Limits to Tolerance?

24 05 2017

ToleranceI’m an inclusivist.  I’m an ecumenist.   I’m a universalist.  I’m a globalist.  I’m a panentheist.

But before anything else, I regard myself as a member of the great human family — created, loved, nurtured, and sustained by that which many of us call “God.”  My various labels give testimony to my desire to embrace all, and to strive to find unity even in the midst of the world’s diversity; and the Scriptures that guide my life tell me that because God is love, my call is to love everyone, just as Jesus did.  As “the fullest and most complete expression of God in human form,” I seek to model my life after the Christ: who taught me that everyone is my neighbor and that I am to love them as I love myself.  The holy book of my Muslim sisters and brothers pushes me further, challenging me to only want for others, what I want for myself.

Now over the years I’ve met countless other Americans who are seeking to live this same kind of life; but, I’ve also met countless Europeans (I actually live with one!) who are similarly seeking to live this way.  Their lives are just as reflective of the life of Jesus as my own.  I’ve met Mormons and Muslims who love God as much as I do, AND who follow God better than I do.  I have friends in the LGBTQ community who do a far better job than I when it comes to “seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly”; and I’ve met Black women who have not had any of the white privileges that have followed me all my life, and yet the love exhibited in their lives is making more of a difference in this world than mine ever will!

All of this is to say that I desire to do more that merely ‘tolerate’ those who are not like me; rather I long to embrace and enter into community with them.  We can learn from one another, and together work to make the world a better place to live.

This is the liberal mindset.  Liberals are, by very definition, liberal in our willingness to accept others, regardless of the nation we call home, the language we speak, the religion we practice, the worldview we adopt, the people we choose to love, or the color of our skin.  In the words of Mr. Webster, we have . . . “generous hearts; appropriate for a broad and enlightened mind; free from narrowness, bigotry, or bondage; and advocating liberty of thought, speech, and action.”  And while I know this makes us all sound way too saintly, overall it’s a pretty accurate description of who we seek to be and that for which most of us strive.

Thrity Umrigar, in her new book “Everybody’s Son”, writes that “even a broken clock is right two times a day!”  And I like that.  It reminds me that everyone has something to contribute to this world we call home, and it challenges me to see the good in everyone. Since I do not believe humanity’s primary identity is that of a sinner in the hands of an angry God, I believe people are called to see the image of God in everyone, and firmly believe that all people are worthy of my love.

However, and I think I speak for most of of the liberals I know when I say this, our acceptance and our tolerance DO have boundaries!

In spite of the many freedoms that we enjoy in this country, when your rights start to infringe upon mine, or upon the marginalized and oppressed, we WILL resist.  Your words will be rejected and your actions will be challenged; for while you may have the right to do or say anything and everything you want, your actions and words may not always be acceptable.  Freedom has restrictions.  Liberalism has boundaries.  And tolerance has limits!

This past spring, much was written about Milo Yioannopoulos, the British media personality associated with the political alt-right and a former senior editor for Breitbart News; as well as Ann Coulter, a conservative American social and political commentator, lawyer, and syndicated columnist.  Both were invited to speak at UC Berkeley; but student outrage over the invitations resulted in neither of them making a visit to the prestigious university.  An outspoken critic of what he calls ‘political correctness’, Milo is quick to condemn feminism, Islam, and has stated that “gay rights are detrimental to humanity.”   He believes that child abuse is “really not that big of deal,” and has made others statements that have led some to believe he condones pedophilia.  And Ann Coulter is little more than a media hound: a social and political conservative who will do and say almost anything as long as it will get peoples’ attention.

Last month, Harvard University graduate and Google employee James Damore became yet another hero of right wing extremists when he published a memo challenging the role of women in the tech industry.  He was eventually fired, and is now fighting back by claiming that the “left” is only concerned about free speech when it agrees with the liberal causes, and complaining that the Silicon Valley is intolerant of those with differing political perspectives.

And then there’s Richard Spencer, and the countless other racist, Nazi-sympathizing, White Supremacists who have made the spotlight in recent weeks.  They too argue that the first amendment gives them the right to say and do whatever they want, however they want — a freedom they believe is granted to them by the Constitution.

But freedom and tolerance do not mean that “anything goes!”  And there is nothing inconsistent about this position in the so-called ‘liberal agenda.’  Liberals weigh very carefully the responsibility to listen to others, AND TO PROTECT OTHERS.  We want to and will engage those with whom we disagree; but we will also resist people who say things that invite violence, incite fear, or in any way threaten other because of the color of their skin, their religious preference, their sexual preference, or any other aspect of their life that is different from the white, American perspective on what is ‘normal!’

Is this a “slippery slope?”  Of course it is.  And we don’t always get it right. But in the long run, liberals are committed to navigating this precarious slope.  We will listen to those with whom we disagree, and we will work to guarantee everyone’s right to speak their mind and to freely express themselves.  But when people claim the right to behave militantly, with guns and torches, we will draw a line.  When people seek to exercise their ‘rights’ with so much hate that people become fearful for their very lives, we will draw a line. When people express views and ideas that are void of truth and lacking in intellectual integrity we will draw a line.  And when people act in ways that violate that which is just, and right, and good, we will draw a line.  For as subjective as drawing lines might be, boundaries are sometimes necessary because yes, tolerance has limits.

Being tolerant does not mean tolerating intolerance.  It doesn’t mean accommodating hatred, accepting lies, condoning violence, or closing our eyes to injustice.  And while we all might have very different definitions of hatred, lies, violence, and injustice, in the end, it’s all about treating one another with love and respect.  The whole “I-may-disagree-with-what-you-say-but-will-defend-your-right-to-say-it” has it’s limits!  For when personal views, opinions, and perspectives, harm others, drawing lines is not being intolerant: it’s simply being civil.  It’s being courteous, and respectful, and considerate.

If you don’t believe in gay marriage, then don’t marry someone of the same gender.  If you believe God wants you to avoid Margaritas on Sunday, then stay away from your local Mexican restaurant on your Sabbath.  If you believe that God wants you to cover your body, head to toe, when you’re in public, then feel free to buy that burka and wear it with as much pride as your faith permits.  But don’t try and make me walk in your footsteps!  And when your footsteps start to trample on mine, or on those with no voice, know that we liberals will not stand by and be quiet.  And this is especially true of those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus.  For in my case, these position actually have little to do with any kind of liberal political agenda.  Rather, they are Gospel!  Plain and simple.

In America, we respect our diversity.  We liberals celebrate it, and we progressive Christ-followers even honor it.  I am well aware that we all see things differently, and that my perspective on things may not always be accurate.  But sometimes opinions are just wrong – scientifically, morally, ethically, and spiritually.  And when we liberals see that wrongness, we will carefully, discerningly, lovingly, and non- violently, draw a line.  We will protest and preach, write and resist, challenge and chastise.  We will publish blog after blog and Facebook post after Facebook post, that push, poke, and prod; and we will not be silenced because of some distorted idea so-called ‘liberal inconsistency’!

No!  Tolerance does NOT mean tolerating intolerance.  And these days, everyone better get used to tolerating that!


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13 09 2017
Bob Melone

Reblogged this on Bob's Blog.

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