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#ToleranceMeans Tolerance may be a worthy goal for our state, but in faith we can ask for so much more.

Updated: Apr 8

Sarah Arney, Undergraduate, TMD UNC


Religion and gay rights--do they have to be at odds? I feel the unspoken answer looked for here is, “No! Tolerance is the answer, and let me tell you why!”. But I’d like to challenge that. In the religious context, I don’t think tolerance makes much sense. Because of this, focusing on toleration in our faith communities sets the bar too low for what we should really be working towards.


Tolerance is living beside someone, publicly acknowledging their rights while privately disagreeing with their “choices.” This works in the political sphere, but not within religious groups. In politics, we separate church and state, so a person must use secular reasoning when they make laws. Therefore, a person’s religious conviction about the morality of gay relationships isn’t a valid political argument. That religion in reality sometimes influences our legislation is a flaw in the system, not a legitimate discussion about the relationship between religion and rights. That issue is basically decided, and the courts will continue to work out the minutiae. In politics, we know tolerance is the goal, and through government we know how to get there.


Religion is different. There’s not a separation between a person’s private beliefs, and those that rule the community. In Christianity (my religious background), we are all each other’s keeper. When Christians think someone is doing something wrong, they have a duty to point that out and keep the person from sinning. A person’s religious arguments for what is sinful are valid when creating doctrine, so as long as viable arguments exist that say gay relationships are sinful, religious groups can make intolerant doctrine.


Therefore, the political kind of tolerance--in which believers would need to publicly give a gay person full religious privileges while privately believing they were behaving sinfully--wouldn’t work in religious communities. It would defeat some of the main purposes of religion: to act on sacred beliefs and genuinely support others in a journey toward God. Religious groups should not internally strive for tolerance then, because they cannot actually be tolerant; gay people and allies in religious communities need to seek something else.

Work is currently being done in various religious communities to convince faithful people to make their doctrines more inclusive, and those channels of dialogue should remain.


However, the spiritual needs of gay people and their allies are not being met in the interim, so we should support making new communities where their relationships will be genuinely valued and respected. The conversation I want to have in my religious community is not about how to tolerate gay people, but rather whether we will fully accept their faith and relationships. I will work to convince them that we should, but they may decide their doctrine and gay rights are fundamentally opposed. I must respect such a choice, while encouraging communities to grow that will support gay rights. Tolerance may be a worthy goal for our state, but in faith we can ask for so much more.

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