In February, 2011 a set of Tolerance sculptures were dedicated in Houston, celebrating this city’s cultural diversity. In our home – the hub of oil and space – we attract people from all over the world and nation. Deep south meets wild west with an infusion of Yankee blood. We’ve got cowboys and city slickers, conservatives, Latin culture, Black culture, New Age, Christians, Muslims, atheists, etc. America offers the same rights to us all – the opportunity to carve a place for ourselves in the community where we can practice our beliefs according to our culture without fear of negative retribution.
Governmentally speaking, we have a separation of church and state. But socially speaking, a person cannot be separated from his/her culture and beliefs. These things are a part of who we are and they influence all that we do. We carry our culture into the work place – which may even be a political venue. We carry it everywhere we go. Every time you encounter someone, you come face to face with another culture. Even amongst family members, views will not be identical.
So given that we cannot avoid social encounters that stretch our comfort zones, how do we deal with the differences? It is naive to think that we can mold our environment into our personal vision of paradise. Writing laws that effectively remove all offensive behavior from public areas is simply not feasible because anything we do can potentially offend someone. You cannot expect to go out in December and be free of the evidence of Christmas, Jesus, a manger, crosses, etc. because for many Americans, these things are a part of our culture. One cannot “sanitize” the community, stripping it of everything that does not line up with one’s own beliefs. The point is not to mold society to an individual’s preferences, but rather to preserve the individual’s right to practice his/her own beliefs.
If you cannot force others to share your views, and you cannot prevent them from expressing theirs, the only recourse in a free society is tolerance. But what does this mean exactly? Dr. Jill Carroll, an adjunct professor at Rice University, expressed in an interview with Living Smart that tolerance is accepting other people and their right to believe differently while not necessarily accepting what they believe. So tolerance only has meaning if you know what you believe in. Do not think that tolerance is accepting all beliefs! To say that all faiths are right and all actions are acceptable is to endeavor to desensitize yourself to the convictions of your heart and to divorce yourself from your own identity. This will be a miserable road to ultimate failure if you take it.
God said to love your neighbor as yourself, and Paul wrote that this fulfills all the commandments because love does no wrong to a neighbor. These commandments include honoring the Sabbath day of rest, honoring one’s parents, not testifying falsely, not murdering, not stealing, not desiring others’ things and not committing adultery. Tolerance therefore is a lifestyle of love toward others with no tolerance for sin. By God’s design, we have the right to choose what we believe. There is only one Truth and He helps us in love to find our way, but He does not force us to believe it. He defined “acceptable conduct” by establishing His law, and He renders justice fairly and with mercy. The Lord is our model for tolerance!