Tolerating Intolerance

A recent article in a disability newsletter I subscribe to states that the social networking site, Facebook, has problems with “pages featuring questionable content and misappropriated photos of those with disabilities.”  The company promises to do more to control this type of offensive and bullying behavior. (See link below).

I’m not sure it can. People still have the right to be thoughtless and rude if they choose. Human thought and speech, is hard to control without creating burdensome laws, rules and regulations for everyone.

I’m someone who’s tuned in to the offensiveness of actions and words. I have a developmentally disabled adult son who has been and still is the brunt of other people’s disrespect on occasion and I’m also a pastor’s wife. Over my lifetime, I’ve experienced enough crazy human behavior and offensive words from those two situations alone, to fill a volume of books.

We have more ways than ever before to be heard, yet our freedom to speak is under attack now more than any other time in recent history. The war of words rages on in America.

There is a great conflict arising in our post modern culture over what constitutes intolerance and how to legislate it. On one side of the issue, our priceless First Amendment protects our freedom to speak our mind. On the other side we have an emerging attitude that anything anyone deems offensive becomes “hate speech” or “racist” and should be banned.

One thing I’ve figured out; what one person might consider a free-to-express opinion, another may judge offensive, even hateful. There is no way to force everyone to see eye to eye, be nice or think the same way. We can’t control it all, not without becoming a totalitarian state.

Tolerance is defined in my 1976 edition of Webster’s Dictionary as: sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own, the act of allowing something. 

The definition has not changed in the most recent edition. It’s quite clear, from this definition, we don’t have to agree with an opinion or difference to ‘allow’ it and that creates the new problem in our current culture. Obviously we need to regulate immoral and illegal behavior in a free and civil society but when disagreement is construed as intolerance; that is a dangerous road to walk down.

The new tolerance says we all must pat each other on the head, believe, feel and do exactly as “I or you don’t like me.” Is it not good enough to make allowances for each other anymore?

We all have issues we believe strongly and things we don’t tolerate well, but quite frankly, I’m tired of the labels we put on each other when there is conflict. Someone who doesn’t agree with a lifestyle is considered a hatemonger. Another person who believes in God, guns and the Constitution is considered a right wing radical. Other’s who think we all should live and let live are construed as left wing liberals. One group’s beliefs and opinion are perceived as suspect and dangerous if they differ from another.

If certain words are spoken, political correctness moves in to make sure there is just punishment. Journalists are fired, and cooks are removed from TV shows; then there’s the double standard of one group calling each other words that are suddenly offensive if another group uses it. Words that used to mean one thing have evolved into something else, so they aren’t usable anymore or they have come to define people in a way they were never meant to. It’s a crazy game of Scrabble!

Meanwhile, this patriotic baby boomer is standing here scratching her head, wondering what’s happening to First Amendment rights in my great country. There are days I don’t agree with my own husband, for goodness sake, and I still sleep next to him at night and I don’t call him names. We either work it out or agree to disagree – agreeably! That’s how we’ve managed to stay married for thirty eight years.

I’m not accountable for the words others say, but I do have a responsibility to speak the truth with grace and be a keeper of my own words. James 3:1-9 gives a sobering picture of our speech and paints the tongue as set on fire from hell, restless, evil, full of deadly poison and unable to be tamed. The Psalmist in chapter 141:3 asks God to, “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” I desperately need God’s help with this, because like most of us, I have difficulty doing it on my own.

I also get to choose to NOT be offended by everything others say, believe or live that disagrees with my point of view and convictions. I get to give another space to be who they are and allow God to fix them if necessary and hope they will do the same for me. I also get to state my opinion and listen to another, even if we don’t meet on every point.

Those who believe in the truth and authority of God’s word, understand there are teachings in its pages that are clearly intolerant of certain ideals and conduct. We are not required to give consent to everything and everyone but we are required to show love and respect to all, while defending what we believe.

America, we can’t have it both ways. We can’t preach free speech and then despise people for using it and we can’t preach tolerance while being intolerant to those who disagree with us.

But not to worry, I’ll still like you even if you disagree with everything I just said.

1 Peter 3:8-11Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.  Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.  For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit;  let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.