Dr. Doug Posey
We’ve all seen words change over the years in their English usage. The meaning of a word can be completely altered by using it in a different way than originally intended. For example, in tennis a “let” happens when the net hinders the ball. It’s based upon a previous meaning of “let” which used to be “to hinder.” Now it is used in just the opposite way, except in tennis. To “let” means, “to allow.”
Of course, slang usage of words can quickly change familiar meanings into new familiar meanings. “Bad” can mean “good” and “radical” can mean “good” and “gnarly” can mean “good” and “cool” can mean “good” and “hot” can mean “good.” Whatever happened to just plain “good?”
One word that falls into the category of being misused enough that the meaning is completely changing is the word tolerance. It has practically the opposite definition of what it used to mean. Whereas once it was assumed that people who tolerate each other might disagree passionately, but still allow the other to exist, now it seems that if you voice a disagreement with another’s point of view, you are deemed intolerant.
It has always distracted me a bit whenever I drive up behind a car with that “coexist” bumper sticker, the one with the letters consisting of various mostly religious symbols. Just what is the point of that bumper sticker? Don’t we already coexist? Not in the mind of its creator, I’m sure. The clear intent of that message is that we shouldn’t criticize, disagree with, or call another religion wrong and ours right. We should see everyone’s religious beliefs as equally valid. In other words, until you see all religions as equivalent, you’re not coexisting. In fact, you’re not tolerant.
But the fact is, at least in our country, we do coexist; we have freedom of religion and thereby tolerate all religions—even some arguably intolerable ones. Having a “coexist” bumper sticker is as inane as having one that reminds observers to “breathe.” It’s what we already do. However, I guarantee that if I walked up to a “coexist” bumpersticker person and said, “The assumption reflected in your bumpersticker is wrong.” Or, if I gently accused him or her of being wrong about any of his or her views, I’d immediately be branded intolerant and perhaps judgmental, possibly bigoted. But, can’t they see? The fact that I’m coexisting with them means I’m tolerant, no matter what I think of their goofy religion. (Oops, that wasn’t nice; tolerant, yes—nice, no).
But, alas, tolerance is taking on a whole new meaning. You’re not allowed to disagree, especially in a verbal way, and be considered tolerant any more. In fact, corporations that provide “tolerance (or diversity) training” for their employees sometimes include forced participation in certain events with which some employees may totally disagree.
For example, some companies and other institutions celebrate “Gay Pride Week.” They may go so far as to invite speakers in to teach on the importance of understanding and celebrating the gay lifestyle. In some cases—regardless of whether they agree or not—employees and others are expected to attend such meetings. Under the guise of tolerance, or diversity training, employees may be subjected to an activity designed to make them less “ignorant” and more accepting of this “alternative lifestyle.”
We should be tolerant, without having to embrace that which is unbiblical. Discussion about disagreements should not be seen as intolerance. We should be tolerant without having to say we are for something that we believe God is against. We should be able to disagree openly so we can really truly be tolerant. The alternative is agreement.
Here’s the fine line we have to walk as believers in Christ. We are called to love people in a world that has come to define disagreeing as intolerance and holding to our Christian values is called hate. Simply warning someone about rejecting Christ is interpreted as judgmental and telling the truth about sin is deemed hate speech.
So, what should we do? Not share the Gospel when it comes to issues of sexual immorality (which is what current bill AB 2943 seeks to force upon Christian pastors, counselors and others in California)? Form communes and separate ourselves from a world that doesn’t understand? No, always speak the truth in love and continue to “coexist.”
“When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” —PROVERBS 16:17