Good question.

Before answering, I think it’s worth thinking for a moment about what people think tolerance is. What seems to be happening a lot right now is that people are confusing tolerance with not disagreeing. That is you show tolerance by not challenging the beliefs of other people and thereby approving them.

Christians get accused of being intolerant because we believe that knowing and trusting Jesus Christ is the only way to know God and be saved from judgment and there is no other. They get accused of being intolerant when they try to talk to others about such things and challenge them to think about it.

But does tolerance mean having to agree with what other people believe? I don’t think so. The person who wrote the quote on the website you saw presumably thinks they’re tolerant, and yet they don’t think much of Christianity. They think it’s wrong. Are they being intolerant?

The fact is, you can be tolerant and not agree. You can be tolerant while strongly disagreeing with someone else’s views. In fact, it’s actually impossible to be tolerant if you agree with someone, because tolerance requires that you believe something different. To be tolerant means that you honour the right of other people to hold and express views that are different to your own. I don’t need to ‘tolerate’ the views of someone who believes exactly what I do - we believe the same thing!

The irony of this is that while our society criticises Christians for not being ‘tolerant’, we are constantly told that to disagree with other people’s views is intolerant and that this will not be tolerated!

A Christian minister in Sydney puts it well in a blog post:

Isn’t it interesting that the only view modern society tolerates is the view that all religions are true for their adherents, and no one has the right to suggest the claims of a particular religion are wrong or that there is only one way to God.

Is this tolerance? Hardly! Modern society allows one view only!

So what we have here is a confusion about tolerance.

We live in a society that ought to be tolerant: we should allow people to believe what they want, and express their views, as long as that expression is done in a way which doesn’t hurt people. But some in society and the media want to make tolerance mean agreement, which is nonsensical and only leads to a situation in which whoever is most powerful tells everyone else what they must believe (which is a dictatorship).

To get back to the question, then, is Christianity tolerant and loving? We live in a society that is generally very tolerant. According to the law, people can live freely and believe what they want, without fear of oppressive persecution. And I’d want to suggest that this is the result of our Christian heritage. In some other parts of the world where other religions or ideologies have taken hold over many centuries, often those same freedoms aren’t available, freedoms that we take for granted. In some places people are forced to belong to certain religions, and they’re not allowed to change. They may be imprisoned or even killed if they try to express alternative views.

Christianity is deeply tolerant, and this comes from Jesus himself. He didn’t say, “If your enemy slaps you, slap him back, but harder.” He said, “If you enemy slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other one also.” (Matthew chapter 5 verse 39) Jesus was profoundly tolerant of other people’s beliefs, because he didn’t seek to crush them or attack those who disagreed but gently taught them the truth.

But the strongest statement of Jesus’ tolerance and love is the central message of Christianity: all people are sinners, who deserve God’s judgment for their sins, and yet in Jesus these sins can be fully and finally paid for and dealt with, never to be brought up again. For those evil sinners who trust in and follow Christ, full forgiveness and new life are granted. That’s some serious tolerance.

Are Christians themselves tolerant and loving? Not always. Sometimes Christians (or people who claim to be Christian) have been very intolerant and very unloving, persecuting people who aren’t Christian and forcing people to believe certain things.

But when Christians share the good news of Jesus with people, which includes challenging other people’s worldviews, they are seeking to be loving.

They are sharing the saving message of Jesus, that everyone deserves to be punished (in hell), and needs to be forgiven by trusting in Jesus, so that people will be able to take advantage of God’s ‘tolerance’. Christians are commanded to do this by their Lord (Matthew chapter 28 verses 18-20), and they do it out of love for others (though admittedly not always in the most loving way).

The world would be a very different place if Christians were not generally tolerant, as a result of the example of their Lord, and instead sought to oppress people and convert them by force. A world in which I have to agree with someone to be called ‘tolerant’ is a dangerous world. In that world those who are most powerful will dictate what everyone ought to believe.

Forgive me if I haven’t dealt very much with the idea of hell and whether that’s ‘loving’ or ‘tolerant’. If some people think it’s unloving or intolerant to talk about hell, I think I’d say that’s a bit like telling the lifeguards at a beach that it’s unloving to put up a shark warning sign, because it isn’t tolerant of people who want to swim without worrying. If you believe in hell, as Christians do (because Jesus does seenMatt 5:29, 10:28, 23:33), then not telling people about it is very unloving.

For those people who are examining Christianity, it’s worth asking, is Jesus someone I could follow? Does he speak the truth and is he welcoming and loving? Do I want to take advantage of God’s ‘tolerance’ of my sin, and have it forgiven in Jesus?

Those are questions each of us needs to decide on our own. And thankfully, in my country at least, we still can.