Tolerance Isn’t the Answer


Tolerance. We toss the word around like a bouncy ball in a playground and offer it up as our penance for prejudice, hatred, and violence. Tolerance. We read about it in stylish op-eds and festoon our tweets with its hashtag. Tolerance. We grasp our newfound antidote to narrow-mindedness and accept anything and everything as true.

Tolerance – it’s the perfect fix.

When it comes to reconciling the differences among us, American pastor and theologian Tim Keller accurately sums up what Western thought has so thoroughly embraced: either none of us are right or we all are. So we put up with one another. We view each other through the lens of broad-mindedness and our opposing opinions never come to a head. Sounds peaceful, doesn’t it?

The thing about tolerance, however, is that it’s stagnant. It’s stagnant because you are distant, because you are removed from relationship. There is no understanding without relationship, so there is no growth. And when there is no growth, you die.

To build diverse communities that thrive, that truly reflect the fullness of the Gospel, we must allow our differences to challenge one another.

This seems intimidating, perhaps even wrong. I mean, doesn’t Romans 14:13 say, “Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall?” Although this is biblical truth, the thing is that sometimes our theological differences are actually cultural differences. But the only way to tell is by being in proximity with each another. Through relationship, we create the necessary spaces for understanding to take place, take root and change us. (For more on this topic, see In Close Proximity)

I offer up a personal example. The African American church grasps tightly to the idea of future hope; I grew up hearing this stuff from my grandfather, the esteemed pastor of a historically black church during the time I myself was growing more interested in reformed theology. As a result, I became hardened. I never felt his sermons pointed to the Gospel or exhumed the holy discipline of repentance.

Eventually, through conversations with my grandfather, I was challenged to view this theological distinction as a cultural one. You see, hope is incredibly central to African American churches because for so long, that’s the part of the Bible to which we held. Throughout our tumultuous societal circumstances, throughout the horrors of slavery, segregation, reformation and the Civil Rights movement, black people looked to Jesus as their future hope. He alone could carry them through their suffering. He alone the steady anchor in the midst of momentary pain.

Culture meets church; church reflects culture. And what a wonderful thing that can be.

Now, this is not to say we should accept every single cultural distinction as correct. There are times when people’s beliefs do need to be challenged, when they do need to be rebuked. When we enter into a church community, oftentimes we bring with us specific cultural mindsets that can contradict scripture. To be honest, I have seen way too many people dilute the biblical standards of holiness to accommodate their lifestyles. The justifications for complacency are as varied as they are many, I’m sad to say.

But when these cases arise, and they will, relationship is the currency exchange that allows us to challenge one another. Relationship, not tolerance, is what infuses understanding. It’s what fosters growth. It’s not a perfect fix, but it’s a pretty good place to start.

About Adrian Crawford and Nina Rodriguez-Marty

Adrian Crawford spends his time working as a spiritual and social entrepreneur. The majority of his endeavors are based out of Tallahassee, Florida where he resides with his wife Wendy and their three children. Adrian moved to Tallahassee from Akron, Ohio when he received a scholarship to play basketball at The Florida State University, and aside from a career playing professional basketball in Spain, he has lived Florida's capitol city ever since.

At the onset of his lifestyle of entrepreneurship, Adrian served for seven years as an Associate Pastor for Every Nation Tallahassee and as the Executive Director of 925 Athletic Ministries. This is when he launched his first business, a basketball skills training academy known as GameSpeed Skills. Shortly after, a sister company was born as a non-profit called GameSpeed Nation. Working with others in the church and in his companies, Adrian became skilled and adept at launching those around him in their respective fields. This catalyst effect in the lives of people he was in relationship with continued to grow throughout this time, and Adrian's desire to add value to every place he inhabited became a recognizable reality.

Adrian felt called, and with the support of the leaders at Every Nation, he began a church plant in 2012. In 2013, from a group of 18 committed people Engage Church was born. Engage is a living example of revolutionary living and racial reconciliation. Through Engage's mission of Engaging God, people and culture, Adrian has expanded his heart for reaching people in the circles he influences to equipping others to add value to their respective cultures and spaces.

Those closest to him will say that he is constantly thinking of "what's next" in any free moment. Adrian's bio will inevitably expand and change as time goes, but his heart to add value to others will not; it is the very core of everything he does and it is the lifeblood that makes him a successful spiritual and social entrepreneur.