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Civil Rights in America
September, 2007

Try a little tolerance: A little appreciation of diversity goes a long way

Published: Sunday, September 16, 2007
(Re-printed here with permission, The Register-Guard, Copyright 2007)

"Human diversity makes tolerance more than a virtue; it makes it a requirement for survival."
                                          - René Dubos


Tolerance is much in the news these days, particularly the local news.  It was the theme of University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer's Sept. 11 address at the third annual breakfast sponsored by the Lane Institute of Faith&Education.  Tolerance also was at the center of a religious dustup over a letter sent by the Rev. Dan Bryant, senior minister at First Christian Church, to 3,000 Oregon pastors last week asserting that Christian opponents of two gay rights laws are misleading people.

And tolerance worked its way into a debate over the character of the Eugene Celebration that continues to draw commentary and mail.  Frohnmayer, always a sure bet for a pithy quote on the topic of freedom of expression, didn't disappoint at the interfaith breakfast.  In response to a question about finding religious proselytizers knocking on his front door, Frohnmayer said, "I actually admire them, even if I would never adopt their religious views.  That's the cost of admission in a free society - you get to hear things you don't want to hear."

The nation could use a lot more people willing to ante up as graciously as Frohnmayer.

Bryant is a tireless advocate for religious tolerance and a courageous supporter of gay rights.  His letter warned fellow pastors that Christian gay rights opponents were falsely promising donors that they could get $50 tax credits associated with signature-gathering campaigns.

Bryant's laudable objective is to persuade those who are willing to listen that religious tolerance and gay rights aren't mutually exclusive social goals.  This divisive issue could stand a lot more of the kind of tolerance Bryant brings to the table.

Finally, the Eugene Celebration, a local diversity showcase if ever there was one, got the political football treatment as liberal defenders and conservative critics butted heads over the quirky annual event. This despite the Celebration's 2007 theme "Lighten Up."

Maybe what's really needed are more words of wisdom from Frohnmayer, whose advice at the interfaith breakfast for dealing with people's offensive beliefs was: "Get over it."


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Photo by Paul Carter, The Register Guard, used by permission.