How does an LGBTQ Christian deal, or rather respond to the difference between tolerance and acceptance when dealing with Christians who believe that homosexuality is a wrong (sin). Obviously acceptance would be the best option, but for a lot of Christians, tolerance is all they can give. Basically, is tolerance good enough?
Almost every day since the day I came out I've had friends, family, and those in between tell me, "I can't accept your lifestyle but I'll tolerate it." Zooming past the fact any type of gay lifestyle is not only a myth but also a stereo type; I've hada hard time gritting my teeth and holding back tears accepting that I'm simply tolerated in any relationship. Whether it is familial, amicable, or intimately; I want to be loved unconditionally -- and tolerant love not only is conditional it simply does not exist.
Many Christians, like the friend who asked me this question, are genuinely trying to emulate Christian love for me when they tell me this. What they don't understand is that everyone gay, straight, and those in between need to be loved, and that is synonymous with acceptance. Mother Teresa said, "The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread." She was right that humans, as a species, innately crave love.
There is a fundamental difference between tolerance and acceptance.
Tolerance is the ability or willingness to tolerate something one may not agree with. It's an allowable amount of variation from the normative of an individual person. It is the capability to "put up with" something or in this case someone. When speaking of liquor, it's the amount you're able to handle before becoming inebriated. In any case that you speak of tolerance it is usually in contrast with something negative. Thus tolerance is a remedy on how to deal with something that opposes you, or in this case something you believe in.
The issue many conservative Christians -- namely, traditionalists -- face is how to have a working relationship with an LGBTQ identified individual while still maintaining their religious views. I believe that within the current biblical framework of the majority of evangelical Christian denomination, we, as Christians, should not only be able to tolerate but accept their LGBTQ friends, family, and church members.
There is a common misconception that accepting someone equates accepting -- or worse condoning -- their actions. As a Christian I would like to state my belief that only Christ can condone our actions and it is only He who has the authority to do so. So, I agree, you can't condone my actions because you don't have the authority to do so, but everyone can accept a fellow human being. Yet the misconception still exists that somehow by engaging in a relationship with someone who identifies as queer, one's actions will be perceived as acceptance of homosexual acts, or more crudely, sexual acts.
Apparently being LGBT in the Christian world means you have a sex life and everyone is entitled to know about it. Allow me to make something clear.
I am not a sex act.
I cannot be reduced to a perverse act. My sexual orientation is a part of my identity but it is not my entire identity. You are not allowed to fantasize about the sex life, or lack thereof, that I engage in. Stop talking about me like a theory and talk to me as I am: I am Eliel.
In a profound TED Talk, Andrews Solomon discusses how human beings love someone who is fundamentally different than they are. "Love, no matter what" discusses Solomon's ten year project in which he interviewed thousands of parents with children who were different from them. Deaf, sexual orientation, schizophrenia, dwarfism, and a slew of other topics: Solomon examined a wide variety of communities that all suffered with the same question of tolerance versus acceptance. Solomon noted that sometimes, these children that are different from their parents misunderstand their parent's response. "They feel as their parents don't love them when what actually has happened is that their parents don't accept them. Love is something that ideally is there unconditionally between a parent and a child but acceptance is something that takes time. It always takes time."
The same applies to any relationship. When someone tells me they tolerate who I am, I inadvertently feel that I'm not loved. In an ideal relationship, love is there unconditionally, but as I've experience along with many other LGBT folk, in a tolerant relationship the love isn't quite felt. So to answer the question my friend asked me, "Is tolerance good enough?" Tolerance is just not good enough.
I want to be tolerated by strangers in the street, by acquaintances I barely see, or by people who have never met me at all. I want to be accepted by those whom I love, by those who wish to seek any type of relationship with me, by those who call themselves Christians. I deserve to be accepted by all of God's children, regardless of beliefs or backgrounds, just because we have all been created equal. I deserve to be loved.
"Jim Sinclair, a prominent autism activist, said, 'When parents say, "I wish my child did not have autism," what they're really saying is "I wish the child I have did not exist and I had a different, non-autistic child instead." Read that again. This is what we hear when you mourn over our existence. This is what we hear when you pray for a cure -- that your fondest wish for us is that someday we will cease to be and strangers you can love will move in behind our faces.' It's a very extreme point of view, but it points to the reality that people engage with the life they have and they don't want to be cured or changed or eliminated. They want to be whoever it is that they've come to be."
It is important that LGBTQ people, as well as those who wish to have us in their lives, realize the difference between tolerance and acceptance, and that acceptance takes time. Every relationship should always be a working one, where both parties intentionally work at loving each other. Relationships should never be stagnant. Love is a choice and it's just as much an action.
If I have an "agenda" it's only to be a more loving and accepting person regardless of who someone is, the choices they make, and their backgrounds. As a bisexual Christian, I wish to respond to everyone who accepts, tolerates, or even hates me with the love and acceptance they deserve. It may take time, but I'm willing to intentionally love. I choose to love, no matter what.