We live in a society with people of many different cultural contexts and personal beliefs. Diversity is a beautiful thing when we learn how to get along with and learn from one another amidst our differences.
However, when our beliefs and views differ vastly from or are directly opposed to those of others, what are we to do? In our time, “tolerance” is touted as the best way, in which everyone agrees to be respectful of the views of others, even (and especially) when we disagree with them.
Hence, being “intolerant” appears to be one of the worst acts a person can commit. An intolerant person is seen as being disrespectful of others’ differences, and is branded a “bigot” or “hater” who promotes discrimination and inequality.
As Christians, how are we to respond? On the one hand, the Bible tells us to “[h]onour everyone” (1 Peter 2:17), and in that sense, we are to be respectful of others, even when we disagree with them. On the other hand, that does not mean we accept all views as true, because God’s Word teaches us clearly to hold fast to what is good and true (1 Thessalonians 5:21; Philippians 4:8) and to reject “wicked deception” (2 Thessalonians 2:10).
As parents, how do we equip our teenagers in these times? Here are a few suggestions on how you can help your teenager to respond with true Christian tolerance to people who hold different perspectives.
Objective Truth vs. Subjective Preferences
First of all, we want them to understand the difference between truth and preference. Truth corresponds to reality, but preference is up to individual opinion.
Take gravity, for instance. The force of gravity is an indisputable fact of reality. If you step off a tall building, you will definitely fall downwards. This is one example of matters of truth, which apply for all time and in all places. As such, when we believe in them, we are simply agreeing with how reality works.
Then there are matters of preference. If Peter likes vanilla ice-cream, no one can say his preference is wrong. If Jane thinks that coffee without milk tastes better, she is not committing an error of fact. Preferences are subjective and differ from one person to another. Therefore, we are accepting of them.
Explain to your teenager that we are to be unwavering when it comes to God’s absolute truths, because His Word is always true, and we are to be respectful about people’s subjective preferences, tastes, and opinions if we disagree with them.
A common phrase we hear is, “Don’t judge.” Hearing this might paralyse our teenagers as they think they are not to express convictions others dislike or disagree with, lest it is seen as unloving “judgement.”
But what does it mean to judge? Teach your teenager the difference between the two definitions of “judge,” which can be understood as “to condemn” or “to assess.”
When people say, “Don’t judge,” they usually mean, “Don’t condemn people.” And indeed, we are not to condemn people as people. But it is right to condemn choices that are not good. While we still see people who have committed rape or murder as persons created in God’s image, worthy of love and respect, it would not be just and loving— to them or their victims—to condone their actions.
However, the Bible does tell us to judge in the other sense of making correct assessments. We are to distinguish between good and evil, without hypocrisy and based on truth.
Firstly, we should not be hypocritically judging others when we ourselves refuse to live out God’s truths. Jesus said, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned. . . For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:37-38). Therefore, He counsels us to “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:42).
Secondly, He also taught us, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgement” (John 7:24). After we remove the log from our own eye, we would then be able to see the truth clearly to “judge with right judgement,” allowing us to take the speck out of others’ eye.
Explain to your teenager that we are first to live out God’s truths ourselves, and we are called to make right judgements according to God’s truths.
Truth is Narrow
God’s truths are universal (they apply everywhere and in all situations) and timeless (they hold for all time, in the past, present and future). Saying this might seem offensive to many. Some consider it “narrow-minded” that Christianity preaches such an absolute and exclusive truth when Christians point out that Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
We want our teenagers to understand that truth, unlike preference, is narrow indeed. A person might believe all she wants that gravity actually causes us to levitate, but reality will prove otherwise and the fact remains true. It is rather “narrow-minded” to say this, but it is the way reality is; there is no other way.
Love in Truth
As such, we teach that God’s truths are to be upheld and cherished, not to be compromised on. The Bible shows us that when we obey God’s life-giving commands, we will live out God’s best for us (Deuteronomy 5:33). But when we ignore or disobey them, we bring harm onto ourselves (Leviticus 26:14-39).
Help your teenager to realise that it is more beneficial and loving to obey and share God’s truths. It would be cruel to agree with someone that gravity causes him to rise in the air, then stand idly by or even be encouraging as he tries this out by jumping off a building.
While we are called to show God’s grace to people and invite them to experience His life-changing love, we are also to help those we love to make good choices. While Jesus did not condemn the woman caught in adultery, He did not leave her in her sin either. He told her, “from now on sin no more” (John 8:11), because adultery was not good for her and others.
True Christian Tolerance
The Bible says, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (Romans 12:9). Love is only genuine when we love in right judgements—when we distinguish correctly between evil and good, so that we know what to abhor and what to hold fast to, for ourselves and others.
Of course, not everyone shares our beliefs about what is true. Remind your teenager to practise tolerance by respectfully agreeing to disagree with others who hold different views. Equip them also to know how to defend God’s truths. The Bible tells us to “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Let us then disciple our teenagers on what God’s truths are, and teach—better yet, show—them how to share His truths with gentleness and respect.
That is what true Christian tolerance looks like.
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