Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 10, 1950

Religious Toleration

Clarence C. Gobbel, Tempe, Arizona

We continue to hear many things over the radio, and in the press, concerning the subject of religious toleration. It seems that a lot of people are not cognizant of just what is meant by the term "tolerant," or "tolerance." The dictionary gives the meaning as: "willingness to bear with others whose views and opinions differ from our own." (The New Winston).

So many seem to think that tolerance means the practice of accepting as true, and all right, the practices and views of others, regardless of what they might be.

But of course such is far from the truthful meaning of the term. In the recent May issue of the Harpers Magazine, Prof. D. W. Brogan, of Cambridge University, has some things to say along this line of thought, as follows:

"Many people talk as if religious tolerance were as easy, in theory and practice, as playing gin rummy. It isn't. It is, of course, easy to tolerate beliefs and practices that do not interest you at all... But the real test of your tolerance comes when you tolerate beliefs and practices that you think imbecile, dangerous, immoral, disgusting, or disloyal. If you do not tolerate such beliefs and practices then you are not being tolerant. If you do tolerate them, but resentfully and reluctantly because you have to, you may practice tolerance but you don't feel tolerant.

But that means that many people perhaps most people don't really believe in toleration. Of course it does; most people don't. As Justice Holmes pointed out, there is nothing unnatural in suppressing beliefs that you think you know to be wrong, if you have the power."

Of course, it is true, that we are tolerant of that which has no interest to us at all, because we pay no attention thereto. And it may be true; as Justice Holmes pointed out that "there is nothing unnatural in suppressing beliefs that you think you know to be wrong, if you have the power," but suppressing does not necessarily mean using forceful methods of criminal procedure in order to get it done.

1. Tolerance of another does not mean acceptance of his beliefs and practices. "Willingness to bear with others," not "willingness to believe as do others," is the meaning of the word "tolerance." In this land of ours, where the constitution allows freedom of speech, press, and worship, we know, though the government allows many things to be taught, yet that does not imply that they approve of all that is taught. It is a fine thing that all are allowed to teach what we believe to be true, or we would not be allowed to preach the word of God. The same freedom that we enjoy, of necessity, is enjoyed by the person who teaches that which is untrue. He can be tolerated by all of us, but not accepted, necessarily.

2. Intolerance of another does not mean that he should be imprisoned, or put to death. When the Lord, and his disciples came in contact with false teachers, which they often did, none of them resorted to violent force to try to make them give it up. All of the inspired teachers and preachers of Bible times, did stand up valiantly for the right, criticized, condemned, and appealed to them that they might be convinced of the necessity of repenting of such false beliefs and practices.

In all of the great scope of history, religious and profane, there has ever been just one class of people who has ever resorted to force in order to have their own way. That class was the sort who crucified our Lord on the Roman Cross; who stoned Stephen to death because he got the better of the discussions; and who resorted to all kinds of means to have Paul put in prison, and eventually to death.

3. The true children of God can afford to be tolerant, and not unmerciful. Those who are teachers of the true and complete Word of God, are more anxious to teach the truth to those who are in error that they might be saved by believing and obeying the gospel, than they are to see them crushed under the heel of oppression, though they may have the power to do so. Right has nothing to fear from that which is wrong, and wholly untrue. In this we have the reason for being merciful, and patient in dealing with those who are in error. True disciples in every age and clime have so behaved themselves before their God.

Just as it was in the days of the early disciples, so it is now. Those who are unable to prove their position by the divine scriptures, and unwilling to expose themselves before right thinking people in trying to defend their practice, will resort to trickery, punishment, and murder. This is really all they have left to use, and they wield it with all the power they can exercise. In every age, and in every nation, when and to the degree, that a certain church becomes strong enough to wield the scepter of punishment to enforce its unscriptural tenets, such has never hesitated so to do. History continues to repeat itself, and if and when Roman Catholics in this nation gets strong enough to force acceptance to its mandates, it will be done, as before.

4. Neither does being tolerant mean compromise and condoning. Though Christ did not threaten to kill anyone, or threaten punishment of them, as the result of their refusal to obey him, neither did he condone them in their sins. He went to neither extreme. He warned, and lovingly, yet earnestly, pleaded with the false teachers of the day to repent of their false doctrines and ungodly ways. We can tolerate others in their religious views and yet not condone, or uphold what they teach. In fact, we must continue to let them know, in no uncertain terms that we do not condone, and do not intend to ever compromise the truth in any single instance whatever. Thus, we tolerate, in the sense of not trying to overpower, or practice bodily harm against them, but we do not tolerate in the sense of approving, condoning, nor yet of accepting of that which they teach. Since those who teach the truth of the gospel only can be assured of God's continued help, it is the height of folly to ever resort to force, or punishment to get others to accept it. If we cannot patiently, and emphatically teach in such a manner as to get others to accept, force would tend to antagonize, rather than to persuade. Thus the manner of Christians is not to bodily enforce the teachings of Christ, but to lovingly teach them to others, and leave the force, and the punishment to the Lord, who will mete that out in his own good time, upon those who "know not God, and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Th. 1:8, 9).