Forbearance’s flavors

Jul 20, 2015 by

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With Mennonite Church USA delegates passing “Forbearance in the Midst of Differences,” some of us are encouraged. Others, who were hoping for a step toward inclusion, are disappointed. Can we find ways to flavor forbearance that moves us closer to Jesus’ way of love?



Reaffirming the Membership Guidelines appears to flavor forbearance with a strong measure of the same-old seasoning. Forbearance ought to require more than merely continuing in our comfortable old habits. Let us season forbearance in simple but radical ways.

Let us season forbearance with integrity. Before Kansas City, C. Norman and Rhoda Kraus reminded us in The Mennonite to flavor forbearance with clarity and agreement about its implications. “[Forbearance] asks each of us to acknowledge the personal integrity of the other person in search for a resolution to our differing positions.” They link forbearance with trusting dialogue where neither has the final truth.

Let us season forbearance with uncertainty. Dale Schrag at the July 3 worship urged flavoring our approach by letting go of certainty. Schrag reminded us: “We are not God. There’s always a possibility that we might be wrong.” He raised the question of whether certitude makes a mockery of New Testament calls for humility. Humility sounds like a good Mennonite seasoning.

Giving up our certainty can be scary but is not without biblical precedent. Peter had certainties rooted in the Jewish community, Scripture and tradition. His world reinforced his certitudes. Peter knew what was on the menu and not on the menu, what was clean and what was not clean. God’s spirit shook his certainties, and he found himself visiting with Cornelius, a Roman commander (Acts 10).

Let us season forbearance with empathy. At a Fourth of July celebration in Iowa, a truck with American and Confederate flags passed by. A surprised viewer said, “What in the world?” A neighboring observer responded, “It doesn’t matter.”

It’s easy to say it doesn’t matter when it doesn’t touch us. Do we have time to listen to people from different places? Can we train our ears to hear the pain of others? Can we cultivate empathy?

Let us season forbearance with patience. In Washington, D.C., I read on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial wall, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It was right after Ferguson. Bending toward justice can be hard to see and requires patience.

It’s easy for those of us with white heterosexual skins to ask for patience, but others outside privileged circles pay a high price. We don’t choose our skin, but we make choices relating to how we live our Jesus faith. Patience doesn’t mean complacency.

The seasoning of forbearance is further complicated by our failure to recognize how access to power and privilege functions within our communities. A sincere conversation will require that we recognize who has access to the pews of power. Sometimes we can’t hear the pain a Confederate flag causes. Sometimes we can’t hear the pain of those relegated to the back pew.

Peter knew with certainty what was clean and unclean, and then God’s spirit entered his certitudes. Peter was able to hear the story of Cornelius. Who are we courageous enough to visit?

May the storytelling that began around tables in Kansas City continue. May we move beyond business as usual and enter into a new time of radically seasoned forbearance. May the Holy Spirit surprise us with fiery flavored forbearance.

Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.

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