What is the reason that the words tolerance and discrimination are so important in the culture of the US? You might think that it means we have a cruel, bigoted society, but this is not the reason. The reason is that whoever controls the speech increasingly controls the whole society. These words are used as battering rams to suppress the God-given liberty and rights of religion and free speech in this country.
The cultural mantra of our secular society is expressed in three words: diversity, tolerance and inclusion. Those words have been mounting in importance for many years, and they have shaped legislation focused on establishing civil rights. The concept of tolerance is expressed in legalese that includes heavy penalties for a failure to show tolerance. The term discrimination is no longer confined to actions that actually put someone at a disadvantage in society. Today, discrimination can be as simple as a failure to show positive affirmation of someone else. Even conditions and behaviors which conflict with the deeply-held religious convictions of some citizens are subject to be classified as bigoted discrimination in today’s culture. Political and social activism are aggressively working to enshrine each new cultural restriction into a legal requirement.
The list of diverse cultural expressions which must be tolerated grows longer and longer every day. Tolerance must be expressed in inclusion, and inclusion must be verbalized in affirming statements and language. The ostensible objective of tolerating diversity and inviting diverse social categories into our everyday associations with the use of affirming language should have produced a culture where the term “hate speech” would be an oxymoron. Yet the speech of public leaders such as Supreme Court justices, legislators and administration spokespersons is outrageous and deliberately abusive toward anyone with opposing views.
Because absorbing the political/social agenda items of diversity, tolerance and inclusion, and fervently expressing those concepts in politically correct speech, assuming anyone can even discern what the latest politically correct term is, does not transform anyone. Instead of transforming individuals into better people, focusing on an agenda whose success is measured by use of politically correct speech only fosters pharisaical judgment that is expressed as taking offense. The one who is most sensitive to the fine points of speech becomes the one who sets the standard for others.
Sadly, regulation of speech does not transform the human heart. People are quite capable of saying whatever is necessary while harboring the desire and will to demean others in their hearts.
It is sad to observe that in the quest to eliminate “discrimination” social and political activism have, in fact, nourished the very thing they sought to destroy. This outcome, of course, is the predictable result of heightening people’s sensitivity to differences and to speech about differences. The desired outcome is complete indifference to distinguishing characteristics as a basis for a lack of respect. The actual outcome is hair-splitting arguments over the very characteristics that should be ignored in social discourse.
Is there any way to cure the human propensity to discriminate against people who are different?
Yes. The cure is well-known, and it works every time. Transform the human heart to love every person the way God loves people. People who love God so much that they love people the way he does do not discriminate against anyone. They love and touch and serve the most unlovely individuals. They love and serve and touch people whose social status or economic condition or health problems or intellectual capacity inspire rejection or scorn or even abuse in unloving hearts.
There is one cure for the well-documented need of each human to feel superior to all the rest. Jesus expressed it in everything he said and did, but most succinctly when he was asked what God’s most important law is. Jesus, God in the flesh, answered that question by saying,
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ “ Matthew 22:37-39 NIV
American culture teaches people to be sensitive to differences, and its lexicon is harshly enforced by activist leadership and a compliant media. The consequence of heightened sensitivity is that the enforcement of tolerance has become intolerant. Instead of making it easier for people to ignore their differences, heightened sensitivity not only spotlights the differences, but it also spotlights the language, resulting in as much aggression over the language as ever occurred over the differences themselves.
Jesus teaches people to love one another regardless of differences. The followers of Jesus don’t examine differences in a microscope in order to use the correct words. They study how to serve all people no matter how different they may be. They don’t need to review the approved vocabulary, because their words serve Christ, not a political agenda.
Jesus teaches something else that smooths the process of building relationships between people who are different from each other: forgiveness. The teaching of sensitivity in attempt to prevent discrimination creates a heightened sensitivity on the part of those who have been the targets of discrimination. Teaching those people to be more sensitive to the language of discrimination, even unintentional words or phrases, even words or phrases used long ago and now abandoned, only wallows in pain and suffering that are not even happening.
Jesus teaches that the targets of discrimination must forgive, and he teaches that they must forgive over and over. This teaching is embedded in the prayer he taught to his disciples:
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Matthew 6:12 NIV
Knowing that people who were targeted for abuse would feel that the abusers were their enemies, Jesus went further. It is not enough just to forgive the enemy. Jesus taught that people who are abused must love, bless and pray for that enemy:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:43-44 NIV
Jesus did not teach people to be sensitive to the differences between themselves and other people. He did not teach people to use special language to express their sensitivity to those differences. He did not teach abused or persecuted people to assess the behavior and language used in their presence for its sensitivity to their special differences. Jesus taught everyone to ignore all those differences. He taught that each person must love God so much that the love simply overflows naturally to everyone around him. Jesus taught that when someone fails to love another person, the right response is not to call attention to the bad behavior and language; the right response is to forgive, to love that person and pray for him. Castigating the “enemy” on Facebook, or going on television to describe in detail the “hate speech” someone used does not promote healing and reconciliation among groups in society who have differences.
To love people, especially enemies, is very difficult. Some people think humans simply cannot do it. Jesus, who was completely human, demonstrated how to do it. In the end, he was not able to persuade his enemies to love him, but he never stopped loving them. As he was being nailed to the cross, he prayed, “Father, forgive them.” Luke 23:34 NIV People were driving nails into his hands and feet. The surrounding crowd was making fun of him. Jesus was a human being who suffered exactly as any other human would suffer. To love and forgive those people was no easier for Jesus than it is for anyone else, because he was a human being, too. Yet Jesus summoned up the strength and made the choice to forgive.
The society of the USA is troubled by a lot of old wounds. The people who live here are quite varied. There are ethnic differences, economic differences, intellectual differences, language differences, spiritual differences, and so forth. At the moment, the society, dominated by secular thinking, is trying to end the enmity and violence that erupts over the differences by making everyone more sensitive. Social activists promote sensitivity toward targets of discrimination, and the targets of discrimination promote greater sensitivity toward language and behavior from those who have discriminated. Heightened sensitivity is only making the problems worse.
Jesus taught people to love one another and to forgive wrongs. It is easy to show that when people learn to love one another they behave respectfully toward one another. It is also easy to show that when those who are wronged for any reason are able to summon up the strength to forgive those who wronged them, people can work toward healing and even become reconciled in loving relationships.
Increased awareness and heightened sensitivity do not promote tolerance. They actually increase the anger and violence in the culture. Jesus taught a better way to cure discrimination: love your neighbor and forgive his wrong-doing. There are undoubtedly people who think this idea won’t work, but it should probably be tried before it is rejected. Be the first in your neighborhood to advocate love and forgiveness as the strategy for ending discrimination.