Current college students and young adults are the most tolerant generation in history, according to the Pew Forum’s 20-year study of generational attitudes. Members of this “millennial generation” (born 1981-2000) are far more likely to be accepting of different perspectives on sensitive issues.
It’s hard to generalize about an entire generation of individuals, but in my experience working with young adults, I have found them to be an especially tolerant group. Even those with more traditional moral views tend to be very respectful of other’s opinions, sometimes to the extent that conversation about sensitive issues is almost nonexistent.
There seems to be an unwritten agreement among younger adults that other’s views are to be respected at any cost.
Despite the increased tolerance among the millennial cohort, there are still obvious exceptions.
Many colleges and universities in the United States have struggled with hate crimes in recent years. Last February students at UC San Diego La Jolla were shocked to discover someone had hung a noose in the campus library.
This incident followed on the heels of another occasion in which the university took action against a student group that had thrown a theme party based on racial stereotypes during Black History month. Further controversy erupted when a campus radio station criticized the university for its actions.
Such incidents have typically been followed by massive campus protests against intolerance and hate, indicating that most young adults really do want to create a more tolerant culture. Yet their existence is a reminder that this work is far from over.
As Christians we are called to resist such examples of hate and injustice, yet ironically this is where the issue of intolerance most often appears among this “tolerant generation.” Hating the actions of those who hang nooses in libraries and promote racial stereotypes is one thing, but hating those who have committed these acts is quite another.
In fact, I would say that the biggest struggle for the millennial generation is its intolerance for the intolerant.
It seems to be acceptable for many young adults (and older adults I might add) to hate those whose actions make them enemies of respect and tolerance. It’s easy for righteous indignation to cross the line into stereotyping and dehumanization.
I especially see this intolerance expressed toward less educated and poorer individuals who don’t seem to fit into the emerging and tolerant mainstream. The terms “redneck” and “white trash” are applied to those who seem intolerant, but in the end it simply exposes our own intolerance.
In Matthew 5 Jesus says:
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
The challenge for this “tolerant generation,” and the rest of us, is to not allow our hatred of intolerance to harden into hatred of those who commit such acts. Working for justice and tolerance does not inoculate us against hate. We are not only called to love our neighbors and seek their best interests, we’re called to love our enemies with the counter-cultural values of God’s kingdom.
Brian Beckstrom is campus pastor at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa.