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.