Tolerance is not dangerous

Idaho Statesman

There it was. One of those Facebook mini-posters. This one shows a number of brown-skinned children carrying guns. The caption reads, “While your children are learning to tolerate these children, these children are learning to kill your children.”

I love the freedom I live in as an American — especially as a member of a minority faith tradition, like Unitarian Universalism. I am passionately grateful for the rights we enjoy. Even when I disagree with someone else’s point of view, or religion, or politics, I am deeply grateful that they — like all of us — can worship as they choose, gather where they wish, and speak their minds.

At the same time, I occasionally see an exercise of free speech that almost makes me wish someone could make a speaker just stop. That Facebook post is one of those. I don’t quite go that far, since I know that everyone’s rights must be protected if anyone is going to be free — but messages like that sadden and anger me terribly.

There is so much wrong with this awful post. The most obvious is that, in our modern world, the picture could easily be just made up, created solely to send a hateful message. Even if it is some version of an actual picture, we have no idea of what was originally happening in it. (What if, just as an example no more far-fetched than the original interpretation, it was a rehearsal of a play? Maybe even an anti-war play?!)

Worst of all, though, is the message. The post implies that tolerance is dangerous, leaving us vulnerable to evil people who train their children to murder others. The message pretty clearly lets us know that accepting others will lead to catastrophe, and that we need to train our kids to hate and kill people who are different.

All that is simply wrong. It is anti-religious, contrary to spirituality, and just plain inhumane.

A few weeks ago, writing in support of helping refugees, I noted that welcoming the stranger is a major principle of so many faith traditions. A shining example is from Islam’s holy book, the Quran, telling us to do “good to ... those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer that you meet” (4:36).

Tolerance need not be faith-based, either: it’s just good sense to accept others, whatever our religion is or isn’t. Teaching our kids to shoot kids who look different will simply lead to more violence in this already-violent world. Teaching our kids to live with generous hearts and friendly expectations can lead to more people who work for justice and good will among all.

Think of the children coming to Southern Idaho from war-wrecked countries, looking for new lives, for ways to live in love and hope. Think of these little ones — uprooted, looking to us, people of privilege, to at least tolerate them, maybe even accept them and teach them and help them. Think of the children we all know, full of curiosity and affection and mischief and lots of potential — potential that can be guided by loving discipline, embracing firmness and acceptance.

Now think of what that Facebook post implies about all these children. Makes you wonder what kind of heart the person has, who could post such a thing.

Rocky Barker, a long-time Idaho writer, wrote an excellent column in the Idaho Statesman on Oct. 27. In it, he lists some of the terrible acts that have been motivated by hate and racism in Idaho — attitudes that may underlie a Facebook post celebrating teaching violence over teaching tolerance.

He also tells of acts of generosity and courage, and he brings us hope. I would do likewise. We Idahoans defeated the white-supremacist Aryan Nation. We created the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, coining the phrase “Idaho is Too Great For Hate.” (I think I still have my T-shirt!) We have defeated unjust initiatives.

Closer to home, Twin Falls and Boise groups — religious and secular — join in activities to welcome immigrant children and their families. Twin Falls Refugee Center Director Zeze Rwasama tells us that many local citizens support the Center, support refugee families, in word and deed.

Let us join them, if we are not already doing so. Let us make the world a better place, where it is not acceptable to advocate children being trained to kill. Let us counteract violence and meanness with productive work and open hearts.

Rev. Elizabeth Greene is Minister Emerita of the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Contact her at

The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.