Christians should learn how to balance tolerance without endorsement

When did we start to lose it? Somewhere over the past few years the concept of "tolerance" has been unofficially redefined. It's happened without warning and we should have known better.

It used to be that the word tolerance was what the dictionary said it was:

TOLERANCE: (Noun), meaning "a fair, objective and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc. differ from one's own."

And there's more, with notes on "interest in and concern for ideas, opinions and practices foreign to one's own… a liberal, undogmatic viewpoint." (www.dictionary.com)

Those definitions are still in dictionaries, but I don't think a majority of people believe them when it comes to pop culture's reality and application.

It appears to me that, while many want others to believe they hold the franchise on tolerance, their behavior often reflects anything but that.

That's not to say that the only cries for tolerance come from the left. Both sides have their moments and extremes. But in the quest for a more "tolerant society," there's much more energy going into what is not tolerated.

On university campuses, it's most often the conservative speakers who learn first about a lack of tolerance. Immediate stereotyping of any personality on the right begins with the announcement of a speaker's appearance. Institutions of higher learning will champion the idea that they welcome all points of view. In reality, that can be rare.

I experienced this when speaking at a college in Washington state a few years ago. Arriving on campus to go to the event venue, I saw posters around protesting this Larson guy who was "like O'Reilly and Hannity" et al. I thought it was amusing (they didn't), and instructive. The assumption is that any conservative must be a right-wing voice "just like the rest"… whoever they determine them to be.

The norm is a new view that those on the left are the kind, open people, while those on the right are knuckle-dragging mental midgets who hate science and need to get out of the way.

The most way-out-there leftists (especially if anti-God) are coddled and embraced, while conservative speakers often need to get extra security to face the "tolerant" masses. Just ask someone like Ann Coulter or Star Parker about that.


Classic hypocrisy
So much of the intolerant attitude today comes from those who champion the "can't we all just get along" rhetoric, all while demanding limited free speech from those with whom they disagree.

Some of this current situation comes from those of us who are conservatives, too. In our eagerness to do the right thing about key issues, too often it's easier to be matter-of-fact in our positions without even talking with…and hearing from… those on the other side. In the process, we fit right into stereotypes and tolerance shrinks again.

Those who are "pro-choice" don't often tolerate "pro-life" views. I find this odd, since a person who truly tolerates choice should allow a choice for life, too.

In the same way, my fellow pro-life Americans sometimes show so little love and compassion in opposing abortion that we forget to love the ones affected by it. How in the world are we supposed to draw others to our cause by demonstrating the same intolerance they display?

Part of the reason tolerance doesn't really mean being tolerant anymore is because of too many lawyers. I don't mean to offend those wonderful men and women who are great attorneys, but there are plenty who fan the flames of intolerance for money, fame and power. Lawsuits abound, tempers flare and intolerance grows.


Absurdity at play
Sometimes all of this makes me laugh. Advertisements about "lactose intolerance" make me shout at the television, "I do not tolerate lactose intolerance!" After a while some of it is just absurd.

The media are stirring the pot of intolerance as well, being quick to make automatic assumptions, stereotyping. Just look at how Christians are portrayed, as opposed to non-faith-based people, for example. As my friend Michael Medved once said, "Television has the ability to make the abnormal appear normal." And more than ever, there are plenty of producers working on new stories, fueled by personal bias, helping to create fresh intolerance, even if they don't realize that's what they're doing.

Today's view of tolerance now seems to be, "We tolerate everyone and everything… except you." If you are someone who adheres to "family values," worships God, believes in time-honored traditions, you're made to be a target of the very people who are perceived as the most liberal, loving and tolerant in the world today.

While smiles deceive and distort, the message to those who disagree is, "That's nice, good for you, now go sit down, be quiet and don't trumpet your views in public."


Seeking a new approach
The more time goes by, the more the process continues. An increasing re-definition of tolerance leads to re-inventing evil and pronouncing it is all good.

Of course God is intolerant at times, especially when it comes to sin. Jesus turned over the tables in the temple. It happens, and it's clear. But Christ also knew how to communicate in a better way, with love and caring and discussions that drew others to His message.

Yes, "hate the sin, love the sinner" is still a very important concept, even more so today. If we don't master it, we end up no better than those intolerant people who can drive us crazy at times.

But finding a new way to view where they are now—with tolerance but not endorsement—is how friendships develop and others find the truth.


Larson is a veteran Southern California radio/television personality and media consultant. His voice is heard on KPRZ 1210AM, and his weekday talk show airs mornings 6-9 on KCBQ 1170AM. Email: mark@marklarson.com.

Published, October 2013

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