Ask for Tolerance

If there is any near-universal virtue in the United States today, it is tolerance. But this is a very different notion of tolerance from past days. Previously, in debates, people would be intolerant of beliefs but tolerant of people. There was truth about which they were debating, but they were tolerant of and civil to one another as they debated which belief was true.

Today this has reversed such that people are tolerant of beliefs, but intolerant of people. Those who are the loudest and strongest proponents of tolerance are often the most intolerant when it comes to people who embrace beliefs in the form of absolute truth.

One last thought. The very notion of tolerance is predicated on differences; that is, if there were no differences of opinion, thought or belief, there would be no need for tolerance.

Below you will read a tip from apologist Greg Koukl, from his blog Stand to Reason, to use when encountering situations in which you, because of your beliefs, may be considered intolerant. He suggests using the claim of being intolerant in reverse, an insightful and wise response that addresses the possible accusation proactively rather than reactively.

If you’re placed in a situation where you suspect your convictions will be labeled intolerant, bigoted, narrow-minded, and judgmental, turn the tables. When someone asks for your personal views about a moral issue—homosexuality, for example—preface your remarks with a question.

You say: “You know, this is actually a very personal question you’re asking, and I’d be glad to answer. But before I do, I want to know if you consider yourself a tolerant person or an intolerant person. Is it safe to give my opinion, or are you going to judge me for my point of view? Do you respect diverse ideas, or do you condemn others for convictions that differ from yours?”

Let them answer. If they say they’re tolerant (which they probably will), then when you give your point of view it’s going to be very difficult for them to call you intolerant or judgmental without looking guilty, too.

This response capitalizes on the fact that there’s no morally neutral ground. Everybody has a point of view they think is right and everybody judges at some point or another. The Christian gets pigeon-holed as the judgmental one, but everyone else is judging, too. It’s an inescapable consequence of believing in any kind of morality.

— Greg Koukl, “Ask for Tolerance,” Stand to Reason blog (September 20, 2012).
cf. D. A. Carson, The Intolerance of Tolerance (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012)

Reprinted from the blog Strands of Thought, by Greg Strand, November 12, 2012. Greg Strand is EFCA director of biblical theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family attend Northfield (Minn.) EFC.

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