The other day, I had a challenging conversation with a friend. We disagreed on something. This will happen. It is good and it is right that we disagree with others from time to time. At the end of the conversation we affirmed each other as people and spoke of our respect for each other and the roles we carry. We need to hear other voices and seek to see things through different eyes. Neither of us changed our stance on the particular issue.
Franklin Littell once pointed out the irony that churches have tried to impose certain ideas upon all people. Such issues as prohibition and resistance to evolution would be recent historical examples.
Politicians in the churches attempted to secure by public legislation what they were unable to persuade many of their own members was either wise or desirable. . . . Lacking the authenticity of a genuinely disciplined witness, the Protestant reversion to political action was ultimately discredited, and the churches have not to this day recovered their authority in public life.1
We must not seek to legislate our opinions when a large number of people would not support those opinions; and, another equally important truth lies along side of this one: we cannot affirm everyone else’s difference. Despite what some might say, we cannot tolerate evil. As John Stackhouse points out, “The absurdity of such an attitude [that we can tolerate everyone’s difference] emerges immediately upon one’s refusal to affirm this or that idea, behavior, or group with which one disagrees: one is then condemned (note: not affirmed).”2
This gives us some helpful language for how to speak of such things. We want to listen to one another and learn from other people’s perspective even when we know we cannot move to their same conclusions. We must not legislate our morality or ideas when we know that there is broad disagreement with the ideas. A mature version of tolerance must go beyond a fierce judging of all who will not play the same game.
1 As quoted in (Stackhouse 2008, 326, 327)
2 (Stackhouse 2008, 329)