In a display of the sort of tolerance that we can grow to expect more and more of in the coming years, our church was defaced today. I’m assuming that it happened in the wee hours of the morning, when our quiet town of 65,000 or so is pretty well dead quiet.
We had received two complaint calls in the last week about the sign – both people unhappy at messages on the sign that professed in varying terms that Jesus is the way of salvation. I think the sign most recently read “Give Jesus a try – if you don’t like Him, the devil will always take you back”. Neither caller wished to leave their names or talk with me. Both were irritated that we would be so closed-minded as to assume that there could only be one Way towards heaven/bliss/nirvana/moksha/whatever-they-think-is-out-there. They didn’t wish to dialog, they wished to instruct. We were being intolerant, and they needed to instruct us as to how to be more tolerant.
I’m of the opinion that it was one of these open-minded, tolerant folks who sometime last night or early this morning painted the glass over our sign black on one side, blocking out the message that they had found so offensive as to be intolerable, despite their assertions that we needed to be more tolerant. A bored teen likely would have just destroyed the sign – put a rock through it, or some other means of violence. But to paint over it in black paint demonstrates not boredom, but dissent and disagreement.
This is the form of tolerance I expect more of in the future. Tolerance for anyone and anything except anyone or anything that dares to make a definitive statement about the nature of reality, and the nature of our existence in this world. Believe what you want, in other words, just don’t dare believe anything exclusively, and don’t dare believe anything to a point where you would express it to someone else. This is intolerable. We can’t debate any longer in a civilized fashion (is that something we were ever very good at as a species?) Tolerance is for anyone except those who refuse to turn off their brains and worship tolerance as some sort of global panacea. Because it’s pretty clear that there are some tolerant folks out there who aren’t going to take any guff, and who feel more than justified in shutting others up if they don’t feel they’re being properly tolerant. Or aren’t being tolerant in the right way. Or, more accurately, just happen to disagree with their particular interpretation of what tolerance means and why it ought to be practiced. It’s rather clear that tolerance isn’t. It’s clearer each day that being tolerant isn’t enough – you must be the proper persuasion of tolerant. Or you will be silenced.
Which doesn’t sound overly tolerant to me. Which is why I much prefer the Biblical injunction not to be tolerant, but rather to love God with everything you are, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus understands what a scam tolerance is. The Romans claimed to be tolerant – allowing their conquered peoples to retain their own pantheons of gods and goddesses. Oh, but that pantheon had to include the emperor. Tolerance wasn’t really tolerance – tolerance was do what we tell you to do, and if you do that, we’ll allow you – for the time being – to do other lesser things as well.
Tolerance is a sheathed knife. Tolerance is an uncocked pistol. Tolerance is the thinly veiled threat that said tolerance will be withdrawn and obedience will be demanded in a more naked and brutal form. Tolerance is an indulgence, and when boredom sets in, or when patience runs out, that indulgence is withdrawn.
Love, on the other hand, isn’t like that. Love is not the checking of hate. Love is not a temporary permissiveness. Love is an action. A decision. A commitment to that other person that is not withdrawn, is not demanding, and is not an indulgence. Love is a sacrifice, and love is hard.
We’ll have the glass on our sign replaced within a few days. And I’m torn on how to move forward. I haven’t specifically requested that all the messages be vetted by me prior to being placed up. Probably not wise. But I’m not sure I would have asked that this one be changed anyways. There’s another church sign in town, and they simply put up the title of the sermon on Sunday and the pastor’s name. Our sign has attempted to amuse, to provoke thought, to exhort, to challenge. That means some people won’t like what it has to say from time to time. Is our duty as a church to placate people, on the off-chance that perhaps they’ll find us so tolerable that they’ll want to come and sit in with us some Sunday morning? Is it to deny the truth we claim to hold more dearly than our lives themselves, on the off chance that others won’t decide that our sign needs to be painted over? To avoid a next time, since next time they may just destroy the whole sign instead of just painting it over? If a sign is so innocuous in it’s message as to be easily ignored, is there a point in having a sign in the first place?
These are the questions I juggle in my mind. Not worriedly. Not anxiously. This is to be expected. In many ways, it’s a relief – it means that we’ve struck a nerve with someone. I pray that someone reconsiders their actions in the future. That they’d be willing to sit down and talk like adults. I’m not hopeful that will happen. But I pray it will. For all our sakes.