A Healthier Approach to Disagreement in the Church Begins With One Unusual Word

How practicing forbearance strengthens our fellowship and improves our social witness.
What happens when we approach theological disagreement not as a problem to solve or a crisis to endure but as an opportunity to practice Christian virtue?
Religious communities play an essential role in improving the health of American public life. An unimpeded rise in public vitriol threatens American democracy in our time, but religions could help underwrite an infusion of civility, to make our politics more productive and inspiring. Religions often bring rich histories of moral reflection, including consistent priorities on other-regard and mutual respect, that if shared with the wider public could give us healthier ways of living with difference. As I talk to various church groups around the country, however, the same question comes up over and over again: How can Christians provide this civic leadership if we cannot get ourown houses in order? How are we supposed to provide a template and resources for respectful dialogue when our own church debates are so often rancorous, divisive, and destructive?
These are exactly the right questions for us to ask, of course, so I have tried to imagine a better way for us Christians to navigate difference in our own midst, as an opportunity to practice biblical virtue and improve our social witness.
Carrying the Burden of Disagreement
The virtues that lend themselves to more constructive ways of living with disagreement are captured well in the practice of Christian forbearance. Forbearance is the active commitment to maintain Christiancommunity through disagreement, as an extension of virtue and as a reflectionof the unity in Christ that binds the church together. Admittedly, the term “forbearance” sounds a little antiquated. Most of us do not go around asking for or extending …Continue reading…