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Evangelical Resources on True Tolerance

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Articles
  3. Books
  4. Code of Ethics for Christian Witness
  5. Observations
  6. Conclusion


It seems that intolerance is on the rise in the United States. Despite the major social and political reforms that the nation has been through, such as the enactment of civil rights legislation, rights for women, and a broadening of attitudes toward sexual orientation, there are still large segments of the population that seem to be radically intolerant. One wonders in the words of Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along?" Indeed, many have joined a national chorus, calling for an end to intolerance. Yet, despite all the clamoring for more tolerance, our culture seems more intolerant than ever.

But what does it mean to be "tolerant" or "intolerant?" In the past, tolerance meant that other people have a right to their opinion, and the right to express themselves, and that even though we may disagree with their opinions, that we can tolerate their view and live in peace, with the understanding that all people are working toward truth. In recent years, however, tolerance has come to mean something radically different, that tolerance should be never saying that someone else is wrong. All value judgments are viewed as intolerant, except of course, the value judgment that says "value judgments are wrong." Rather than tolerating other people's opinions (or perhaps, learning from them), many people have come to believe that "Judge not, lest ye be judged," and hence not making value judgments, is the basis for tolerance.

We now believe the irony that intolerance itself should not be tolerated. As S.D. Gaede notes, "If the worst thing you can be is intolerant, then how do you express your moral outrage? If you are intolerant of someone who is intolerant, then you have necessarily violated your own principle. But if you tolerate those who are intolerant, you keep your principle but sacrifice your responsibility to the principle. Indeed, the only person who can find consistency on this matter is the individual who is wholly committed to tolerance, to the point of being apathetic." The irony of the dilemma is that people who express the most outrage toward intolerance, in this new definition, are themselves intolerant. When they call for tolerance, the effect is greater intolerance.

In an intolerant world, rational dialogue gives way to argument by insult. As Greg Koukl notes, "Most of what passes for tolerance today is not tolerance at all, but rather intellectual cowardice. Those who hide behind the myth of neutrality are often afraid of intelligent engagement. Unwilling to be challenged by alternate points of view, they don't engage contrary opinions or even consider them. It's easier to hurl an insult-'you intolerant bigot'-than to confront the idea and either refute it or be changed by it. 'Tolerance' has become intolerance." When thoughtful principled arguments can be refuted by insults or speculation about hidden motives (a hermeneutic of suspicion), rational discourse breaks down. True Tolerance is the next victim, as the enlightened few seek to impose their own version of "tolerance" on the "intolerant."

It is my hope that by presenting these resources on the subject of tolerance, that in times like this where the word 'tolerance' is so heavily used, but seem in such short supply, that we could all step back and rethink what True Tolerance is really about.

If you have comments, issues, or concerns, please email me directly: michaelh@ductape.net



Code of Ethics for Christian Witness

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's "Code of Ethics for Christian Witness"

As Christians called by the Living God, we seek first of all to honor Him and His ethical standards in all of our private and public lives, including our efforts to persuade others to believe the good news about Jesus Christ.

As Christian evangelists, we seek to follow the mandate, motives, message, and model of our God who is always pursuing and reclaiming those who are lost in sin and rebellion against Him.

We believe all people are created in God's image and therefore endowed with the capacity to be in relationship with their Creator and Redeemer. We disavow any effort to influence people that de-personalize or deprive them of their inherent value as persons.

Respecting the value of persons, we believe all people worthy of hearing the gospel of this loving Lord Jesus Christ. We equally affirm the inalienable right of every person to survey other opinions and convert to or choose a different belief system.

We believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and affirm the role and goal of the Christian evangelist. However, we do not believe that this justifies any means to fulfill that end. Hence, we disavow the use of any coercive techniques or manipulative appeals which bypass a person's critical faculties, play on psychological weaknesses, undermine relationship with family or religious institutions, or mask the true nature of Christian conversion.

While respecting the individual integrity, intellectual honesty, and academic freedom of all other believers and skeptics, we seek to proclaim Christ openly. We reveal our own identity and purpose, our theological positions and sources of information and will not be intentionally misleading. Respect for human integrity means no false advertising, no personal aggrandizement from successfully persuading others to follow Jesus, and no overly emotional appeals which minimize reason and evidence.

As Christian evangelists, we seek to embrace people of other religious persuasions in true dialogue. That is, we acknowledge our common humanity as equally sinful, equally needy, and equally dependent on the grace of God we proclaim. We seek to listen sensitively in order to understand, and thus divest our witness of any stereotypes or fixed formulae which are barriers to true dialogue.

As Christian evangelists, we accept the obligation to admonish one who represents the Christian faith in any manner incompatible with these ethical guidelines.



The virtue of tolerance can come only when tolerance is rightly understood. We are human beings, and we often disagree on many things. True tolerance recognizes the rights of other humans to both have and express their opinion. If we can learn to respect the rights of all human beings to have and express their understanding of reality, whether we agree with them or not, then we will be one step closer to living in a truly tolerant world.