Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. (Proverbs 3.3-4)
Tolerance is a big topic here, simply because this blog is founded on the principle of proactively offering others what we seek from them. For newer readers who may not know the story of Straight-Friendly’s origins, its title and emphasis were born from realizing as a gay Christian, I’m called to love and accept others regardless of their appreciation or approval. This calling is hardly unique to GLBT believers, though. It’s for all who desire to walk in obedience to Christ. Because tolerance plays such a fundamental (and urgent) role in expression of faith, our discussions typically revolve around why we love and accept everyone God places in our lives—from those we know intimately or interact with frequently to strangers met in passing and individuals known only by reputation. Tolerance for us, however, is something we’ve yet to explore in depth, as the conversation easily escalates into demands to be loved and accepted. That puts us on the wrong side of obedience, shifting the emphasis from what we give to what we get. But getting isn't doing, and doing is obedience’s sole concern.
This raises questions. How do we protect our dignity as true Christians and reflections of our Maker? Do intolerance and rejection ever become intolerable and unacceptable? Does loving those who mistreat us include permitting them to deride Christ’s name? Is there a moment when we stand up to intolerance? Or must we always back down and roll over? These quandaries toyed with me after turning up a Sunday bulletin from eight years ago on which I’d jotted, “Don’t go where you’re tolerated. Go where you’re celebrated.” Nothing in the printed order of service jogs my recall of whence it came. And though I like the ring of it, I keep wondering, “Is this right? Should we really avoid people and places that merely tolerate us for those that validate us and boost our self-confidence?” It sounds closer to the Book of Oprah than the Gospel of Christ.
Anticipate Intolerance, Provoke Tolerance
We're repeatedly told to anticipate intolerance. In Matthew 5.11, Jesus says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” And 1 Peter 4.12 verges on dark comedy: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” (Translated: “You’re shocked people abuse you for your faith? Are you kidding?”) Yet in trying to reconcile this with my doodle, it occurs to me we’re never encouraged to be voluntary victims of intolerance, persecution, and evil accusation. When topics like hatred, rejection, and false judgment surface, it’s always assumed they come to us; we don’t go to them. It’s also presumed intolerance we experience results entirely from being who we are and what we do because we’re who we are. In other words, obedience to God’s will—faithfully serving His purpose in making us as we are—causes us to be maligned in some circles, forced from others, and tolerated where it’s easier to ignore why we’re made differently than embrace it. In this context, maybe it makes sense to go where we’re celebrated, because God’s mercy and kindness to us deserve celebration.
Still, my scribble falls apart, I think, by suggesting we resist situations where we’re not wholeheartedly embraced and respected. Why? That’s not how Jesus operated. While He never goes looking for trouble, neither does He avoid encountering it. We find Him wherever He finds potential to exemplify tolerance, forgiveness, healing, and justice. Only when hostility drowns His message—as happens when Nazareth turns on Him (Luke 4.14-30)—does He walk away. Note: He walks away; he doesn’t stay away. He passes His policy to the disciples when He sends them out to minister (Matthew 10). Paraphrasing for brevity, He says: “If you find someone who welcomes you, stay where you are. If not, leave.”
There are two implicit points here that answer our questions about responding to intolerance. First, expecting it isn’t an excuse for not exposing ourselves to its possibility. We never know for sure we’re not welcome until we get there. If no one wants us, we’re free to go; we’re not obligated to abide rejection and hatred. On the other hand, if someone welcomes us, we’re obliged to stick around for his/her benefit, which leads to the second point. We’ll never promote tolerance by confronting rejection in blatantly hostile places. But in less than ideal situations we can provoke tolerance that ultimately ends in celebration, not just of us, but also of those whose hearts and minds change because of us.
Known, Honored, and Welcomed
Proverbs 3.3-4 explains how this happens: “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.” Acceptance and favor we seek won’t come without effort from us. They’re products of behavior that backs up profession of belief. Love and faithfulness must never leave us. We wear them like breastplates. We carry them in our hearts. They enable us to seize every opportunity to love without condition, to be true to our calling without exception. That’s the irony of obedience. In some cases, it brings intolerance and rejection. Yet it also surprises us with favor and acceptance where we don't expect them. Without opening ourselves to potential criticism, we won’t enjoy the wealth of kindness available to us.
When Solomon predicts, “you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man,” he’s promising celebrity, not in the pop sense of fame and fortune, but in the richer sense of being celebrated—honored and welcomed for our love and faithfulness. Knowing the minister who preached the Sunday I took down the motto, I’m sure that’s what it’s saying. But I’ve decided to slightly revise it so I can keep it without confusing its message. Love where you’re tolerated and you will be celebrated.
Exposing ourselves to potential intolerance is the only way we discover people and places that will tolerate us. They open opportunities to demonstrate love and faithfulness that will be celebrated.