Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tolerance or Love?

On Canada Day, my family set out on a rainy morning along with other like minded Fort McMurrians to celebrate the 145th anniversary of this great nation. Standing curbside with my two-year-old in my arms, I encouraged him to enthusiastically greet the cultural and religious groups passing by in the parade.

Then I saw the rainbow banner of a gay pride group. Now, the church I represent promotes a traditional sexual ethic — sex is only to be practiced by a man and a woman who are committed to each other in a marriage relationship. In other words, the gay pride group and my church group differ at a core belief level on a politically fraught issue.

So the moment I recognized the gay marchers in the Canada Day parade I faced a dilemma. Do I encourage my son to smile, wave, and shout, "Heh-wo!" to the people holding the rainbow banner, or do I look away and ignore them?

In 1689 the Parliament of England passed the Act of Toleration, allowing religious liberty for Protestant groups who dissented from the Church of England. That Act represented a widening of English civil society to accommodate groups with opposing core beliefs on the basis of tolerance, inaugurating a tradition of tolerance that extends down into Canadian-style multiculturalism today.

The word "tolerance" comes from a Latin word that means putting up with something you don't like. Since the 1530s, tolerance has meant permitting that which you consider wrong, but which you don't think should be prohibited. In our society, tolerance means that even if I oppose all you stand for, I will not deny you your right to exist and participate in society. It means that churches espousing a traditional sexual ethic may not seek to have gay people thrown in jail, and that gay pride groups may not seek to penalize clergy whose conscience will not allow them to perform gay marriages.

This is good as far as it goes, but where does this state of tolerance leave me and the gay pride group during the parade? If we merely tolerate each other, shall I stand in silent protest at those promoting a wrong I am tolerating? In turn, shouldn't they vow never to darken the door of a church that promotes a traditional sexual ethic? After all, we would not want to appear to support each others positions, would we?

Fortunately, those of us who are followers of Jesus are called to a higher principle than tolerance. Jesus taught, "You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you …."

According the principle of tolerance, smiling and waving at ones ideological opponents is about the most one can do. But when measured against the principle of love, smiling and waving is the least one can do.

Andrew Marrin is a evangelical Christian who was prejudiced against gay people until one summer when three of his best friends came out to him. This prompted Andrew to reevaluate his attitudes in light of Jesus' love. He started a group to build bridges of understanding between the evangelicals and gays. Christians from his group attend gay pride parades holding signs saying, "I'm sorry," for the ways Christians have abused gays.

Sometimes, an apology is the only way love can start. So let me begin by saying sorry, to the gay pride marchers at the Canada Day parade, for even thinking of not greeting you. Why don't we get to know each other better?

This article was originally submitted for the Clergy Comments column of the Fort McMurray Today (July 13, 2012).