Tolerance – more than a word

“To tolerate means to offend,” the great German poet and playwright Johann Wolfgang von Goethe says. In his Maxims and Reflections he writes that tolerance should only be a passing mood; it ought to lead to acknowledgement and appreciation. What is tolerance? And why do we need a day to officially observe this?

The International Day for Tolerance has been observed every year on 16 November since 1995. At the time, 185 member states of UNESCO signed a declaration on the principles of tolerance. The declaration states that the United Nations is determined “to take all positive measures necessary to promote tolerance in our societies, because tolerance is not only a cherished principle, but also a necessity for peace and for the economic and social advancement of all peoples. … Tolerance, the virtue that makes peace possible, contributes to the replacement of the culture of war by a culture of peace.”

Somehow everybody is for more tolerance, especially when it comes to our own rights. But in science and in technology tolerance means the deviation from a standard. It is an allowable amount of variation in the dimensions of a machine or part. How much variation is allowed? Who defines it? Is the majority always right? Definitely not!

Tolerance and Christian love

In the Catechism of the New Apostolic Church the aspect of tolerance is addressed twice. Chapter 5.2.3 refers to the golden rule. “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets,” which is recorded in Matthew 7: 12. So tolerance and Christian love belong together. Everyone is to love his neighbour as Jesus loves His own, it says in the Catechism. What is important is the “loving concern for our brothers and sisters in the congregation, irrespective of their individual personality or social standing”.

James concludes that we must not show partiality in the congregation (James 2). The position taken by the Catechism is as follows: “Apostle James describes any form of discrimination within the congregation as incompatible with the ‘faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory’.” It says further: “No matter what the form of prejudice within the congregation is, it violates the commandment to love one’s neighbour. … Love for one another,” on the other hand, “is a special power that promotes cohesion within the congregation and brings warmth to congregational life. It prevents conflicts—which occur in any human society—from escalating into permanent antagonism.” It enables us to accept our brothers and sisters as they are. Even though the expectations, ways of thinking, and modes of conduct of some members of the congregation may not be comprehensible to others, this will not lead to their being denigrated or excluded, but will rather be met with tolerance.

Strong statements

An appeal for peace

Interesting in this respect is also Catechism 13.5. It states that the gospel of Christ is proclaimed in the New Apostolic Church. “For members this means they are to treat others with respect and tolerance, regardless of their social background, age, language, or other differences.”

New Apostolic Christians are to promote peace in the world, to appeal for reconciliation, and to admonish forgiveness. The Church rejects all forms of violence. Catechism or not, that is our task!

Just how correct these statements are we see especially in these days. Without a marked sense of tolerance, which from the Christian perspective is linked with Christian love, human interaction is not possible. Tolerance is certainly more than a word!

Photo: diego cervo - Fotolia

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Peter Johanning