“Tolerance [is] the virtue that makes peace possible.”—UNESCO Declaration of Principles on Tolerance, 1995.
Intolerance, on the other hand, can produce disrespect and even hatred. Such inner feelings often escalate into hate speech, discrimination, and violence.
But people have different ideas about what tolerance involves. Some believe that tolerant people must express personal approval of all types of practices and behavior. Others take the view, supported by the Bible, that tolerant people respect each one’s right to choose his own values and beliefs, even if they themselves disapprove of those values and beliefs.
Can the Bible help people to be truly tolerant in the modern world?
The Bible’s basis for tolerance
The Bible promotes tolerance. It says: “Let your reasonableness become known to all men.” (Philippians 4:5) The Bible encourages us to treat others in a considerate, courteous, and fair way. Those who apply this advice may not agree with or adopt another person’s values, but they allow that one to behave according to his or her own choice.
The Bible, however, reveals that God has standards for human behavior. It states: “[God] has told you, O man, what is good.” (Micah 6:8) It reveals God’s direction, given to help people enjoy the best life possible.—Isaiah 48:17, 18.
God does not authorize us to judge others. According to the Bible, “There is only one who is Lawgiver and Judge . . . Who are you to be judging your neighbor?” (James 4:12) God allows each one of us the freedom to make choices for which we are personally responsible.—Deuteronomy 30:19.
What the Bible says about respect
The Bible says we should “have respect for everyone.” (1 Peter 2:17, New Jerusalem Bible) So those who choose to live by the Bible’s standards treat all people with respect, regardless of their beliefs or lifestyle choices. (Luke 6:31) This does not mean that those who follow the Bible will agree with every belief or opinion that others have or that they will support every decision that others make. But instead of acting in a rude or disrespectful manner, they will try their best to imitate the way that Jesus treated others.
For example, Jesus once met a woman who practiced a religion that he did not agree with. This woman was also living with a man who was not her husband—a lifestyle that Jesus did not condone. Still, he spoke to the woman with respect.—John 4:9, 17-24.
Like Jesus, Christians are prepared to explain the reasons for their beliefs to those willing to listen, but they do so with “deep respect.” (1 Peter 3:15) The Bible instructs Christians not to force their opinions on others. It says that a follower of Christ “does not need to fight, but needs to be gentle toward all,” including those with different beliefs.—2 Timothy 2:24.
What the Bible says about hate
The Bible tells us to “pursue peace with all people.” (Hebrews 12:14) Someone who pursues peace rejects hate. Without compromising his own values, he makes a real effort to live alongside others peaceably. (Matthew 5:9) In fact, the Bible also encourages Christians to love their enemies by acting in a kind way toward those who treat them badly.—Matthew 5:44.
True, the Bible says that God “hates,” or “detests,” actions that degrade people or cause harm to others. (Proverbs 6:16-19) But the Bible here uses the word “hate” to describe an intense feeling of dislike for bad actions. The Bible shows that God is willing to forgive and help people who want to change their ways and live by his standards.—Isaiah 55:7.
Bible verses related to tolerance and respect
Titus 3:2: “Be reasonable, displaying all mildness toward all men.”
Matthew 7:12: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must do to them.”
Joshua 24:15: “Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve.”
Acts 10:34: “God is not partial.”
Habakkuk 1:12, 13: “[God] cannot tolerate wickedness.”
Jehovah God does not authorize anyone to take revenge. He will ensure that justice is done at his own appointed time. To learn more, read the article “Will the Cry for Justice Be Heard?”