What Can You Tolerate?

Last Sunday, I talked about the whole concept of tolerance, and clarified that it does NOT mean acceptance nor agreement. It’s an alternative to intolerance, very simply.

Right now, it can feel like our society has tossed away the entire idea of tolerance … which leaves us with only two choices: agree, or do not tolerate.


I used a metaphor of boxes:

*A box for agreement/acceptance
*A box for tolerance
*A box for intolerance

First, we need a box for the things that we rightly agree with and accept. LGBTQIA issues, anti-racism, equality, equity … toleration isn’t enough, we need some enthusiastic welcomes here!

And we absolutely need a box for that which we do not tolerate. Abuse, injustice, racism, debates about things that are already established as accepted science and theories. Denying that covid exists or that the holocaust was real – yup, these are ideas to be soundly rejected.

But what about the space between? That is where we need the box for “tolerance.”

Are there ideas that you disagree with, but that you can tolerate? I certainly hope so, otherwise, where is our room for growth? For figuring out better plans? The room to hear about something from someone else’s perspective?

This Sunday, I’ll be tracing our Unitarian Universalist history from its beginnings through merger, as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of UU consolidation. Since I’ll be covering about 2000 years, I can’t go into significant detail about some of those places along the way, so I wanted to lift up one of those significant moments here:

In 1568, a Unitarian king (the only one), King Sigismund of Transylvania, issued the Edict of Torda, a law for toleration of all religious beliefs. This was a radical idea. It was just assumed that with religion, “might makes right,” and only the official religion of an area should be practiced by all of its citizens.

Tolerance is an idea that Unitarians and Universalists have fought and died for. And it is part of maturity, to be able to tolerate ideas that you may personally disagree with. It takes discernment to figure out which of those ideas rightly should not be tolerated. But if we can figure out how to make the space for tolerance as wide as possible while not sacrificing the worth and dignity (and safety) of individuals, we will create a wider and more inclusive space for community, so that our church may grow in members, and we may grow as individuals.

During this next week, I invite you to play the “tolerance game.” When you see a news article, or read a social media post, first ask “do I agree with this?” If the answer is no, go to a second question: “Can I (and should I) tolerate this?”

I’d love to hear about what you disagree with, but can tolerate.