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Does tolerance mean compromising convictions?

Does tolerance mean compromising convictions?
Posted on August 25, 2021  - By Jerusha Joel

Inclusivity and acceptance are familiar maxims of the present-day culture which celebrates diversity in every form. We could even say that the world has never before witnessed such a devoted glorification or pursuit of pluralism. The idea of a pluralistic society that accepts people of every race, sexual orientation, culture, and religion is inseparably associated with the principle of tolerance.

Pluralism is often called ‘the doctrine of multiplicity’, i.e the idea that there is no one correct belief or that there is more than one correct belief, while tolerance is the recognition that others have the right to hold beliefs or views that conflict with your own. Today, however, the lines between the two have been greatly blurred.

A ‘live and let live’ attitude is no longer appropriate these days. It is now generally thought that in order to be tolerant of multiple perspectives and ideologies, we must also agree with them.

It is now generally thought that in order to be tolerant of multiple perspectives and ideologies, we must also agree with them

For instance, it is not enough that we recognise a gay person’s ‘freedom’ to live as they please; we are also expected to accept that it is ‘right’ for them to do so. Otherwise, we would immediately be labelled as being hateful, bigoted and, of course, intolerant!

By postmodern conceptions, therefore, tolerance does demand that we compromise our convictions. Evidently, in the eyes of popular culture, you cannot have one without the other.

But is this really so? Is it possible for us to be tolerant without having to “sacrifice truth on the altar of peace”, as J.C Ryle puts it?

I am reminded of what the 18th-century enlightenment philosopher Voltaire said about tolerance, “I wholly disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it!” On one hand, Voltaire claims to be resolutely steadfast on what he believes, but on the other, he is willing to give up his life to ensure that others have the freedom to say and do what they wish to.

Matters of choice

The Bible teaches us that free will is a very special gift of God to humankind. Like CS Lewis said, “If a thing is free to be good, it is also free to be bad, and freewill is what has made evil possible. Why then, did God give them free will? Free will, though it makes evil possible, is the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”

We know from Scripture that God never coerces us to obey Him. All of the good things He offers us — His holy commandments, the riches of His love, His protection and comfort, the precious gift of His Son, even eternal life, are all dependent on whether we choose to accept them.

All of the good things God offers us — even eternal life — are all dependent on whether we choose to accept them

Of course, there are consequences bound to every choice; nevertheless, we are never deprived of those choices. And since this freedom of will has been stamped upon us by God who made us in His own image, it is important for us to recognise and accede this privilege to all our fellow human beings.

But does this mean that Christians must refrain from telling others about the profound and eternal consequences of their choices? We must, at the very outset, consider the costs of sacrificing the truth that the grace of God has revealed to us, in order to preserve peace or an appearance of being tolerant and accepting.

Suppose we see someone blindly walking towards the edge of a cliff, not knowing what awaits them at the end of the road. Would we avoid confronting them about the danger ahead, thinking that it would be more proper for us to mind our own business?

When compromise can sabotage the eternal destiny of people, under no circumstance can it prove worthwhile to abandon or yield any portion of truth for the sake of peace.

A fine balance

Having said that, the Word of God does instruct us to speak the truth in love. James 3:17-18 says, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

The cross of Jesus Christ portrays the perfect convergence of truth and love. In the words of Vince Vitalie,

“According to Christianity, God is love and God is truth, and therefore truth is love! On the one hand, Jesus disagreed with us; His very coming was an act of disagreement with us — a statement that we needed saving because our lives had disagreed so badly with what He intended for us. And yet His coming was also the very act of extravagant love for us; His willingness to suffer alongside us, share our shame and lay down His life for us. His communication of truth was one and the same as His communication of love — love and truth perfectly united in a personal sacrifice.”

The cross of Jesus Christ portrays the perfect convergence of truth and love. Jesus shows us that we must go beyond simply being tolerant

Jesus shows us that we must go beyond simply being tolerant, by sacrificing our comfort, our safety and even our lives for the sake of those convictions. Thus, even as we take an uncompromising stand on the truth of God, we must also embody the beauty and grace of Christ before those with whom we disagree.

For instance, if we have a lesbian friend, we must not unwisely condemn or judge her in the name of truth even as we clearly communicate our stance on the matter. Rather, we can try to be more loving and kind to her, gently telling her about God’s word when such opportunities arise.

Custodians of truth

One thing believers must be mindful of in the pursuit of truth is to distinguish between legalistic traditions and the pure Word of God. Our so-called ‘convictions’ must not merely be sanctimonious laws. It would be counterproductive and futile to place an unnecessary emphasis on legalism when the gospel of Christ seeks to redeem people from the curse of the law.

Some beliefs we hold might be down to culture and upbringing. It is usually best to share Christ with people instead, since His light is the only thing that can illumine hearts to the realisation of truths.

Luke 11:42 says, “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practised the latter without leaving the former undone.”

Finally, we are ambassadors of divine truth in this world, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation, shining among them like stars in the sky as we hold firmly to the word of life” as the Bible says. The precious words of life and hope revealed to us through Christ, have been entrusted into our hands and we have a great responsibility to lift this truth high above the lies and deceptions of this world.

John Calvin said, “A dog barks when His master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent!” May God give us grace, strength and wisdom from above to prove worthy of our calling as custodians of His truth and become channels of it to those around us, so that many captive souls may be set free by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jerusha Joel

About Jerusha Joel

Currently pursuing her Bachelors in English literature in Kerala, Jerusha Joel enjoys discussions about philosophy and the socio-cultural issues of our postmodern world. She has a deep interest in apologetics and a passion for defending the gospel of Christ against conflicting ideologies.



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