And he said to them, ‘You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.” Acts 10:28
We have been watching an unprecedented stress on culture, both in America and abroad. I’ve thought a lot about this topic, but hesitated to write about it because of its complexity. The word “tolerance” is front and center in our culture today.
Jesus taught the ultimate tolerance by giving up his life for others. He commanded that we love one another and to love our enemies, not just tolerate one another. Tolerance is fine – to a point. Note that the opposite of love is hate, and the opposite of tolerance is intolerance. Using a syllogism, you may see how intolerance is close to hate as it is played out today.
A balanced reading of scriptures shows that Jesus was intolerant at times, particularly when it came to teaching about unity in the body. In Romans 16:17, he instructs believers to avoid those who cause divisions and create obstacles.
In 2 John 10-11, he cautions believers not to greet unbelievers in their homes who do not “bring this teaching” which could lead to becoming part of their “wickedness.” Jesus was also intolerant with contemporary Jewish leaders, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, whom he called out for being hypocritical.
And finally, in Matthew 7:6, we are told not to throw your “pearls before pigs.” Even in the Christian world, there is a level of intolerance, but it does not rise to hatred. Instead, it leads to avoidance.
Tolerance as a value is more important to Generation Z than prior generations. As Jean Twenge asserts in her book “iGen”, the latest generation differs from their immediate predecessors on many fronts. She describes it this way: “tolerance is their religion.” They live in a post-Christian world, and churchgoing and faith is in a “free-fall”.
According to Twenge, Generation Z’s attitudes toward LGBTQ are the most liberal of any previous generation, as are their views of sex. While they are having less of it themselves (mostly due to more limited personal interaction caused by smartphones), they are not judgmental about other’s sexual habits.
Put another way, they resist labeling anything as “wrong.” There is no biblical world view or moral truths to guide them, so they become relativist in these values. Unless, Twenge notes, that something is deemed to be an offense against tolerance itself. This is where things get hairy.
They support restricting speech, and are completely intolerant of just one slight misstep. Over 28% of them favor firing a teacher who makes one statement that might be deemed racially insensitive. Some 16% went farther and thought any student committing the same offense should be expelled.
To these who are totally intolerant, there is no measured response to something that would be a “foot fault” in tennis, or a minor offense in the eyes of the law, which separates crimes into misdemeanors and felonies. Everything becomes a felony in the intolerant world.
This is not entirely new. The “politically correct” (or PC) movement in the past 20 years has gone off the reservation. The idea behind being politically correct is that your speech and actions should avoid insulting anyone or groups of people who are seen as being discriminated against or disadvantaged, particularly in the areas of sex or race.
Jean Twenge calls this the “dark side of tolerance”. What began with a good intention of being inclusive by not offending anyone leads (“at best”) to an unwillingness to explore deep issues. “At worst”, it results in having careers destroyed by a comment found offensive and the silencing of alternative viewpoints.
I cannot resist but noting that I believe another trend is at play here. The average vocabulary of children in middle school (grades 5-8) has dropped from 25,000 words ten years ago to only 10,000 words today.
Gen Z doesn’t read (much like Gen Y), and their comprehension of deeper issues is now limited by vocabulary. Bottom line: they aren’t developing the ability to think critically so their comprehension of deeper issues is often limited to slogans and labels.
The result is that labels become their way of expression, but they are labels without thought of consequences. Calling someone a “racist” or using “hate speech”, for example, without examining all the facts, has become all too prevalent.
The only thing more important to Gen Z than tolerance is their desire for safety, which is less something of a physical thing than it is psychological. The current fad on college campuses of providing “safe-spaces” is an example.
Safe-spaces permits one to retreat into one’s childhood with coloring books and videos of puppies frolicking. Critics label them as “snowflakes”, but to Generation Z, it is not a fringe idea.
This latest generation also embraces “trigger warnings” and other protections alerting the audience at the start of a lecture, video, etc. that it may contain potentially distressing material. I’ve never quite gotten that, but it is their moral equivalent to movie ratings, so that one knows an PG-13, R or X rated film has content not appropriate for children.
Sadly, trigger warnings and safe spaces being provided on college campuses is viewed as a danger for religious dialogue, including mainstream Christian viewpoints.
In a recent article in The Atlantic, a professor of religious studies says this: “…the spirit of tolerance and respect that inspires these policies (i.e. trigger warnings and safe- spaces) can also stifle dialogue about controversial topics, particularly race, gender, and, in my experience, religious beliefs.”
An editorial opinion by Kim Strassel in the Wall Street Journal this week highlights the dangers of intolerance. The writer singled out J.P. Morgan, a large bank, and Apple for making large gifts to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which has taken on a crusade to root out hate groups in America. Apple gave $1 million and J.P. Morgan donated $500,000.
Sounds good on its face, but the SPLC’s idea of hate is twisted. It includes mainstream Christian groups which have long opposed the gay marriage on religious grounds. Opposing the institution of gay marriage is very different from hating those who are gay or LGBT, a distinction that is often overlooked.
An organization that I have long supported, the Family Research Council, which has been an advocate of Christian family values, now finds itself on the SPLC “hate” list. So, too, is Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) which litigates on behalf of religious liberty, and some 17 other non-profits that espouse Christian values.
Last week, SPLC was sued for defamation by D. James Kennedy Ministries for putting their organization on their “hate” list. The suit, among other things, alleges that such act is tantamount to religious discrimination.
Anyone not espousing tolerance is not just deemed intolerant, but a hate group whose speech is labeled “hate speech.”. This is a very slippery slope because “hate” speech is not clearly defined legally. Right now, it is a subjective test of what the listener thinks is hateful or offensive.
Recent trends in our country to remove historic statutes is an example of this intolerance. Unfortunately, this country was built at a time when slavery was accepted, so very few of our original founders are exempt. Almost half of the 55 signers of the Constitution were slave owners.
Like all nations, not all our history is pretty. Monuments of our founding fathers is part of our history, and, like it or not, it should be a reminder of where we have come from. Condoleezza Rice, the first black woman to be Secretary of State, echoed this view in arguing that we should not sanitize our history and that we should “keep [.]our history before you.”
Stella Morabito, in The Federalist, commented on the aftermath of Charlottesville which resulted in the death of a 32 year old woman in a crowd: “The coordinated mob violence we see playing out essentially over the existence of historical monuments and free speech goes well beyond indoctrination and brainwashing. It is a cult mindset deliberately cultivated by elites in education, pop culture, and academia.”
As a footnote, I have found this to be a challenging post to write. It has forced me to really think through the issues raised and sift through many viewpoints to come to my own conclusions.
Our challenges are multiple. As believers, we need to recognize these trends as being a threat to our freedoms – both in speech and our right to express our religious faith. The concept of tolerance seems benign and innocuous on its face, but it is a springboard to the muzzling of speech. Just as challenging is communicating to the next generation that freedoms do matter, and that the elimination of hate speech means the potential elimination of all discourse.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: One of the best thing a mentor can do is help his mentee think critically. Encourage them to read and widen their depth of knowledge.
FURTHER STUDY: Jean Twenge’s book, iGen is available at Amazon.
A commentary about the aftermath of Charlottesville written by Stella Morabito in The Federalist, argues that Americans are being emotionally manipulated in an attempt to repeal the First Amendment:
http://thefederalist.com/2017/08/25/americas-post-charlottesville-nervous-breakdown-deliberately-induced/?utm_source=The+Federalist+List&utm_campaign=8f2d5930d9-RSS_The_Federalist_Daily_Updates_w_Transom&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_cfcb868ceb-8f2d5930d9-83860633Biographies of the signers of our Constitution can be found here: https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/constitution/bio.htm
An article from the National Review on the Double Standard of attempting to remove Confederate Statues.
Biblical studies on tolerance: https://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/bible-verses-about-tolerance-21-scripture-quotes/
Trigger warnings and safe spaces article by Alan Levinovitz: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/08/silencing-religious-students-on-campus/497951/
Wall Street Journal article on J.P. Morgan’s donation to SPLC: Read full article →(Click on the link to gain access).
For information about the SPLC and its labeling of “hate groups” and the defamation suit filed by D. James Kennedy Ministries: http://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/august/d-james-kennedy-southern-poverty-law-center-splc-hate-map.html
WORSHIP: Listen to Paul Baloche sing “Let it Rise” where the lyrics say: “Let the glory of the Lord, rise among us,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdXycxb_hL8
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