Tolerance ≠ Acceptance

Pastor James
November 10, 2022

In this age of ever-increasing globalization, tolerance is a must. Even the nations, which have been traditionally homogenous, are becoming more pluralistic. In a pluralistic society, different worldviews and cultures coexist.For these differences not to erupt into conflicts and civil wars, people must be tolerant of one another.

This is especially so in a country like ours. Ours is “a nation of immi-grants,” a pluralistic society par excellence! See how many different nations and ethnicities are represented, just on this campus!

But what is the key to tolerance? Is it the philosophy of relativism--the idea that “points of view have no absolute truth or validity, having only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration” (Wikipedia)? This may seem obvious. How can those who hold different viewpoints “get along” unless they all subscribe to this idea of relativism? And what can be more damaging in a pluralistic society than each group making exclusive claims about its way of thinking and living? So, Christianity is deemed dangerous, undeserving of tolerance, for its exclusive claims.

But what is true tolerance? Someone said insightfully, “Real tolerance presupposes judgment. You have to believe you are right and the other person is wrong in order to exercise tolerance. If you don't think someone is wrong, there is nothing to tolerate and so the only thing promoted is indifference.” Tolerance is not acceptance: tolerance is what we exercise in a pluralistic society; acceptance, if forced, is a tell-tale sign of a totalitarian society (Dennis Prager).

Can truth be relative? A lot of cultural norms and mores are relative. Is it rude to talk during a meal or to slurp when eating soup? These are not matters of truth and falsehood. But what is true cannot be false at the same time. And two contradictory things can't be both true.

Christianity does make exclusive claims. Jesus Himself made them--e.g., “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). If He is the only way to God, there's no other way: “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). No other religious leader made such bold claims. So, as C.S. Lewis suggested, Jesus was either a lunatic, a liar, or truly what He claimed to be--Lord.  

Of course, just because one makes a claim doesn't mean that it's true. But Jesus did not just make claims. He was not just a historical accident. He had to be born of a particular lineage (of King David, 2 Samuel 7:12-13), at a particular place (in Bethlehem, Micah 5:2), in a particular manner (virgin conception. Isa. 7:14). He had to do far more than just teach us how to live. Our problem is not that we don't know what we ought to do but don’t want to do what we ought to do. We need more than just better policies and more precise laws. We need a Savior.

To save us, He suffered and died for the punishment we deserve for breaking God's laws. He lived a life of perfect goodness God's law demands from us--loving God with all our being and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Jesus was the most tolerant person. The religious establishment rejected Him precisely because He was “a friend of sinners”. But He did not accept His sinner friends and condone their sins. While He freely forgave them, He was absolutely firm that they needed to repent and strive to do what was right. Christ calls His followers to be tolerant--not in an indifferent way but in a loving way, upholding the truth of God's word without compromise, but with winsome words and deeds, not with force.