Sunday, July 1, 2007

Is Tolerance Enough?

I just got back from Williamsburg, VA (video and thoughts to be posted soon). My wife and I fell in love with the historic re-creation on our honeymoon and have gone back any chance we've gotten (this was our seventh time down). I can honestly say that we've not seen everything there is to offer at the site, and also that it gets better every time we go down.

One of the things that I like to do is explore the religious life of people from that era - and given that I've done some reading on the subject this year I had what I felt were good questions to ask some of the presenters in various buildings. During a conversation in the courthouse the idea of dissenters (people who did not consider themselves part of the Church of England) came up. One of the things that I've known, but became more real to me being in that place was the idea that even though dissenters felt that they were not part of the Church of England - the Church felt very differently about that idea and everyone paid a tax to the Church regardless of their religious affiliation. The refrain that came up several times in my discussions down in the historic area was, "We have toleration in Virginia, not religious freedom."

That stuck with me - and while we watched some of the extras on the Bridge to Terabithia DVD on of the interviewed teachers pointed out, "It's never to early to teach tolerance." When I heard that I instantly linked it to the refrain from Williamsburg, "We have toleration in Virginia, not religious freedom," and I thought, "What if Tolerance isn't enough?" I'm wondering if the idea of "Tolerance" (which is a better thing than oppression, let me be clear) is enough to strengthen a people-group long term. If tolerance is subtly being used in a similar way to how it was used in the English Colonial Empire than I'm afraid that we might be aiming our arrows a bit shy of the mark. Tolerance, in that sense, basically means, "While we put up with your silly little games of liberty - you and I both know who is really in charge here, pay your taxes or else." While that is better than being actively oppressed, it's far from freedom. Tolerance, after all, is really meant to give people enough rope to let people get out of ear-shot, but not so far that they can't be yanked back in line (like adding a second worship gathering at a Church). It's gives wiggle-room, but the cards are stacked against the tolerated.

I'm not so sure that Tolerance is the thing that we need to teach our children. On the other hand I'm not so sure that Freedom is what we should be teaching them either (if, by "freedom," we mean not having to answer to anyone). In place of Tolerance and the pursuit of a unbound freedom I think we Christians need to go back to the heart of our faith and teach something truly radical, how to be bound to people who are unlike us (and maybe even hate us), through love. See, in the end that's what I think Bridge to Terabithia is about - not about "Tolerance" with its underhanded acknowledgment of current power-structures, but rather about the power of love to heal slights, work for justice ("free the pee"), and bring about forgiveness and life - that's love. We Christians say that "God is Love," and that this love can be seen in the giving of his only Son Jesus for our redemption. How can we allow that redemption to flow through us beyond Tolerance and in to a bound freedom that is realized only through love?

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