On faith: Religion and tolerance can go hand in hand
By: Mark Hillmer, Pastor, Bethlehem Lutheran Church , Lake County News Chronicle
In this, my last submission (my year as an interim pastor is over), I would like to thank the Lake County-News Chronicle for having the boldness to print an “On Faith” column.
When I came here last September, I found it hard (but pleasant) to believe that I, as a local clergyman, would be asked to write about faith in the local newspaper. I had expected to write a pastor’s article for the Bethlehem Star, our monthly church newsletter, but hardly for a newspaper that is read by both believers and non-believers.
The printing of this column is a testimony to the truth that religion and tolerance can go hand in hand.
Religion can become intolerant. All religious people need both to recognize that, and be ready to apologize for it. I do not mean that we need to take personal responsibility for the many intolerant acts done in the name of religion over the millenia. An apologetic stance is in order not only to comfort any current recipients of theological bullying, but it also serves as a reminder to those of us who find meaning and comfort in religion, that we should avoid intolerance like the plague.
The trick is to be able to cherish deeply-held beliefs while allowing others their own opinions.
Religious tolerance came into vogue in the 1700’s when thinking people in the west realized that the religious wars spawned by the Reformation pitted one form of Christianity against another.
The relatively monolithic consensus on religion that held together in the political entity called Christendom was no longer there. In place of consensus there arose wars between the various religious factions.
Our country wisely chose tolerance over intolerance, separation of church and state rather than a state church and, as enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, freedom of religion over that self-contradictory phrase, coerced religion.
Tolerance, however, can also become a religion. One can see tolerance worshipped as a god when it is raised to the highest degree: “Intolerance will not be tolerated here!”
Then it becomes a matter of power again. Those who determine what should be tolerated call the shots.
Reasonable people disagree on what is to be tolerated and what is not.
Religious people disagree on this matter. What are we to do? An example from the Bible helps us out of this dilemma.
The man who later became the apostle Paul, was on his way to Damascus. He was deeply convinced of his religion and was ready to kill for it. Then he met Jesus whereupon he became even more deeply convinced, but in a different way. He was turned from a murderer into a martyr, from one who would kill for his faith to one who would die for it.
That is how religion and tolerance can reside in the same person. One can have deeply held convictions but one does not kill for them. On the contrary, one is ready for die for them.
Killing includes nastiness in any form, like shouting, being mean and bullying. Dying includes listening to those with whom one disagrees and doing so lovingly, not just waiting for the chance to set them right.
It is not easy being both religious and tolerant. But it is worth the effort.