Here is a view that I have heard before, and it was presented to me again this week: "You say that you want tolerance and despise, hate, but if I don't agree with everything you say, you call it intolerance and hate. Explain to me again just how that works."

Now, it is quite possible that this conservative friend was trying to discuss a contentious issue with someone who isn't very open-minded about their "progressive" ideas. That happens.

On the other hand, it seems more likely that the discussion wasn't really about issues at all. What if the focus was really on identity instead? At the very least, I can imagine my friend referring to a person as a sinner, making a lifestyle choice, or asking for "special rights." Sad to say, that happens as well.

I have a response that asks Christians to consider when it may be important to tell someone that disagreeing with them is, inherently, inappropriate.

It is usually intolerance when people tell me that I cannot possibly be a Christian because Jesus isn't real and therefore I couldn't actually have a relationship with him as my Lord. We can argue that it is hypocritical to call someone intolerant for forcing us to believe everything they say; but, like it or not, a larger group than just Christians would and should label someone like that as "intolerant" and perhaps hateful if they layer in a bit of verbal abuse, too.

They don't have to agree with me about everything I think or believe. However, when it comes to questions of who I am, whom I love, and how that most important of relationships works in my life, that isn't a matter of opinion or an issue for public referendum or debate. Anyone who treats me harshly or dismissively on that basis deserves to be taken to task for it.

Most of the time when questions like this are raised about tolerance, I find that the issue isn't about questions of opinions where disagreements can easily be managed with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16). It tends to be about judgments that cut to the very core of who a person is. If we don't respect persons' understandings of who they are (Christian, in this example), then we rightfully should be accused of failing to love in the same measure that we fail to listen.

Here is the problem: I wasn't really talking about Christianity. It is true that I have been dismissed, on occasion, for being a Christian. Both courts and society would quickly leap to my defense, though, if that became a basis for denying me a job, or access to medical treatment, or the right to -- for example -- get married.

Religion isn't the only thing that cuts to the core of who a person is. So, no, we aren't entitled to agree or disagree with someone's sexuality, whether it be a matter of identity or preference. You don't get to "disagree" with whether someone is gay or straight. It's just that simple.

Hopefully, I've fully explained just how this question of tolerance works.

Inappropriate Conversations
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