by David Sisler

Every month during the school year a local elementary school posts a "character word" on its outside message board. This week's word is "tolerance." I wonder if all four main definitions are being, well, tolerated.

Some old dictionaries I checked listed "the capacity to endure pain or hardship" as the primary definition. The mental processes which produce mass-dependance on microwave dinners and instant coffee seem to have caused us to believe that every problem can be solved right now. In a society which seems to have little patience for anything that requires hard work, determination, and the passing of significant amounts of time, it is little wonder enduring pain or hardship comes reluctantly to mind as the definition of tolerance.

Interestingly, newer dictionaries, or newer editions of old dictionaries, gave the following definition (a representation from several sources) as the primary: "sympathy for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own; the ability or practice of accepting the race, religion, customs, opinions, or the like of other people; absence of negative prejudice; open- mindedness."

These were followed by definitions three and four: "the allowable deviation from a standard (usually in engineering and machine-tooled parts); and the capacity of the body to become less responsive to a substance (as a drug) with repeated use or exposure."

Last week, by a vote of 315-249 the French National Assembly passed the Civil Solidarity Pact (known by its French initials as PACS). PACS will allow homosexual and lesbian couples to register their relationship with the French government and to receive some of the tax, legal, and social benefits associated with marriage.

Opponents of PACS are convinced that it will eventually lead to pressure to grant same-sex couples the equivalent legal status as married couples. The French government says that it opposes the extension of these further benefits to same-sex couples. That is the same government which until last week, opposed any legal benefits to same-sex couples. Definitions three and four?

The French were not the only ones making same-sex news last week. As reported by the United Methodist News Service, "The social action agency of the United Methodist Church is calling on the Boy Scouts of America to change its policy of excluding gays from participating in the organization...

"While the General Board of Church and Society would like to enthusiastically affirm and encourage this continuing partnership of the church and scouting, we cannot due to the Boy Scouts of America's discrimination against gays," the board stated. The statement is not one of church policy, but it is one of the resolutions that will be considered by the United Methodist Church's top lawmaking body when it meets next May.

Both the denomination's Commission on United Methodist Men and the General Board of Discipleship have taken the opposite position. Each group has affirmed the Boy Scouts ban of homosexuals.

But there was more to come.

Retired United Methodist Bishop Jack Tuell has petitioned the church's top legislative body to remove a statement from the Social Principles prohibiting United Methodist clergy from presiding over same-sex unions or having such ceremonies in the denomination's churches. At the same time, he is proposing a new statement in the Social Principles that would reiterate the United Methodist position that marriage is a sacred union between two people of the opposite sex. He further supports limiting the terms "marriage" and "wedding" to the traditional understandings.

Bishop Tuell, if you are going to meet the spiritual and pastoral needs of your people, how can you do it by support two standards? The Methodist Book of Discipline declares that the practice of approving same-sex marriage is wrong. An older book, God's Word, declares that homosexuality as a life-style, as an habitual practice, is wrong. How will you keep the traditional meanings of one service when you stretch it to cover a relationship it was never intended to support?

God's Word declares that the practice of homosexuality is a sin, a deviation from God's standard. God's Word also declares that the practice of adultery is a sin, a deviation from God's standard. Both the habitual adulterer and the habitual homosexual need God's forgiveness. Tolerance should mean that we understand that each of us is different on the inside as well as on the outside. Tolerance must not mean that such an understanding is an endorsement of a belief or lifestyle which God's Word declares sinful. The tolerance which endorses becomes "the allowable deviation" and "the capacity to become less responsive with repeated use or exposure."


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 10/23/99

The week after this column appeared in the newpaper, Charles P. Heywood, of Martinez, GA, wrote a Letter to the Editor, expressing an opposing view.

Copyright 1999 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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