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Tolerance


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Is tolerance a Christian virtue? It may come as a shock to some, but I don't think it is, certainly not a primary one. Many virtues are mentioned in the Bible, including love, honesty, integrity, self-control, justice, mercy, faithfulness, courage, purity, generosity, joy, perseverance, compassion, responsibility, passion and gratitude, but tolerance is not one of them.

The dictionary defines tolerance as the capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others. While all persons are worthy of respect because they are made in the image and likeness of God, some beliefs and some practices are not worthy of respect. To tolerate is to put up with something. This may be an acceptable attitude for an agnostic, but it is not what Christians should aspire to.

Christians are held to a different standard. We are not commanded to be tolerant, rather we are told, "To fear the Lord is to hate evil." Not tolerate evil, but hate it. On the other hand, we are specifically told to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us. Not put up with them, but love them. This is the great paradox. We are not called to a middle-of-the-road tolerance. We are not supposed to treat every opinion as equal, lest we fall into moral relativism, but to embrace the extremes of love and hate.

Jesus tells us it is not enough to love our friends; even the pagans do that. Those who promote objective evil are enemies of the good and therefore our enemies and therefore the very ones we are called to love.

The perfect example of how Christians can reconcile this contradiction is found in the small groups of dedicated pro-lifers who stand outside abortion clinics every time procedures are scheduled, braving cold, snow, rain, or heat, enduring verbal abuse and sometimes worse. They pray for the women coming for abortions, for the fathers of the babies, for the families, for the babies about to die, and for the clinic personnel. The pro-lifers hate abortion with a holy hatred because they know it is an offense against God -- throwing the gift of life back in his face -- and because they know every abortion has more than one victim.

At the same time they love everyone who walks through the door of the clinic. To love someone is to want what is best for them -- for each one of them. The pro-lifers not only try to persuade those entering to reconsider by offering material assistance and free ultrasounds, they are also there offering gentle compassion when the mothers come out ashen faced and shaking, having just made the worst decision of their lives.

In particular, those who keep vigil outside the clinics pray for those who work inside. The pro-lifers can see the toll the work of destruction takes on those involved. As a result of these prayers and the real love and concern, many clinic workers have been converted and many clinics have closed.

Tolerance does not work miracles. Love does.

What about tolerance of diversity? Shouldn't we tolerate those who are different from us?

We are not called to tolerate our neighbor, be he of a different race, ethnic background, political affiliation or religion, but to love him.

Those who make tolerance their primary virtue risk falling into moral relativism. They can come to believe that, if all opinions should be respected, then all opinions are equal. All people are equal and have a right to their opinions, but not all opinions are equal. Opinions have no rights. Some beliefs, opinions, and practices are objectively evil and there are times when we must say so.

Some can misinterpret Jesus' command not to judge. To judge is to hear the evidence, render a verdict and pass sentence. We are not to judge another soul, because we do not know all the facts. That task belongs to God who knows all, but we are supposed to know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil.

It should also be noted that some, who preach the ethic of tolerance the loudest, are the least tolerant of alternate opinions. It should not surprise us that those who embrace objective evil should demand tolerance for themselves, while denying it to others.

We just have to love them more.

Dale O'Leary is a freelance writer and author of "The Gender Agenda: Redefining Equality" and "One Man, One Woman."

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