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Over the past two decades, the idea of tolerance has emerged as a huge topic of discussion. There is a tremendous push, socially and culturally, to ensure that people display tolerance toward those who are different than they, in action, in belief, in thought and in practice. The apparent intent is to create an environment in which all people feel accepted, valued and respected regardless of religion, race, socioeconomic status, sexuality, political affiliation, etc.

An established definition of tolerance, according to Webster, is a sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own. An understanding of the concept of indulgence suggests that, as a culture, we should be willing to allow other ideas and viewpoints to be in our midst even if we completely disagree with them.

Unfortunately, the concept of tolerance is being used as a way to exclude any ideas that don’t fit with mainstream norms as identified by sanctioned media outlets. Instead of practicing tolerance as a willingness to accept the existence of differing viewpoints, it is being used as a means by which to denigrate anyone who doesn’t agree with your perspective.

In American culture, this interpretation of tolerance is undermining the principles upon which our nation was founded. For example, if you disagree with an atheist’s viewpoint, you’re intolerant; if you disagree with Sharia Law, you’re intolerant; if you disagree with those who are to the left of the political spectrum, you’re intolerant; if you don’t embrace illegal immigrants (now referred to as undocumented), you’re intolerant; if you don’t believe in gay marriage, you’re intolerant… Thus, the concept of tolerance means that we must agree with those who have beliefs different from our own.

Tolerance appears to extend to every group in America, with a couple of exceptions… Christians and conservatives. In this nation, we are encouraged to disavow Christianity. Perhaps one of the most powerful responses to this intolerance came from Jody McLoud, principal of Roane County High School in Kingston, Tennessee. In the year 2000, he was told it was no longer legal to pray on the field at the beginning of football games. He explained the policy change to students via a statement he read over the PA system.

As I understand the law at this time, I can use this public facility to approve of sexual perversion and call it an alternate lifestyle, and if someone is offended, that’s OK. I can use it to condone sexual promiscuity by dispensing condoms and calling it safe sex. If someone is offended, that’s OK. I can even use this public facility to present the merits of killing an unborn baby as a viable means of birth control. If someone is offended, no problem. I can designate a school day as earth day and involve students in activities to religiously worship and praise the goddess, mother earth, and call it ecology. I can use literature, videos and presentations in the classroom that depict people with strong, traditional, Christian convictions as simple minded and ignorant and call it enlightenment. However, if anyone uses this facility to honor God and ask Him to bless this event with safety and good sportsmanship, Federal Case Law is violated. This appears to be at best, inconsistent and at worst, diabolical. Apparently, we are to be tolerant of everything and anyone except God and His Commandments.

The intolerance of Christianity, since then, has only escalated. For instance, Robert and Sim Gregory have been InterVarsity Christian Fellowship volunteers at Bowdoin College for almost ten years… without incident. Administration officials at the college told the Gregorys that, if they wished to continue in their current capacity, they had to sign the following non-discrimination agreement:

If someone’s participating in an organization and they are LGBTIQA [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Questioning, Asexual] and they are not allowed to participate in that organization because of their sexual orientation or they cannot lead that organization because of their sexual orientation, then that’s discrimination (www.themainewire.com).

The Gregorys asked that the agreement be amended with this statement included:

Reservation of Rights to Religious Beliefs and Practices: The signature on this agreement shall not be construed to limit in any way the right of the undersigned Volunteer to hold, teach and practice his/her sincerely held Christian religious beliefs and to follow, hold, and teach the religious beliefs and practices of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in the conduct of its campus ministry at Bowdoin College.

Bowdoin College administration officials rejected the amendment, stating … I’m sorry that you have decided not to agree to the College’s volunteer policy. Both the Muslim and Catholic volunteers have in fact agreed without reservation….  It is simply unacceptable to have College-recognized student organizations effectively discriminate against individuals in violation of Maine law, which protects students’ right to fully participate as members of an organization and to lead that organization regardless of one’s sexual orientation.

I find Bowdoin’s policy to be somewhat ridiculous – it’s one thing to say all people are welcome; it’s another to suggest they ought to be able to lead the organization. I don’t know of any organization that would put into leadership a person who is not 100% aligned with their mission. It would, at the least, undermine their credibility and effectiveness as an organization.

According to executive director for the Christian Civic League of Maine, Carroll Conley, this incident demonstrates yet another instance of intolerance toward people of faith.

Conservatives don’t get a pass either, particularly those who stand on the side of traditional marriage. For instance, in 2008, Brendan Eich, inventor of JavaScript and co-founder of Firefox browser, donated money to the Proposition 8 campaign in California. The proposition states: Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

The contribution Eich made six years ago has now come back to haunt him; it has cost him his job as CEO of Mozilla. Half of Mozilla’s board resigned in protest of Eich’s contribution; wireless company, Credo Mobile, sent out an online petition demanding Eich either renounce his beliefs or resign; OKCupid, an online dating service, asked followers to boycott Firefox in protest of Eich’s stance on marriage, issuing this statement: Those who seek to deny love and instead embrace misery, shame and frustration are our enemies and we wish them nothing but failure.

Even though Eich has been at Mozilla for 15 years, and has never received a complaint regarding any type of bigotry, his position on a single issue, made public from six years ago, has, in effect, cost him his career.

And, due to a court ruling, the names of the 35,000+ people who donated to this same campaign are now available to the public – so even more intolerance can be meted out.

So, then, to practice tolerance based on its actual definition is to accept the existence of any and all views different from our own, allow them to be present without feeling threatened, and learn how to disagree without being disagreeable. Otherwise, we’re just acting discriminately based on our own personal opinions and hidden agendas.

But to be tolerant in the United States means you better agree with my stance or I will harass you, humiliate you, and hate you in a public way that may result in negative consequences for you. After all, those who disapprove of your faith-based or conservative perspective “wish you nothing but failure” and will do whatever they can to ensure it.

If we wish to enact true tolerance, we need only look to the example of Christ who was surrounded by people of opinions different than His own and who acted in ways He could not condone. His response was to treat them with respect and win them over to the side of truth through genuine love, compassion, and commitment to their well being.