Faith Lutheran Church, Little Falls
The definition or original meaning of a word can evolve over time. Noah Webster sought to standardize the English language in America with his dictionary that was first published in 1828. He originally defined tolerance “as the capacity to endure pain or hardship: sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own.”
Tolerance was meant to be practiced by those on both sides of an issue, with each side given the freedom to debate or defend their position without the threat of penalty or harm. In more recent times the term “tolerance” has evolved into something more politically correct or autocratic where one side can control the debate and the other side will not only have to endure differing beliefs, opinions and/or lifestyles, but also must either agree with them, or at least keep their mouth shut when they don’t.
If one does publically express a differing belief or opinion he or she will be labeled as intolerant, and then will discover that the definition for “intolerance” has also evolved to mean ignorant, hateful, narrow-minded, bigoted, sexist, racist and xenophobic.
Even though Noah Webster has been called the “Father of American Scholarship and Education” he would be considered a bigot by today’s definition of intolerance and certainly not allowed to speak on a University campus. In the preface to his dictionary he wrote, “The best gift of God to man, is the Christian religion.” He also stated, “In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government ought to be instructed … No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”
We live in a culture today that echoes the question Pontius Pilate’s put to Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) Truth is now considered relative. You are labeled intolerant if you believe that truth is only found in Jesus, “the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) If you hold these convictions you are told to keep them to yourself.
In 1931, Monsignor Fulton J. Sheen wrote an excellent essay titled, “A Plea for Intolerance.” He stated, “America, it is said, is suffering from intolerance — it is not. It is suffering from tolerance. Tolerance of right and wrong, truth and error, virtue and evil, Christ and chaos. … The world seems to have lost entirely the faculty of distinguishing between good and bad, the right and the wrong.”
As followers of Christ we are called to submit to the Word of God and stand with what is righteous, what is truthful and what is virtuous, and stand against all that is evil. Regarding tolerance, Monsignor Sheen states, “The important point here is this: Tolerance applies only to persons, but never truth. Intolerance applies only to truth, but never to persons.”
We are to be patient and to love those who deny Biblical truth and seek to remove the Biblical principles on which this country was founded. And at the same time we should never acquiesce to any novel definitions of what God has already clearly defined in his word. God’s word is eternal, it does not evolve.