People today talk a lot about tolerance. It’s advanced as one of, if not the greatest, of all virtues. One of the worst accusations that can be leveled at someone is to call them intolerant, or a bigot, or any number of other synonyms with the same presupposition: you’re not tolerating others, and that’s bad. However, if you’ve been alive for a while, and not a long while, you’ve doubtless noticed, like me, that as society gets more tolerant, it seems to become more and more intolerable. Whether it’s rampant gang violence in cities, the proliferation of man-hating feminists (is there another kind?), or basically anything happening in California, society is objectively worse than even what I grew up in, to say nothing of my parents or grandparents.
That made me wonder: is tolerance actually a virtue? Is it intrinsically good to tolerate that which is different, or is there some kind of limit? If so, where is that limit?
As always, we need to start with a definition so that we know exactly what we’re talking about. According to Webster’s, tolerance is ‘ sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own’. Thus, if we are tolerant of others, we allow them to believe or practice things that we ourselves do not believe or practice. That sure sounds nice and reasonable. It sounds a lot like the Golden Rule. It even sounds like Romans 14:1-4:
Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not to have quarrels over opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but the one who is weak eats only vegetables. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
Obviously, tolerance is a good thing between Christians with differing opinions; God commands it. At this point liberals will shout case closed and demand tolerance for homosexuality, transgenderism, Critical Race Theory, and whatever other diversity they want to foist on the church. What they overlook, on purpose, is verses like Revelation 2:20, which says:
But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.
In this verse, Jesus, who gave us the Golden Rule, condemns members of a church for… being tolerant. Specifically, for tolerating 3 things: a woman preacher, sexual immorality, and participation in idolatry. God clearly forbids women from preaching (1 Timothy 2:12), but the church at Thyatira tolerated this woman calling herself a prophetess, and teaching. As if outright defying God’s command weren’t enough, she taught her followers to partake in meals that were held in false temples in honor of idols, and indulge in all kinds of sexual immorality. She and her followers even referred to her teachings as ‘the deep things of Satan’. That is what we call a ‘red flag’.
And the church at Thyatira didn’t throw her out. Even those who didn’t participate still tolerated her ‘diverse’ opinion. What was our Lord’s response? Did He applaud them for being open minded and welcoming? No, just the opposite.
This may seem like a pretty extreme example at first, but it’s exactly what today’s liberals are demanding. Women preachers? Check. Sexual immorality? They’ve got pronouns in their Twitter bios, fly the gay pride flag, and have drag shows in their ‘churches’. Mega check. Idolatry? Just listen to how they idolize their favored minorities, to the point that the arbiters of truth are disabled black transgender lesbians. Check. Just like in Thyatira, they encourage tolerance of things that God despises, and forbids us from tolerating. This is a form of idolatry on its own, because it sets tolerance up as a higher virtue than loving obedience to God.
Tolerance on its own is neither good or evil, rather it is contingent on what is being tolerated. If we tolerate things that are morally benign, or things that God commands us to tolerate, such as differences of opinion, then that is a good thing. If, however, we tolerate what is evil, then that tolerance is sinful. To elevate tolerance above its place and say that it is intrinsically good in all circumstances, as is popular to do in our culture today, leads inevitably to claiming that we are more virtuous than God, who is highly intolerant of sin.
So, is tolerance a virtue? Not really. A virtue is something intrinsically good in and of itself. Tolerance is not always good. Tolerance can be used to serve virtues such as love of one’s neighbor by tolerating weird stuff that said neighbor does. Tolerance can also be used in service of vices like promiscuity by tolerating degenerate behaviors like casual sex, queer anything, and unrestrained violence, just to grab a few examples. Love of one’s neighbor, which is a Biblical virtue, may require you to not tolerate his sinful behavior, but rather call him to repentance.
Failure to do this is a major factor in the degradation of society. Unconfronted sin begets more and worse sin. When a city tolerates minor crimes, looting and rioting will follow. When a church ordains a woman preacher, it’s only a matter of time before their apostasy is complete. A child whose tantrums are tolerated will grow up into an adult who throws tantrums like a child. We must be careful what we tolerate, lest we tolerate what God condemns.
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