Part Three of Critical Conversations answers twenty-seven challenges gay activists raise against Christianity. Here’s an example, taken directly from page 105 of the book

“Why are you so intolerant?”

The Challenge

“You Christians won’t accept other people’s moral values. You think your morality is supposed to be everyone’s morality. Why are you so intolerant?”

Truths Your Teen Needs to Know

Tolerance used to mean accepting other people’s right to be who they are and believe what they believe. Frequently now, though, it means considering their opinions and values to be just as valid, good, and true as our own. That’s impossible—not just for Christians, but for everybody. Tolerance is actually a counterfeit virtue that puts distance between people, unlike real virtues like respect and love that can bring people together.

Digging Deeper

Today’s so-called tolerance is a weak, counterfeit virtue, and impossible besides. It’s impossible because no one can think all ideas are equally true, valid, and good. The person who tells us, “You’re intolerant!” is telling us our opinions are bad and shameful. That is, he doesn’t consider our ideas to be just as true, valid, and good as his own. By his own definition, therefore, when he calls us intolerant, he can’t help but be intolerant himself!

Even if it weren’t impossible, the modern form of intolerance would still be a weak virtue, as virtues go. Suppose I’m tolerant (in today’s sense) of someone else’s music, clothing style, or habits. All that really means is I’m not going to complain about them. If I’m tolerant of someone’s religious views, it means I’ll silently let them believe what they want to believe, even though I think they’re wrong.

Notice how this kind of tolerance creates distance between people. It’s all about refusing to disagree openly, keeping our own beliefs and values hidden behind a wall of noncommunication, even pretense.

We have to keep ourselves walled off and hidden. There’s no authenticity there, no true human connection, just distant silence.

Is there a stronger virtue than tolerance? Yes. There’s genuine respect, as in, “I respect you enough to expect you to speak your mind with me, and to count on you being able to handle it if I speak mine. I respect you enough to believe you don’t need me to be a pretender around you. You can have your beliefs and preferences, I can have mine, and we can both be open about them. We can even disagree openly, without having to act as if we agreed on everything.”
There’s a stronger virtue yet: Love. Love says, “Even though I disagree with you, and even if I don’t like everything about you, I’m still going to treat you as a friend, the best I possibly can.”

Tips for Talking with Your Teen

{As explained in the Intro to Part Three, the purpose of “Tips for Talking With Your Teen”is to guide parents with words they could actually use while having one of these critical conversations. So think of this as mom or dad saying something like this to son or daughter.]

Sometimes the best answer is a question. I’ve got a few questions to suggest for you:

What do you mean by tolerance?

What do you mean by intolerance?
Is intolerance the same as disagreeing with another person’s values or views?
So if you’re telling me my values or views are wrong, aren’t you being just as intolerant as you say I’m being?

You see, people get confused over what tolerance means, and they forget that the way they’re calling other people intolerant can be intolerant in itself.

Those aren’t the only questions you could ask. If you have time to talk—time enough to really explain what you mean—you might be able to help them think it through better than they ever have before by asking, “Why is it important to be tolerant? Have you ever considered that mutual respect might be even better?”

That’s going to be a new thought to most of your friends, so they probably won’t have a clue what you’re talking about. Here’s how you could explain it:

Suppose, for example, I tell you I don’t think gay sex is okay, and you say you disagree with me. Suppose we could really talk about it honestly. Behind it all, we’d also be telling each other we’re okay with being real with each other. We’d be saying, too, that we respect each other enough to believe we can both handle it without losing our cool.

 Your friends may not get it the first time. It’s probably going to take a while. But if they can get a grip on how their demand for “tolerance” is intolerant itself, and if they can start to grab hold of the idea of mutual respect, you’re making progress.

They could still come back and tell you that if you think gay sex isn’t okay, then you’re not respecting gay people. Stick with your convictions, okay? Tell them you respect them enough to be real with them and to believe they can handle people who are different from them.