Tolerance is a word bantered around excessively in our culture. We argue for tolerance – tolerance of other people’s culture, ethnicity, language, political and theological views and belief systems. Webster’s defines tolerance like this, “Sympathy or indulgence for beliefs and practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own.” Unfortunately, too often, in culture and in the church tolerance becomes a one way proposition. The belief is I am asked to be tolerant of your position on issues, but you are not expected to offer the same sympathy or indulgence when it comes to my position.
If you or I differ from the mainstream sentiment about a certain issue or position we are labeled and called out as misogynistic, bigoted, narrow minded, and intolerant. I encounter plenty of people that expect me to be tolerant of their beliefs, but do not give that same respect to my beliefs if I do not agree with their’s.
The historical United Methodist position on Scripture is that it is the authority for both faith and practice. When we speak of the quadrilateral – Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience; it is not the equilateral. In other words, Wesley meant scripture to be the primary authority from which Tradition, Reason and Experience follow.
I have always believed that if you began any other place than scripture when it comes to addressing difficult issues of our day, than you are beginning at the wrong starting point and will ultimately not be happy where you end up.
It is true that United Methodists are not of one mind on many issues; but it was also true in the days of the early church. Neither were they. However, what ultimately prevailed was scriptural authority and people’s willingness to follow it. (See Acts 15).
Tolerance does not mean compromise for the sake of unity. I will not compromise my belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I will not compromise my view on Wesley’s call to live a life of holiness. I will not compromise my view on Human sexuality. Does that mean I am intolerant if I hold that up as a value for the church to follow? I think not. Why? Because scripture is the ultimate authority, not tradition, reason and experience.
I can be tolerant, civil, and respectful of other people’s theological belief systems and political views, though different maybe from my own, without compromise. Well-meaning Christians can state their viewpoints. That is fine. But don’t call me out as narrow minded and bigoted if my world view and scriptural guidance are not in keeping with yours.
Wesley believed “In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; and in all things charity.” Beyond that, he said, “we think and let think.” Wouldn’t it be something if we could put aside our rigid theological and political position while not demonizing someone else for theirs?
The Holy Spirit will reveal the way forward; but may the starting point always be scripture not our personal, political, and theological hobby horses.