Of Tolerance and Acceptance

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Martin Luther King Jr.

2 Corinthians 13:11 – “Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.”

Each January a special day is set aside to celebrate the life of a truly remarkable humanitarian – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Dr. King fought for the cause of justice and equality for people not only of his own race, but of all races and colors. He was a visionary man. A man who had a dream that one day his own little children would no longer be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. He dreamed of a day when people would no longer have to live in fear and submission to their oppressors nor tolerate being treated as less than a human being. He dreamed of a day when all of God’s children would be able to live in a world where they would be accepted for who they are and treated with dignity, respect, and as persons of self-worth.  Yes, he envisioned the day when race would no longer be a barrier to cause separation, but a bridge of hope that would bring about unity. His was the clarion voice that rang out to let the world know that although there were some things that had to be tolerated, toleration did not necessarily mean that those things were acceptable

In this author’s humble opinion, tolerance and acceptance are not necessarily the same. Tolerance is often the device that is used to maintain peace and to prevent an otherwise unacceptable situation from becoming hostile. There does come a time; however, when the voice of tolerance can no longer remain silent and must proclaim that what has been perceived as acceptable is indeed unacceptable.

I will use the Civil Rights Movement, a very prominent period in our history, as a prime example of how tolerance and acceptance are not necessarily the same.

The Civil Rights movement had a tremendous impact and influence on my life from its earliest beginnings and continued on into my early adult life. Even after Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, remnants of the movement still existed and a certain amount of unrest and uncertainty remained. Today, as a 55-year-old Black man, I wish to go on record as emphatically stating that this was not a period of acceptance in our history, but for the most part it was a period of tolerance for many people.  There were those who were being maltreated if for no other reason than the color of their skin was different, and so, more times than not, they were forced to tolerate great injustices for the sake of survival because they believed that they had no other viable alternative. As long as toleration was perceived as acceptance, all appeared to be well and there was relative peace in the valley. However, the moment that the voice of tolerance decided that it could no longer remain silent and began to raise its voice in protest, the battle began to rage, and the war was begun.

People everywhere grew weary of the sweltering heat of oppression and the mangling chords of injustice and began standing up for their rights and declaring that what may have appeared to be acceptance on their part for a season was in reality unacceptable and would no longer be tolerated. They had now come to serve notice on their oppressors that the time had come to re-balance the scales of justice.  Just as they had once believed that there was no other alternative but to tolerate, eyes to the ground, voiceless, the tyrannies that they faced on a daily basis, the hour had come when the voice of tolerance could no longer be suppressed. Had the voice of tolerance remained silent, there would have been no change in the status quo, and the blatantly unacceptable status quo would have forever been considered the norm, or acceptable.

During the course of my short life I have had to choose between being tolerant of certain situations and being accepting of those situations. Oftentimes for the sake of maintaining peace with others, and to prevent adding fuel to already glowing embers, I found tolerance to be the better choice. As long as I remained silent; however, there were those who mistook my kindness and acquiescence as a sign of weakness affording them the opportunity, or so they thought, to take advantage of me when they pleased. As long as I remained silent, everything seemed well with them  because I was no immediate threat to them and I was considered a good person. The moment that I decided that I would no longer remain silent and tolerate what was happening to me, the tables began to turn, and now I was considered a complainer and a trouble maker and someone who needed to be dealt with accordingly.

There is indeed a time when faced with the choice of being tolerant or being accepting, it is perhaps in our best interest to choose tolerance. However, remaining in tolerant silence can also prove harmful as it sends a message to those who perceive our tolerance as acceptance that the two are always one in the same and that is not necessarily true.


“Why Jesus Called a Man a Fool” – This sermon was delivered at

Martin Luther King Jr. Quote