(To see Cal Grondahl’s cartoon that goes with this post, click here.) The very old, extremely conservative LDS Apostle Boyd K. Packer is slowly but consistently seeing his influence diminish. Because he fulfills the role of bogeyman by many of the church’s liberal non-theological critics, what he says is scrutinized by many eager to find offense. Last month, Packer was criticized for this statement in a General Conference discourse: “Tolerance is a virtue, but like all virtues, when exaggerated, it transforms itself into a vice. We need to be careful of the ‘tolerance trap’ so that we are not swallowed up in it.” The 88-year-old apostle was slammed for those remarks, but he should not have been. He was correct. (The entire discourse is here.)
A key component of tolerance is that both sides of an issue should be allowed the means to peacefully persuade others to their viewpoint. Furthermore, both viewpoints should be respected. If that’s not allowed in debate, then tolerance is not there.
At its most extreme example, there’s no tolerance when sects of religious radicals kill those who don’t follow their beliefs, which occurs often among radical factions of Islam, or the infrequent murders and shootings of abortion doctors by radical factions of Christianity. No decent person supports that. However, many decent people, I believe, are accepting the idea that a person who supports a traditional view of marriage, between a man and a woman, is on the side of “hate” and that groups which advocate for traditional marriage are promoting hate. This idea is deeply harmful because it seeks to debase and devalue the opinions of persons of good will, and results in less free speech. It turns the virtue of tolerance into a vice.
I support gay marriage. I’ve seen over the past two generations most Americans slowly being persuaded — including myself — toward gays and lesbians deserving marriage rights. However, a tolerance trap has emerged. Persuasion is being abandoned for more thuggish tactics that include intimidation and denunciation. The beginnings of this switch seemed to occur in the 2008 California vote on Prop 8.
I used to receive communications from intolerant persons who would ask me “why the newspaper is sticking up for queers” (sic) or they would ask me if I personally was a homosexual. However, today I’m more likely to hear from people insisting that any opposition to gay marriage is “hate” and occasionally, respondents wonder why I or the newspaper are practicing or enabling “hate.” It’s an interesting reversal. Many elements of the side that once — commendably — fought a long, tough battle on gay rights, that continues, now feel comfortable using the same derogatory, non-tolerant tactics they once opposed.
Next month the Supreme Court will rule on Prop 8 in California. It would be better, for tolerance’s sake, that the high court uphold the ban. With persuasion having been so successful the past few years, it seems an easy task to gather signatures and have California’s voters reverse Prop 8.
However, if the court does uphold Prop 8, I expect there will initially be a lot of anger and accusations of hate having triumphed. That seems to be the trend as tolerance diminishes.