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Does tolerance have a limit?

POSTED: November 18, 2011 7:00 a.m.

According to Merriam-Webster, tolerance is defined as:
1. capacity to endure pain or hardship: Endurance, fortitude, stamina. 2. sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own  b: the act of allowing something: Toleration.
Tolerance is a good thing, but does tolerance have a limit? Or, by its very nature does tolerance insist on no limits? Must we endure everything, indulge any whim and accept every thing that might come our way in the name of tolerance?
I ask because I am absolutely intrigued by the lawsuit being pursued which tries to insist that a private Roman Catholic University must provide an area for Muslim students to pray without being offended by any Christian symbols that might be in the area. Forget for a minute that none of the students in question have filed suit, and the fact that it is a private institution that has never hidden from any of its applicants what it is that it believes, or that the professor in question has no ties to the university which he is attempting to sue.  Ignoring all that, should you still be forced to restrict what it is you believe in order for someone else to practice their belief with no restrictions?
If you and I agree that tolerance dictates that we allow unfettered practice of any belief, even in a private setting where does it end, what must it include? Must I, as a Christian, allow competing views to be presented in my congregation? Does society at large have the obligation to listen to my views, even if they do not want to? Does the Catholic University in question have the right to place a crucifix in the entrance to a mosque? If not, why not? Should not tolerance insist upon it? Can you, should you be forced to tolerate something you believe to be wrong, or sinful, or could potentially condemn somebody to damnation?
Is it our responsibility to be tolerant, or to be truthful? In the third chapter of his first letter Peter tells us, “... always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (3:15b-17, ESV)
We are not called to be tolerant, but we are called to be gentle and respectful. We should never brow beat someone into submission when it comes to our Christian faith, but we should also be willing to suffer whatever comes our way in order to share our Christian faith with those around us. The Bible is quite clear, “... there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12, ESV)
We would never tolerate behavior by our neighbor that would lead to his, or her death would we? If you believe, as I do, that salvation can only be found in Jesus can you, in the name of tolerance, remain silent any more than you could, in the name of tolerance allow someone to step in front of a speeding train even if it’s their choice?
There is a place for tolerance especially when it comes to tastes, and fashion, and even worship style, but never toward the object of proper worship. In fact, a quick word search of my ESV Bible had no hits for the word tolerance. It did, however, reveal four hits for various forms of the word tolerate, all used in a negative context. We are not called to be tolerant of sin, godlessness, or false worship, but we are called to tolerate whatever may come for the sake of sharing Jesus and the Gospel.
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” (1 Tim. 2:1-7, ESV)

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