In our rapidly changing culture, tolerance has been enshrined as one of the ultimate virtues. Yet what exactly is tolerance? As believers, is tolerance something we should embrace or avoid?
Perhaps the bigger question no one seems to be asking is, what’s the real result of “tolerance” in the workplace?
True vs. False Tolerance
In his book True Truth: Defending Absolute Truth in a Relativistic World, Art Lindsley explains that there is a difference between true and false tolerance:
In the secular version of tolerance, there are no absolutes and everything is relative. That means that tolerance is not really objectively good and intolerance is not really objectively evil. There is no basis other than personal preference to uphold tolerance and condemn intolerance. In some quarters, tolerance seems to be the only “absolute,” but of course there are no absolutes or virtues, not even tolerance.
On the other hand, true tolerance is the kind that can and ought to be defended by believers because we have good reasons for maintaining that rightly defined tolerance is a virtue and rightly defined intolerance is a vice. For the believer there is an adequate basis to sustain this virtue and teach it to our children.
Tolerance is indeed a virtue, but it depends what kind of tolerance you are talking about. Tim Keller has famously said, “Tolerance isn’t about not having beliefs. It’s about how your beliefs lead you to treat people who disagree with you.”
Tolerance and Moral Absolutes
Getting this view of tolerance right is important; our freedom depends on it. George Washington understood that those who believed in moral absolutes—those whom many currently deem “intolerant”—were integral to the survival of our young nation.
In his farewell address to the nation, delivered September 19th, 1796, George Washington stated:
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars.
Washington knew that religion was the source of our morality. He and the other founders understood the dangers of moral relativism, a philosophy that asserts there is no global, absolute moral truth, and that right and wrong are just personal opinion.
There is a rising tide of moral relativism in modern times as well. A 2015 Barna Poll found that two-thirds of American adults either believe moral truth is relative to circumstances (44%) or have not given it much thought (21%). What’s even more concerning is that among Christians, 28 percent believe that moral truth is relative.
Whatever the exact figure, we should understand that moral relativism is the growing spiritual disease of our time.
Moral Relativism in the Workplace
A prime example of this philosophy in action can be seen in the 2007-2008 meltdown of the American financial and banking industry. Those who taught relative morality in their college philosophy and business ethics courses proceeded to live out those teachings on Wall Street and in other corporate avenues. They took risks, misrepresented the truth, and sought monetary gain. The outcome was devastating for those who were on the receiving end of their relative morality.
Even those who believed in relative morality at that time were outraged and absolutely sure that those who engaged in deceptive business practices ought to be punished for their unethical moral behavior. This type of reaction speaks loudly to an important truth: deep down inside, almost everyone has a sense of absolute moral truth. C. S. Lewis put it like this in Mere Christianity:
A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.
Man, created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27), instinctively knows God’s moral law and what is right and wrong (Rom. 2:14-15). The Apostle Paul makes this clear in Romans 1 when he says that human beings, although they claimed to be wise, became fools and traded the truth for a lie.
It is not possible to espouse moral relativism and be a true Christian. God has revealed to us in scripture his objective moral law, which he established for the well-being of his creation. God’s word provides the absolute truth that serves as the straight line by which all crooked lines can be corrected. Our lives should reflect that truth in everything we do.
Christians lose the ability to be salt and light when they bend to moral relativism in the workplace. They lose the opportunity God has given them to make a difference.
Christians must shoulder some of the responsibility for the increase in corruption and greed in today’s marketplace. Far too often in our vocations we have been physically present but absent spiritually and morally.
In a review of Ken Barnes Redeeming Capitalism, I propose that this widespread adoption of moral relativism in the workplace is partly because Christians don’t view their work as sacred and important to God:
For centuries, we have been the guardians of virtue in the West. But in more recent times, we have been negligent in being salt and light in the world of business. Far too many Christians have bought into the notion that their vocational work is secular and has little or nothing to do with their faith. They have neglected Paul’s admonition to “do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). As a result, they work just like everyone around them and wonder why the culture has become so corrupt.
Let us recover the notion of true Christian tolerance in how we treat others who are different, let us stay grounded in the biblical view of morality, and let us be courageous in taking difficult stands on issues with God’s help and guidance.
Editor’s note: Learn about how Christians can recover the biblical view of work in How Then Should We Work?
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