I suspect that there is no church anywhere where everyone is welcome, (despite what is written on the bulletin inside or the sign outside). At the same time, there is no "non-church" organization or group where everyone is always welcome either. When we cut through the smiles and warm fuzzies, we eventually have to believe something; we have to ascribe to some value, or set of values. C.S. Lewis called this a universal "moral ought-ness." So the problem then presents itself: "How do we measure values?" More specifically, how do we view those who don't ascribe to the values we hold dear?" Are they outsiders? Do we permanently banish them to that unpleasant territory, that staid and barren place we derisively call, "The other side?"
Most people on the "other side" mean well; whichever side you're on. Most people really are "good people" who are sincere in what they believe and advocate for, but for me, the fundamental issue becomes, "Is there an adequate truth source to support our definition of truth? You see, it isn't enough to just say, "Well, that's what I believe!" Somewhere behind all the desires to just "get along with everyone," we have to believe something, and we have to have a reason why.
A couple of weeks ago I was talking with someone about our differing views on a particular topic. They asked me (sincerely), "Why do you have to be so intolerant?" I replied, "Shouldn't I be asking you that same question?" (I was serious). It appears the "other person" is always the intolerant one; certainly not us!
As the conversation ensued, I tried to explain that, at the end of the day, life is about more than my truth or your truth; it's about the truth. So, the million dollar question becomes: "Where do we find our truth, and is it valid?" If there's a more important question, I know not what it is.
"For me," I explained, "The answer is the Bible: God's revelation to the world regarding Himself, His Son, and Truth." He said, "Well, I don't believe the Bible." I asked, "Which part?" He said, "Most of it. Maybe all of it."
I replied, "I'll be candid, sometimes I don't like everything I read in there either; in fact more often than I care to admit. Indeed, when I first became a Christian, I embraced it at about a 60/40 rate. Forty-five years later, there's only about 10% of it that makes me squirm at times, while the other 90 percent makes perfectly good sense. I'm glad I gave it a chance!"
But despite those things in the Bible that give me pause, I still think it presents the most workable guidelines for having the best possible life on this planet. In other words, for me, truth originates beyond myself, which I think is healthy. If I had no valid truth source, then I would have to conclude that anyone's truth is as good as anyone else's truth, which is, of course, essentially the world we live in these days!
I'm okay with tolerance and feel like I'm pretty good at it (it's a choice, not an emotion)...but I just don't think that unfettered tolerance provides any serious explanation of truth. Just look around. In a world where we celebrate everyone's "own truth," we've become one of the most contentious, defensive, intolerant, and irritable generations in history. Someone looking down from above might reasonably ask, "So how's that working for you?" Perhaps that's precisely what He IS asking.
Please don't misunderstand me. I believe that all of us have the right to believe whatever we want to believe about anything. The Bible calls that "free will." But the larger question might be, "Do our sincerest beliefs produce excellent results?" For me, a cursory look around at today's culture would lead me to reply, "Nope, I just don't see it." I don't consider that to be intolerance; just reality.
When Paul wrapped up his letter to the church at Philippi, he said, "Finally, my brothers and sisters, always think about what is true. Think about what is noble, right and pure. Think about what is lovely and worthy of respect. If anything is excellent or worthy of praise, think about those kinds of things." (Philippians 4:8)
Let me ask you something? In your mind, does that describe the kind of world we live in? A world where everything is progressively improving? If not, maybe your truth source could use an upgrade. But my point is this: a great truth source should produce all the good things Paul talked about.
So, please know that if I don't feel that you have an adequate and sound truth source, I'll still do my best to be tolerant, but please don't expect me to believe the things you believe...simply because those are the things you believe.
And by the way, I'll expect no less from you. It seems to me, that takes a really healthy dose of tolerance from both of us. As a wise old mentor once said, "The strongest person will always take the first step."