I was saddened when I heard the news in February that three Muslim college students were shot and killed near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It appears that the crime might have been motivated by religious hatred.

I graduated from UNC in 1985, and I enjoyed my experience of religious freedom there. It was at this school that I grew in my faith in Jesus, and it was there that I sensed Jesus calling me to be a minister. I am troubled that these three Muslims did not experience the same religious freedom that I did in North Carolina.

The First Amendment to our Constitution prohibits impeding the free exercise of religion. The right to exercise our religious faith is one of the most precious freedoms that we have.

Sometimes, however, in the wake of religiously motivated violence, some will suggest that what is needed in this country is more tolerance. Tolerance is defined by these people as accepting that all religious views are equally valid.

Tolerance is faith that is emptied of all convictions. If no religious person holds firm convictions about faith, if all religious differences can be seen as trivial, then we can all get along and be tolerant of people of other faiths. But a person with firm convictions about God and what is true about spiritual things is seen as dangerous. That person with convictions is intolerant. It is such intolerant people that will do violence to others.

But what does tolerance really mean?

Tolerance implies differences. If there were no differences in belief, then what would we have to tolerate? We would all agree on the same things. Tolerance then means to accept the existence of views different from our own. It recognizes that people have the right to have different beliefs or practices without an attempt to suppress them.

The first creed of the Christian church was simply this: Jesus Christ is Lord. As a Christian, this is my conviction. Most Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists don’t share this conviction. That does not make them intolerant of me. Nor does my conviction about Jesus make me intolerant of them. It just means we believe differently.

The way forward in protecting religious freedom and in preventing religious violence is not to an appeal to an ill-defined tolerance.

The different world religions do have some similarities, but they also have many major differences. The members of the different faiths then need to be able to hold civil discussions about what they believe as a matter of conviction. And they need to give each other the First Amendment right to freely exercise their faith.

People of faith, however, do not need to be told that their religious beliefs do not matter. They do matter to people of faith. Jesus taught us to do unto others as we would have them to do unto us. If we can follow this Golden Rule, we will protect religious freedom for people of all faiths.

Glenn Peterson is a pastor at Hope Baptist Church in Manchester. Contact him at [email protected]