04 June 2006

Tolerating or Advocating?

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

A post from Evil Bender got me thinking about "tolerance" and its meanings.

This morning in church, Pastor C. was talking about "walking in the counsel of the wicked," which he described as "tolerating" ungodly behavior. I have quite the problem with this definition, as you might well imagine. I got curious about semantic shifts in "tolerate," so I consulted the good ol' OED.

Several interesting senses were there, including a fairly early one: "To endure with impunity or comparative impunity the action of (a poison or strong drug)." Thus, early "tolerance" meant to withstand or suffer a harmful influence without taking action to prevent it.

A more recent sense is "To allow to exist or to be done or practised without authoritative interference or molestation; also gen. to allow, permit." This is closer to my traditional sense of "tolerate"; it is the word I would use to describe a willingness to let people live the way they will (as long as others are not harmed).

Here's another fairly recent sense of the word: "To bear without repugnance; to allow intellectually, or in taste, sentiment, or principle; to put up with." (Emphasis mine)

Somehow, "tolerate" has been shifting semantically past even this last definition. I think some, including Pastor C. (whom I respect in a number of areas that don't have to do with politics), have come to define "tolerate" as "advocate." Thus, they read it as a positive, active acceptance rather than a negative, passive putting up with.

For many Americans, especially on the right side of the political spectrum (which so often is conflated with the religious spectrum), "tolerance" has become something to avoid because they define it in the way I just described. For them, to "tolerate" other people's choices is to actively embrace those choices as the best possible ones for those people.

Doctrinally, I would describe myself as a fairly conservative Christian. Nonetheless, I would argue it is the Christian's responsibility to allow other people to make their own moral choices. Jesus was all about choices, and other people's decisions are between them and God, not between them and me. My duty is to love and serve all as Christ would in my stead.

It makes me ill to see people like President Bush endorsing a discriminatory Constitutional amendment to prevent a specific group of people from gaining rights that, all other things being equal, they should be able to have: a civil union recognized by the government. I think Jesus would probably tell Bush and his camp to start paying less attention to the moral decisions of others and more attention to loving them.

1 comment:

ian schmidt said...

hmm... yes.
I agree with you as to the position christians should take on moral issues. Love, not legislation is the idea that Christ left.