Home / Views & Opinion / Are Christians meant to be tolerant or intolerant? Nobody knows, not even them.
Are Christians meant to be tolerant or intolerant?  Nobody knows, not even them.

Are Christians meant to be tolerant or intolerant? Nobody knows, not even them.

Being Christian in America has become increasingly difficult—for Christians, because no one in the Christian community can agree on exactly what a Christian is. The following article called “Should Christianity be Intolerant?” is one example of this new confusion in the Christian community:

Should Christians be tolerant? Yes and no. We should live in love, but there are certain things (truth claims that oppose Christianity) that are impossible for us to tolerate. Keller delineated four different kinds of tolerance, three that Christians should possess, and one that is absolutely unfeasible for Christians.

We must make a distinction between these levels of tolerance. I’m taking some liberties to fill them out a bit more than Keller did in his sermon, but my attempt is to simply elaborate on thoughts his message evoked in my mind. We must understand these issues as Christians seeking to live with a distinctly redemptive character and attitude as we encounter those in our world who disagree with us. AsTullian Tchividjian says, “As Christians we make a difference in the world by living different.”

Four types of tolerance:

1) Social Tolerance: Toleratingpeopleon a social level.

Christians should have this. Think about Jesus. He did not break into bars or hostels with guns blazing, seeking to demolish anyone who disagreed with His claim to be God. He walked in love, building redemptive bridges to broken and hurting people.

2) Relational Tolerance: Showing respect for others and authentically listening to people no matter where they land theologically.

Christians should be courteous. We should be people who are willing to hear others’ opinions and to engage in civil dialogue about the truth. We have nothing to fear from questions. We can’t shy away from critical thinking. Remember, Jesus said “I am the way,the truth, and the life.” If He is the truth, and He is, honest questions find their answer in Him. We should encourage these questions. And we should study God’s word daily so that we can give clear answers about the truth.

3) Legal Tolerance: Allowing people to practice their beliefs freely.

Of all these types of tolerance, we should be most thankful for this as Christians. For those of us who live inAmerica, this is one of the great gifts we were given by our Founding Fathers. If you look back through history you’ll find many examples of legal tolerance not being granted to individuals seeking to practice their beliefs authentically and peacefully. We should be thankful for legal tolerance, not that we need it to survive (Christian history shows that true Christianity thrives under persecution), but that we have it to enjoy.

Christians should practice social, relational, and legal tolerance. The final type of tolerance however, is one we cannot truly give while remaining true to our faith.

4) Theological tolerance: tolerating the idea that “all religions are the same” or “all roads go to the top.”

This is absolutely impossible for Christians. We cannot faithfully practice true Christianity while exhibiting theological (or intellectual) tolerance. Why? Look at a few things Jesus said:

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Matthew 7:13-14

This article has Christians walking a fine line—not only must they be aware of different levels of tolerance, they must practice inward intolerance of what they are on the outside tolerating. This question of tolerance becomes even more theologically rocky when Christians try to define exactly what “true Christianity” is. Ask 100 Christians what “true Christianity” is and you will get 100 different answers. It’s got to be tough. It’s got to be tough to be perceived as intolerant, to know which verses in the Old Testament to follow and which words of Christ to follow. It’s got to be tough to choose who to listen to: the hellfire and brimstone preaching of Franklin Graham, or the marshmallow fluff non-Christian preachy love of Max Lucado (and no, I didn’t call him that—another questionably Christian website did).
Which begs the question—is Christianity intolerant?
Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade—kind of.Christianity, they say, is tolerant AND intolerant. (*sigh*…..they don’t know either—but ultimately, THEY end up being, well, intolerant):
The whole issue of whether or not Christianity is intolerant lies in who Jesus is, what He claimed, and what He did. If what Jesus said and did is true, then Christianity isn’t intolerant. It is simply true and it is the world that is intolerant of that truth.

Likewise, it is true that Jesus lived. It is true that Jesus walked on water (Matt. 14:26-27). It is true that Jesus healed the sick (Matt. 8:5-13). It is true that Jesus calmed a storm with a command (Mark 4:39). It is true that Jesus raised the dead (Matt. 9:25; John 11:43-44). It is true that Jesus claimed to be God (John 5:18; 8:24; 8:58 — see Exodus 3:14). It is true that Jesus was killed on a cross (Luke 24:20). It is true that Jesus rose from the dead (Luke 24:39; John 20:27). These are not feeble claims made by crazy people who wanted to gain power and fame. These are the claims of Christ Himself and of those who followed Him and suffered for Him and died for Him.

Either it is all true or it is not. Either Jesus performed miracles or He did not. Either Jesus rose from the dead or He did not. Based solely and completely on who Jesus is and what He did, Christianity is the truth and by necessity all other religions that disagree with Jesus are wrong.

So there you have it—a portrait of the tolerant intolerance of the Christian community. Religious Tolerance.org put a disclaimer on their quotes section:
We regret that most of the intolerant quotations are by fundamentalist
and other evangelical Christians. We have been unable to find any by
liberal or progressive Christians. If you run across one of the latter, we
would appreciate receiving a copy so that we could provide a better balance.

And now some of the quotes by Christians Religious Tolerance.org collected that are unabashedly not tolerant at all:

Anon:From an Email sent by a conservative Christian to this website:

“There is no such thing as ‘religious tolerance’ as far as God and Heaven is concerned. We are either ‘in’ Christ or not.”

Anon: Bumper sticker byHarbor House Giftsof Fullerton CA.

“Truth, not tolerance.”
Editor’s note: The bumper sticker also shows a clenched fist on the left side and a Christian cross on the right.

Sheik Abdel-Aziz Ibn Baaz, Supreme religious authority, Saudi Arabia and author of a Muslim religious edict, 1993:

“The earth is flat, and anyone who disputes this claim is an atheist who deserves to be punished.”

George H.W. Bush, (R) as Presidential Nominee for the Republican party; 1987-AUG-27:

“No, I don’t know that Atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.”

Perhaps Christians have Thomas Mann in mind when they think of tolerance:

Sadly, “evil” itself is different in the minds of our 100 Christians—and the nature of evil is a philosophical question that has no answer. People have a tendency to believe in authority figures who tell them exactly WHAT is evil—Democrats, Jews, you name it.

There were good Christian people who turned in Jews to the Nazis during Hitler.

There were good Christian people who hid Jews.

There were good Christian people who didn’t read Harry Potter because their pastors told them so.

There were good Christian people who found Christ in Harry Potter.

There are good Christian people who believe being gay isn’t an obstacle to Christ .

There are good Christian people who believe gays ought to die.

There are good Christian people who believe the Republican Party is God’s party.

There are good Christian people who vote Democrat.

There are good Christian people who believe that they ought to love everybody and be non-judgmental.

There are good Christian people who believe that judging is love.

The answer is, nobody knows what the truth is—ever since the day of Pontius Pilate—who got to ask the ultimate question to the one man who would know—and the answer he got was utter silence from Christ. If Christ himself did not answer, how can those who claim to be “true Christians?”

About Dakota O'Leary

Dakota O'Leary is a freethinker, and often sassy, scholar of theology and literature. She got her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Theology from the State University of New York College at Buffalo, and her Master of Arts degree in Theology and Literature from Antioch University-Midwest. She is a contributing writer focusing on eschatology, biblical prophecy, and general religious news. Dakota is a co-host of the God Discussion radio show, offering insight to the news stories of the week. We like to call her "our in-house Biblical prophecy expert" as her articles on eschatology have received over 200,000 views on God Discussion.
  • Deborah_B

    Awesome article, Dakota!  I have to admit, my coffee "went down the wrong tube" as I choked with laughter over the title, but seriously and the wonderful humor  throughout the article aside, you raise some great points.  I think that "tolerance" is what is separating the fundamentalists from the progressives, and why fundamentalists believe that Interfaith groups are wickedy, wickedy, wickedy.

    • joejmz

       It's quite a bit more complicated than that because we don't all necessarily accept that we must fall into one or the other of those divisions.

  • joejmz

    Christians are called on to love everyone.  We are called Christians in part because we are supposed to follow Jesus's example.  Jesus hung out with the dregs of society.  Obviously, if they allowed Him to hang with them he was not being an intolerant idiot towards them.  However, He also would very clearly tell them they were committing sins.  He loved and sought them out, but He did not accept or approve of their sinful actions.

    It is not that complicated.  A true Christian does not see a person as being defined by their actions, people are not "An adulterer," "A thief," "A murderer," "A liar," "A disobedient child," etc.  A true Christian keeps in mind that all of us are sinners and that the only real difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is the willingness to accept God's GRACE, something freely given to us in spite of our actions because we can never be worthy of it.

  • COinMS

    My (admittedly) non-orthodox take on Christian Tolerance is yes. Yes, we should follow the Golden Rule and let others believe and do what they will. The only things christians should not tolerate are contained within themselves; bigotry, hatred, slander — in other words, we should focus on fixing our own character and let others alone. God has a time still to come in which he will help and heal these people… but that time is not yet.

    As the Bible says in Rev. 22:11 — "Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy."

    • You need to take those verses in context there Guest. Jesus wasn't tolerant by todays standards by any stretch of the imagination. He told the woman at the well in the end to NOT sin anymore. Go and sin no more. That's exactly what Christians today are saying. Go and sin no more.

      • Well to do that, humans would need to not live life at all, whither and die, just to not sin.  Also, the Bile has so many contradiction in it as to what is and is not a sin.

  • Robert

    From the United Methodist Church's General Conference ( I am equating "love they neighbor" with "tolerance":

    "From these passages and others we can draw several conclusions about
    what it means to love our neighbors. First of all, loving our neighbors
    means responding to specific needs—hunger, illness, imprisonment,
    loneliness, and so forth. Love is more than a feeling; it is behavior.
    It is practical and concrete.

    Secondly, our neighbors include many people. Within the context of
    the Christian community, our neighbors are our brothers and sisters in
    Christ. Neighbors may also refer to the contemporary understanding of
    those who live near us. However, from a biblical perspective, neighbors
    often include people whom we might not normally consider:

    people who mistreat us (who are our enemies);
    people from other cultural and ethnic backgrounds;
    people from different religious traditions;
    people who irritate us and push the boundaries of our patience.

    Therefore, loving our neighbors requires attention and sacrifice. We
    have to pay attention to what is happening around us in order to see our
    neighbors and to recognize their needs. We must also consider their
    needs to be as important as our own in order to live faithfully. Loving
    neighbor is more than random acts of kindness. It takes time, energy,
    and commitment. It is a lifestyle carefully cultivated in response to

    Finally, these passages emphasize that loving our neighbors is not
    optional; it is mandatory. It is what Christians do and what Christians
    are. Our lives are a testimony to our love—our love for God and our love
    for neighbor.

    • The UMC isn't the dictator of what people should do. The bible is. And, the bible says the FIRST love is:

      to love God with all your heart, soul and mind.
      The 2nd is love thy neighbor.

      The FIRST commandment means that we are to do what he says. What he says is to OBEY. Obedience isn't just giving someone a drink. In fact, the bible says that we're to support the BRETHERN first. All others afterwards.

      The first goal of a christian is to show the love of Christ by telling others about the love of Christ and the love of Christ means that we're sinners in need of a savior. That Savior is Christ and he wants us to love our neighbors by telling them the truth no matter whether it hurts or not. That means everyone needs to repent of their sins and confess Romans 10:9-10, etc….

      This includes homosexuals, adulterers, thiefs, liars, backbiters, lustful men and women, fornicators (men/woman marriages only) etc..etc…etc.. as 1 Corinthians states.

      Read the word and tell us how many people were following Christ when he died on the cross. The Acts church was started by very few people. They preached the gospel and that convertered hearts towards Christ. Not feeding or giving drink. They preached the Word!

      • Well, you'd better include yourself in that list of sinner, because no human is perfect.  However, the end of the story has barbarism at its finest ~ a deity who commits murder/suicide and allow the humans to assist in that murder.

        I'm not so sure Paul preached the word, esp since he never met Jesus (couldn't because JC never existed).  On top of it all, JC never mentioned homosexuality.  Fornication is more than just homosexuality, but also heterosexuals having sex outside of marriage.

        Technically, much of what you've been saying is from Paul, who not only never met Jesus, but he only wrote 7 out of 13 books attributed to him.

        If they preached the word, then how easy it would be to turn any fiction story, which has a series of books, into a religion.

  • Who said this: If you LOVE me, you'll follow MY commands?

    Who said: Go and sin NO MORE?

    Who said: And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?

    As someone who is a sinner saved by God's grace, we're not supposed to sin. God IMPLORES us to speak His Word. Nobody is perfect, but being in rebellion about something that the bible clearly speaks against is not intolerant. It's love as the first line says.

    • Horus, who is the way, the truth, and the light, as well as the I AM.  It could also be Krishna/Vishnu, who is also the I AM, as well as the beginning and end.  Any and all of the human created god-men, actually.

Scroll To Top