On Ecumenism

April 24, 2007

This post, an address to the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement by the Rev. Canon Marilyn McCord Adams, was forwarded to Walking With Integrity yesterday.

It’s a wonderful address.  I want to address one issue which it touches on briefly:

Ecumenists believe that institutional tightening and clarity are required to get the Roman Catholic Church and the orthodox to take the Anglican communion seriously as a conversation partner. Their question is perceived to be, is there enough/anything to the Anglican communion to negotiate with?

I agree with her and I find it troubling.  I have heard and read accounts of ecumenism as being about trying to restore the “true unity” of the church that we have lost through our own sinfulness, or similar accounts.

That may be one way to characterize ecumenism.  But it needs clarification.  What does “unity” mean?  It does not necessarily mean that we need return to the days of uniform polity, uniform authority, uniform doctrine, nor uniform practice in worship.

Rather, it requires that we are unified in our commitment to acknowledge that God’s creation is diverse.  People have been created in many different contexts– cultural contexts, individual contexts, and genetic contexts.  We all have different spiritual types, different personality types, different cultural and behavioral types which may not condition us to experience God in the same ways.

As I’ve said before, the truth does not change.  But viewing the truth from a different angle may yield a different picture.

True ecumenism opens the dialogue so that we may share those experiences.

The ecumenists Adams describes and that I have run into in the blogosphere have a much different picture of what it means to be ecumenical.  It seems that rather than being in conversation and letting the Spirit guide us forward to a better understanding of truth in conversation; letting the diversity of God’s creation be the mechanism for forward movement; these ecumenists have a pre-defined outcome in mind– a uniform polity, a uniform authority, or a uniform congregation of some sort.  Such a predisposed agenda necessarily shortcuts the purpose of ecumenical (or interfaith) dialogue, and necessarily shortchanges the value of the discussion.

That is why there is such an attempt on the part of these “ecumenists” to try so diligently to please the Romans and the Eastern Orthodox.  Rather than acknowledging the diversity of experience of truth, there is an attempt at making it uniform.  We may well find common experiences when we share them together openly and honestly in frank and compassionate conversation.  But if we change our view of truth it must be done not to please the “other” or make it more uniform and eliminate diversity of theological opinion but because we have discerned that we can see the truth more clearly.  In other words, we cannot bend the institution to suit ecumenical or interfaith ties.  But we may well find in the conversation with interfaith and ecumenical partners that talking with the “other” enhances our view of truth and clarifies it so that we see things more clearly than we had before.

To set a goal of becoming like the other or being one with the other is to betray our own identity as a distinct people of God.  To set a goal of being in dialogue with the other, learning from the relational experience of the ongoing experience of communion is what being Christian is all about.  That is exactly what “inclusion” means– each being open to the “other” while committing to learn one from another in conversation.  Not necessarily adopting fully the “other’s” position, but committing to take seriously the other’s position so that we can consider how we can relate better as part of the human family and children of the living God.



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