#ToleranceMeans Pioneering Friendship
Growing up in Utah, I heard story after story about pioneers who bravely headed out West in search of religious freedom. These pioneers left most everything behind to cross the plains in search of something better for themselves and their families. When they arrived in Utah, the settlers were welcomed by nothing more than desert pocketed with Native Americans. Yet, from this harsh environment they created a thriving and prosperous community.
Today, many Utahns pride themselves on being descendants of such pioneers, and rightly so; those pioneers were an impressive people. Yet today, Utah is also known as a place that is relatively intolerant of LGBTQ individuals due to traditional cultural beliefs (of course, there are many individuals who defy this gross generalization). Regardless, it seems surprising that a people with ancestors who themselves sought tolerance would be intolerant of others seeking the same thing.
Church leaders in Utah encourage members to be pioneers in doing what’s right. But what is right? Certainly, doing right is, at the very least, being tolerant of those who do not believe the same things. However, being tolerant can be difficult in a community where homosexual behavior is in direct contrast with what the majority regard as a righteous way of living. Many are intolerant because they believe that tolerance means agreement. But tolerance is neither agreement nor acceptance of ideas; it is acceptance of people as they are.
Tolerance, like crossing the plains, is only the first part of the journey. After we open up a dialogue, we might be in a new and uncomfortable land filled with hard conversations, confusion, and even tears. This is expected. But like pioneers, we can create something wonderful and life-giving from what was once a desert. Tolerance allows us to create a place of faith where people of all backgrounds and orientations feel comfortable sharing a church pew on Sunday.
When faced with someone who lives differently than us, the easier thing to do would be to talk about the weather… or the time of day… or anything at all that isn’t of importance. But that isn’t true dialogue, it isn’t what a pioneer would do, and it isn’t going to change things for the better. When our initial reaction is to shrink back and defend, try instead to lean into those abrasive desert winds and understand with an eye of faith. Afterall, how can we call ourselves pioneers if we aren’t willing to do the brave thing? If our ancestors could cross the plains, then why can’t we cross our own personal “plains” of intolerance and misunderstanding?
Being tolerant, we might just find ourselves in a place that John Wayne described as, “out where the skies are a trifle bluer, out where friendship’s a little truer, that’s where the West begins.” Tolerance is not becoming something new; it is going back to what we once were: pioneers.