Recently, my stepfather and I were having a discussion about Phil Robertson and the Duck Dynasty controversy. He expressed disgust with some of Robertson’s remarks but also told me he felt that Christians were often called intolerant for upholding the tenants of their religion.
I understood his point. Many of you know that I was raised Southern Baptist and for most of my adolescence was a devoted evangelical Christian. I remember feeling persecuted for my beliefs during that time in my life. I always felt like I was on the losing end of the culture wars and that no matter what I did or what I said I would always be the outcast who wasn’t having sex before marriage or who would prefer reading her Bible to late night partying.
Of course, in reality, it doesn’t take much to make a teenager feel persecuted and I realize now that often people took real issue with my beliefs but never singled me out merely because of my identification as a Christian.
As I grew older and slowly abandoned that identity, I often found myself on the opposite side of the argument. Suddenly, I was the one accusing Christians of intolerant behavior. I vividly remember an intense discussion with a fellow classmate during college. He had voted against funding for my new women’s rights organization and I demanded to know why. He expressed concern with ever-changing gender roles and read me Bible verse after Bible verse to try and persuade me.
At one point, I said, “I get why that works for you. Not only are you right, but you have God on your side.” It’s difficult to argue with someone who believes they have God on their side and I think that is where the accusations of intolerance so often come from.
Intolerance is defined as unwillingness to accept views, beliefs, or behavior that differ from one's own. I suppose it depends on how your further define “accept” but it is difficult to find acceptance when another person defines your behavior as opposed to the law of God. For better or for worse, there is no room for the differences between us when your beliefs aren’t merely beliefs but are viewed as fundamental truths.
So does that mean all Christians are intolerant? Does that also mean that people who oppose certain Christian beliefs are also intolerant?
To be honest, I don’t really know. How do we find space for one another when our “truths” seem so diametrically opposed? In my own life, I try to remember that none of us are wholly and completely defined by our beliefs. I try to remember that my own beliefs have changed over the years and could always change again.
I also try to remember that the answer to intolerance is not more intolerance, but a willingness to understand where the other person is coming from and not just prove a point. I won’t say it’s always easy but it is always worth it.