Intolerant Liberals

I hear it all the time.

But why should I tolerate intolerance? Why should I be open to hearing an argument in favor of sexism or racism or homophobia? Why should I respect hate and violence and oppression as equal ideologies?


Comments (10)

  1. Hootsbuddy

    Very good point. I’ve been wondering the same thing for forty years. My advice is to overlook those who would have you “show some respect” to others who are obviously doing exactly the opposite. If you are labeled “intollerant” because you refuse to let ignorance pass unchallenged, wear the label with pride and go on about your business. In the end the right people will know you for who you really are and the rest will plunder along in ignorance.

    And if your spirit starts feeling weak, go read a little David Niewert and be encouraged.

  2. Lora

    Several years back, when I was preparing to move to a big city, I was really excited because I figured that I’d be around a lot more people who thought like me–similar world view, political leanings, etc. And I was–but then I realized that they were just as narrow-minded and intolerant as the small-town neighbors I had left behind (albeit on the opposite end of the political spectrum). I try and tolerate–actually listen to what others have to say, and accept them for who they are, without trying to convert them because (a) they might actually have something to teach me, (b) they might be right, and (c) even if they’re not, they’re still entitled to their views the same as I am to mine, and to disrespect them because their life experience has given them different understandings of the world than mine seems to perpetuate the very issue of which I’m critical. In the end, we’re all sentient beings and we all deserve dignity, regardless of gender or socio-economic group or the amount of power we do or do not hold in this world.

    It seems like everywhere I go, the church being no exception, I’m automatically boxed and labeled and possibly written off according to whether I’m perceived as liberal or conservative. I’m trying to avoid being a part of that game as much as possible.

  3. Maria

    It is foundational for me that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. This is true regardless of how shortsighted their opinion may seem to me. However, I’d like to think that respecting a person’s beliefs and background does not require budging from my own beliefs. In practice it’s not that easy. I guess your question leads me to this question: How do we find the balance between respecting a person and treating them with dignity on the one hand and telling them that we’re not ok with their ignorance intolerance on the other hand? It’s obviously not enough to demonstrate tolerance, it gets us labels like “intolerant.”

  4. Forrest Moyer

    In this broken and confused world, there will always be disagreements about what is moral and what is not, so there will unavoidably be “intolerance” or “disapproval” on some level. I guess my question (from an Anabaptist perspective) would be: How did Jesus approach “tolerance” in light of HIS morality and values? In one story, he was not tolerant of the Pharisees who desired to stone the woman caught in adultery. But he also was not tolerant of the woman’s adultery. He frankly but kindly ordered(?) her to “go and sin no more.” Christ did not allow hypocrisy and condemnation to go unconfronted, but he also confronted in grace the personal brokenness and moral failure of the woman caught in sin. At any rate, I don’t see Christ as an example of “tolerance”, but of love, grace and holiness. I hope to follow his pattern.

  5. Skylark

    Forrest, perhaps the word we should be using is not “tolerance” but “grace.” Or maybe “respect.”

    Inasmuch as Jesus is not only human but also God, I would expect our roles to be slightly different than his.

    Eric, I see a difference between respecting an ideology and respecting the person who holds it. I struggle with knowing how to communicate that I value the person but despise the effects of their ideas. If we behave just like everyone else and refuse to engage people in conversation, as Lora said, how are we any different? How do we show Christ’s love more fully and deeply?

    I’ve been having a similar discussion with several passionate vegetarians. There’s an airline in India that recently announced it will have two seating sections: Vegetarian and non-vegetarian. (In India, some 30% of the population is vegetarian out of Hindu religious reasons.) I spoke with a handful of U.S. vegetarians who thought it was a great idea; they don’t like sitting next to “those infernal non-vegetarians,” especially during mealtimes. The vegetarians with whom I spoke are all in it for animal-cruelty/ethical reasons. So am I, but I don’t think it helps the cause to get up on our moral high horses and point fingers at who we don’t like. We’re not going to persuade people to adopt our views if they think we think we’re better than them. Besides… if I refused to dine with people who eat animal flesh, I’d be eating by myself 97% of the time.

    It’s the same thing with ideology: Does the cycle end with us?

  6. Lora

    Skylark, that’s exactly it. It’s not so much that I’m surrendering my own beliefs, just choosing (as much as possible) to end the cycle.

  7. Trini

    I see some key words being tossed around here, “tolerance”, “grace” and “ignorance”.

    Let me first tackle this from an engineering perspective. According to Wikipedia tolerance in engineering is the permissible limit of variation in a dimension or value of a parameter of ‘something’. So tolerance is the allowable limit, but is a limit to which you allow variation of a certain quality. Certain things should not fall under the category of tolerance, but rather obliteration of ignorance. For example, there should be a certain level of tolerance for people’s ability to drive. Although there is a standard, not everyone can drive meeting 100% of that standard, in fact they give you a license if you fall within that level of tolerance. Who defines that level is disturbing sometimes.

    Racial distinctions now on the other hand do not require tolerance, as we do not have to tolerate perceptions of racism (or non-racism) but rather obliterate the ignorance surrounding racial issues, but in so doing, and I know I chose a forceful, active verb, obliterate, we do it with grace and compassion.

    I initially thought about this a few years ago, and because of my positions sought to separate myself from segregationists, because I couldn’t stand to associate with people who thought like that. Guess that that made me…? So I think the openness to dialogue with persons who you wouldn’t necessarily agree with, could bring that grace and compassion to see the positive sides of their issues, or at least find a place where common ground could be found for communication to begin.

    Good analogy of the vegetarians Skylark. I think using these analogies of less controversial issues will help us realize the need for open dialogue on the more controversial ones.

    My two cents…

  8. carl

    To me, the key question is always “whose needs am I privileging, and whose needs am I thereby ignoring?”

    Open-mindedness and “we’re all sentient beings deserving of respect” is true enough. As long as we don’t lose sight of the trade-offs — the more humbly respectful you are towards a hateful point of view, the more you’ve failed to be respectful towards the target of the hate. If I have an open-minded, tolerant, “they might be right” attitude towards someone spouting racist drivel about my Lakota neighbors, and because of that I fail to be completely forthright and clear in confronting their ignorance, then I’ve failed to be respectful towards my Lakota neighbors.

    I see this kind of thing over and over in my experience in Anabaptist institutions. There is lots of talk about how we need to be “open-minded” and “not polarize things” and “respect others’ viewpoints” — yet when the rubber meets the road, it’s generally straight white men gettin the respect, and gays, women, and people of color are out on the street.

    I believe in speaking with love, and in respecting that of God in every living being. And I believe it is possible to speak hard truths in love. But as a white man, I better watch myself like a hawk for the ever-present temptation to let my “loving respectfulness” slide towards the easy path of “respecting” those with power at the expense of those without.

    And that IS what will happen if I’m not paying attention. It’s like floating in a river – if you’re not swimming upstream, I guarantee you’re being carried downstream.

  9. Forrest Moyer

    Skylark, thanks for your response to my note. I appreciate many of the things you share on this blog :)

    Another thought on this topic, and probably more along the lines of your original question, Eric, than my last note was:

    No one can force you or I to approve (tolerate?) sexism, homophobia, war, etc. Likewise, no one can force us to approve (tolerate?) equality of the sexes, homosexuality, pacifism, etc. We all must make those moral choices for ourselves. But I’m learning that ultimately Christ teaches me to love my enemies, and I think this must start with grace and looking for the good, even in my enemies. I suppose this is the same as respecting my enemies, even while maintaining a clear and LOVING “intolerance” of their morality.

  10. Skylark

    Forrest, strangely, you’re hardly the first person to respond positively to my YAR participation. I’m not used to all this affirmation, so cut it out, y’all! ;-) (Just kidding.)

    Oddly enough, “tolerance” came up at a city council meeting last night which I attended. I was a few minutes early, so I chatted with an older gentleman sitting right behind me. It turns out he was the pastor designated to give the opening invocation that evening. He’s a pastor at a local Wesleyan church. We got to talking about interdenominational cooperation, and that lead to “tolerance.” He said he doesn’t like the word “tolerance” because it can connote “just putting up with” someone, rather than actually listening to them and loving them like God commands. He prefers the word “acceptance.” No, he’s not selling insurance. ;-)

    Even though I grew up hearing “Sinners should accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior,” the word “accept” still seems more passive than I want my attitude toward others to be. I can’t just accidentally value another person or lovingly confront them for their contributions to injustice. It has to be on purpose, an intentional choosing to see them as God does.

    Eric, after re-reading your thoughts, I’m getting the sense that you’re concerned if we concentrate on valuing people who hold views we don’t share, we won’t confront the injustice. So how do we confront someone in love? I guess I’ve seen more than enough confrontation, but it wasn’t in love. You’ve probably observed me concentrate more on the love part in my comments. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

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