Respect and Tolerance

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Now here’s a thing  – This article completely ignores Christmas, because whilst we can enjoy and celebrate Christmas, it is no reason for us to stop thinking!

So, what should we tolerate and what should we not tolerate? What should we respect and what should we not respect? And should we respect everything we tolerate and tolerate everything we respect?  As Graham touched upon in his sermon last week these are important issues – indeed I think they are the most important societal issues we face today (as opposed to issues of personal salvation, which I think are even more important).

Graham’s point on Sunday last was that we are now in a post-modernist society where the existence of God is seen as an impossibility and those who hold to that view are now in the minority (compared to previous ages when they were very much the majority – at least in the Western word).

Providentially, last weekend I also read an article by the journalist Kenan Malik[1] who identified how ideas of tolerance and respect are being turned upon their heads. To quote from him:

“Today, however, many regard tolerance not as the willingness to allow views that some people may find offensive but the restraining of unacceptable views so as to protect people from being outraged”.

He talks of people and ideas and of respect and tolerance being complementary notions – tolerating ideas whilst not always respecting them but always respecting people as equal beings, but not necessarily respecting their beliefs, values or acts.

(There are strong echoes of the Gospel here – Jesus went to all classes in society and wept over Jerusalem. The saving of one soul, any soul, brings great rejoicing in heaven. And, as  Graham said a while ago, much that is good and worthwhile in our world today stems from Jesus and his teaching, including the liberation of women, children and slaves from their previous lowly status).

But, back to the point! Many people today insist that we do respect not just people, but also whatever beliefs and values they might hold.  It is conceivable that laws will be passed in our country that make it an offence to say that one set of beliefs are right and others are wrong, or even that one set of beliefs is superior to another.

The separation in our thinking of people and ideas and a clear understanding of what should be tolerated and what should be respected is critical to us as Christians. As citizens we should have to tolerate a range of views and beliefs even though we may profoundly disagree with them.  People should be allowed to think what they want, and face their accountability before God in due course (there is an inevitable grey area where thoughts and actions come together – that will have to wait for another time). 

As Christians of course, our response to people actually has to go beyond respect and to be one of love – we should be moved by pity when we see people trapped in sin and/or in systems of religion and belief that deny them the joy and salvation that can only come from knowing Jesus. So we have to preach the Gospel and witness to Jesus,  but to be able to do that without fear or favour we need to defend the right views of tolerance and respect and if we are not able to do that ourselves, we need to support those who do.

[1] ‘Ideas can be tolerated without being respected. The distinction is key’, Kenan Malik, The Observer, Sunday 13 December 2020