In our post-modern culture of moral relativism, tolerance has been elevated above truth as the highest social value. In these post-modern days of political correctness, intolerance has become the unforgivable social sin. I realize I've committed this social sin when someone accuses me of "shoving my morality down their throat" when I'm not even trying to coerce the other person into doing anything at all. I've also been called a "fundamentalist" (many times) and "hater" for revealing my strongly held convictions. I'm quickly labeled "intolerant" because my convictions run counter to political correctness. Freedom of speech has deteriorated into sound bites and shouting matches with seemingly no desire to truly understand one another or really communicate.
The interesting irony with the post-modern doctrine of tolerance is how intolerant it is of other viewpoints. You can observe this in the culture clash over the redefinition of marriage and homosexual rights. You are immediately considered "intolerant" if you don't accept the redefinition of marriage or the political efforts of homosexuals to position discrimination against them as a civil rights issue. Diverging from the politically correct opinions on these topics will make you a lightening rod for hateful, discriminatory action from the radical LGBT community and their sympathizers, the very same people who desperately seek acceptance and tolerance for their beliefs and behaviors. It is weirdly Orwellian.
In our post-modern world of political correctness, the doctrine of tolerance is exemplified in the avoidance of civil confrontation and rational dialog on issues of substance. People believe it is "not nice" to discuss sex, politics, or religion in polite company. Why? Probably because you might have a disagreement that highlights the hypocrisy in the doctrine of tolerance. In the event of disagreement, parties in conflict often choose to "agree to disagree" rather than seek unity in truth. They mistakenly believe this is the nice way to behave. It may seem nice, but it is dishonest if the parties in conflict have a common set of core beliefs or facts on which to work out their differences.
So what goes wrong? Why can't we all just get along? I think it has to do with truth being replaced by tolerance and its cousin "affirmation" as the highest values in society. This subjective standard cannot be lived out consistently. The well-meaning do-gooders, these "social justice warriors," seem to think they are being fair and nice to everyone by their insistence on tolerance, but they are actually hypocrites. They are not nice or affirming to people, like me, who believe in free speech and who disagree with their political correctness. Tolerance only means tolerating their views about social justice which are mostly about LGBT rights, abortion, and gender non-specific marriage. The niceness and affirmation only lasts until you disagree with a social justice warrior.
As far as Christians are concerned, Jesus was all about objective truth which is measurable, and none of us measure up. Jesus wasn't always "nice," and neither were the Apostles or the Prophets when it came time to confront error and evil. They all preferred telling the truth about wrongdoing, even (or maybe especially) when it hurt. Read the Bible if you don't believe me. It is there in the text where anyone can read it for themselves. We need more Christians who can think critically and rationally, and who can politely articulate -- and more importantly live out -- those beliefs in humility even if they don't seem "nice" in our politically correct post-modern culture. Setting an example of thinking and living as Jesus did, and repenting when we get it wrong, will help other people who want to be Jesus followers experience the abundant life and unity in the truth.
Tolerance is a virtue to a point, but not beyond the point of truth. Truth trumps tolerance, and sometimes there is no way to be nice about it. Some people are wrong, evil, and immoral. They fly airplanes into tall buildings, and kill people in the name of their "god." Or, they hate others in the name of Jesus, which is totally ridiculous because Jesus taught charity and self sacrifice, not hate. When people make sinful choices, repentance is the only path for reconciliation with God who gives life. Repentance needs to begin with those who claim the name of Jesus. But, if we are merely nice to wrongdoers, and afraid to tell them the truth, they will never find the forgiveness offered through Truth himself, Jesus Christ. Telling the truth is the only loving way for Christians to behave. Jesus followers need to learn how to live and speak the truth with gentleness and respect, but sometimes this tough love is not nice or tolerant.
Afterword: The focus of this article is primarily for professing Christians in dealing with other professing Christians. When a true Christian, i.e. a Christian who is submitted to teachings of the Bible, is engaging with a non-Christian, they should lead with grace, not judgment, in most cases. The non-Christian has not yet submitted their behavior to the Lordship of Jesus, and such a person should be treated with charity and kindness as Jesus teaches. The most charitable and kind thing you can do for someone is to lead them to repentance so they can experience true life in God.
Credits: My observations and many of the ideas contained in this blog entry were developed through extensive email discussions with my friend Dr. Tom Pittman. For more information along these lines, check out his evolving online book: God of Truth: Reforming the Feminized American Church