Christianity and ToleranceChristianity claims as truth that Jesus is Lord. In Canada tolerance doesn't mean accepting that belief alongside others. Instead it means refusing to accept any claim to truth.
A rickshaw-lined street snaked past the scarlet draped window of my hotel. Just beyond was a construction site. This was Hyderabad, India. The scaffolding and infrastructure around the building looked like nothing seen in Canada. Dozens of artisans scurried across a second floor structure, pulling steel rods, bending them into shape and twisting noodles of wire to external pre-existing beams. Most workers weren't wearing boots according to code, if such even existed. Some wore none at all.
I was amazed as I witnessed the agility of the workmen and the seemingly meagre tools of their trades. I was also amazed to see the children around the site. Scantily clad, they played on the ground directly below. This was their home. It was where the workers lived and where they brought their families. Blue plastic sheets stretched across poles, held up by blocks and binder twine. Outside, the trucks dumped their sand to be churned into concrete by motorized mixers, doubling as the playground for pre-school children excited by the good fortune to have a place to play at all.
Along the street, three-wheeled, dirty, yellow rickshaw autos weaved in and out of a maze of traffic. Hundreds of bicycles navigated along the stream of motorized traffic including motorbikes, cars and trucks, belching black/grey smoke in faces of pedestrians. There's nothing like traffic in Hyderabad. Horns echoed a cacophony of sounds, enhancing the acoustics of this weaving wall of traffic. There are only two words to describe it—organized chaos, accent on the chaos.
Something else caught my attention. Mingled among plastered building structures were places of worship. Domes, spirals, minarets, crosses and steeples formed the warp and woof of buildings along the road. They showed the reality of religious people, much more so than the secular West. Minarets rose as symbols of the Muslim faith; temples capped with shining domes portrayed Sikh and Hindu religions. Spires and belfries added to the kaleidoscope of Eastern religious architecture, and towering crosses evinced the presence of Christian communities. This portrayed religious pluralism, exhibiting its tolerance after decades of co-existence.
A hallmark of most religions is their claim to truth—well, maybe. Hinduism may not be a good example with its polytheistic deities and accommodating tendencies. But it could be argued, at least, that a trait of all religions is the claim to be "right." It can be said that in every religion there is a core of believers who would die for their beliefs. In other words one of the chief characteristics of religion is commitment to an ideology, dedication to a belief, a propensity to be "right."
This aspect of religion is frightening to secular people. To counteract its potential they label such adherents as fundamentalists, characterize motives as exclusivist extremism, and tolerate actions among themselves that they would never condone among those with religious beliefs.
Canada is a pluralist society. As such it recognizes the diversity of customs, cultures, nationalities, philosophies and beliefs. In such a society tolerance is of the highest value. Ideological pluralism, however, has changed the definition of tolerance. Tolerance here is not merely the accommodation and acceptance of people irrespective of their differences and beliefs; it becomes the banner to deny any claim to "rightness," suggesting that it is not acceptable to claim any aspect of truth, and if so claimed, that it must not be taught whatsoever in the public square.
I was in Hyderabad to speak to a Christian community. I was impressed with the central creeds adorning the altars at most of the churches. Usually they simply read "Jesus is Lord" or "Jesus is Lord of all." That puts it in perspective. A Christian is a Christ-follower. A Christian is an apprentice of Jesus. Why else would one be called a Christian at all?
In India Christian believers are a religious minority in a pluralist culture. That's the way they've existed for millennia. They've learned to live their faith, forge their convictions, expound theological fidelity and cling to their Saviour. I'm sure they have much to teach Christians in the West as they move from a majority social status to minority influence in a multicultural, multi-faith, pluralist society.
As Christians we must learn to live our faith in this context. It may mean relearning the meaning of taking up our cross and following Jesus. It may mean that we need to learn from brothers and sisters from around the world.
Irving Whitt is the missions education co-ordinator for the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.
Originally published in Testimony, August 2005.
Used with permission of the author. Copyright © 2005 Christianity.ca.