On Tolerance

On Tolerance October 30, 2007

Here’s a great quotation about tolerance from Michael Gerson:

For many, tolerance does not result from the absence of moral convictions but from a positive religious teaching about human dignity.

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  • Manxman

    Or can “tolerance” actually give rise to evil when it fails to understand and give proper weight to such things as holiness or the horrible consequences of sin? Tolerating what ought not to be tolerated does not add to human dignity – it detracts from it.

  • fwsonnek

    Dear Brother Manxman,

    My first response was to post to Dr Vieth the message “God bless you” for this post. Then I saw your post dear brother.

    I appreciate your inciteful response here.

    You are right. Sin has horrible consequences.

    I at first thought that I agreed with your second statement that “tolerance” gives rise to evil. I thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life. On the one hand, those who did nothing when they saw first the jews, then the jehovahs witnesses, then the gypsies, then the homosexuals, then the catholics get hauled off to slaughter. My thought here was not to the in-tolerance of the nazis, it was to what I would have been responsible to do were I in that time and place. At what point would I have been complicit? This seems to be really the moral question that you pose.

    I then looked up the word Tolerance and changed my mind quickly about your assertion as to tolerance. I believe that I now disagree with you.

    Tolerance is a very passive word it seems. It involves calculation. It has three core meanings as far as I can tell and the relationshisp between those meanings I think is fascinating: (1) Measure how much imprecision can there be before something won’t work (2) Measure of the ability to withstand something (eg pain, medication, excercise).

    The third and social meaning is (3) “The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others.”

    This third meaning is actually listed as the first meaning in the online dictionary that i used.

    I don’t think it is a good definition of the social meaning of tolerance.

    Tolerance seems to signify a calculation as to how much of an UNdesireable thing can safely be accepted or ignored before it overcomes the ability of what we value to coexist with it without being destroyed. (think mechanical tolerances of a machine, or weight tolerances in an elevator or on a bridge, or drug tolerances for medication, or tolerance of pain or endurance in athletic endeavors better yet because there endurance of pain or discomfort can be seen as an actual virtue).

    At it’s core it implies DISagreement. It implied a putting up with something that we find DISagreeable.

    It contrasts with the word “condone” in that no where do we become complicit in acceptance of that thing we don’t like or agree with.

    It also seems to be clear that it means knowingly letting something be BECAUSE we have carefully calculated that that something will not result in lethal harm or malfunction, although we may feel discomfort or inconvenience from that something.

    In short I think it requires “recognition” as the definition has it, but it does not even require “respect” for that something, unless respect merely means to mind one’s own business, or maybe “respect” as in how we would handle poisons or guns or buzzsaws or something that could kill usbut would not require that part of respect that means “to admire or value.”

    So I am here my dear Manxman. And I happen to be a gay man. I feel tolerated here. Even respected and loved as one forgiven in Christ.

    You have found out about the gay-ness of the character in that book in the EXACT same way you would find out about most gay men and women that you work with or are in your family. By mere identification and not by any particular action or behavior or quality that you would notice as being different.

    There are most certainly many gay men and women that you deal with daily or in your family that you will never know are gay.

    Why would anyone reveal something that could bring them the pain of rejection or perhaps the real possibility of death or physical harm?

    It seems just as I have been unaware that some of my visitors may have been angels to whom I have shown hospitality and kindness, and perhaps tolerance of their “otherness.”

    Probably most here who have shown me tolerance, respect and love here do not feel that they agree with everthing that the word “homosexual” means…. to them. Most, probably including yourself, could not even come up with a definition of that word that I would agree accurately describes my existence as one of those to who that word is applied.

    Probably most have calculated and decided my existence does not seem to threaten harm to anything that they hold dear in their disagreement or discomfort.

    Some may even perceive some benefit (think of that meaning of tolerance as in endurance in a race, pressing towards the finish line as Saint Paul would have it). Maybe they see my presence as useful in their personal race in exactly that context.

    I will be interested in your response my cyber friend and brother!



  • fwsonnek

    ‘Tolerating what ought not to be tolerated does not add to human dignity – it detracts from it. ‘

    I re-read my post to see if it detracts from the truth of what you say. And I mean by saying that, that there IS truth to what you say. Alot of truth.

    The problem is two-fold:

    To identify at what point discomfort and dislike actually indicate something that is a true threat, and then…

    equally importantly, what would God hold us responsible to do in the face of that.

    So what would God have us to do?

    Jesus resisted evil. But not as St Peter did in the garden.

    He OVERCAME and DESTROYED, sin death and the power of the devil by being utterly passive. That meant His suffering and death.

    Jesus calls us to take up THAT cross and follow Him.

    That is the ordinary and usual response of a christian to evil.

    It was ultimately the only path for Dietrich Bonhoeffer and christians of Hitler’s time. It may be our path.

    We are called to proclaim that death until He returns in the passive recieving of His Body and Blood.

    His death destroyed the power of evils both spiritual AND earthly!

    We can see both only by faith. But it IS an article of our faith.

    We, as christians, battle with all things believing that they have already be conquered in Christ.

    Consider this the next time you receive that mass mailing urging you to do something to prevent the end of society as we know it and holding you personally responsible should you fail to act as they suggest.

    This appears to be unique to Lutheran theology.

    God has called others to bear the sword and protect us from those things that would mean our harm. Some, like the Nazis and st paul’s emperor Nero fall very short.

    Hitler fought evil where there was none that was a uniquely serious threat to society… in the jews, gypsies, mentally retarded, homos, catholics, lutherans, and JWs of his time. He upheld the virtues of Motherhood and patriotism. I am drawing NO parallels to our time. This is mere observation.

    We often confuse things, thinking WE are called to exercise power or have an opinion that needs hearing merely because we vote and so think we are over those who we elect following the false theory of our government’s founding when they are actually placed by God, through our vote, OVER us.

    This makes us feel responsible for what they do. We are not. It is between them and their God as to whether they faithfully follow their oath of office. Our duty is to pray weekly for them in church to do so and sincerely wish them well and not slander them but defend them, speak well of them, and support them as we can. Even in blogs, christians are NOT allowed to speak ill of politicians we do not like. This is sin. S-I-N. One I may commit my own self. I am without excuse. While duty bound to question policy and practice, we dare not take that to character or person.

    Worse, we think that we must obtain a victory over evil that HAS been won ALREADY, by means of political power and trust in men and governments.

    In government, things must be opposed because they represent a physical or material or worldly harm. This is also the rule between us and our neighbor as a part of society.

    Only in church and among us and our fellow believers can we, and MUST we fight also those things that kill the soul.

    This brings me to my real point.

    I would assume Manxman, that all this stuff preceeding that I have written, is why you advocate TOLERANCE for other religions in our midst. It is precisely why you do not advocate laws against the heinous evils of Mormonism, even though those sins kill not only bodies, but souls as well, and so must be resisted and opposed with all our might. I could argue that should those Mormon ideas ever become dominant they would also wreak great societal damage, at least in my opinion. Interracial marriage would be outlawed as contrary to nature and God for example.

    As you say, tolerance of Mormonism, in a sense does not give weight to the things of holiness or the terrible consequence of sin, especially what you would most certainly agree to be the most serious and root of all other sins, that of idolatry and worship of false Gods, and recruitment to that sin.

    But not with the sword. Not with government.

    Perhaps in the future with the passive spilling of the blood of the Body of Christ.

    I am open to argument should you disagree with my opinion.



  • Bruce

    “He who is without sin” Frank. I think here you are tolerated because we have this between us: our confession of sin and our confession of faith. It is commendable that you tolerate me.

    “Straightening up, Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?’
    She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”

  • fwsonnek

    It has just occurred to me that what we do socially with pagan religions, might just be a useful metaphor and way to work through other social issues such as abortion, homosexuality, pornography, marriage, etc.


    (1) live a sinful lifestyle
    (2) recruit innocent children to that lifestyle
    (3) KILL innocent children (spiritually).
    (4) practice immorality
    (5) Have an evil agenda and promote it actively and publicly
    (6) do NOT acknowledge that their agenda and they are sinning and wrong.

    are we condoning those things by not seeking actively to legislate and prevent all of these things from happening?

    If not why not?

    At what point should the sword of government be pointed against these things?


  • fwsonnek

    awww. thanks Bruce. I am sad that I have not done all the things you appear to have done so far in your life in service to others.

    Men like you help me not to despair at the mess that is my life.

    sincerely so.

  • Manxman


    I wish you had the opportunity to try and raise children in this society. Perhaps then you’d understand why people like me are so concerned about the deteriorating social environment that surrounds us. We have actually seen our own children deceived and harmed by our culture’s evil, distorted ideas and values, and we feel that one of our Christian duties, if we really love people, is to work to try to restrain evil in our communities. Civil government has indeed been given us by God as a tool in this struggle, and our particular form of government permits the Christian an active role in determining public policy. If a misguided idea of tolerance causes us to surrender the arena of public policy to those who advocate sin and moral chaos, then tolerance becomes a means of letting Satan have a free hand in doing his dirty work.

    I have noticed that many times when people start beating the drum of human dignity, they often have some kind of agenda. I think that was the case with Rowling & Gerson.

    This new web site does not allow me to obtain your e-mail address from your posts like the old site did. I think I still have your e-mail address from an earlier offline exchange. I really wanted to pursue some things with you, but got busy & lost focus. I’ll try again.

  • Bror Erickson

    Christian tolerance does not stem from the law, but from the Gospel. The law is useful for some things. But Christians know it is powerless to save. We aren’t going to save the Homosexual community by outlawing the activity. We aren’t going to save the pagans by making Christianity the state religion, and forcing it on them. But we might save some by being tolerant of them, respecting them, and showing that they are loved, because we are loved. that we find them to be important because Christ died for them. That doesn’t mean we condone what they do. We can object to practices and keep the lines of communication open.
    I tend to think laws are as powerless to save society as they are to save people.
    But I am sick of Christians whining about society, and how difficult it is to raise children in this society, etc. The early church had a much more difficult job than we do. Read the “Confessions of St. Augustine”, and see what kind of an environment the early Church had to deal with. The plus side to that is you find the Christian response to it. Prayer, teaching, interaction. But heaven forbid you have to interact with your children and teach them right from wrong. I forgot that was society’s job, shame on them for not doing it. Shame on them for not sheltering your precious ones from the evils of this world.

  • organshoes

    Bror is on fire!
    He writes:
    ‘I tend to think laws are as powerless to save society as they are to save people.’
    I tend to agree.
    And making ‘tolerance’ into a law doesn’t make it tolerant, or even effective. How effective can something absolutely meaningless be?

  • Joe

    The law does not save but it does in fact play a role. It is the mirror, the curb and the gutter. If we are never confronted and convicted of the law we will never believe that we need God’s Grace and we will continue to ignore the Gospel. After all a person who is not in trouble does not need to be saved.

    The law may not “save” society but our laws greatly define who we are. Without laws setting permissible limits of behavior we stop being a society and become nothing more than a group of people who happen to live in relative proximity to one another.

    As for raising kids, I don’t expect society to raise mine but it would be nice if society was not actively attempting to undermine my efforts.

  • Van

    It seems to me, as a mother raising two (6 and 9) children, that the way to “fight” the culture and not give in to the world is to train my own children to cling tightly to their faith. To Jesus. Culture is for the most part always going to be contrary to what we believe. That is never going to change. It was that way for the early Christians and for the Israelites too…God’s people living in a pagan world. In this world we WILL have tribulation…
    I’m not saying give up speaking out against what’s wrong but it’s a losing battle! Only Christ can bring reformation and change. Only Christ can rescue this fallen world. It’s a result of our sin that we must live in this state, waiting to be rescued.
    If we would spend our time training our own children and teaching them to cling to Christ above our culture it would make a difference. Godly men and women who love Christ and live out the Gospel is what will bring change in people’s lives, not the culture. Not men and women thinking they’re living lives above the culture (this is legalism and law and impossible) but men and women who live out the Gospel! Jesus is our salvation!! Jesus is the answer to our hurt. And anyway, did God even call us to change culture??? Or did he call us to receive his good gifts and live our lives in him, abiding and feeding on him!

  • organshoes

    Joe: I think Bror’s contention is that civil law is so disregarded, so little respected, so easily circumvented, so carelessly rewritten/watered-down/tweaked, it’s on its way to becoming meaningless, because it doesn’t have near its intended effect on us. Which , oddly enough, is the reason for all that watering down/circumventing, etc.: to lessen its effect on individuals, on society by extension.
    So, yes, laws define who we are. But, what law and our treatment of laws say about us is that we’re not too interested in it when it interferes with our druthers.
    If one man can pay or influence or finagle his way past the law, most men will want to have it that way. And, sooner or later, most men will see to it that it is so.
    We like to use the law as not just a limit, but as a way of giving ourselves permission as well.

  • Bror Erickson


  • Manxman

    Bror Erickson

    I wish you and whatever family you have could be forced to live in the ghetto of Cleveland OH for an extended period so you could experience first hand what happens when proper laws aren’t enacted and enforced. You’d change your tune in a hurry about what proper government can or can’t do in determining the quality of your life. The purpose of civil government isn’t to save pagans – it’s to keep them from abusing and destroying other people. Civil law is intended to be an instrument of God’s mercy by restraining evildoers.

    As for raising kids in this world today, we home schooled our kids. If you think you can just a few Christian buttons and your kids are going to automatically come out OK, I’ve got news for you – it’s not like that.

  • Bror Erickson

    I have a Five year old, unfortunately he doesn’t live with me. I have to take what time I have with him to make up for a lot of time I don’t have with him, while he is bombarded by the materialistic (plastic) culture of Orange County California. But then the culture I live in is not much better. I do though find it amazing what prayer, and time spent interacting and teaching can do to help raise a child. Sheltering them doesn’t do any good.
    However, I grew up all over the place. And though the songs I grew up listening to are now on the classic rock station. I’m not that old. I’ve seen a lot. I know laws are there for a reason. I don’t call upon the government to tolerate the breaking of laws (at least not just laws). But I don’t think that was what Gerson was getting at. And I don’t think that the proliferation of laws is going to help the situation we are in as a society. Nor do I think any society has ever been all that helpful in the raising of Christian children.
    As for schools, I am in faovr of Private/Parochial schooling, but not to shelter kids from society. I myself was homeschooled for a while. I also went to a British style school in Botswana for a time. I went to Public Schools, and Parochial schools. I suppose I learned through all of it that there isn’t any avoiding sinful temptation.

  • Van

    Manxman, I think we’re missing the point. I agree with you, until you’re faced head on with some of the horrible issues that result from the lack of law enforcement you can’t really know the pain of living with it’s downfall. I’ve lived, first hand, with the pain of being affected by lawlessness.

    BUT what I think some are trying to point out is that INDIVIDUALS to whom we are tolerant won’t make or break our culture.

    Yes, we have to endorce law-abiding politicians and try to keep the others out of service by being informed and by voting. This is what democracy offers. But we as individuals can only do so much on the grand scale. It’s only when we pray and God hears and responds to move in us (good works created beforehand!) that our culture as a whole is impacted.
    The Reformation that was “started” by Luther didn’t neccesarily impact the culture as much as it impacted individuals to cling to Christ, truth, and not man and culture.
    As a result, the culture is impacted because we cling to Christ! Even though it’s on a much smaller scale than we would like…this is how God chose to impact the world! Individual by individual!

    The more tolerant we are with individuals (those to whom you would like us to not be tolerant) the more they see Christ in us! The more we make known to them that we realize we are right there in the thick of sin just like them them, battling to die to ourselves and kill our flesh then they will begin to see that their only hope is to cling to Christ also! When these hurting, sick and sinful people see us in the battle with them they begin to trust us and see Christ in us and then they are CHANGED! And as a result our culture changes.

    BUT we will NEVER win back culture. We’re a sick, fallen world whose only hope is the blood of Christ!

  • Van

    Tell me where in scripture we are commanded as a group (Christ’s Church) to win back our culture.

    And then look and see how often you see us, the Church, being called to go to the individual and proclaim Christ.

  • Van

    Oops, I meant to say proclaim Christ in LOVE (tolerance, probably.)

  • fwsonnek


    interesting point. I had never really thought through about the individual, society and our christian faith exactly that way until i read your post. thanks!

    it seems that whenever society lets the good or needs of society trump the value of individuals, even those individuals that we find to be immorral or wrong, society then starts to become dehumanizing.

    It seems true of communism and also of those liberals and conservatives who discount the value and human worth and dignity of the unborn and also of those born who don’t fit the right model of behavior or status.

  • Michael the little boot

    fwsonnek wrote:


    (1) live a sinful lifestyle
    (2) recruit innocent children to that lifestyle
    (3) KILL innocent children (spiritually).
    (4) practice immorality
    (5) Have an evil agenda and promote it actively and publicly
    (6) do NOT acknowledge that their agenda and they are sinning and wrong.

    I say: WOW. How do you…? I mean–WOW. I think you all need to do some long and difficult thinking about why you let THIS statement go without calling FW a bigot. Show me where what Mormons do is any more or less immoral than the worst of any other religion.