Forbearance seems to have become the new formulaic watchword in our current church discussions of sexuality issues.
Of course we know its basic meaning, but what does it imply when it is crafted into a “resolution” to smooth the troubled waters of church conflict?
If I vote for the resolution, Forbearance in the Midst of Differences, what am I agreeing to? Am I committing myself to a position or belief that I do not approve? Am I delaying action on a controversial issue that should be faced now? Will my vote help clear the way for the “honest, transparent conversation about human sexuality” that the Executive Board hopes for?
We have discussed the issues in our Park View Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg, Va., and people on both sides of the issues involved are apprehensive.
I for one think that it is a good choice of words to help us bridge the seeming impasse in the present body politic, but for it to be an effective formula we need to have at least minimal clarity and agreement about its meaning.
With this in mind my wife, Rhoda, who is a professional mediator, and I composed the attached explanation of its implications in hopes that it will help clarify the resolution.
In agreement with David Brubaker, professor at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, we are concerned to find a way to manage the polarity of opinion that threatens to tear us apart.
The meaning of forbearance
A vote for forbearance in the dispute about inclusion and exclusion of homosexual and transsexual individuals necessarily implies a change in the pattern of the dialogue in our Mennonite conferences and congregations.
In David Brubaker’s words it means changing the way we manage the polarities of thought among us.
Forbearance does not ask either side to change their sexual self-definition or to deny their heterosexual or homosexual feelings. It asks each of us to acknowledge the personal integrity of the other person in the search for a resolution to our differing positions. It dares ask how our values were formed and what values are shared even though our life histories may differ widely.
Forbearance requires entering into trusting, open dialogue with the recognition that neither side has the final truth/right; that the two sides may be talking past each other; and that both sides may be partially wrong and partially right. It means granting the disagreeing partner authentic moral standing even when our clashing values seem non-negotiable.
The whole traditional Christian sexual lifestyle is being challenged in modern individualistic American culture. The issues that confront the church are much larger than a homosexual Christian life style. Human sexuality is an ambient, all-encompassing aspect of our lives, and we are trying to define a total hetero-homosexual Christian lifestyle.
The plea for forbearance is a call for acceptance of a broader participation in the process of our contemporary discernment of the cultural issues. A vote for forbearance acknowledges the moral integrity of the person with whom I disagree without necessarily fully agreeing.
C. Norman Kraus, professor emeritus Goshen (Ind.) College lives in Harrisonburg, Va., with his wife Rhoda.
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