During the 1990s, a person couldn’t turn around without bumping into the word “tolerance.” Tolerance was everywhere: tolerance for people’s sexual orientation, tolerance for people’s religious beliefs (or lack thereof), and tolerance for people’s choices regarding career and family, to name a few.
In the past, to have tolerance for people simply meant that you tolerated them. You might not like them, you certainly didn’t agree with them, but you afforded them the right to think and act according to their own beliefs. But during the 1990s, tolerance took an evolutionary step forward.
It morphed into a different kind of thing. Tolerance no longer meant putting up with a person whose beliefs were, in our opinion, badly mistaken. Rather, it meant affirming that person’s beliefs and values and granting them a kind of approved status. If beliefs were currency, the new tolerance insisted on setting equal value on every denomination of belief.
Of course that was a lot of nonsense. To say that the beliefs of a man advocating pedastry – an ongoing sexual relationship between an adult and a minor – are somehow equivalent to Mother Theresa’s beliefs regarding minor children is balderdash. Everyone knew it, but not enough people were saying it.
But something has happened. Tolerance has fallen out of favor. You’re about as likely to find tolerance in today’s public square as you are to find a Goth in the spring fashion shows. Tolerance ruled during the 1990s and early 2000s, beginning with the institution of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), which protected people from being booted out of the military because of sexual orientation. But DADT was repudiated, and the proverbial boot is now on the other foot.
For example, when a gay couple asked a Colorado baker to make them a wedding cake and he, on religious grounds, refused, they sued and the court ordered the baker to violate his conscious or face fines. There was no tolerance for conscientious objections based on religious beliefs. The same kind of thing has happened to photographers and florists. The boot is not only on the other foot, people are using it to kick those who disagree with them.
Consider Brendan Eich, the founder and CEO of Mozilla, maker of the Firefox browser. When it was discovered that he had, years earlier, contributed a thousand dollars of his own money to the Proposition 8 ballot initiative that supported traditional marriage, he was publicly shamed and forced to resign from his position. Where is tolerance now?
After Eich’s ouster from Mozilla, a correspondent at Slate urged readers to go further and “punish” everyone – he was talking about thousands of people – who supported the ballot initiative. “Why do these bigots still have jobs?” he asked. “Let’s go get them.” Tolerance?
When the president of Chick-fil-A discussed his views on marriage – his personal views – the mayor of Chicago joined one of the city’s aldermen in renouncing the company and blocking their plan to open a store in a Chicago neighborhood. It should be noted that no one was discriminated against. There were no accusations of injustice or mistreatment. The man merely expressed his personal views on marriage. Again, what happened to tolerance?
Tolerance was good – in fact, it was a god – when the minority was demanding their way. Now that the minority view is in the ascendancy, tolerance has been forgotten. Tolerance may have been a god in the nineties, but it is a broken and discarded idol now.
What should people do in this hostile climate? It’s a novel idea, but how about this: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:37). If we were to act this way – whether we are conservative or liberal, gay or straight, Republicans or Democrats – our nation would rise above tolerance, the way love rises above civility and justice rises above mere legality.
(A helpful read on the subject is J. Paul Nyquist’s book, Prepare: Living Your Faith In An Increasingly Hostile Culture, Moody Press, (C) 2015, J. Paul Nyquist)
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 2/28/2015