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I’ve noticed people throw around the word “tolerance” and “intolerance” quite often without first examining the implications and origins of such words. The recent news about Chick-fil-A and their stance against homosexual marriages brings this idea of tolerance to the forefront of our minds.

When I attended Christian school, I remember tolerance being one of the character traits we studied in fourth grade. What I learned is that basically tolerance is the ability to have patience or forbearance with someone who may be acting inappropriately or ignorantly. True tolerance is often shown by what we do with our children when they act inappropriately or ignorantly. The idea is that those of us who are more educated, enlightened or mature should also be able to condescend and extend grace to others who are not so educated, enlightened or mature. This makes a lot of sense because we prove our maturity by how we handle people who are acting inappropriately. So many have redefined tolerance as a a way to escape from objective truth, but true tolerance presupposes the idea that there is objective truth. We have to have something to tolerate for tolerance to occur.

The purpose of tolerance for Christ-followers is to become the salt of the earth. Our actions should portray the enduring love of our God. We should seek to first listen, then speak. We should attempt to gain a true understanding of our fellow man, not to condemn, but to help ourselves and others to discover objective truth so that it can set them free. We should not major on the minors, but allow others the right to their opinions. People are sinful and they are confused. Such is the state of all of us from time to time. That is why we need tolerance. When I think of the debate about gay rights, this idea comes to bear. Yes, we do need to be tolerant of people who practice this lifestyle. Without true tolerance, we will never build bridges– we will never cause them to see the error that we believe exists in their lives. Without true tolerance, we only strengthen the perceived walls that exist between us. The burden of tolerance is always on the one who lives closest to the truth.

So how can our attempts at tolerance turn into an escape from truth? As Christians, we are called to be both salt and light. I like to look at “saltiness” as our level of tolerance for people who are less acquainted with the truth. If the salt loses its saltiness, if we treat others with a lack of grace or attempt to understand, it is nearly impossible to get that saltiness back. However, we also need to be light. If we try to be salt without being light, we will end up “preserving” people, preserving them in the poison of their sin. The light exposes error. It protects innocent parties. It does not roll over and play dead. In exposing sin or deception, it prevents people from walking the same deadly path. By pointing out error, we have both a right and an obligation to save lives. We all have a responsibility to act this way according to our convictions. Now, of course, we may be right or wrong in our convictions, that is for a Higher Power to ultimately decide.

I was talking to a friend of mine one time who believed, according to her convictions, that I was headed for hell. What bothered me more than her strange set of beliefs was the fact that she did not seem to be concerned at all for my eternal salvation even though she believed I was headed down a path of destruction.

For those of you who do not believe that homosexuality (or any other form of aberrant sexual conduct) is a sin, please show tolerance to those of us who do. You’ve got to respect us for speaking out, for caring about you. It’s not that most of us think gay marriage will ruin our own marriages; it’s just that we do not support your lifestyle because we believe it is hurting you. For those of us whose convictions do stand against this lifestyle, do not lose your saltiness and do not lose your light. If the salt loses its saltiness, it is good for nothing. If we lose our saltiness, our light may be lost as well.

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