Seeking Intentional Pluralism
"Tolerating" women in the public sphere. "Tolerating" the legitimacy and livelihood of black bodies. "Tolerating" the right to LGBTQ+ unions.
“Putting up” with difference should not be a source of pride—it should be the first step in a challenge to uplift the diversity in America. Tolerance should go beyond "allowing" people to exist; it should be encouraging people to exist, helping them to exist, and being in solidarity with their existence. Tolerance means intertwining with pluralism.
April 3rd, 2018’s "Punish a Muslim Day," felt like taking two leaps back after taking one step forward in light of recent social justice marches and initiatives. The event's flyer was distributed primarily in England, but publicized world-wide, and was structured in a "point system" where acts of violence against Muslims were given X amount of points for level of severity.
In Rochester, Minnesota, a city with a high population of Somali-Muslim immigrants, "Punish a Muslim Day" was nerve-wracking for local residents. But I saw "tolerance," or more aptly, "pluralism," when several Rochester church leaders took shifts posting outside a local mosque during the day’s five prayers. Likewise, I am reminded of 2013 events in Egypt, when, after catastrophic church-bombings, twenty Muslim men held hands and created a line of defense outside a Catholic church as its parishioners attended mass. These acts go beyond tolerance—they are pluralism—an indisputable encouragement of existence and solidarity with suffering communities.
A popular method of peacemaking is "act first, talk later." We see this in the examples above; faithful resistance to oppression invites understanding in our communities. But do we know how to talk to one another? Especially in matters of ultimate, ideological importance?
While in London recently, my class visited with Myriam Francois, a prominent human rights activist. She said: “One of the hardest things for liberals to do is to be tolerant of non-liberals,” saying what few have dared to admit in the wake of the 2016 election. Americans in particular tend to think in such dualisms—Democrat or Republican, Christian or non-Christian, straight or not-straight, and the list goes on. Specifics of these identities and ideologies are often perceived, by both sides, as an irreconcilable clash of values and have created a deep polarity in our country.
But tolerance means possessing a vulnerability and openness to being challenged, to being wrong. This means recognizing that the vast majority of people, across the ideological spectrum, believe, vote, and pray the way they do out of a deep-set belief, whether influenced by family, experiences, or media, that they are doing the right thing for their loved ones and community.
When we possess such a vulnerability, only then can we move from the static fact of diversity into energetic pluralism, seeking to dialogue with and understand all peoples, despite whether they belong to our preferred brand of “preaching to the choir” or not. We can be tolerant and cooperate with difference—but we should seek to become pluralist, active collaborators for change.