#ToleranceMeans that you've taken the first step towards loving someone different from you.
As a straight, white woman in middle-class America, I’ve never had to ask for tolerance on my own behalf. I’m tolerated, sure. My mother tolerated my messiness. Later, my college roommates tolerated my sometimes-questionable music taste. Now, my husband tolerates my bad cooking. But when it comes to who I am, my very core identity¬¬¬––my gender, my race, my faith, my sexual orientation––society has already granted me tolerance. Instead of asking for tolerance, I’m allowed to demand acceptance, respect, and sometimes even love. This is, I think what it means to be privileged.
Call me sheltered, but I haven’t always been able to say that I personally know someone who is openly a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Growing up in a small, religious town, I often heard people argue that legalizing gay marriage was a threat to my religious beliefs, that it might diminish the sanctity of the institution. I wasn’t sure quite how to feel about this. Then one day, when I was a sophomore in college, I spent an afternoon at the park and there, playing with their young son, were two dads. Watching them dote on their little boy, I was struck by the beauty of their family, the way they each radiated love and joy. I knew then that their love never was and never could be a diminishing force in society. That day, I decided I wanted to be an ally.
As a Christian, I take seriously the command to love God and love my neighbor. Too often, I think, we make the mistake of imagining that loving is easy. The poet Rilke wrote, “To love is hard. When someone bids you to love, they are laying a great task upon you… They are calling your attention to what’s hard for you, what is neediest in you and at the same time most fruitful.” I wonder if Christ called loving the first and great commandment not just because it is the most important but because love is a great burden to bear. In comparison, tolerance is easy. Tolerance can be done from a distance. It is a sort of “live and let live” mentality. To tolerate something is to look past it. But Christ did not ask us to tolerate each other. He asked us to love each other, which is a task that requires closeness and intimacy and vulnerability. To love someone, you cannot look past them.
The people we as Christians mean to tolerate are the people who most need our love. Tolerance is a good first step, but we’re mistaken if we think it’s the end of our responsibility. Tolerance means that you’ve taken the first step towards loving someone different from you.