Tolerance, a four-letter word

by Rev. Paula Roper (printed with permission)

I oppose religious tolerance.

Sound like a strong statement for a minister?  Look up tolerance in your dictionary.  Merriam-Webster lists four definitions including:  “the capacity to endure pain or hardship, sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing or conflicting with one’s own, the allowable deviation from a standard, and the capacity of the body to endure or become less responsive to a substance.” Is this what we are working for when we talk about developing religious tolerance in our communities?

I live in a community that is really struggling with what it means to be in community with people of different faiths. Actually, it is an issue that our entire country struggles with, and I suppose we have struggled with this for many centuries on this planet.

The problem with promoting tolerance is that tolerance has limits. When you have indulged someone else for some period of time without understanding, it tries your patience. I grew up in the south, during the Civil Rights movement. As a community we tolerated having people with darker skin color working in our homes as domestics, but not attending the same schools as our children. When both groups reached their limits of tolerance, anger and violence erupted.

The same thing is happening in our community right now – around issues of different religious beliefs.

So, how can we as a community grow together? I believe the answer is to change our direction from seeking tolerance, to seeking understanding and acceptance. Understanding another person’s faith is not difficult, it just requires some education. And once educated, it becomes much easier for us to accept religious differences. Acceptance is a state of grace that we can offer to each other, which does not imply that we agree with another’s beliefs. Acceptance does, however, imply that we will be respectful, treating another person as we would like to be treated.

Actually, the Golden Rule is a great place for us to begin. It is a precept of every religious culture that I have studied.  t is something we all have in common, whether we are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindu, or any other group that is represented in our community. Let’s agree to begin by looking for our common ground as we move toward understanding, and acceptance.

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