Live and let live. Be nice. Be nonjudgmental. We must be more tolerant. So the sayings go.
“America, it is said, is suffering from intolerance,” wrote Servant of God Archbishop Fulton Sheen in his prophetic 1931 essay “A Plea for Intolerance.”
“It is not. It is suffering from tolerance: tolerance of right and wrong, truth and error, virtue and evil, Christ and chaos. Our country is not nearly so overrun with the bigoted as it is overrun with the broad-minded.”
But shouldn’t we be tolerant? Isn’t that charitable?
“Real love involves real hatred,” countered Archbishop Sheen. “Whoever has lost the power of moral indignation and the urge to drive the buyers and sellers from the temples has also lost a living, fervent love of truth. Charity, then, is not a mild philosophy of ‘live and let live.’”
Adds Father Andrew Apostoli of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, EWTN host and vice postulator of Archbishop Sheen’s cause, “You can’t tolerate evil teachings and distortions of values against God’s laws and natural law to be accepted by society.”
It’s a daily challenge for many when confronted with today’s morally bankrupt political correctness masquerading as real tolerance.
So how is a Catholic to walk the narrow road of true Christian tolerance with genuine love of neighbor and not stumble along the wide road of politically correct tolerance?
First, “Love is not tolerance,” Archbishop Sheen wrote. “Christian love bears evil, but it does not tolerate it. It is not broad-minded about sin.”
Then the archbishop made an important distinction. “Tolerance applies to the erring, intolerance to the error,” he noted. “Tolerance does not apply to truth or principles. About these things we must be intolerant.”
We condemn the sin, but not the sinner, as Father Apostoli puts it: “That’s the kind of distinction Bishop Sheen is making. We have to be tolerant toward the person who many be weak, confused, mistaken in good faith or may even be deliberately promoting distortions.”
Love the sinner and hate the sin is the starting path for Joel and Joan Recznik of Steubenville, Ohio, and their 12 children.
“At the same time,” says Joel, “we don’t condone what [sinners] do. We need to love and pray for these people — doctors who perform abortions, people who think homosexual ‘marriage’ is okay — pray that God has mercy on them and they come to know the truth.”
At the same time, the Reczniks explain what the Church teaches on these matters, since it’s the final arbiter.
In the same town Mike and Laura Sirilla, with their four children, also deal with the assaults of “PC tolerance.”
“All of us in our culture in America are intimately connected with people who are not living lives as practicing Catholics,” notes Laura.
The problem is compounded, she points out, when these individuals are family members or friends.
“Many of us practicing Catholics love people who aren’t living lives that we approve of or how we understand the Church’s teaching, lives we know God is not calling people to.”
She compares the situation to knowing an alcoholic; you can’t approve of his drinking, but you can still love him. “We can teach our children to pray for them and love them, but at the same time we can’t pretend their lifestyle lie is okay,” she says. “Sometimes that’s going to mean we can’t get together with someone, or we have to say something loving but confrontational.”
Laura notes it is hard to confront people, but we have an obligation to share Christ’s message.
“Truly loving people is wanting the best for them,” she says, “and that really is eternal happiness. When you have that perspective for someone you love, it means sometimes talking to them or confronting them because you want truly the best for them eternally.” She defines true tolerance as love with that eternal perspective.
Ignorance, Error and Falsehood
Father Apostoli lists three general areas that call for a combination of this Christian intolerance and love of neighbor: ignorance, error and falsehood.
Ignorance is a lack of knowledge. “We’re intolerant of ignorance because we don’t want people to remain in ignorance,” he says, “not knowing the commandments, about prayer, and living a Christian life.”
Supplying knowledge of faith and morality is “important for their eternal life and spiritual growth,” he explains.
Errors are categorized as honest mistakes about the faith. Considering the state of Catholic education in recent decades, many people ended up with wrong information about the faith. One example is the woman Father Apostoli heard on the radio: She claimed that Catholics believe in reincarnation because Jesus died and came back.
Like Archbishop Sheen, we can be charitable, patient and work with those who are sincere though mistaken, explains Father Apostoli, but “we want to be intolerant in the sense we want people to correct their errors because we want them to know the real truth.”
We don’t want them to stay in ignorance and spread errors. “We’re tolerant of people because we want to save their souls,” he stresses, “but intolerant of evil, lies and deception because they will destroy people and ultimately destroy society.”
That’s especially critical in the third category — falsehood — the place Archbishop Sheen would be most intolerant, explains Father Apostoli. “We can’t tolerate [deliberate] falsehood, evil teachings and distortions of values that exist against God’s law and natural law,” he says. “If we didn’t speak out, the entire society would be dragged down by these falsehoods and destroyed.”
Witnessing to the Truth
People deliberately distorting God’s teachings have to be opposed vigorously. At the same time, we must pray for their conversion.
Parents have to be vigilant with younger children because of PC tolerance masquerading as truth.
At times, respecting and not condoning can be confusing for youngsters. As Joel Recznik points out, while children learn and apply true Christian tolerance, sometimes he finds them wondering why, for example, the president is saying abortion is okay and homosexual “marriage” is good.
Joel tells his children that we need to respect the office of the presidency, but that doesn’t mean we respect the views that are not in line with truth.
One way the Sirillas meet the PC-tolerance challenge is to make sure their teachings are age-appropriate. They also home school.
How to respond to those in ignorance, error or who are spreading falsehoods?
Confront them always in the spirit of love, and pray for them. Out of love for our fellow people, says Laura, we need to explain there’s a different way, a life in Christ. “We need to be an example of Christian love so that’s attractive to people,” she adds. “We witness by the way we live our lives.”
Examining PC-tolerance recently in First Things, Sydney’s Cardinal George Pell gave another timely reminder and directive.
“Christians … have to recover their self-confidence and courage,” he argued. “The secular and religious intolerance of our day needs to be confronted regularly and publicly. Believers need to call the bluff of what is … a small minority with disproportionate influence in the media.”
That’s true intolerance and love of neighbor.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.