Student Culture, Trends & Issues

The Problem With Tolerance

dont speak

The problem with tolerance is both simple and complex — and has everything to do with how we understand it and attempt to live it out.

It’s simple in the sense that this cultural call to create space for those who don’t believe exactly like you speaks to the kind of charity and hospitality that we see exemplified by Christ.

This is good. And something that many of us as Christians have struggled with for a long time now.

I believe that Christians should be a living definition of charity and hospitality.

But it’s complex in that — for far too many followers of Jesus — we understand it to mean that we need to keep our beliefs and opinions to ourselves.

That we should not share our faith — unless it has been specifically asked about.

That we should not meddle in the affairs of others — because it’s none of our business.

That we should more (or less) keep to ourselves — unless what we have to say or contribute is completely neutral and not at all controversial.

It’s complex because we find ourselves feelings hushed by our culture, but prompted to speak up by our faith in Christ.

And the case could easily be made for how the “Christian voice” has long been the oppressor of the voice of the non-believing, or different-believing, communities around us (at least here in North America).

But for earnest Christians, the answer cannot be to go quiet.

We cannot, and should not, withdraw our voices from the spheres of influence that God has placed us in.

Yet, as I’ve talked with a number of mentor-types over recent years, and have found that a growing percentage of them have chosen to sit back and wait for students to approach them — because they don’t want to be seen as intolerant.

They care about students — and want to make a difference in their lives — but don’t want to be seen as pushy, aggressive, extreme, or overly opinionated.

They don’t want to limit their influence before they’ve even had a chance to exercise it — so they choose to patiently bide their time.

And they wait.

And wait.

And wait some more.

And the percentage of students that finally come around to seeking them out (before they graduate) gets smaller and smaller.

Yes, the percentage of students who seek out the wisdom and guidance of mentor-types are in a shrinking minority.

Which is why we — as mentor-types — need to be willing to once again take the initiative and pursue students (with full awareness of how they might understand “tolerance”), while doing our best to embody the charity and hospitality that Jesus modeled for us in his life here on earth.

There’s so much more that can be said, but let me hear from you at this point.

How have you — whether in your own life, or the lives of others around you — seen the cultural call of tolerance limit the role of mentors to this generation of students?


If you like the kinds of conversations you’ve found here at, then I highly encourage you to check out The 2013 Faith ON Campus Summer Institute — happening June 4th & 5th in Nashville, TN! This year I will be joined by author and leadership guru Tim Elmore for a two-day conversation about the unique challenges and opportunities that exist in mentoring this generation of college students! Find out more here. And find out how to win your ticket to the conference here.