I think the greatest picture of true tolerance are wise old sages. And really, they don't even have to be old. But my father just might be one of the greatest examples of this. I've watched him over the years do a few things and experienced his sage-ness first hand. This is a man that breaks out a notepad when I am talking and takes notes...of me. He does this for others as well. Here's what he does: He sees something in people that no one else sees. He's patient with their journey allowing them to be whoever they are in that moment. He trusts the Holy Spirit with their journey. And he's always allowed them to land in a different place than he is - he respects their own conclusions and is intrigued with humble curiousity by how they got there. Then he will even affirm their thinking. That honest and humble posture causes people to truly feel safe. Because they actually are. An authentic and tolerant posture breaks down so many walls.
I was driving with a few guys in northern California and we passed by a large and very influential church. One of them blurted out, "Man, I hate that place! You know, they are REALLY a cult!" Honestly, I was shocked by the labeling and the dismissiveness this guy showed. So I decided to try my sage on. "Really? I haven't heard that. What makes them a cult?" He quickly responded with, "You know, they are over the top with the Holy Spirit stuff and setting people up for huge disapointment!" In my mind I thought, "Wow, being really into the indwelling Spirit of Jesus (Romans 8:9) and occasionally disappointing people, makes you a cult? Hmm? I bring this up because the church doesn't even show tolerance toward one another, let alone a world that is dying to experience grace and love from it. We really should read Philippians 2... might help us a bit. After all, Paul tells us in Titus that "grace teaches us to say "no" to ourselves..." Grace is what ignites change in people, not judgment, not intolerance. This is one of the topics that kills me. I speak in all kinds of churches and denominations all over the country and I see Jesus in all of them... everywhere I go. I hate the churches intolerance towards the church. No wonder the world doesn't trust us.
Tolerance does not mean I have to change my value system.
Tolerance does not mean I don't think sin is sin.
Tolerance doesn't mean I am no longer allowed to have my own opinion.
Tolerance gives you patience for people's journeys.
Tolerance has ears, not just a mouth.
Tolerance is a posture that softens your heart and keeps fear from filling it.
Tolerance remembers that we are in the business of loving the "other", not converting them.
Tolerance is married to grace, and grace is something we all need.
Tolerance allows for alternate views, recognizing that I don't know it all.
Tolerance is the opposite of control.
If we actually acted out tolerance, in the way I'm defining it, it would look a lot like love.
("Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud...")
What does this mean for students today? Well, students and the world in general, see how everyone in society shows tolerance except for the church. To me, this is unacceptable and really does cause students to fake it - not being honest with where they are at, with what they are struggling with. They are afraid they will be met with intolerance. The church needs more sages. Men and women who will journey with people allowing God to be the judge and doing their best to love - to be students' deep spirited friends. Does this mean I don't help students and that I don't speak truth into their lives? No, we must! We know that gospel is for the flourishing of all things and all people. The gospel is good news for all of creation. We want to humbly demonstrate what flourishing looks like, living really well ourselves and creating an atmosphere in which students feel safe. When they know we love them, no matter what, then we can humbly speak loving truth. Not from the stage, telling the whole room that those who are struggling with their sexuality (which could be most of the room these days) are not only sinning, but they are in danger of hell. Ugh! No, we are careful, thoughtful with how we communicate. We create an environment where students can experience the warmth of God. That's tolerance. Tolerance is personal, not up front, on the stage venting.
Last story: a student in our youth group once told her small group that she had kissed another girl and was feeling really guilty about it. She genuinely felt she was getting into a myriad of behaviors that were not healthy and this was just a part of that. At this point another student spoke up and said that this type of behavior was really wrong - that she was sinning! The awful result was that the girl who confessed became strong and defensive. Lack of tolerance changed a moment of confession into a moment of alienation. It caused her to stop coming to our youth group for a long time. Warmth, grace, love, tolerance does the opposite. It invites people in to stay.