Tolerance is a word that’s tossed around a lot these days. People are constantly accusing Christians of being intolerant, bigots, and closed-minded. Then, we in turn accuse the accusers of being intolerant based on their very definition of tolerance! If we are intolerant because we refuse to embrace their worldview as equally valid, wouldn’t that consequently make them intolerant of us as well? It seems like a vicious cycle doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, the word “tolerance” is abused in our current culture. It seems as if the problem lies in the definition of tolerance. So maybe if we start by defining what tolerance truly is and what it is not, we can come to some common ground.
What tolerance is NOT:
- Agreeing with another’s belief system or opposing worldview
- Acceptance of an idea, belief or lifestyle (especially if it opposes your own) as being true or equally true
- Refusing to believe in objective or absolute truth
- Conceding that somebody is right, when you believe that they are wrong
- Believing that others’ opposing views must align with your own
What tolerance IS:
- Allowing for differences, disagreements and opposition in a kind, compassionate and respectful way
- According to the Oxford Dictionary, tolerance is defined as “the ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behavior that one dislikes or disagrees with.”
- Another definition listed is “the capacity to endure continued subjection to something such as a drug or environmental conditions without adverse reaction.”
Note the secondary definition. Taken from a relational perspective, this would mean to endure opposing conditions (or people) without reacting adversely or in a hostile way.