Recently, as part of a class in Christian Education basics, I had to do some reading on diversity. Over the several weeks that I was working on this class unit, I had considerable generalized discomfort that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Then, at the end of the class I had to prepare a workshop for the group based on a unit in the course. I chose the diversity unit. I had finally put my finger on the source of my discomfort.
As I read the materials on diversity I realized that the language we use to promote diversity sets up a mindset that works against the very thing we seek. The word “tolerance” implies that someone or something is somehow otherwise unwelcome and must be begrudgingly accepted, tolerated, in spite of some distasteful aspect. The Latin root word, “tolerans” means to suffer, bear, endure. A similar meaning is “able to withstand or endure an adverse condition”.
Similarly, “justice”, by its very nature, implies that inequality is inherent in the dynamic of diversity. Even the word “compassion”, which has a strong overtone of pity, suggests that one is the giver, the other the recipient. None of these words positions parties as equal in the eyes of God, worthy of mutual respect and care. I came to realize why it is that the political correctness of tolerance so rampant in our world today is having so little impact on achieving its goal in the hearts and minds of people.
Tonight, for another project, I was reading about Master Teachers and came across this example: “Case in point: Fulmer incorporated a schoolwide diversity theme into a solo and ensemble contest. Making music together requires tolerance for other people, Fulmer says. And tolerance starts with each child understanding what makes her or him unique.” Why should tolerance be the basis for recognizing and celebrating one’s own uniqueness? Why would making music together require tolerance (as opposed to maybe understanding of the others’ instruments and notes, or cooperation, or a shared sense of proper timing, or a shared commitment to follow the cues of the director?) Tolerance has become the byword for everything involving human relations. It is the human relations department’s mantra in every organization, in every interaction, it seems.
At times in the past when I have had to deal with a particularly difficult person, if it became too burdensome, I simply sought a way around them altogether. My goal was to make them irrelevant, non-entities, to simply dismiss them as having any relevance or significance in the matter at hand. After several instances of this kind of behavior, the Lord convicted me about this maneuvering. He led me to understand that NO ONE is irrelevant, that people can’t simply be dismissed because they don’t conform to my expectations or meet my requirements for interaction. EVERYONE is important to the Lord. Romans 2:11 and James 3:17 both make it abundantly clear that God has no favorites.
With the understanding that came from that conviction as a starting point, as I read the materials on diversity, the word ‘tolerance’ grated on my nerves with every sentence. My Lord has not called me to tolerate anyone. He has not called me to endure them. He has not called me to put up with them, for His name’s sake. He has called me to love them (agape), to embrace them. To put it another way, He’s called me to be hospitable to them. He’s called me to sacrifice my own preferences on behalf of others.
1 Peter 4:10 says, “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” Hebrews 12:15 says, ” See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled.”
I believe our culture today, in stressing “tolerating” one another, has the glass-half-empty syndrome. We are further inculcating a negative view, a suspiciousness of one another, a lack of acceptance and appreciation. If, instead, we would begin to relate to one another through the view and language of the ministry of hospitality, through a desire to bring the impartial, agape, grace-filled love of the Lord to others, there would be real celebration of one another, whatever our backgrounds and differences.
From this point on, be warned that if you use the word “tolerance” with me you’ll get an earful.