On Tolerance – Part 5

“It Doesn’t Affect Me”

We might be tempted to say, “Well, it doesn’t affect me.” John Taylor and the First Presidency had some strong words for that kind of attitude:

… the mantle of charity must not be stretched so widely, in our desire to protect our erring friends, as to reflect dishonor on the work of God, or contempt for the principles of the everlasting Gospel. There is an unfortunate tendency in the natures of many to palliate sins by which they are not personally injured, but we must not forget that such palliation frequently increases the original wrong, and brings discredit on the Church and dishonor to the name and work of our blessed Redeemer; in other words, to save the feelings of our friends we are willing to crucify afresh the Lord of life and glory.[1]

In short, as Elder Maxwell put it, “Kindness never takes the form of permissiveness.”[2] Elder Nelson said that

… in discussing this topic, we must recognize at the outset that there is a difference between tolerance and tolerate. Your gracious tolerance for an individual does not grant him or her license to do wrong, nor does your tolerance obligate you to tolerate his or her misdeed. That distinction is fundamental to an understanding of this vital virtue.[3]

“Imposing” our views

Some worry that through making some acts supported or encouraged by law, and by opposing other acts by law (or at least refusing to endorse them by law) we are “imposing our own morality” on others.

This is nonsense, and those who make the claim need to be called on it. As Elder Oaks (a former Utah Supreme Court Justice) noted:

Those who take this position should realize that the law of crimes legislates nothing but morality. Should we repeal all laws with a moral basis so that our government will not punish any choices some persons consider immoral? Such an action would wipe out virtually all of the laws against crimes.[4]

And remember, even the claim that tolerance should govern the law of the land is a moral, ethical position that claims to be superior to another stance. All laws on this kind must express a moral point of view. What the person is saying is that they want to legislate their morality (even if that morality is a lack of absolute morality) not avoid legislating morality altogether—because that is impossible. As Elder Oaks noted elsewhere:

when believers seek to promote their positions in the public square, their methods and their advocacy should always be tolerant of the opinions and positions of others who do not share their beliefs. We should not add to the extremism that divides our society. As believers, we must always speak with love and show patience, understanding, and compassion toward our adversaries….

As believers, we should also frame our arguments and positions in ways that contribute to the reasoned discussion and accommodation that are essential to democratic government in a pluralistic society. By this means we will contribute to the civility that is essential to preserve our civilization….

believers should not be deterred by the familiar charge that they are trying to legislate morality. Many areas of the law are based on Judeo-Christian morality and have been for centuries. Our civilization is based on morality and cannot exist without it. As John Adams declared: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” [5]

[To be continued]


[1] John Taylor and George Q. Cannon [First Presidency], “Epistle to Saints in Semi-Annual Conference, October 6, 1886,” from pamphlet in Church Historian’s Library, Salt Lake City; reproduced in James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1966), 3:88.

[2] Neal A. Maxwell, Even As I Am (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1982), 86.

[3] Russell M. Nelson, “ Teach Us Tolerance and Love ,” general conference, April 1994.

[4] Dallin H. Oaks, “Weightier Matters,” Liahona (Mar 2000): 15; from a BYU Devotional Address on 9 Feb 1999.

[5] Dallin H. Oaks, “Truth and Tolerance,” BYU Devotional, 11 September 2011.

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