In American society the word "tolerance" is often abused and confused. The word "tolerance" is defined as, "The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others." However, "tolerance" is often confused with "acceptance," a word synonymous with "approval."
Homosexuals in American society often plead for "tolerance." If they mean that they want people to treat them with civility and the common courtesy due all members of the human race, then I will gladly grant them their request. However, what they really want is "acceptance" -- they want people of faith to give up their convictions and accept the homosexual agenda.
We have organizations like Planned Parenthood who claim they want "tolerance" from those of us who believe in the sanctity of human life. If they are simply asking that no one tries to bomb their clinics or throw blood on the employees, then I am willing to be tolerant. However, if they mean that I must close my eyes to the fact that a million unborn babies a year in America are ripped from their mother's womb and flushed down the sink or thrown into dumpsters -- then I can not give them the "tolerance" they desire. I will be kind and courteous to them, but I can not "accept" the murder of unborn children.
Deciding what we should tolerate and what we should abstain from and even oppose has never been an easy task. I want to be kind and friendly to every one, whether they be Muslim, Christian, Jew or even an atheist. But there are certain things that I can not do or approve of without giving up the very principles by which I live.
The Old Testament tells us of a Hebrew prophet named Daniel, who was captured by Nebuchadnezzar and carried into captivity. Daniel and his friends were from the tribe of Judah, the royal tribe of the Jews.
"Then the king instructed Ashpenaz, the master of his eunuchs, to bring some of the children of Israel and some of the king's descendants and some of the nobles, young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had ability to serve in the king's palace, and whom they might teach the language and literature of the Chaldeans. And the king appointed for them a daily provision of the king's delicacies and of the wine which he drank, and three years of training for them, so that at the end of that time they might serve before the king. Now from among those of the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. To them the chief of the eunuchs gave names: he gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abed-Nego. But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank..." (Dan. 1:8).
God had spoken concerning idolatry and the eating of unclean foods, but He had not spoken about the names people might call you. Therefore, accepting a new name was not a violation of conscience for there was no breach of the Law with Daniel. Even in being tutored in the language and learning of the Chaldeans he saw no violation of the Law of God. But, his convictions would cause him to firmly and politely refuse to partake of that which would involve him in recognizing any other deity than Jehovah.
You can not control what people call you, but you can control how you act and react to them. People in America often refer to the people of Islam as "Mohammedans," a name which I know you do not desire -- sometimes people do this out of ignorance and other times out of animosity. But what people call you does not force you to violate your conscience or standard of morality.
Among those who claim to be Christians you will find a lot of men who love to have religious titles, their favorite being the word "reverend," a word which means "deserving reverence." I have never liked these titles, for the only One whom I regard as "deserving reverence" is God Himself. Yet, I sometimes pick up a newspaper and find that someone has put the title "reverend" in front of my name.
How did Daniel stand up for his convictions? His manner was polite, calm and firm. Daniel requested that the prince of the eunuchs not force him to violate his convictions. Daniel did not want to pose as a martyr, nor did he take any pleasure in making noise. Some people think that convictions can only be exhibited by rudeness -- but such was not the attitude of Daniel. As we read the rest of the account, God brought Daniel into tender favor with the chief of the eunuchs.
Peter and John, two ambassadors of Jesus Christ, were arrested and put on trial before a Jewish court known as the Sanhedrin. As they were questioned by the priests, the captain of the temple and Annas the High Priest, the Bible records that these men were amazed "when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13).
For the moment Peter and John were released by their captors, but they were threatened not to speak any more about Jesus Christ. The apostles immediately went back to their preaching and were arrested again and put in prison, where an angel of God released them and said, "Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life" (Acts 5:20).
Early the next morning Peter and John were again found preaching and were again arrested and brought before the Jewish court. The High Priest reminded them that they had been strictly commanded not to teach or preach the words of Jesus anymore. Peter simply said, "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).
Peter was respectful and courteous, but his convictions could not be silenced by the threat of violence. The Jewish council wanted to kill Peter and John, but on the advice of a Pharisee named Gamaliel the apostles were beaten and released. "So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name" (Acts 5:41).
Peter and John did not respond with violence, for Christianity is neither promoted nor defended by the edge of a sword! We have all read of the many atrocities that were committed during what is commonly referred to as "The Crusades." I can not speak for anyone else, but let me plainly say that I firmly believe any man who picked up a sword in defense of Christianity ceased being a Christian. I believe Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace, and His cause is not to be advanced by the threat of violence or bloodshed.
The apostle Paul wrote to Christians in Rome and reminded them that they were to be obedient to the civil government (Rom. 13:1-7). These Christians were living the midst of a polytheistic society where the majority of the people were deprived of basic human rights. But Christians were to be obedient to the government until that government required of them things which God had prohibited. They were even required to pay their taxes to their government and even to pray for it. "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence" (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
In the process of time many of these early Christians were put to death by that same government -- Nero dipped Christians in oil and set them afire in his garden as torches at night. These early Christians were not told to participate in protest marches against the government, nor set up picket lines in front of government office buildings. They were to humbly and meekly go about their task -- but they were never to give in to violence, nor were they allowed to sacrifice their convictions in the process.
How far does tolerance extend? Reasonable people can disagree without violence. Unfortunately, the meanest people I have ever met are religious people. More lives have been lost in the name of God than for any other cause in the history of the world.
Over the past 20 years I have held several public religious debates with people who considered themselves to be Christians, but with whom I had disagreements on matters of faith. The debates were usually held over a period of four nights, with each speaker being given three speeches of 20 minutes each per evening. If you watched the debates from afar you might wrongly assume that my opponent and I were mad at each other -- but you would be wrong. When our voices are loud, it is not because we are mad or because we are ready to commit acts of violence upon each other.
We are forceful in our presentations because we believe that matters of faith ultimately will determine how the Eternal One of heaven deals with us in the Final Day of Judgment. I do not question the honesty or integrity of my opponents, and I do not use unkind words to describe them personally.
What would happen if a Muslim moved next door to me? I would greet you warmly, and offer to help you move in. In the afternoon, my wife would bring some food over to your house and she also would welcome you into our neighborhood. After you were settled in to your new home we would probably see each other from time to time working in the yard or shoveling snow.
I am sure that sometime along the way we would have a conversation in the yard about the weather, politics, or some such thing. In all likelihood, our conversation would probably turn to religious matters -- for in eternity, that is all that really matters.
We could spend a lot of time talking about areas of agreement. We both believe in the sanctity of human life and abhor the slaughter of the unborn. We both believe in the importance and sanctity of the home, and of propriety in all human relationships. We both believe that we are obligated by our Creator to pray and to remember the poor with our personal finances. We both believe in racial equality and desire that we judge each other by the content of character, not the color of our skin. We both believe that God grants to an individual freedom of choice, and through His word leads men to a way of holiness and happiness. We both understand that our souls are not destroyed by death. We both believe in an Eternal God who will dispense justice in accordance with His laws. Our belief in life after death and in a day of judgment helps us to heed God's laws and avoid His prohibitions, fearing His wrath.
We could spend hours talking about matters we agree upon. However, if we are truly friends, we would want to share our religious convictions, and inevitably we would have to talk about our differences. We both operate under a set of religious convictions which demands that we teach other people about our God. We would do it kindly and courteously, and with civility. We would not hurl unkind names toward each other. We would not question the honesty or integrity of the other. We would not ask each other to give up our convictions merely for the sake of getting along.
What would we talk about? We would have to discuss the nature of God's revelation to man -- is the Bible God's final revelation to man or is the Koran? We both believe in the virgin birth of Christ, but how did He die? Was He really crucified for the sins of mankind? Did the Old Testament foretell the coming of the prophet Mohamed? Does the gospel of John refer to the coming of the Holy Spirit to the apostles or to the coming of the prophet Mohamed?
These questions could be discussed in a public forum and would show to the world the Christians and Muslims can discuss their differences, maintain their convictions, exhibit tolerance and be friendly all at the same time!
Let us not judge each other by extremists. All too often people try to judge an entire race or group in society by a few misfits who like to see their names in the newspaper. I do not seek to be represented by any other group of people -- I would like you to examine what I teach in the light of Scripture. People of goodwill will truly have "Love for all, hatred for none," for love for our Creator must be shown by love for His creation!
This article is also available in outline form as Tolerance Without Sacrificing Conviction. This a is transcript of a lecture presented to 2,000 members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. The lecture was given at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 12, 2000. Muslims from throughout the world were present. The lecture gives a partial history of the city of Zion, Illinois and of it's founder, Dr. John Alexander Dowie (PDF file size: 61k).