Beyond tolerance

Apr 24, 2014 by

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Tolerance is important. It lets us live in harmony with each other despite our differences and helps our society function in peace with itself. We need to be able to get along, to avoid fostering animosity or division. We emphasize the importance of tolerance in our schools and our workplaces. We like tolerance.

But is it all that God would have for us?

We tolerate loud music on the subway. Or tolerate commercials during a TV show. But we should we simply tolerate one another?

No one wants to be tolerated. We never want someone to just swallow hard, grit their teeth and bear our presence. We want to be affirmed, to be celebrated. We want to be loved as Christ loves us.

There is a big difference between “I tolerate you” and “I love you.” The latter requires a commitment to one another that goes beyond coexistence. It requires really getting to know one another. It requires bearing each others’ burdens, and grieving for the things that make our neighbors grieve. It means celebrating in each others’ victories and valuing what is important in each others’ lives. It means sacrificing of ourselves for others’ gain, and allowing others to do the same for us.

Practically speaking, going beyond tolerance means no longer leading separate lives. It requires us to support the leadership of those we are trying to affirm. It means learning and celebrating histories and cultures that are not our own. It means being mindful of who is being represented in our meetings and who is allowed to be the decision makers. It means promoting the visibility of marginalized groups in our media and our marketing. It means becoming so familiar with each others’ cultures that we no longer cause pain simply out of our own ignorance. It means we come to realize the central importance of each of our contributions in the complete Church of God.

There is a place for tolerance. Sometimes it is all we can manage until we find the grace to lean in more.

Most people are able to agree that tolerance is important, and are even pretty good at it. We’ve learned not to overtly discriminate or commit hate crimes. Tolerance is what our laws can mandate — and such laws serve as important regulators of behavior. They protect our rights and our safety. But the law cannot compel our hearts to abide with one another. For this, we need to dig deeper.

We need to understand the difference between what we are socially obliged to do and that which God calls us into. Jesus did not say, “Tolerate one another, as I have tolerated you.” Through his death and resurrection, he bound us as one body — a bond that cannot function by simply putting up with each other during our time together here on Earth.

Perhaps it would be understandable for a holy God to simply tolerate sinners like us. But God dwelt among us, he washed our feet, he bore our pain. He laughed with us, and wept with us. He identified with us. Being part of the body of Christ means going beyond tolerance.

Katelin Hansen (@BTSFblog) is the editor of By Their Strange Fruit, an online ministry facilitating justice and reconciliation across racial divides for the sake of the Gospel. The blog explores how Christianity’s often-bungled relationship with race and racism affects modern ministry and justice. Recognizing that racial brokenness hinders our witness to the world, By Their Strange Fruit strives to increase the visibly of healthy and holy racial discussion by approaching justice and reconciliation from a Christ-minded perspective. This is the first post in a series there about going beyond. 


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