Tolerance can be positive and negative. Traditionally, tolerance was seen as a virtue where opposing ideologies were allowed to compete at the table of ideas. Great value was placed on accepting people even though you disagreed with them. But today, tolerance has been imbedded with new meaning: “If you disagree with me, you’re a bigot.” If there was ever a sordid view of tolerance, that’s it.
In today’s western world, tolerance now means that we need to accept all truth claims as equally valid in order to show acceptance. This form of tolerance is not only twisted, but it’s also self-refuting. The very idea of tolerance means that you don’t agree with the other person’s viewpoint, but in the name of love and respect for humanity, you accept that person’s right to embrace another view. It’s quite possible to accept each other without agreeing with each other. That takes love, grace, growth, understanding, and the right kind of tolerance.
Unfortunately, today’s “tolerance” stifles free speech, even working against the First Amendment. Who wants to truly speak their mind if it means being branded a bigot? The good kind of tolerance welcomes free speech and opposing views, knowing that this will bear fruit in an honest exchange. Besides, it’s too much to insist that we all agree with each other before we can accept one another. Jesus modeled this beautifully. Sinners loved being around Him because He had a way of accepting people He disagreed with. Jesus tolerated others without tailoring His own views. That’s the negative side of tolerance—when one starts bending their beliefs in the name of tolerance. Let’s avoid that. At all costs.