Tolerance Fatigue

I’m tired of tolerance.

That’s right. You read that correctly. I’ll even say it again.

I’m tired of tolerance.

For quite some time, “tolerance” has been a hip, cool buzz word here in America. Everyone – especially high schoolers – wants to be “tolerant” of one another.

To this end, various organizations, including businesses and universities, now teach tolerance, believing that doing so will promote diversity and end problems like bullying. Such thinking is also pervasive in high schools, junior highs, and even elementary schools around our country.

One student at our church recently told me that to teach tolerance, their school sponsored a “Mix It Up at Lunch Day” program, an idea created by the Southern Poverty Law Center. On this day, students at their school were asked to “mix it up” at lunch by taking a new seat in the cafeteria in hopes of encouraging students to cross the lines of division in their schools, meet new people, and help build an inclusive and welcoming community.

Because of the pervasiveness of this thinking in schools, the value of tolerance has also crept into our churches.

I saw this a couple weeks ago during a discussion with my high school students on whether or not all religions can be right. As we were discussing this, I could see students growing more and more anxious until one student finally admitted that her anxiousness was due to the fact that just by taking part in this conversation, she felt she was being intolerant of others. Several other students then shared how, as a Christian, others automatically assume they’re intolerant. It quickly became clear that to them, there are few labels worse than “intolerant”.

After listening to my students talk for the next few minutes it occurred to me that I have a severe case of tolerance fatigue.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t suffer from tolerance fatigue because I believe tolerance is all together bad. I actually think that helping students cross lines of division, meet new people, and be inclusive and welcoming is a good thing.

Instead, I suffer from tolerance fatigue because as a Christian, I refuse to believe that “tolerance” is all I’m called to do.

I mean, do a word search of the Bible. You know how many times the word “tolerance” appears?

None.

Not once does God say “Tolerate your neighbor.”

But Jesus does say “Love your neighbor.” In fact, he even says “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

In addition to those two references, the word “love” appears in Scripture another 684 times. According to Jesus, love is actually the “mark” of a Christian. As Jesus says to his disciples in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

As a Christian, we are called to love others.

Why?

Because in so many ways, love does what tolerance cannot.

While tolerance might get someone to “mix it up” at lunch and sit with different people for a mere 30 or 40 minutes one day, tolerance does not teach students to actually respect those who are different than them. In reality, it doesn’t even teach students to like those who are different than them. In fact, it’s entirely possible to tolerate someone you despise.

Tolerance also doesn’t teach students to embrace differences and learn from them. It doesn’t teach students to find the inherent dignity and worth of a person that comes from being created in God’s image, regardless of their ethnicity or socioeconomic status. Tolerance doesn’t teach forgiveness or true acceptance.

But love does.

And love does so much more than that.

As the famed passage from 1 Corinthians 13 says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Love never fails, even when tolerance does.

Love sacrifices, even to the point of death.

“For God so LOVED the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”

God loves us. He doesn’t just tolerate us.

And so we who follow Him are called to do likewise: To love others, not just tolerate them.

For that reason, though we may grow tired of tolerance, may we never grow weary of love.

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the director of youth ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and the forthcoming A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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