Silenced by Tolerance

The Day of Silence is an annual event observed in more than 5,000 public schools. Promoted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, the event urges students to participate in a protest against discrimination. Many of those students will hand out cards that say:

Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence, a national youth movement protesting the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies. . .

An irony has arisen in recent years, however, as students wearing T-shirts with messages indicating disagreement with that effort have been suspended for doing so. One message is tolerated; the other is not.

Such ironies are common these days, as "tolerance" has become a primary goal of schools, government and media. Yet few of us understand what our society means when the word tolerance is used.

The new definition
Tolerance traditionally means simply to recognize and respect others' beliefs, practices and so on, without necessarily agreeing or sympathizing.

But today's definition is vastly different. Based on the assumption that all truth is relative (a view held by 66 percent of the American public, according to The Barna Group), this new tolerance means to consider every individual's beliefs, values, lifestyle and truth claims as equally valid. So not only does everyone have an equal right to his beliefs, but all beliefs are also equal, demanding praise and endorsement of that person's beliefs, values and lifestyle.

This new tolerance gets complicated.

  1. In a belief system where the sole virtue is tolerance, the cardinal sin is, of course, intolerance.
  2. Since tolerance is based on the assumption that all truth is relative, it becomes not only permissible but also imperative to be intolerant of those who do not agree that truth is relative.
  3. To the relativist, then, it is not inconsistent to be intolerant of Christ-followers who insist that absolute moral standards do exist, which is considered inherently "intolerant." That is why many institutions can endorse all sorts of views and behaviors while simultaneously condemning or silencing biblical Christianity.

Love's response
Such a monumental cultural shift presents a formidable challenge to even the most savvy Christian. But it is a challenge that can — and must — be met. God's Word offers the timeless guidance we need.

Writing to the church in Ephesus, a first-century city with many 21st-century characteristics, Paul urged the church to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). That biblical prescription has never been timelier.

In fact, speaking the truth in love is not only timely but also critical. We must recover — without embarrassment or apology — the basic belief in truth. This means embracing all people but not all beliefs. It means listening to and learning from all people but not necessarily agreeing with them. Even if it makes us objects of scorn or hatred, we must courageously speak the truth in a sympathetic, compassionate and humble spirit (1 Peter 3:8).

Christians are subject to a much higher standard than tolerance. We are called to follow the way of Christ, who accepted the despised Samaritans and Phoenicians (John 4; Mark 7:24-30) and treated even prostitutes and tax collectors with dignity (Luke 7:36-50; 19:1-10). The Christian imperative exceeds tolerance, which simply avoids offending someone; we are commanded to "do everything in love" (1 Corinthians 16:14).

Tolerance says, "You must approve of what I do." Love responds, "I must do something harder; I will love you even when your behavior offends me."

Tolerance says, "You must agree with me." Love responds, "I must do something harder; I will tell you the truth, because the truth will set you free."

Tolerance says, "You must allow me to have my way." Love responds, "I must do something harder; I will plead with you to follow the right way, because you are worth the risk."

Tolerance seeks to be inoffensive; love takes risks. Tolerance costs nothing; love costs everything.

It will not be easy to speak the truth in our homes, schools, churches and communities. But we must obey the Word of God rather than yield to the pressure of our culture.

Taken from Focus on the Family magazine, March, 2008.
Article copyright © 2008, Bob Hostetler.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Used by permission

Bob Hostetler is a pastor and an award-winning writer. Josh McDowell is a speaker, author and traveling representative for
Campus Crusade for Christ.