According to Webster’s dictionary, tolerance is a willingness to accept behaviors and beliefs that may be different from your own. At first glance, that appears to be a good thing, as most of us could benefit from being more tolerant of others.
But tolerance may not always be the most appropriate response when dealing with certain issues, like faith. Being tolerant doesn’t imply Christians should turn their backs on words or actions that contradict the basic tenets taught in the Bible. Nor does it remove our responsibility to respond to un-Christian behaviors when we are confronted with them.
This raises the question: When should we step forward and acknowledge our beliefs, and when should we remain silent, being open-minded toward others’ words and actions?
I recently attended a wedding for a young couple in their thirties. Throughout the course of the ceremony, I noticed that references to faith, prayer, and God didn’t make their way into the service. After the vows were exchanged, I spoke with the pastor who performed the marriage. He sheepishly explained that the bride and groom had insisted on excluding any references to God.
I was taken aback by this response. Should he have been tolerant of that, as the minister? I don’t know, but I chose to pray the Lord would open that couple’s eyes to the truth.
These young people weren’t the first, nor will they be the last, to turn their backs on their Creator. But most students of the Bible would tell you, straying from God’s teachings didn’t fare well for many of the Israelites in the Old Testament.
Our modern-day world is tumultuous, entwined in social unrest, political sensitivities, overreactions to cultural differences, and belief and worship of things other than religion. You don’t have to look far to see something that would have been unimaginable fifteen years ago: for example, the recent infatuation with LGBT culture and how those behaviors are mistakenly characterized as courageous; our idolization of performers, professional athletes, and others in the public domain who lead lifestyles based on decadence, pride, and licentiousness.
Perhaps, as the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy, we are approaching the last days, when “People will love only themselves. . . . They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful” (3:2). Regardless, these examples suggest we have drifted away from, if not entirely off, the spiritual grid.
To be clear, I harbor no ill feelings toward anyone of the LGBT community, nor any of those poor, confused individuals who can’t seem to figure out what sex they identify with. But God’s words and intent are reflected in the Bible. And in a book known for its metaphors and symbolism, human sexuality is one topic where there is little ambiguity.
On the front page of a major newspaper was an article about an incredible milestone our country had achieved: the day the first US passport was issued to a citizen who claimed to identify with neither of the sexes God created. This was heralded as a breakthrough for rights of all those who have chosen, or will choose, to be sexless.
Upon reading the headline, I had two reactions. The first was indignation, that a journalist or any media would view such an event as newsworthy, all for the sake of being perceived as politically astute. The second reaction was profound sadness as I realized how far we have stepped away from God’s teachings.
Recently I was dining at a restaurant with several colleagues. One member of our party noticed two men in the adjacent booth engaging in amorous activities, and he made a remark about their behavior. A second person at our table confronted him, suggesting he was imposing his personal beliefs on the two in question.
The first man responded. “It’s not my belief,” he said. “It’s written in Scripture.” An uncomfortable silence settled over the table like a dense fog, and I sat there quietly along with the others, hoping someone would change the subject.
But as I later processed the conversation, I remembered a passage in Matthew’s Gospel. It’s a reminder of God’s expectations for us as we bear witness to sin and deviation from what He has taught us: “But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven” (10:33).
I realize now, instead of being embarrassed by my friend’s remarks, I should have supported him. In that moment, he displayed what I lacked: the courage of his convictions to acknowledge God.
How often have you witnessed un-Christian behavior and chosen to remain silent, fearful of appearing judgmental or touching a nerve in the politically correctness arena? In the case of the wedding, the couple’s lack of faith hurt only themselves. But we are surrounded by deviant behaviors every day. Just turn your TV to a mainstream news channel, and I’m sure you’ll get your fill of them and more.
So, how should we respond when confronted with words or actions we find morally and spiritually offensive? I can do nothing about my lack of action months ago when my colleague crawled onto political thin ice and articulated his beliefs. But going forward, I will remember the scripture in Matthew’s Gospel and the passage from James 4: “It is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it” (v. 17).
The next time I am confronted with words or actions I find morally offensive I will pray for God’s direction in my response. Whether that manifests itself in my words, actions, or prayers for the individual(s) involved, I am resolved to not deny Him through my silence. Silence only condones those behaviors, allowing them to grow and fester.
Perhaps it is as simple as acting prudently and with conviction when the opportunity presents itself. The late Dr. Martin Luther King reportedly stated this when he said, “My obligation is to do the right thing. The rest is in God’s hands.” As we go forward, I pray the Lord provides each of us the wisdom to understand the meaning of tolerance in our lives and the courage to take action when tolerance may fail.