Tolerance is “the ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with” ; insults, mockery, persecution, etc. For a Christian, the Bible refers to tolerance as endurance (James1:12), and encourages that we look up to God in this type of situation.
The African Christian faces a lot of adversity in the form of temptations, trials, tribulations, persecution, discrimination, and in worst cases, death. In 2015, over 140 students were killed by gunmen believed to be al-Shabab fighters at the Garissa University College, Garissa, Kenya, for being Christians after they were separated from the students who identified as Muslims. The cities of Jos and Kaduna of Plateau and Kaduna states in Nigeria are divided into North and South, separating the Muslims in the North from the Christians in the South. During conflict, any Christian caught in the northern part of town is most likely to lose their life.
But how tolerant can a christian get? In various scriptures, we are reminded to persevere and leave vengeance for the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19 ), which is why Christians are sometimes regarded as weak, since they are not encouraged to follow violence with violence (Romans 12:21).
Recently, a popular Nigerian comedienne, Maraji, posted on her WhatsApp Status that only Christians can make it to heaven, also that Jesus Christ is the only way to God as the Bible teaches in (John 14:6). She received a lot of backlash from both Christians and Muslims alike, considering that she made the post during a Muslim holiday. However, Maraji maintained that as a Christian, that is part of the tenets of her faith, the bedrock of what she believes in and she can never redact her statement. She consequently lost many of her followers on Social Media.
In this era of being “politically correct” and “sensitive”, Christians are hereby encouraged to be tolerant when faced with such situations. We need to realize that the God we believe in fights His battles and we do not have to do that for Him. There have been situations where people say there is no God and that Christianity is a fantasy, something like believing in Santa Claus. Christians are encouraged to simply walk away from such people, and let their life be the message others need to change their belief. There are people, Christians, who would pull out their boxing loves to “defend the faith”, and there are those who would berate others for “not standing for what they believe in”. That is, getting into a fight to prove one’s love for Christ. But we no longer live in such a society where we have to unsheathe our swords and smite the “infidels”. No! This is the time to “avoid vain babbling and arguments” (2 Timothy 2:16). This is not the time to be “sensitive” as it only leads to religious intolerance and conflicts at the end of the day.
On a flight to Nairobi in August 2019, I overheard a friendly conversation between one of the flight attendants of the Ethiopian Airlines flight and some passengers, on religion. It turned out the lady is a Muslim, and she said to one of the men “you will not go to heaven”. A typical Nigerian will see such a statement as a curse of some sort, and won’t take the statement lightly. But because these men have learnt to be tolerant, have discovered that Christ is the author and finisher of their Faith, and no one else, not even the attendant on that fateful flight, they laughed it off. When asked why, she said “because you are not a Muslim. You are a Christian.” This is the same thing Maraji, a Christian, posted on Social Media and all hell was let loose.
When Christians learn to ignore these minor distractions that can actually lead us to go against one of the greatest laws of God, which is to “love your neighbor as yourself”, then can we also teach those of other faith to emulate us (Ephesians 4:1-6).
Tolerance is vital in our relationship with God and with people of other faiths, as it is clear that there existed other religions even in the time of Christ. But, the Bible tells us that He went about doing good (Acts 10:38). He was not getting into fights with people of other religions, rather he scolded those who were supposed to respect the house of God for desecrating the place of worship, by carrying out their business there. The disciples were even encouraged to wipe their feet wherever they go and their message was rejected; not to harass, fight or kill anyone that refuses the good news, or force repentance down their throat.
Christianity is a religion of Peace (Hebrews 12:14), Love (Matthew 22:39) and Liberty (2 Corinthians 3:17), and understanding this would help help us live a more tolerant life as Christians who are no longer under the influence of the old self, but have gained their freedom by the peace and love of Christ.