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1. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.

2. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own.

3. interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc., foreign to one’s own; a liberal, undogmatic viewpoint.

4. the act or capacity of enduring; endurance: My tolerance of noise is limited.

These [Bible] passages seem to indicate that there are times when we must put up with the undesirable actions of others—bear them, endure them—without condemning anyone because condemnation belongs only to God. But this does not mean that we are not to judge and condemn sinful behavior itself, and there is even a point at which we must distance ourselves from others to protect ourselves and our loved ones from them.

How to Be A Truly Tolerant Christian

“Tolerance” can be harmful when it becomes a tired response for indifferent neutrality to every moral issue. It can be the virtue of people who believe in nothing. Today, “tolerance” has made passing judgment unfashionable on many attitudes and behaviors.

Is Christian Tolerance Tolerable Anymore?

“Tolerance” is definitely one of those words that Christians have gotten awfully confused about. I want to talk about it today because I think it’s necessary to talk about one of the many, many ways that modern Christianity has veered into toxicity.

Tolerant dog is tolerant with kittens. (Credit: S. Carter, CC license.)
Tolerant dog is tolerant with kittens. (Credit: S. Carter, CC license.)

The whole idea is a little confusing, the way they present it. “Tolerance,” to them, means gritting their teeth and not objecting to behavior they hate or think is sinful. Remember that “love” post I made a while ago about how they think that it’s “loving” to try to fix or correct the people around them? That’s where their “love” comes in with tolerance. They think that if they don’t say something, or make some visible objection to the behavior, that that means they condone it or are okay with it. But if they say something, the people they’re treating with intolerance will somehow be inspired to second-think their lives and choices (and, apparently, change the very genetic code that makes them gay or bi or trans) and want to become better people (read: become more like the Christian being so intolerant). So if they don’t fight the good fight, it’ll be dogs and cats, living together: mass hysteria! They have to do something to show their disapproval, right?

It’s a pity Christians can’t just burn people at the stake or force them to atone for their sins like in the good old days of the Dark Ages, when stepping out of line might get you killed or forced to wear scratchy clothes and eat bread and water for X amount of time. No, in our sinful modern age, we don’t let Christians attack non-believers or hurt them (though they do anyway), so they’re left with public censure, terrorist threats, and personal insults. If they don’t say something, that objectionable behavior might become normalized in society, after all. It’ll become accepted without a second thought. And we can’t have that. Society must act Christian even if it isn’t Christian, because if we’re all forced to act Christian, that’s just as good as if we actually were Christian. And it might make us want to become Christian, because being browbeaten, shamed, assaulted, and forced to act in ways we disagree with makes us feel more sympathetic and cooperative with our oppressors. Somehow. That hasn’t ever happened yet, but hey, if they keep doing it, it might magically start working. Somehow. Somehow they will get that genie back in the bottle.

That’s where we get these bizarre mantras like “love the sinner, hate the sin.” It’s weird how this tactic feels so much like just “hating the sinner,” like some intermediate step got left out. I don’t know anybody who is fooled by it anyway, but Christians keep saying it like some magic spell that makes their insults and attacks seem perfectly reasonable.

You’d think they’d realize that they’re putting the cart before the horse, here. If I’m not “saved,” then surely nothing I do sexually or in my private relationships can possibly matter. I’m still unsaved even if I toe the line with regard to marriage, children, my rights, or unapproved relationships. Even straight, totally intolerant virgins can go to Hell, surely. So why on earth would it even matter what I do or don’t do if I have rejected Christianity’s message completely?

I put it to you that it’s not us non-Christians that intolerance is meant to impact and “fix.”

It’s Christians themselves.

By far the worst thing imaginable for toxic Christian leaders would be if Christians themselves started thinking that being LGBTQA or wanting control over one’s reproductive choices was perfectly normal. And here’s where I really think Christian intolerance hits home. They know they’re not going to win against women’s rights or acceptance of gay people. But they don’t want a world where Christians think those things are acceptable. At that point they couldn’t really be Christian anymore, could they? Because the Christian Church has never, as a group, changed to suit the cultural mores of their societies. They’ve never had to adapt to changes like the end of slavery, the idea of marriage for love, worker’s rights or even vaccinations and public schooling. But gay people and women’s rights? Those are just a bridge too far. A Christianity that’s fine with those things is a Christianity that terrifies and horrifies such toxic leaders.

So in response to their chilling desire to force the world to act Christian even if we’re not Christian, I say that the real problem is that they are misusing the concept of “tolerance” to force their own people back to a never-never-land of the mythical 50s, when men were men, women were women, only opposite-gendered (and may I add same-race) couples were acceptable, and if anybody had the audacity to want a partner who was a different race or gender, that person kept such perversion to him- or herself. Once Christians themselves have returned to the cage, then surely the rest of society will fall into line through shame and finger-wagging, and then we’ll all convert to Christianity (the sort the intolerant ones like best, of course, not those awful liberal churches that let gay people and women be pastors and stuff) and women will stop having unapproved sex and gay people will magically become straight. Somehow.

As for me, I know what tolerance, to Christians, really means: it’s about them quietly gritting their teeth and letting someone do something that that person is legally allowed to do and that isn’t hurting anybody in any material (non-religious) way. It’s about Christians getting wound up about someone else’s choices and someone else’s life decisions when those choices and life decisions don’t impact the Christian’s life in the very slightest, have nothing to do with that Christian, and demanding that their standard of living and morality be imposed on other people for no other reason than that it’d make them feel more comfortable being around people who aren’t acting too differently from themselves. It’s the great gesture, the grand and noble allowance they make to us sinners to let us live free of their interference, shame tactics, and anger, and that they don’t understand why such a gesture is evil in the first place speaks volumes about the validity of their religion.

To toxic Christians: You don’t like something I’m doing? Then get over yourself. You won’t like a lot of things I do. I don’t really care if you don’t like them, either. I’m not going to live my life holding my breath for your sudden grand burst of tolerance, your great gesture of allowance that I’m allowed to live my life the way I want to live it. How mighty kind of you to concede, grudgingly and with great simmering resentment, that I am free to make choices you don’t personally like. How noble. How glorious of you.

How loving.

When I hear someone talking about “tolerating” others, I immediately wonder just who died and put that person in charge of everybody else. The person doing the “tolerating” is putting him- or herself up on a big height and judging others, and even though their very own Bible tells them not to do that, they do it anyway. Hey, they have to save Jesus some time, right? He’s busy ignoring millions of hungry children, people dying of diseases, and folks dealing with natural disasters. You can’t ask him to judge all these sinners himself. And the behavior being “tolerated” is relegated to the status of “something that is weird but that we have to put up with anyway” even if that behavior is something as basic as “wanting to marry the consenting adult we love.”

We used to call people practicing intolerance simple busybodies. A pity we can’t just tell them to get over themselves and stop worrying about other people. The other day I had a Christian fling abuse at me for mentioning a Barna study about how Christianity is viewed as incredibly repressive and mean-spirited; when I asked if she needed help with the beam in her eye, she got super-defensive and said all haughtily, “Well! You need it worse!” Because “NUH-UH! YOU!” is such a great comeback when told that you’re falling down on one of the most basic commandments in the whole Christian mythos. But that’s the kind of toxic Christians we’re dealing with these days–people who can’t even recognize when their behavior is hateful or judgmental, and if they do realize they’re being that way, have at their fingertips a baker’s dozen of misinterpreted, twisted-up Bible verses that justify abusing other people and meddling in their lives.

And I think we’re just getting over those people. I think that as a whole we’re moving away from caring what they have to say about others’ lives. The more judgmental they get, the more we start seeing that their judgment isn’t really that sound to begin with and their judgment stops being desirable–or even scary. The first time someone told me that I hadn’t been a “real” Christian before my deconversion, it hurt a lot. But then a Christian friend said, “Why do you even care what someone that horrible thinks of you?” And I felt my concern lift away like a blanket. He was totally right. Now when someone says it, I realize that what is really being said is: “I need to invalidate you as a person and nullify you.”

Can we maybe start doing that for all the other things toxic Christians judge us about? Maybe start realizing that what they want to do is invalidate us and nullify us? To put us in boxes labeled “bad person” so they don’t have to contend with us or deal with us? To keep us away from their bubble so we don’t burst it with our happiness and contentment without their religion? To shame us with their “tolerance” so we’ll step back into line and at least act Christian so they’re more comfortable?

What’s worse: being such horrible moral arbiters of what other people do? Or making these moral judgements and nobody caring anymore?

So I present —

A Quick Checklist for Tolerance

1. Is the act in question something that is illegal, involves un-consenting parties including children or animals, or will produce physical harm to its participants or bystanders against their wishes? If no, then get over yourself.

2. Does the act in question personally impact you in any way, shape, or form, or take away any of your civil liberties? (Hint: “not being offended” is not a civil liberty. “Not seeing gay people being gay in public” isn’t either.) If no, then get over yourself.

3. Does your proposed response involve taking away someone else’s liberties or rights? (Such as: denying women their rights to bodily sovereignty, denying gay people the right to marry, denying children the right to get educated without facing sneaky religious indoctrination.) If yes, then get over yourself.

4. Do you use the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” without irony and genuinely believe you manage this trick? If yes, then get over yourself and stop saying it. Nobody you’re using it on is fooled in the least. I don’t know about you, but the second a Christian says that, I know I’ve found another toxic Christian. I know that this phrase is used for one reason and one reason only: to give a toxic Christian license to hurt, insult, and humiliate people who don’t fall into line.

Acceptable Responses to People Doing Things You Don’t Like:

1. Ignoring them and living your life the way you want to live it.

2. Praying in quiet privacy for them to magically change (hey, if prayer worked, you’d never need to tell your victims you were doing it, would you?).

3. Remembering that you’re just one of millions of people in this big old world and that your views on morality aren’t binding on other people just as theirs aren’t binding on you.

4. Reminding yourself that nobody asked you for your approval or cares what you think is moral or immoral.

5. Loving them and embracing their rights to live their own lives the way they want, in the realization that if they want to change or hear what you have to say, they’ll ask for your advice, because that’s the gift they are giving to you by accepting you with all your facets.

In short, I don’t want to be tolerated. I want to be loved. I want to be despised. I want to be free to live my life the way I want to live it. I want to be embraced. I want to be left alone. But “toleration,” that dim grey cloud of resentful and grudging mediocrity, that isn’t something I want to receive any more than mainstream Christians want to give it to me. I don’t give a tinker’s dam if someone tolerates me or not. I just want them to keep out of my business and worry about themselves.

What’s funny about tolerance to me is that in college, I ended up as co-leader of a campus group called “Prayer Warriors for Jesus.” I’ll write more about it next time, but know this: one day I was reading the campus newspaper and someone had written a letter saying that she didn’t condone toxic Christianity, yet her student fees were going to support “Prayer Warriors for Jesus.” It’d never even occurred to me that someone might one day be tolerating me just like I’d been tolerating others, and it was quite the eye-opener.

I wonder what this world will look like when Christians realize that they’re now on the same end of bizarre behavior that requires tolerance from others.

I wonder how they’ll want to be treated then.

ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...

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