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Grace, love and forbearance

6.3. 2015 Written By: Ervin Stutzman 1,665 read

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.—Galatians 5:22 TNIV

This spring, a number of Mennonite pastors in Chicago submitted a resolution for delegates to consider at our biennial delegate assembly this summer.

In the resolution, they assert that “Mennonite Church USA is at a critical point—a Kairos moment—when a parting of the ways seems inevitable,” given the polarization in our church.

They say that “the ways in which we have engaged the decades-long conflict in the church over issues related to human sexuality have diverted us from our central mission, divided us from each other and damaged the name of Christ in the world.”

These pastors garnered the agreement of many at the the meeting in March of the Constituency Leaders Council who supported the pastors’ call “to offer grace, love and forbearance toward conferences, congregations and pastors in our body who, in different ways, seek to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ on matters related to same-sex covenanted unions.”

Because the conflict about same-sex unions has escalated into a pitched battle, one might well ask, Is the pastors’ call an admission of a stalemate, a call for a truce, a plea for a negotiated settlement or something else?

I pray it’s a call to change the nature of the engagement.

I dream of transforming this conflict from a civil war into a united effort to address broadly shared concerns in a spirit of communal discernment. Why should we continually reduce our own ranks by fighting each other under the watchful gaze of a world that needs God’s reconciling love?

In the polls, the average American esteems the U.S. military more highly than the Christian church.

As Mennonite Christians, we need all of the resources we can muster to bring a message of healing and hope to a society that increasingly considers Christian faith irrelevant to people’s daily lives.

Grace and love are common parlance for those of us on the Christian way.

Because of their deep familiarity, we may be tempted to bandy these words about without a clear understanding of what they mean for our communal lives. Forbearance seems less familiar, a term that begs for definition. It’s certainly a biblical word: the NewInternational Version lists forbearance as a fruit of the Spirit, a manifestation of God’s work in our lives.

In the financial world, forbearance means withholding an action against a party with borrowed money past due or who has reneged on a commitment. In the world of family and work, we benefit from the forbearance of others who put up with our annoying habits, accept losses grace-fully when we make mistakes and go the second mile when we need help beyond the call of duty.

Forbearance stands in stark contrast to laws like “three strikes and you’re out.”

So what might it mean to “forbear” when it comes to strong differences regarding same-sex marriage? I suspect it means we’ll “put up with” others who differ with us, living with grace and love in the midst of circumstances we wish would go away.

Does this mean that Mennonite Church USA should give up on the concept of mutual account-ability, that the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective is no longer valid or that we should disregard our Membership Guidelines? I think not.

But I’d like to hear more from the writers of the resolution about the ways they imagine grace, love and forbearance will take us to a new level of communal life with each other.

For years I’ve felt that the strong polarizations in our society, manifested in party politics, are unduly shaping the way we engage each other in the church. I’ve been praying for a way to bridge those divides and affirm the commonalities we have in Christ.

This resolution might just be a Spirit-directed answer to my prayers.
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