The Wall Street Journal featured a story Friday on “Mormons and Baptism by Proxy.” Mormons believe in performing a temple rite that gives members an opportunity to obtain salvation for their ancestors. The practice has been in the news this week because Holocaust survivors and their descendants are outraged that Mormons have been baptizing those who died at the hands of Nazis – accusing Mormons of “rebranding” Jewish souls. The Mormon Church has responded by apologizing for these baptisms, which were not of members’ ancestors.
I am amazed that people are so offended by this religious activity that does not impact a non-Mormon believer. If you believe that the Mormons have done something through baptism to actually impact your ancestor’s soul, then perhaps you should become a Mormon – that implies you believe what they believe. If you don’t believe that the Mormons have done something through baptism that would actually make any difference, why do you care what they are doing? More specifically, why are you offended and calling for response from the Mormon Church? I don’t care if a Satanist comes along and baptizes my ancestors for the devil. I don’t believe that can impact me or my ancestors so I’m not offended by the belief.
In the meantime, Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum, a Catholic, has also been making headlines this week. The big news? He believes in Satan. Quotes from a 2008 speech “proving” Santorum’s belief in the devil have been featured by several major news outlets.
When was the last time you saw a headline proclaiming that someone believes in God? Unless that is completely unexpected (such as the conversion of a well-known Atheist to Christianity), it isn’t a headline-maker. It’s generally accepted that many people believe in God. But somehow the corresponding Christian belief in the devil has become unacceptable. We are now going to implicitly label someone as a buffoon for their belief by making that belief a news-worthy headline.
I don’t know if anything gets as much air time in the context of faith matters as the concept of “tolerance”. “Tolerance” parades around under a façade of everyone accepting each other regardless of belief, but in application, what people who talk about tolerance really mean is that we shouldn’t have any belief that offends someone else, and if we dare do, we need to keep it quiet. Where is the tolerance in demanding an apology for a Mormon belief and practice? Where is the tolerance in proclaiming an aspect of Santorum’s faith as a news-making headline, as if it is absurd?
With society’s working definition of tolerance, the best belief is to have no belief at all. That way you have no belief with which to offend someone and no belief to spend time expressing.
My kids are young, but there is no doubt that as they grow they will hear the word “tolerance” thrown at them from all sides. At the same time, I already know how intolerant people will be of their Christian beliefs. Here is what I want them to understand.
Tolerance does NOT mean we need to approve of or even be open to anyone else’s belief. (I don’t agree with the beliefs of other faiths; if you are forcing me to, then you are not being tolerant of my belief.)
Tolerance also does NOT mean that we need to keep quiet about our belief, at the risk of “offending” others.
Tolerance DOES mean this: “To allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of something that one does not necessarily like or agree with without interference.”
Demanding apology for belief is interference. Insulting belief with news-making headlines is interference. That said, we can’t stop others from talking about a hypocritical notion of tolerance. We can only choose to be appropriately tolerant ourselves. We need to make sure as parents that our kids have a clear understanding of the difference between what is expected of them by the world (a silent, uncommitted faith) and what is expected of them as Christians. In the meantime, we will have to get used to being tolerant of intolerance.
This topic is a great conversation starter for teenage kids: How do they define tolerance? And what are the implications of that definition for Christians and non-Christians?
What would you add to this definition of tolerance? Do you agree or disagree that there is a hypocrisy in society’s typical use of the word?