Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Martin Luther University College

First Advisor

Robert Kelly

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


Tolerance is an ever-evolving discussion growing in complexity and importance. This paper will approach the topic from a personal perspective and a Christian bias. We begin with tolerance as seen in retrospect through the eyes of a boy growing up in a town where people of many different cultures lived and worked together. Many things came out of that experience including rudimentary working definition of tolerance and how it affected life in that small town. Tolerance is made up of certain characteristics and these either add or detract from the quality of life, it can make life more bearable in some situations and unbearable in others. In any case tolerance is not the optimum way to live in community, it is a starting point, the first step of a stairway. Tolerance has to do with coming to grips with the internal conflict that is at the core of accepting, rejecting or enduring something other than one is used to. The reality of globalization, the ‘shrinking’ of the world so to speak, brings cultures, religions and views concerning all issues very close together. A free democratic world that has freedom as its cornerstone attracts many from all corners of the world. All the customs, ways, values and diversity come with them to a place that encourages freedom of worship, speech and expression. Out of the richness of this kind of milieu come all the challenges of tolerance as seen through different lens. Cultures, values, religions come into conflict in areas of public domain and they vie for the right to have their way and not be swallowed up by a more dominant perspective. The richness of diversity becomes a battle for survival, understanding and public acceptance. They very strength of a free society also becomes its greatest challenge. Tolerance is defined in different ways by various authors and the nuances of these definitions are briefly explored. Biblical and historical overviews are taken into account as to how they impact the discussions and influence the current views. We discover that tolerance does not operate alone or in a vacuum. It has history, it has turning points and defining moments, it has nuances, tone and inflections. What is tolerance based on? Truth? Accommodation? The majority opinion? The point being that all of these are related in some way and they affect how tolerance is practiced or indeed can even be practiced. The rend result is a question; is tolerance the best we can do? The opinion of this writer is we need to do more than tolerate. More specifically, for those who call themselves followers of Christ, they are mandated to go beyond tolerance. The issue is not what is the least we can do but what are the directives of the gospel? One notices the tones of the Old Testament are different than the new Testament. The “Eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth, hand for hand and foot for foot” (Ex. 21:230-25) philosophy of the Old gives way to “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well” (Matt. 5:39, 40) in the New. The gospel would have had a very different conclusion if Jesus had subscribed to tolerance as a way of discussion when he said, “Love your neighbor” (Luke 19:27) not “Tolerate your neighbor”. This paper contends that the words of Jesus are as relevant and practical today as they were then but they also require thinking beyond tolerance. Jesus provided us many examples in his life of how love and not just tolerate. Christians would do well to follow.

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