Three (surprising) General Authority Statements on Tolerance (in Conference)

April 14, 2013    By: Administrator @ 9:54 pm   Category: Life

Here is another guest post from NCT regular, DavidF

I’m sure most people are sick of conference posts by now. Timing isn’t my best quality. That being said, I’m not sure what to make of these three statements about tolerance from conference:

Packer: “Tolerance is a virtue, but like all virtues, when exaggerated, it transforms itself into a vice. We need to be careful of the “tolerance trap” so that we are not swallowed up in it. The permissiveness afforded by the weakening of the laws of the land to tolerate legalized acts of immorality does not reduce the serious spiritual consequence that is the result of the violation of God’s law of chastity.”

Oaks: “Latter-day Saints understand that we should not be “of the world” or bound to “the tradition of men”… These failures to follow Christ … range all the way from worldly practices like political correctness and extremes in dress and grooming to deviations from basic values like the eternal nature and function of the family.”

Monson: “May we be tolerant of, as well as kind and loving to, those who do not share our beliefs and our standards. The Savior brought to this earth a message of love and goodwill to all men and women. May we ever follow His example.”

These three statements don’t technically clash. They are all vague enough to allow all of them to be right. But the implicit messages are wildly different. Should we beware of tolerant practices (i.e. political correctness, Oaks), embrace tolerance (Monson), or show some kind of measured restraint on being tolerant (Packer)?

Tolerance is one of those interesting topics in religion. I have consistently found myself struggling to justify tolerance to some of my more conservative friends (and, in some cases, my more liberal friends). Jesus never taught, “be ye therefore tolerant.” And as it turns out, in the broad scheme of things, tolerance is a relatively new value. The farthest back I can trace it is to the mid-seventeenth century. Some background may help.

The Thirty Years War—1618-1648—was one of the most tragic periods in all of western history. It was the culmination of Protestant and Catholic hatred and was horrifyingly bloody. The war involved most of Europe and was fought mainly in Germany. It’s estimated that up to half of the male population in Germany died in the war, and whole villages were destroyed. But why?

There are lots of reasons for the Thirty Years war, but one way or another religion was one of the most important factors. Europe didn’t have a culture of tolerance in the 17th century. The Thirty Years war changed that. Skip ahead a century and a half, and you find the American Founders adding an amendment to enshrine religious tolerance as a civic virtue (keeping religion and state separate). But, I reiterate, they imposed tolerance on a deeply religious nation as a civic virtue. (Interesting when you think about the context: Now-a-days, people get upset when school choirs sing Christmas carols, but the Founders were a little more worried about different people lynching each other over religion).

Fast forward to last month. With the same-sex marriage debate now in front of the Supreme Court, and people across the nation clamoring for marriage equality, religion and tolerance have again come to head. Should we be tolerant, or not? As you can see from the statements above, the lines aren’t clearly established in Mormonism (nor in any of the monotheistic religion). And as we observe the tension play out among the general authorities, perhaps each one of us should ask ourselves how tolerant does God really want us to be? Because as I comb through the scriptures and read these quotes above, I don’t know if I have a clear answer.

48 Comments »

  1. Somebody whose Flash player is working (mine is not, and I can’t download stuff to my work computer) might want to listen again to Monson’s talk (Sunday afternoon). I seem to recall that he skipped an extra beat after “May we be tolerant of.” It was not his usual rhythm and seemed to call extra attention to what he had just said, as in “that’s right people, I just said to be tolerant.” But maybe it’s just me.

    Comment by Last Lemming — April 15, 2013 @ 6:58 am

  2. Tolerance itself is neither a virtue nor a vice. It all depends on what we tolerate. For instance, it is no virtue to tolerate things like bullying or bigotry.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 15, 2013 @ 7:20 am

  3. For instance, it is no virtue to tolerate things like bullying or bigotry.

    Since when did tolerate = condone?

    Comment by Peter LLC — April 15, 2013 @ 8:35 am

  4. Peter LLC- I don’t think anyone is defining tolerance as condone.

    Comment by Matt W. — April 15, 2013 @ 8:53 am

  5. Ha! Good one Matt.

    Peter LLC — What do you think the word tolerate means?

    Here is what I get from a quick dictionary search:

    tol·er·ate
    Verb

    1. Allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference.
    2. Accept or endure (someone or something unpleasant or disliked) with forbearance.

    con·done
    Verb

    1. Accept and allow (behavior that is considered morally wrong or offensive) to continue.
    2. Approve or sanction (something), esp. with reluctance.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 15, 2013 @ 9:04 am

  6. I don’t have an answer either, and I have been thinking about this for over a week. Where do we make a our stand? When is the line crossed? When the line is crossed, how am I to react? Am I allowed to cleanse the temple, so to speak? Where does agency come into play? I think the answer lies in standing quietly firm.

    Comment by B Y Rogers — April 15, 2013 @ 9:08 am

  7. Here in CA, we’re hammered with the words ‘equality,’ ‘tolerance,’ and ‘equal rights’ in just about every situation every day, & I really struggle with my responses. But each of us was given the Gift of the Holy Ghost so we can know when to put up and when to shut up. I think we make the gospel too difficult sometimes.

    Comment by Patricia Underwood — April 15, 2013 @ 9:26 am

  8. The Savior was very explicit when he instructed us to tolerate bigotry and bullying.

    JST, Luke 6:29
    29 And unto him who smiteth thee on the cheek, offer also the other; or, in other words, it is better to offer the other, than to revile again. And him who taketh away thy cloak, forbid not to take thy coat also.

    Comment by Log — April 15, 2013 @ 10:46 am

  9. I believe the 11th Article of Faith alludes to tolerance “…allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where or what they may.” We can hold to our own beliefs but should not expect the rest of society to have the same standard. You can’t legislate morality. President Monson’s statement was spot on. We don’t just tolerate those who’s beliefs differ from our own, we love them as the Savior does.

    Comment by Laurie — April 15, 2013 @ 11:00 am

  10. Log,

    You could interpret that verse as an injunction to tolerate, but I don’t think most Christians do. I think for them, this verse explains what to do in a confrontation. That’s slightly different. You can connect the two ideas, but that would require an extra-biblical inference. And people will avoid doing that when it isn’t convenient for them.

    Comment by DavidF — April 15, 2013 @ 11:44 am

  11. DavidF,

    I don’t see the distinction, and am unsure how what “most Christians do” is relevant. Moreover, ones who purport to hold the priesthood and are seeking to alter the behavior of others are restricted to utilizing solely persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness and meekness, and love that is not faked; kindness, and pure knowledge. Reproving comes only by the power of the Holy Ghost and necessarily is followed by an increase of love – needless to say, the real thing, not a mouthed pro forma conciliatory expression.

    Comment by log — April 15, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

  12. log,

    I think we’re talking about two different things. Tolerance means allowing someone to do whatever they want without interference.

    Luke 6:29 doesn’t say tolerate what others do, it says don’t fight back when someone attacks you. You could connect those two ideas, but you’d have a tough time persuading others because the connection isn’t evident in itself. Maybe it is to you, but I bet a lot of people would disagree.

    On your second point, you pointed out how a priesthood holder should behave. But two of the points you noted, persuasion and reproving (even when done by the power of the Holy Ghost), are intolerant behaviors. Doing these means you’re trying to get someone to conform.

    Feel free to keep at it, but tolerance is not easily extracted from the scriptures.

    Comment by DavidF — April 15, 2013 @ 12:23 pm

  13. DavidF,

    The general principle is to let someone do whatever they want without interference unless you are directed to interfere by God. This applies individually (see the Sermon on the Mount) and nationally (see D&C 98:33-38).

    If that is tolerance, there it is in the scriptures.

    Comment by log — April 15, 2013 @ 12:56 pm

  14. If you don’t understand then you missed it. It was all there in that first quote. Tolerance is a good thing. There are many who are still learning including myself.
    Our best bet might not always be perfectly correct. Tolerance for mistakes on the path of learning is important and many religious groups and the people within are truly trying. They are on the learning path. So while they may not be correct and in fact may even be quite wrong we are better served to be kind and understanding and offer help and guidance as we can and as they are ready to hear it.
    Now tolerance of evil is different. Like a kid playing by a train, whether or not the child intends anything malicious or evil we are not required to respect their wishes and let them endanger themselves or others. Whether or not they know they are doing so.
    The fact is that many of these moral issues are being forced on us. If we tolerate the evils they represent and do nothing we will be forced to suffer under their application.
    You seem to be listening just to the words said and not the principles that are within. These three statements didn’t clash they complemented each other.
    We must be tolerant to help our brothers and sisters as much as possible while we all learn and try to become better but tolerating evil is in fact the most unloving thing we could do for them or ourselves. The line can be a fine one at times but if you assume that the holy ghost actually does what you are promised it will you can measure each situation as it comes.
    As always our perceptions and understanding of our situations are often limited or even wrong. Thank goodness we have a spiritual guide to assist when tolerance is not clear or easy to implement righteously.

    Comment by Scott — April 15, 2013 @ 1:27 pm

  15. Scott,

    I agree that these three statements are reconcilable, but I don’t think you’ve done it. You pointed out that we need to be tolerant of others’ mistakes on their path to learn. But this isn’t what President Monson is saying. He’s saying we need to be tolerant of people who flatly disagree with us. We can say that their stark disagreements are just “mistakes on the way,” but that would stretch the meaning of what it is to be mistaken, at least in the way that you seem to be using it (as a kind of temporary state before one figures something out).

    log,

    This is almost an injunction to tolerate, but still not quite. This scripture talks about refraining from attacking your enemies. I guess that’s tolerance in a sense, but it certainly isn’t suggesting that we tolerate others completely or in any other way, really. Tolerance is altruistic (or at least partially altruistic), whereas not going to war with someone merely implies self-interest. Still, I think this verse is pretty close.

    Comment by DavidF — April 15, 2013 @ 2:30 pm

  16. Last Lemming:

    I seem to recall that he skipped an extra beat after “May we be tolerant of.” It was not his usual rhythm and seemed to call extra attention to what he had just said, as in “that’s right people, I just said to be tolerant.” But maybe it’s just me.

    I just watched it–there was a full three-second pause after the word “tolerant” where Pres. Monson stared into the camera. I’m not 100% certain that he meant it as a gentle correction to E. Packer & E. Oaks, but I’d put the odds of it as better than 50%….

    Comment by Nate W. — April 15, 2013 @ 5:39 pm

  17. Thanks Nate W. Glad to hear I’m not imagining things.

    Comment by Last Lemming — April 15, 2013 @ 5:54 pm

  18. I am not sure how much longer I will tolerate this troll, Log, commenting at my blog.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 15, 2013 @ 6:26 pm

  19. Log: The general principle is to let someone do whatever they want without interference unless you are directed to interfere by God.

    False.

    That D&C scripture says that no power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood. Meaning, having the priesthood doesn’t make anyone the boss. It does not say we should never step up and aggressively fight evil in the world. In fact the scriptures are replete with admonitions to do just that. We should, in fact, be anxiously engaged in fighting evil and it is wrong to wait to be told to do it in every case.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 15, 2013 @ 6:45 pm

  20. That, of course, is why the Savior taught “resist not evil” (Matthew 5:39); he really meant us to fight evil.

    Comment by log — April 15, 2013 @ 8:53 pm

  21. And, of course, it’s why the Lord taught that the wicked shall punish the wicked (Mormon 4:5) – he really meant the righteous shall punish the wicked, of course.

    Comment by log — April 15, 2013 @ 8:58 pm

  22. And, of course, the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi were wrong to not fight the Lamanites (Alma 24:29, 22). They should have fought them, of course.

    Comment by log — April 15, 2013 @ 9:32 pm

  23. And, let us not forget Zion’s Camp.

    Comment by log — April 15, 2013 @ 9:35 pm

  24. And how could I forget Zion, the only people on the planet at the time who won’t be fighting evil (D&C 45:66-70).

    I guess being anxiously engaged in a good cause is perhaps not always correlated with fighting evil, and that not all who do not fight evil are slothful and unwise. The precise opposite, in fact, might just be the case.

    But I suppose further the Lord will filter out those who are worthy of Zion (Moses 7:27 – those who have received the Holy Ghost and have taken upon them the name of Christ [Alma 34:38]) and who aren’t; after all, he promises to cleanse the world of all who offend and work iniquity when he comes – starting with those who claim to have taken upon them his name, but have not known him (D&C 112:23-26). That would be the Church, of course. It may just be that people who see themselves as crusaders against evil will be among that number (Alma 4:8).

    Comment by log — April 15, 2013 @ 11:01 pm

  25. *That would be among the Church, of course.

    Comment by log — April 15, 2013 @ 11:19 pm

  26. Troll hard, log, troll hard.

    You could try your “Tolerate Evil” slogan in that new church you are starting. Maybe your next step could be moving on to an Embrace Evil stance!

    Comment by Geoff J — April 15, 2013 @ 11:35 pm

  27. We have definitively answered one question in this thread, though. I have discovered where the limit of my tolerance of log’s incessant trolling is.

    Buh-bye log. You’re done here.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 15, 2013 @ 11:35 pm

  28. I don’t think anyone is defining tolerance as condone.

    Matt W.: thanks for googling that for me.

    What do you think the word tolerate means?

    Alright, try tolerance then, since that’s what the OP was referring to anyway:

    tol·er·ance

    1. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.
    2. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own.
    3. interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc., foreign to one’s own; a liberal, undogmatic viewpoint.
    4. the act or capacity of enduring;

    Are you still going to insist that a call for fairness and objectivity regarding the opinions and practices of others = being cool with bullying and bigotry?

    Comment by Peter LLC — April 16, 2013 @ 2:47 am

  29. Peter LLC,

    Tolerance of good stuff is a good thing. Tolerance of neutral things is desirable too. Tolerance of real evil is a bad thing.

    Hopefully that clarifies my point about tolerance and tolerating being neither good nor bad in a vacuum.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 16, 2013 @ 10:36 am

  30. Peter LLC, I’m curious: is your point larger than just pointing out the paradox of tolerance?

    Geoff J., depending on how you define “real evil,” you may have just defined the scope of necessary tolerance out of existence. After all, humans have had a pretty dismal track record of distinguishing “things I don’t like” from “things that are evil.” I agree that we should not tolerate acts that violate the harm principle, but I doubt that most of us would define “evil” in that way.

    Comment by Nate W. — April 16, 2013 @ 11:05 am

  31. Nate W,

    I agree with you on the difficulties associated with deciding where lines are. There are lots and lots of grey areas. For instance where is the line between a parent being strict and a parent abusing their child? Not always clear. But very few people would claim that tolerance of child abuse is a virtue.

    That’s the problem with extolling tolerance itself as a virtue. Tolerance is only a virtue when the things being tolerated aren’t bad things.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 16, 2013 @ 11:40 am

  32. Geoff J.,

    Right. That’s why I suggested that rather than using the standard of “evil” to delineate the limits of tolerance, we should probably use a standard of harm. While there are still some grey areas with that standard, it is at least testable to a degree. Using language of “evil” pushes us away from tolerance into the mindset of “error has no rights.”

    Comment by Nate W. — April 16, 2013 @ 1:14 pm

  33. Ok, I understand your point. I have no problem with substituting “harm” for evil when discussing this subject.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 16, 2013 @ 2:18 pm

  34. From dictionary.com, the definition of a troll:

    an internet user who sends inflammatory or provocative messages designed to elicit negative responses or start a flame-war. (As a fisherman trolls for an unsuspecting fish.)

    Looking over the comments

    Comment by LDS Anarchist — April 16, 2013 @ 3:10 pm

  35. Hit the publish button by accident. Let’s try that again…

    Comment by LDS Anarchist — April 16, 2013 @ 3:10 pm

  36. Looking over the comments, I see the conversation focused on tolerance, which was the topic of the post, so I do not understand why Geoff J has labeled log a troll and banned him.

    Comment by LDS Anarchist — April 16, 2013 @ 3:12 pm

  37. Come to think of it, it’s actually pretty funny that on a post about tolerance, in which people express their opinions on what is the appropriate, gospel-based level of tolerance, Geoff J, in what can only be termed an act of intolerance, bans log, who was merely expressing his own opinion (as did others), but because log’s opinion contradicted Geoff’s own, he was banned. Lol. Truly a classic situation.

    I’ve had far worse trolling on my own blog (i.e., real trolling) and have yet to ban a single soul. You must have exceedingly thin skin, Geoff, and a hair-trigger temper, to let such benign comments get you in a puff.

    Comment by LDS Anarchist — April 16, 2013 @ 3:28 pm

  38. I read this blog occasionally and comment here rarely. I have well-developed opinions about tolerance, and strongly believe that well-founded tolerance is essential to building a healthy community of diverse individuals.

    I say well-founded for the same reasons that I am finding this thread interesting — because it explores questions about what kind of things should and shouldn’t be tolerated, and how one might create a rubric to govern such a thing. It’s really hard to execute in real life.

    I see the banning of the troll as instructive, in that the troll wasn’t contributing much to the discussion, but rather was spamming comments, whining about his/her pet peeves and generally trying to irritate and provoke the blog admin. It threatened to derail an interesting exchange, and so the admin cut it short.

    It’s all good. Carry on with your thang.

    Comment by MDearest — April 16, 2013 @ 4:00 pm

  39. LDS Anarchist,

    “log” is a long time troll here. He consistently attempts to derail threads with extreme and absurd positions.

    Anyhow, I thought it would be funny and ironic to finally ban him in this thread about tolerance.

    It made me chuckle, so… mission accomplished.

    As for your whining about my thin skin — Lighten up, Francis. You can run your own lame blog however you want.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 16, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

  40. Geoff J,

    I find it interesting that you think that tolerance is a virtue only if we don’t tolerate things that cause harm. Do you feel this way about other virtues? For example, if someone is courageous in doing evil (ie a terrorist), then is this sort of courage a virtue or a vice? What about faith? Is faith a virtue if it is misdirected?

    I’m not trying to trick you; I just want to know how far you extend this argument. Pure curiosity.

    Comment by DavidF — April 16, 2013 @ 10:32 pm

  41. DavidF,

    I don’t think tolerance itself is a virtue or a vice. I think calling it a virtue or a vice in itself is a category error.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 16, 2013 @ 10:38 pm

  42. “May we be tolerant of, as well as kind and loving to, those who do not share our beliefs and our standards. The Savior brought to this earth a message of love and goodwill to all men and women. May we ever follow His example.”

    Perhaps a more thorough analysis of the Savior’s example may be in order. It would seem to me that the Savior took the Pharisees and Sadducees to task for their wrong doings. He even called them hypocrites and vipers. The woman caught in adultery was not “condemned” but did the Savior “tolerate” or “allow” her sin. He commanded her to go and sin not more.

    In D&C 1:31 and Alma 45:16 it says the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance. If one looks at the definition of “tolerate” the word “allow” is present in that definition.

    So, is there a contradiction in Pres Monson’s statement and the scriptures? If we look closely at his statement he is telling us “to be tolerant of, as well as and kind and loving to, those who”…

    I view that statement as telling us to be kind and loving to “those who”, that is the person, tolerate the person but he doesn’t say to tolerate, allow or embrace the behavior. How do you tolerate a little murder, theft, bullying etc?

    The Church spent a bit of time and effort to not have to “tolerate” or “allow” gay marriage but the distinction between the person and their behavior was always there in their efforts.

    I see that as following the Savior’s example.

    Comment by Nobody — April 17, 2013 @ 12:19 am

  43. Peter llc: i am not sure where that definition of bigotry gets us any further along.

    Comment by matt w. — April 17, 2013 @ 5:34 am

  44. DavidF,

    Your question in #40 illuminates the importance of defining what should properly be called a virtue or not in a discussion like this.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 17, 2013 @ 10:38 am

  45. Nobody:

    Tolerance is a civic virtue,* not a religious virtue. It doesn’t really make sense to talk about tolerating sin, as sin is a religious concept, not a civic concept. In fact, the essence of toleration is recognizing the difference between sin and crime.

    *–I mean “civic virtue” as a term of art, not a conclusion on whether all acts of tolerance are “virtuous.”

    Comment by Nate W. — April 17, 2013 @ 12:13 pm

  46. Geoff J,

    This is a good point. I think in general, a virtue is a characteristic that a person ought to develop. For the ancient Greeks and Romans, it was whatever made a man more manly. In early Christian times it was whatever made a person more like Christ (now, for most people, it’s just a varient term for chastity, which is too bad).

    Machiavelli took the classical Greek virtues and directed them towards society. In other words, the Greek promoted virtues for personal development, Machiavelli promoted them to make people into good citizens.

    Nate W. points out in #45 that there is a difference between civic and religious virtues. The two often overlap, but not always. The absence of the civic virtue of tolerance is what led countries to wars over religion. This is not to say that religious virtues are incomplete, but that they don’t tell us how to be good citizens, only good people. Machiavelli held that there was a difference between these two categories, and promoted both Christianity and the classical virtues as ways for people to achieve excellence in both arenas. I personally think that Machiavelli was right on this point, but admittedly, not many people on the right or the left would probably agree with this argument.

    The point of this long tangent is that virtue, as far as I can tell, has a kind of mixed meaning depending on the context. This leads to the question, are there limits to virtues? As far as I can tell, the ancient Greeks thought there wasn’t. Furthermore, they were deontologists (see my post about the prop 8 debate), which means that they believed we should be virtuous regardless of the consequences. So in the Illiad, when Hector and Achilles fight, Hector was the true hero of the story. Achilles was a greater fighter and killed Hector, but Hector fought with courage whereas Achilles fought with rage. The idea that we need to temper our virtues comes much later in history (80% sure on this). Anyway, I’m starting to ramble, and it’s so I can avoid revising a paper. I should probably stop.

    Comment by DavidF — April 17, 2013 @ 12:43 pm

  47. LDS Anarchist, don’t you think the irony of Geoff banning log on a thread about tolerance is neutered by the fact that Geoff’s stated position from the beginning of the thread is that tolerance is not a virtue? It’s as though you have such a hair trigger on pointing out hypocrisy that you forgot to check if there actually was some before making the accusation.

    Comment by Jacob J — April 19, 2013 @ 2:38 pm

  48. In the Preisthood session, Pres Uchtdorf also addressed the issue.

    ” while the Atonement is meant to help us all become more like Christ, it is not meant to make us all the same. Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin. We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God. This line of thinking leads some to believe that the Church wants to create every member from a single mold—that each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other. This would contradict the genius of God, who created every man different from his brother, every son different from his father. Even identical twins are not identical in their personalities and spiritual identities.

    It also contradicts the intent and purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ, which acknowledges and protects the moral agency—with all its far-reaching consequences—of each and every one of God’s children. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are united in our testimony of the restored gospel and our commitment to keep God’s commandments. But we are diverse in our cultural, social, and political preferences.

    The Church thrives when we take advantage of this diversity and encourage each other to develop and use our talents to lift and strengthen our fellow disciples.”

    Regarding virtue, I think Aristotles formulation as of virtue as the mean between two vices is a very useful huristic. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_mean_(philosophy)#Aristotle)

    Some time in the mid ’90s there the Clark Memorandum(BYU Law magazene) a great article on virtue as mean, in reference to Micah 6:8
    (He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?), that I cant find right now. :(

    Comment by JLM — April 30, 2013 @ 9:22 am

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