Tolerance, Hate Speech, and Dialogue

“Tolerance” has become a frequently used word.  We do well to ask ourselves what does it mean to “tolerate.” 

Why?  Because I think it is being used beyond its actual meaning.  It seems to me that it is being used more in the sense of “relativism” than its actual meaning.  Relativism says that you are free to believe whatever you want and that is okay.  Relativism says there is no universal truth and anything goes (as long as you aren’t hurting anyone).  Tolerance calls us to “allow” a behavior without condoning it.  Before continuing, please allow me to say that my use of terms like we, they, us, and other pronouns is not meant to foster divisiveness or offer any judgment.  Such use is only to distinguish between different opinions.

Unfortunately, some people who call for universal “tolerance” accuse Catholics of hate speech when we say behaviors like same-sex relationships go against God’s ways, misunderstand our intent.  It is not our intent to promote hate in any way.  In fact, we speak up for the morals that we believe in because we love, heeding Jesus’ command to love our neighbor.  We speak the Truth that comes from Jesus because if you love someone, you want them to know what the Truth is.  You want to help them make good choices.  We hate the sin but love the sinner.  We do not wish to judge anyone.  Jesus tells us, “stop judging” (Matthew 7:1, Luke 6:37).  For example, our goal (rooted in love) regarding sexual behavior is to help everyone live a chaste life.  Chastity is a goal we support for all, regardless of sexual orientation.

The thing that seems odd to me is that, in the spirit of tolerance, some of those who disagree with us want to silence us.  If we were promoting hate, then it would be correct to stop that.  However, properly understood (there lies the problem), we are not promoting hate.  We need to ask God’s grace to help us to know how to speak the truth in a way that promotes love, not hate. 

When speaking of tolerance, we recognize that people must be free to follow their conscience.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses both freedom of conscience and having a well-formed conscience in paragraphs 1776-1789.  God does indeed give us free will to make our own choices (see my article on “Conscience“). 

To truly be free to make one’s own choices, one must know what one’s choices are.  It is our intent to help everyone understand what the choices are and the effects of their choices.  Why would anyone not want this?  Could they be afraid that we are right?  In Acts 5:17-40, we hear of some disciples on trial.  Here I offer what Gamaliel says in verses 38-39, “So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go.  For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself.  But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.”

It is not our intent to force our beliefs on others.  Are there things we would like to see made illegal?  For example, do we want to make abortion illegal?  Yes.  However, it is not to force our beliefs on the person choosing the abortion.  We want to stop abortion because we love the child that has been conceived in the mother’s womb.

For tolerance to really be “tolerant”, it must allow for us to be able to speak up for our beliefs.  Additionally, in the spirit of tolerance, we should not be forced to go against our beliefs.  Yet, government mandates and funding abortions and contraception use our tax dollars to support behaviors that go against our beliefs.

I want to be clear that what I am about to say is not a rallying cry for hate speech or protests.  I simply want to encourage people of faith to speak up for what God has taught us.  We have been silent too long.  We have allowed society to dictate our beliefs, even how we practice our faith, when it should be our faith that dictates what goes on in society. 

This is not a new problem.  Psalm 106 speaks of how the Israelite people fell away from following the Lord’s ways because they “mingled with the nations  and imitated their ways” (verse 35).  I feel it is very important to acknowledge here that verse 34 speaks of how the Lord commanded the Israelites to destroy their enemies.  I do not believe the Lord wants us to destroy other human beings in this way.  I point to Luke 9:5, “And as for those who do not welcome you, when you leave that town, shake the dust from your feet in testimony against them” (cf. Matthew 10:14, Mark 6:11).  We are to offer people the Truth of Jesus Christ.  It is each individual’s choice whether to accept it or not (see the Parable of the Sentinel in Ezekiel 3:17-21). 

One should heed the words found in Revelation 3:15b-16, “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either cold or hot.  So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” 

We ask the grace we need to be on fire (hot) with a faith, rather than just be lukewarm where we say we believe but we do not fully live it.  We must not abandon our faith (cold), choosing society over our faith.  Yet, just as much do we need grace to never practice hate speech.  Rather, we ask the Holy Spirit to help us always speak with compassion and love. 

With that in mind, I end with the final two verses of the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) where Jesus is compassionate to the woman, “Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.”

If you are interested in reading on good dialogue, see my article, “Seeking Real Dialogue.”


Fr. Jeff

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