Look, I do want to make it clear that the timing on this is not good. Clearly there are more pressing issues happening in our country, especially helping to clear the devastation in Houston. But I think it’s also unfair to say that people aren’t capable of handling more than one situation at a time, or to assume malevolence on the part of the signers regarding Houston and this document. Furthermore, and more ironically, a thing’s existence does not automatically give it power; so by hating it and the people who created it, those who oppose this and similar ideas, there’s a sense that power is being given. In a technical sense, all this Statement does is affirm what has always been true about the Christian faith; there is no call to arms or new action to be taken.

Ultimately it comes down to this: I believe what I believe and others believe what they believe, and to me it’s more important to dialogue about issues of contention than to simply respond with the first emotion that comes to you, most commonly anger and aggression. But if the goal is really tolerance (and honestly I’m not sure it is), then there cannot be caveats or addendum to that; you must practice full tolerance of me and my beliefs and I of you and yours.

Otherwise, what is tolerance anyway?

2 thoughts on “Is My Tolerance More Important Than Yours (or Vice Versa)?

  1. So we’ll said. I’ve had the same thoughts, but I censor them publically because I don’t want to deal with the backlash.

    Thank you for being braver and elegant in your words.


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