It has to do with the definition. The traditional meaning of tolerance, as found in the Oxford Dictionary, is “the ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with”. However, many operate with different meaning which can be found, for example, at vocabulary.com where it states, “When you practice tolerance, you accept another’s ideas and beliefs”.
While the two definitions appear similar but they are in fact quite different. The move from accepting the existence of different views to accepting those different views is quite significant.
As Christians we accept the reality that people will hold different and opposing positions to us, and not only that, but they should have the freedom to hold them and to express them. Yet we would also hold the freedom to disagree with their position. This is tolerance in the traditional sense.
Today, however, tolerance means one agrees with and accepts another’s position. With the older definition you can only tolerate someone when you disagree with them. As such, tolerance is reserved for those you think are wrong. Today you are not allowed to express contrary opinions but accept all positions and claims as equally valid. To disagree will lead to being called intolerant or bigoted.
So it is that we can be tolerant (traditional meaning) but called intolerant (new meaning) at the same time.
It is important not to be intimidated by those calling for tolerance (new meaning) for at its heart is a contradiction. Its premise is that everyone should be allowed to do and believe what they want; and that no one is permitted to force their point of view on others. However, the problem with this premise is that it’s a point of view being forced upon others!
It is important we understand what tolerance really is and take our stand against the new definition. When we do so, there is no doubt we will be branded intolerant, bigoted and perhaps much worse. But this is the place to start. We engage with love and respect, but disagree with their position.
In Romans Paul speaks of God’s “kindness, forbearance and patience” (Romans 2:4) as a means to lead us to repentance.
May God grant us the same kindness, forbearance and patience as we live in our world today. May we be witnesses to his kindness even as we respectfully disagree with others in the hope they may come to repentance.
Stephen L Baxter