Monday, October 26, 2015

tolerance

I gave this talk in sacrament meeting on Sunday. I rewrote/rehashed it 3 times. Sam had the flu and was sleeping about 14 hours out of every 24, so the kids watched a lot of netflix this weekend as I reworked on it. I was pleased with how it turned out.

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I think this is the first time I’ve been asked to speak on a topic that’s not found anywhere in the standard works. Neither tolerance, tolerant, nor tolerate is found in the King James Version of the Bible or in any other LDS scripture. Of course, the idea and practice of tolerance is found in many stories in the scriptures, but the word itself is not found in the translation we use. Because of that, I felt I had so much flexibility in how I wanted to approach this topic. I think this is the first time I’ve ever complained to Sam of not having enough time to give a talk. After many false starts, I decided I want to talk about these four main points.

1.
       Tolerance is uncomfortable2.       Tolerance is a stepping stone to love3.       Tolerance is exemplified by the Savior4.       Tolerance must be practiced with the guidance of the Spirit


Before I get to these ideas, I want to start in the scriptures. Though it’s not in the King James Version, the word “tolerance” is used in at least one modern translation of the Bible.[i] The New American Standard Bible uses the word “tolerance” in Ephesians 4:2 and Romans 2:4. In the King James Version, the same word is translated in both verses as “forbearance” and, when you look up “tolerance” in the Topical Guide, the first word it directs you to is “forbear.” Let me read how forbearance is used in Ephesians 4 for you:

 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord [this is Paul speaking], beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,
 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
 There is one body, and one Spirit, …;
 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

Unity, Paul says, or being Zion—of one heart and one mind—happens when we treat one another with longsuffering, forbearance, and love. Isn’t it interesting that he didn’t say we’d have unity when we all agree with each other? Or when no one gets on your nerves? Or when we all vote for the same person? An essential part of the gospel of Christ is becoming one with people we have to tolerate.

So here’s point number 1. Tolerance is uncomfortable

On September 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center, Elder Dallin H. Oaks quoted President Hinckley who said, “’Each of us is part of a great family, the human family, sons and daughters of God, and therefore brothers and sisters. We must work harder to build mutual respect, an attitude of forbearance, with tolerance one for another regardless of the doctrines and philosophies which we may espouse.’” Elder Oaks then continued, “Living together with mutual respect for one another’s differences is a challenge in today’s world. However—and here I express [an] …absolute truth—this living with differences is what the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us we must do.”[ii]

The very definition of tolerance is to withstand something unpleasant or painful. However, it is also the second great commandment: to love our neighbors, even the annoying neighbors, even the neighbors we don’t understand, even the neighbors we fear, as ourselves.

This is how I recall the story of that commandment: A lawyer who’s trying to trap Jesus into saying something wrong asks what the most important commandment is. Jesus answers that it’s to love God and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. If that’s how you recall it, we’re both right…and also not quite right.

That’s roughly how the story goes in Matthew and Mark, but in Luke it’s a little different. In Luke, the scribe, rather than wanting to trick Jesus is impressed by the answers he’s been giving the Sadducees. He asks Jesus which is the first, or most important, commandment. Then Jesus turns the question back to him and asks, “What is written in the law? how readest thou?”

So it’s the scribe who answers, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” Then Jesus “said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.”[iii]

This was surprising to me since I'd always thought of loving your neighbor as one of the revolutionary parts of the gospel Christ was bringing to the people. So how did the scribe know this answer? Where in the law, or what we call now, the scriptures did he read it?

The answer is in Leviticus, where the Law of Moses is codified. Leviticus 19:17 and 18 says “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart… Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord.” From the very beginning, the Lord has taught tolerance. But he doesn’t just command us to love our brothers and neighbors, he extends that love to strangers, which bears out in the New Testament when the scribe in Luke asks “who is my neighbor?” and the Lord goes on the give the parable of the good Samaritan.

But back to Leviticus. Later in the same chapter, the children of Israel are taught, “33 And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. 34 But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Not only does the Lord command the Israelites to welcome and care for the strangers in their midst, He also shares a way to overcome the discomfort obeying that commandment will cause. To do so, He says, you should remember that you, too, were once a stranger. Today, we’d call this having empathy.

But why does dealing with strangers and foreigners cause discomfort? In an article in the Ensign, Ann M. Madsen suggests “that it’s because of …differences. We separate ourselves from others by the differences we see. We feel comfortable with those who dress like we do, think like we do, and act like we do; and we feel uncomfortable with those who are different.” However, physical differences, age, and culture, are among differences that, she says, “don’t matter at all and should 
never divide us.”

I broke a cultural convention today and wore my best pants as a sort of object lesson. Let me share a few stories about pants, and in doing so, move on to point number 2. Tolerance is a stepping stone to love.

The first is about when I was on study abroad in London. It took us about an hour and a half to tube, bus, and tram to our ward in South London. Since I was there in the winter, I’d often wear pants under my skirt to keep warm from the wind. One day before church started a sister commented on how cold and windy it was that day. “Yes!” I said, “I just slipped off the pants I had under my skirt to keep warm.” It was as I took in her shocked expression that I remembered that “pants” in the UK means underwear. Thankfully this kind sister was tolerant of my cultural mishap and laughed off the embarrassment with me.

The second story is about my friend Alisa who participated in the first “Wear Pants to Church Day” in 2012. Her family was living in New Zealand at the time and were traveling with her husband for work. Lonnie, her husband had taken the car to work, so Alisa arrived at a ward where no one knew them, a little late in a taxi, with three young children, no husband, and wearing pants.

Alisa says, “The [only] other woman who was also wearing pants had a sweet seven year old son with autism who had kept Max and Maya happy….  The woman was a recent convert to the church, having been baptized when her husband, who was less active, had begun attending church services again.

“When I told her I liked her pants she said that it was all she had to wear.  I told her that it was only cultural that women traditionally wear dresses to church and that she should feel confident that she looked great and was perfectly dressed for church.  I was happy to be wearing pants if only to let her know that she wasn't the only one wearing pants that Sunday.

“It was a good experience to feel for the day what someone might feel like coming to church as a bit of an outsider.  There is a real strength in gaining a perspective on what others might feel.”[iv]

The last story comes from Clayton M. Christensen’s book, The Power of Everyday Missionaries. He writes, “On one Sunday Sister Virginia Perry, whose husband, L. Tom Perry, was president of the Boston Stake, noticed a woman who had quietly found a space on the back row in the Weston chapel, having arrived a few minutes late for sacrament meeting. She was wearing jeans and a T-shirt and had come on her motorcycle. Sister Perry quickly sensed that the woman felt that she didn’t fit in. Everyone else was wearing their Sunday best and was sitting with their families. So Sister Perry left her family alone, went to the back pew, and asked the visitor if she would mind if she sat beside her. When the woman smiled in the affirmative, Sister Perry put her arm around her. The next Sunday Sister Perry came to church wearing Levi’s and a T-shirt.”[v]

Tolerance is the stepping stone to love. When we look past our differences and overcome our discomfort, we begin to love the people we used to tolerate. None of these stories is really about wearing pants to church. They’re about challenging our own cultural perceptions in order to help others feel welcome, comfortable, and loved in our presence and in our church services.

This brings us to the third point. Tolerance is exemplified by the Savior.

The Savior did this over and over again. He baffled the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees by breaking social convention time and again in order to bring His message and His love to everyone He could.  He ate with publicans and sinners.[vi] He healed the lepers.[vii] He praised the faithful Roman Centurian.[viii] He revealed His divinity to the Samaritan woman at the well.[ix] As I try to be like Him, I hope I can dismiss the differences that don’t matter and embrace the people who do.

However, there was some behavior the Savior could not tolerate. Elder Oaks explained it this way. “While we must practice tolerance and respect for others and their beliefs, including their constitutional freedom to explain and advocate their positions, we are not required to respect and tolerate wrong behavior. Our duty to truth requires us to seek relief from some behavior that is wrong.” When the Savior found the money changers in the temple, He drove them out with a scourge.[x] He would not tolerate the defiling of the temple.

Christ understood the perfect balance between what Elder Oaks called, “the twin ideas of truth and tolerance.” Elder Oaks recalls, “When He faced the woman taken in adultery, Jesus spoke the comforting words of tolerance: ‘Neither do I condemn thee.’ Then, as He sent her away, He spoke the commanding words of truth: ‘Go, and sin no more’ (John 8:11). We should all be edified and strengthened by this example of speaking both tolerance and truth: kindness in the communication, but firmness in the truth.”

This brings me to my final point. Tolerance must be practiced with the guidance of the Spirit.

One of my earlier points was that tolerance is a stepping stone to love. Tolerance for different opinions and cultural practices can lead us to love God’s children and bring unity to neighborhoods, churches, and communities. Tolerance for sin, however can lead us to love sin. We must rely on the Spirit to help us know the difference.

In speaking about tolerance “in our personal relations” with those whose beliefs and behavior differ from our own, Elder Oaks advises that our “[decisions] can depend on how directly we are personally affected by it.” We must be careful to avoid self-righteousness and judgment when we see others choose to live differently than we do. Joseph Smith taught us: “It is the doctrine of the devil to …hinder our progress, by filling us with self-righteousness. The nearer we get to our Heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls.” “Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand, and watch over them with tenderness.”[xi] When we see our friends or family sinning, let us, like the father of the prodigal son, treat them with tenderness, invite them to come home, and rejoice when they choose to do so.

Here’s another rule of thumb for acting wisely with tolerance. Recently, in articles or blog posts advocating for greater tolerance, I’ve heard the same phrase used again and again. It goes something like this, “Let us be known for what we do, rather than what we don’t do.” I like this this little phrase because while it acknowledges that there are things we will not and cannot tolerate, we would be better served by focusing our time and energy on doing good wherever and to whomever we can.

Sharon Eubank is the director of LDS Charities which provides millions of dollars to serve over a million people globally each year providing clean water, disaster relief, vaccinations, and more. If there’s anyone who has to make difficult decisions about how to do the most good each day, it’s her. Last year, she suggested that rather than worrying “about things that are less significant,” we should ask ourselves, “Where should I be spending my energy and my intellectual curiosity and what should I be worrying about?”[xii] Acting on the personal revelation we receive in answer to this question will help us become a people known for the good that we do.

Finally, let us practice tolerance with people we already love in our home. Nowhere are we better able to learn the virtues of patience, forbearance, and longsuffering, than in our relationships with our family who sometimes seem to be uniquely chosen for their ability to drive us crazy. Yet nowhere have I felt greater joy than when I sit with one of my children and we apologize to each other, reaffirm our love for each other, and begin to laugh again.

Just this past week, Elder Oaks gave another speech on tolerance at the Second Annual Court/Clergy Conference in Sacramento. Though he was speaking about political differences, I think his advice is sound for families as well. He says, “It will help if we are not led or unduly influenced by the extreme voices that are heard from contending positions. Extreme voices polarize and create resentment and fear by emphasizing what is nonnegotiable and by suggesting that the desired outcome is to disable the adversary and achieve absolute victory. Such outcomes are rarely attainable and never preferable to living together in mutual understanding and peace.” Let us not let being right stand in the way of peace and harmony in the family.

May the fruits of the Spirit of God—love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, and longsuffering tolerance[xiii]—be abundant in our lives as we try to live in understanding and peace is my hope and prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.




[ii] “Truth and Tolerance”, Elder Dallin H. Oaks
CES Devotional for Young Adults • September 11, 2011 • Brigham Young University

[iii] Luke 10:25-28

[iv] “pants to church” blog post by Alisa Mercer, personal friend.

[v] p. 139, “The Power of Everyday Missionaries: The What and How of Missionary Work” by Clayton M. Christensen

[vi] Luke 5:27-31

[vii] Luke 17:11-19

[viii] Matthew 8:5-13

[ix] John 4

[x] John 2:13-17

[xi] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977, p. 241, p. 240.

[xii] “This Is a Woman’s Church”, Sharon Eubank, director, LDS Charities
2014 FairMormon Conference, August 8, 2014

[xiii] Galations 5:22

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