As a disciple of Christ, I want to understand the expression “religious tolerance”? We live in a country [editor’s note: the questioner lives in Russia] where we have a lot of the world’s religions. On the one hand we need to preach the truth, and on the other hand we need to be tolerant. Where is the line when a person loses this tolerance and becomes intolerant of other religions? Can we say that Jesus is tolerant of other religions? Many of his statements do not seem tolerant at all. And in General – is it good to have such a quality as religious tolerance, as the world understands it?


Tolerance is a Christian virtue. Jesus showed tolerance in numerous ways during his ministry.  When his disciples wanted to blitz those who were healing in his name, despite the fact that they were not part of the “in” group, Jesus rebuked them (Luke 9:50, Mark 9:40).  When the self-righteous Jewish leaders wanted to stone a woman caught in adultery, he challenged them for their being too quick to judge (John 8:1-11).   Jesus hung out with the “sinners and tax collectors.”  Jesus befriended female Samaritans whom no Jew would even talk to (John 4:1-42).   Jesus would hang out with gays, drunkards and  yes, even Muslims if he were here today.  He would tolerate them and they would feel safe to talk to them.  Yet, at the same time, although Jesus respected and was kind to sinners, the downtrodden, foreigners and the disadvantaged, he did id not “tolerate” sin–never!   This is a difficult balancing act for us as Christians.  We need to be welcoming, accepting and loving to homosexuals, but we also need to call them to not commit homosexual acts.  We need to love, respect and even appreciate the beliefs of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and atheists, yet we need to influence them and call them to exchange their incorrect beliefs to become Christians if we can.

About other religions, like with sin, we do not “tolerate” other religions, but we honor and respect the sincerity of those who hold to those religions. We find common ground.   We treat them the way we wish they would treat us.   What we do NOT do is say it is fine for them to stay in a false religion.   However, if we begin our relationship with these folks with an intolerant attitude, we will never get to the point where we can call them to change.  Like the woman caught in adultery, if Jesus had been intolerant to her, he would never have had the opportunity to, out of love, call her to stop sinning.   We need to do both.  We need to tolerate other religions in the sense that we respect and appreciate the good.  We need to move from finding common ground to confronting the differences and calling people to the truth.  But if we call people out in an arrogant judgmental way, this conversation will never happen.    We should never be intolerant.  Intolerance is arrogance and a lack of love.  We need to tolerate and explain/call to repentance in a context of toleration. Clearly, this is a delicate balance, but it is one we need to find in order to be like Jesus.  Jesus is our model and we would do to imitate both his tolerance and his calling people to repentance.

In the case of the Pharisees, his treatment stressed more calling  out their sin than tolerance, but this was because they were hypocrites and insincere. If we are tolerant to a Muslim or an atheist–which means we respect the good they do, we listen to them, we try to find common ground, but after this start we discover that their sincerity is really hypocrisy and a mask for refusing to even listen to the truth, then it may be time to move on to confrontation, but our first reaction—the first thing they see–needs to be kindness, acceptance, humility and an attempt to show empathy.

Can we say that Jesus is tolerant of other religions? No.   Neither can we say that he was tolerant of sin.  What we can say is that he was tolerant of the PEOPLE who are in other religions.   Just like he was tolerant of the PEOPLE who are in sin.  We can tolerate the people without “tolerating” their false religion.  To be religiously tolerant means to engage in dialogue, to present our view with humility.  It means to seek common ground where it exists.  It does not mean compromise.  It means love, humility and respect.

How this is to be applied in Russia is a thing for Russians to decide. Who there do you need to go out of your way to “tolerate” and, at the same time, who you need to call to repent and how you ought to go about this will be somewhat different from what is needed where I live, which is in the United States.

John Oakes

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