Friday, July 27, 2012

Tolerating Intolerence?

I just finished reading John Irving's thirteenth novel, In One Person. Irving's website says this is the most political of his novels since A Prayer for Owen Meany or The Cider House Rules but for my money it's not even close to being as good. In fact, I definitely enjoyed The World According To Garp, A Widow for One Year, A Son of the Circus, and Last Night in Twisted River much more than this one. Even so, a mediocre Irving novel is never a waste of time, in my estimation.

I'm left pondering a conversation between the narrator, a bisexual man named Bill, and his stepfather, Richard. Richard is commenting on Bill's third novel and says, "...the same old themes, but better done - the pleas for tolerance never grow tiresome, Bill. Of course, everyone is intolerant of something or someone. You know what you're intolerant of, Bill?"  Richard asked me.

"What would that be, Richard?"

"You're intolerant of intolerance - aren't you, Bill?"

"Isn't that a good thing to be intolerant of?" I asked him.

"And you are proud of your intolerance, too, Bill!" Richard cried.

(pages 309-310)

I am probably guilty of the same intolerance of intolerance. But as a pastoral leader, I think about it often. What are the limits of inclusion in a Christian community, or any community? Is it possible to tolerate, and even welcome and love, the intolerant, the uninformed, the bigoted ones who would limit God's goodness and God's grace?

If radical hospitality is our goal, than how do we make space at the table even for the intolerant ones?  And if we don't, then how are we any different?


  1. Here's another layer to this conundrum:
    In education, the key phrase is "zero tolerance" --for bullying, drugs, etc. You would think this would be a good thing, but recently there has been much discussion about whether or not this policy is working.

  2. WWJD?

    Probably invite all into His church, try to educate them, and pray for a change of heart.

    An intolerant label works in the abstract, but takes on a different meaning when it applies to ourselves, our friends, our relatives, and others in our faith community.

    Probably the larger question is what do we do when we encounter intolerance in our daily lives? Do we try to change that? Or do we just look the other way and pretend we didn't hear that slur or bitter remark and hence the intolerance grows or is reinforced?

    I don't believe that the world is made a better place by having fewer people at God's table. We all have our sins or personal demons and often are coming to God for help in trying to deal with them. How do we know that the "intolerant" person at the table isn't trying to become more tolerant and asking God for that grace? We're all connected. The love we show matters.

    1. i love and accept everyone, but not their behavior. if someone is upsetting someone else and they both go to the church, i feel they are both welcome but not the behaviors. i feel everyone at all times is welcome, or we are not following christ. he didnt close doors but i believe he would discipline. i really dont know how to handle the situation of all being welcome, i just feel that is the way it should be. god has a reason for placing the intolerant person in the church, we need to find out what he wants us to learn from it. remember, God does everything for a reason, and will make good out of every situation in the long run.