September 13, 2010

Are We Intolerant?

Matt, at The Church of No People*, asked a simple question on Friday, "Do Americans have a lot more work to do when it comes to being tolerant?" 

Okay, maybe it wasn't all that simple. Regardless of how much more tolerant we are - generally speaking - than a number of other nations that come to mind, I can see where we might come across as intolerant. One guy even came up with a visual way to make fun of our appearance of intolerance:

Photo Source: A wide variety of Internet sites

For the record, I don't know that God cares much about most signs, but I do think he hates "hate" signs.

Today's post is my answer to Matt's question about whether or not I think we're intolerant, with a just couple of minor changes in an effort to tweak it.

As for your question, I’m not going to give an answer to Americans in general, but to those of us who are followers of Christ. 

Intolerance is a perception, and I think perception, to borrow a phrase, is in the eye of the beholder, not the accused. To be fair, the accusation of intolerance will make anyone of any faith or political persuasion defensive. That’s a natural human reaction. But with the power of the Holy Spirit working within Christ’s followers, we should be able to rise above that human need to defend ourselves. We should be able to remember that there is a higher purpose to our lives than arguing with people who call us intolerant. 

The Great Commission included teaching the world to obey everything Jesus commanded. But before teaching, we were to go into the world to make disciples and to baptize.

We often get the cart before the horse, trying to teach people before making disciples and then we scream and yell because they don't want to be taught. And in this process we forget that teaching the world to obey what Jesus commanded starts with what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments, to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbors

Our neighbors don’t feel the love when we’re coming across as angry, so they call us intolerant, and then we get into the cycle of the human nature defending ourselves against a charge that we find offensive.  

Once we get into that cycle, we forget that Jesus didn't tell us to go into the world to make everyone just like us. He told us to go into the world to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. He told us to lead people to Him. He even gave us the formula: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” 

If we could just remember those two commandments, we might be able to cut down considerably on the accusations of intolerance, and much more importantly, people would be much more likely to see Jesus in us.

Until next time,

Then Jesus came to them and said, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. ~ Matthew 28:18-20

*Through The Church of No People, Matt is participating in 30 Bloggers, 30 Days to raise money to provide clean water for developing nations. To learn more or to contribute, click on the 30 Bloggers link above.


  1. I applaude this.

    It seems to me (and I generalizing her) that there could be a lot me more listening on our part. I think instead of going out with the persumed mission of "saveing" the world, we would do better to embrace the mission of loving the world.

  2. Also, I like your new layout...

  3. Tolerance is a tough one. Our homily this past Sunday was about the parables - the prodigal son. The priest tied it in with forgiveness. The elder son was not forgiving of the younger son's behavior - the son who squandered his inheritance was treated royally upon his return. Then, he proceeded to ask us some questions, among them: Is there forgiveness for Adolf Hitler and the atrocities he committed? Is there forgiveness for the priest or teacher who abuses a child? Is there forgiveness for the parent who neglects their child? Is there forgiveness for the person who takes the life of another? Is there forgiveness for those behind the bombing of the world trade center? So on, so forth - tough questions.

    I think forgiveness and tolerance are two different things, adn forgiveness does not necessarily mean we would tolerate "bad behaviors" - but as Katy says, if we can love the world (including our neighbors from other countries, right? love your neighbor?) is it possible we could inspire the world to love us in return? It's an uphill battle, to be sure, because not every U. S. citizen is on the same page when it comes to "loving thy neighbor" just as the rest of the world isn't always enamored of the U.S.A.

    Surely, though, there are good people of all races and creeds - those who do evil in the name of their faith cannot possibly represent all the members of that faith.

    thanks for tackling the tough topic!

  4. it seems that people become more intolerant
    as they age. i pray that i do the reverse and
    have told my kids i am going to do crazy
    things when 80!

    this was an insightful piece, margaret. i do
    wonder, thought, about the tolerance of the
    church during hitler's reign. what if they had
    been more intolerant of his behavior?

    i guess all their intolerance was directed
    towards the jewish people.

    this has started me thinking. ouch!

  5. Margaret - Your very thoughtful post makes me think of Jackie DeShannon's song/lyrics - "What the World Needs Now Is Love" :)

    "What the world needs now is love, sweet love
    It's the only thing that there's just too little of.What the world needs now is love, sweet love,no not just for some but for everyone.

    Lord, we don't need another mountain,
    there are mountains and hillsides enough to climb.There are oceans and rivers enough to cross - enough to last till the end of time.

    What the world needs now is love, sweet love -
    it's the only thing that there's just too little of. What the world needs now is love, sweet love - no, not just for some but for everyone.

    Lord, we don't need another meadow;
    there are cornfields and wheat fields enough to grow. There are sunbeams and moonbeams enough to shine - Oh listen, lord, if you want to know.

    What the world needs now is love, sweet love
    It's the only thing that there's just too little of. What the world needs now is love, sweet love,no, not just for some but for everyone.

    No, not just for some, oh, but just for everyone."

  6. Katy - Thanks, on both accounts. I was tired of the blue and decided that with fall so close, it was a good time to switch to warm colors.

    Kathy and Lea - Kathy is right that tolerance and forgiveness are two different things. The church, as well as nations around the world (including our own) were far too slow to deal with Hitler, and too many paid the ultimate price for that failure. But perhaps that, too is an issue of failing to love our neighbors. Had more Christians seen the Jews that Hitler killed as our neighbors, he might have been stopped much earlier. Instead, too many had the attitude of "I'm not Jewish, so this isn't my problem." Too many weren't concerned until he started coming after them.

    Most of the things we're accused of being intolerant of are things that the Bible teaches Christ's followers, and that we assume the rest of the world should accept, as we do. But we're asking people who don't know Christ to accept things that we struggle with even with the power of the Holy Spirit working within us. Leading people to Christ has to come before the Holy Spirit, and it's hard to lead people to Christ when we're yelling at them about how they live.

    Paula - I haven't thought of that song in ages. It made me smile...and now it can replace the song that's been stuck in my head all day.

  7. Oh, Katy - I love that. We can't "save" the world, if we fail to embrace the mission of first loving the world.