“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” -Mahatma Gandhi
The word “tolerance” comes up a lot. We are encouraged to have “tolerance” for those that are different from us. Tolerance for those of a different religion. Tolerance for those of a different sexual orientation. Tolerance for those with a different skin color. I don’t like the word tolerance. When I think of “tolerating” someone, I think of myself, sitting in a room with someone that I don’t really want to be in a room with. Tolerating their existence; allowing this person to share the same space, while sort of hoping they’ll leave. No conversation. No connection. Just quiet distain.
Is this really what we’re going for? Tolerance? Quiet distain that says, “I’ll let you sit in my space, but nothing more.”
I am going to be very clear about the lens through which I am about to speak. I am a Christian. I grew up in a conservative Baptist church. I still go to church. I pray. I believe in God. I believe the Bible to be an amazing source of inspiration and life lessons. That being said, let me continue…
I am sometimes embarrassed by the words and actions of Christians. There have been several occasions in which the things I have seen, in the name of God, have made my stomach churn. This past month was pride month, a time in which those of the LBGT community come together in support of each other. Christians are encouraged to “tolerate” this community, and in turn, the LBGT community is asked to “tolerate” Christians. Sit at a distance from each other. You stay over there, and we’ll stay over here. A line is drawn, in which neither side should cross.
I have an issue with this. If I look at the example of Jesus, his whole mission was based upon a deep rooted love for people. He didn’t go to the temples and choose high priests for his companions. He went to the sea, and found lowly fishermen. He didn’t sit with the Pharisees, discussing the “dos and don’ts” of Scripture. He went out and had dinner with tax collectors and talked with prostitutes. He associated with those that everyone else ignored.
It makes me wonder who Jesus would choose as his companions today. Where would he hang out? Who would he be talking to? I imagine he’d be sitting in coffee shops, sharing love with the hurting, the broken, the oppressed. He’d be talking with the homeless on the streets. He’d be at the psychiatric hospitals offering hope to the mentally ill.
I am often drawn to this story from John 8. There was a woman, caught with another man, a man that was not her husband. The Pharisees take her to Jesus, and ask what they are to do with her, because the law said she was to be stoned (to death). Jesus, in his profound wisdom, answers “Let he, without sin, cast the first stone.”
Jesus asks the crowd to look inward. No one could throw that first stone, except Jesus himself. And when everyone left, the woman was left standing there with Jesus, who says to her, “Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you? Then neither do I condemn you.” I can only imagine that this act of love changed that woman. Love changes us in a way hate never will.
When asked about confronting others, Jesus has this to say,
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” -Matthew 7:1-3
Again, look inward. If you think you are a worthy judge of others, do a little soul searching. Jesus never asks us to judge, but over again, he asks us to love. That is our job, to love.
Jesus didn’t ask us to tolerate each other. He asks us to love each other; and never with stipulation. I cannot find anywhere that says, “Love people, except those that (fill in the blank).” There is no exclusion. Just love. Love each other.
Sometimes I wonder what people are doing when they spread messages of hate. Attending a LGBT parade with banners that tell these souls that God hates them makes no sense. First, it’s not true. Where do you find anything in the Bible that says God hates anyone? Second, what does this accomplish? If I were at this parade, and I saw a sign held high telling me God hated me, I would want nothing to do with God. People aren’t drawn to hate. People are drawn to love.
I know it’s scary to step outside our comfort zone, to actually connect with, and love, those that are different from ourselves, but I’m pretty sure God never called us to be comfortable. He called us to love. And love can be messy sometimes; uncomfortable.
How do we move from tolerance to love? How do we close the gap of “us and them”? How do we get away from quiet distain to a place of connection? I think it starts by looking inward, just as Jesus reminds us to do. By looking inward, we are faced with our own humanity. Then we reach out. We start conversations. We learn from each other. We engage. And in doing so, we find that we are not so different after all.
I will leave you with this:
“If we looked hard at our own communities, in our own countries today and asked: Who is power forgetting? Who is religion oppressing?
And then we gathered those people. And ate with them. And listened to them…we’d find ourselves listening to black kids. Black women. Black men. Brown people. Muslims. Addicts. The mentally ill. Children. Gay kids. Transgender kids. Refugees. Immigrants. Widows. The financially poor…. And if we look around our churches and we do not see those faces…then we can be certain we are not doing the work that Jesus did. And we might ask ourselves if what we have is a church- where the vulnerable find allies and refuge and hope and where we step back and let the forgotten lead us- or if what we have ourselves is a country club where we can be comfy with folks who look and love and think just like we do.” -Glennon Doyle