In one of my all-time favorite movies – The Princess Bride – Inigo Montoya says to Vizzini, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” This thought has run through my mind on several occasions lately as the word “intolerant” has been lobbed back and forth between disagreeing parties. It usually goes something like this. Person one: “I can’t believe you disagree with me. You are so intolerant.” Person two: “No, the fact that you say I’m intolerant proves your intolerance.” Person one: “No, you’re intolerant.” Person two: “No, you’re intolerant.” Maybe I’ve condensed the argument a little bit, but that’s the gist of it. These regular exchanges never convince me of either position, but they have managed to convince me of two things.
- First, no one seems to know what intolerance actually is. Though I doubt that a simple examination of the dictionary would solve the problem, it seems like it ought to. Tolerance is defined as “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs or practices differ from one’s own.” Intolerance is simply an unwillingness to be tolerant. It has nothing to do with whether or not you agree and everything to do with how you treat or feel about those who disagree with you.
- Secondly, genuine intolerance seems highest in those who like to accuse others of being intolerant. I see this all over and from all sides, but it concerns me most when I see it in those who claim to be Christians. I share beliefs with many of these people, but I am disgusted by their hatred and mean-spirited speech. I am not opposed to identifying sin or standing up for your beliefs. I do, however, think it is a sin to be mean or disrespectful toward anyone, even if they disagree with your opinion.
It’s not intolerant to disagree or even to strongly disagree. It is not intolerant to have a strong and sincere belief that your view is correct. It is not even intolerant to passionately defend your view and oppose someone else’s. It is, however, intolerant to mock, belittle or mistreat someone on the basis of an opinion, belief or position that differs from your own. The amount of energy expended attacking those who disagree with our faith could change the world if redirected toward loving the lost. I challenge my fellow believers to stop identifying yourself by everything you’re against and let yourself be identified by Who you’re for. Live out the love of Christ, be His light to a dark world. And maybe, just maybe, we should give some consideration to Moses’ admonition to Israel, “The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent (Ex 14:14).”