Within the past year, a couple of us attended a feast to break the Ramadan fast with the local Muslim community. In my congregation, AllSaintsLutheranChurch.com, we have engaged in conversation with members of the Sikh community, the Buddhist community, and others. Both the campus club and the congregation have a welcoming statement that makes clear that we are open, inclusive and extend a welcome to all, and that that openness and welcome stems from a faith-based value that says all people matter, without exception.
Kelowna has enjoyed a history of homogeneity. That is, the population has tended to be fairly similar religiously, ideologically, and economically: Christian, conservative, and rich! Even American urban studies theorist Richard Florida commented that Kelowna is “senior, white, and expensive.” However, I see many changes happening. I’ve been in Kelowna almost six years now – not a long time – and I have even witnessed significant change, including an Okanagan Rainbow Coalition building down-town, a new Sikh Temple opening in Rutland, a new (and the first full-time) Imam to the Muslim community. And, without a doubt, the exponential growth on campus, here at UBC-Okanagan, is changing the landscape of this city. Diversity is pouring in, whether people like it or not!
An ideal held up in our society is ‘tolerance.’ We want to be open, we want to say that all are welcome, and so what we say is we’re a “tolerant society.”
I don’t know about you, but when I hear “tolerance” I hear gritting of teeth, and fuming thoughts in the background. And yet, tolerance is seen as a good thing.
Maybe it goes with the “live and let live” mantra that I’ve heard many say. “I won’t bother you; don’t you bother me.” But my follow-up question becomes: “how could I possibly know what will and won’t bother you? How will I know what, and how much, you’ll tolerate?”
OutWeek is February 7th until 11th at UBC-Okanagan. It’s a week to celebrate LGBTQ people in our midst. But I’m concerned about something. I’m concerned that some may want to say that it’s enough to “tolerate” LGBTQ people – especially in a region that can harbour restrictive views like the Okanagan can. I would say that it is not enough to tolerate. In fact, it’s even borderline insulting to suggest that we tolerate LGBTQ people. To me, suggesting such a thing smacks of the “love the sinner, hate the sin” mentality, which people hold up as though people are to be reformed of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
We must move beyond tolerance to acceptance. We must see other people as fully human in who they are – not who we would like them to be. This is not to say we condone poor behaviour, or that people no longer need take responsibility for detrimental actions. Rather, we are to show compassion so that another’s religious beliefs, ethnic background, political views, sexual orientation, gender identity, family affiliation, and so on, do not prevent our viewing them as whole and fully human. It’s a matter of our being intentional and willing to form relationships with our neighbours.
We need to get to know one another well enough that we can say “I accept you.” We need to care enough and affirm with each other that acceptance is the ideal. Acceptance – like love – acknowledges difference, and it allows for variations from what each of us may consider “normal,” but it also gives respect and concern for the other person. Our society could go for more of it!