the tolerance trap
By Averyl Dietering
“Tolerance is a virtue, but like all virtues, when exaggerated, it transforms itself into a vice. We need to be careful of the “tolerance trap” so that we are not swallowed up in it.”
-President Boyd K. Packer, April 2013 General Conference
I have a difficult relationship with the concept of “tolerance,” so when President Packer preached about the “tolerance trap” in his conference talk, “These Things I Know,” I was very intrigued by what he had to say. Like President Packer, I believe that there is a “tolerance trap.” And I believe that we need to be careful so it doesn’t swallow us up.
Unlike President Packer, however, I do not believe that tolerance is a virtue.
My fight against tolerance may seem confusing, considering that for many decades modern society has fought for a more tolerant society. We are constantly reminded to be tolerant of others’ beliefs. We condemn intolerance and praise those who exercise tolerance. Yet I still believe that tolerance is not a virtue, because tolerance is not love–it is just the absence of hate. Praising tolerance is equivalent to praising mediocrity.
Of course, it’s much better to praise mediocrity instead of praising hatred–if I had to choose between hate and tolerance, I’d obviously choose tolerance. But for those who desire to rise above mediocrity, and especially for those who believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ, tolerance is not enough. Christ told us to love our enemies:
43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? (Matthew 5: 43-46)
Like President Packer said, there is a “tolerance trap.” And while some may believe that this “trap” involves tolerating wicked people until the point that we embrace their wickedness (which is a valid interpretation), I believe that the true danger of the “tolerance trap” is the belief that if we tolerate people, we can avoid the burden of having to generate Christ-like love for them.
When we tolerate others, we are essentially convincing ourselves that the people we tolerate only deserve the minimum amount of our affection. We are convincing ourselves that it’s okay to not love everyone. It might make us feel good to know that we can tolerate those who don’t live up to our standards, but in the end, it’s not what Christ asked us to do. I love Christ; I don’t tolerate him. I love my family; I don’t tolerate them. It would be an insult to only tolerate Christ or my family–why would it ever be okay to assume that it’s a compliment to tolerate others?
In the end, tolerance is a trap because it convinces us that it’s okay to be a passive person: “I don’t try to love everyone, but because I’m tolerant of others, then I’m Christian enough.” We forget that to strive to be a true follower of Christ is actually a radical stance. To be a true follower of Christ means that we see tolerance for the fraud that it is, and that we show our love to Christ by showing our love to our brothers and sisters–no matter how vehemently we may disagree with their beliefs or practices. True Christianity has no place for anything less than love.
20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also. (1 John 4: 20-21)
2 Responses to “the tolerance trap”
I love this. When Oaks came to speak at BYU about the “tolerance trap,” I thought it was the biggest cop-out.
I was in the conference center when he said those words, and I openly wept. I was crying, not because I was feeling the presence of the spirit, as some might have thought from looking at me, but because I was feeling my church abandoning me. How could they condemn me for, as I saw it, following the Savior and loving my fellow sinners?