Ecumenism


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Related to Ecumenism: ecumenicism, World Council of Churches

Ecumenism

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

"Ecumenical," according to Webster's dictionary, means "pertaining to the entire inhabited earth; universal in extent." The "ecumenical movement" began within Protestant Christianity, expanded through organizations like the World Council of Churches, and now, through grassroots clergy associations, is understood as a complete interfaith dialogue.

The movement began in the Christian mission field. Missionaries found themselves thrown together, forced to work in cultural situations that tended to downplay differences that might have seemed important and divisive back home. Baptists felt free to use Congregationalists' translations of the Bible in order to save the time involved in doing their own. Overseas, cooperation was almost mandatory. Whereas their American counterparts may have had the luxury of debating fine points of difference between predestination and free will, the overworked foreign missionaries just didn't have time for such luxuries.

Although ecumenism is, with a few exceptions (see below), accepted today as the norm, it was not always so. Before the Church grew so divided (see Christianity, Development of), the concept was both unheard-of and unneeded. Later, as individual denominations grew, it was a natural thing for people from different Christian traditions to band together when community projects outside the scope of any one denomination beckoned. Even there, however, it was the participation of moderate and liberal churches that formed the backbone of ministerial fellowships and Christian clergy associations. Fundamentalist pastors and Jewish rabbis were often left out, sometimes by their own choice but sometimes by a subtle (or not-so-subtle) attitude of exclusion on the part of traditional Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Congregationalists. By the 1960s, as mainstream America began to awaken to the realities of racial and ethnic segregation, and as the civil rights movement, largely sparked by Christian churches in both the south and the north, began to assert its influence, ecumenism flourished. Gradually, doors were opened and barriers broken down.

Even still, it took more than forty years for some groups to be included. As late as the 1990s, a clergy association in western Massachusetts brought down all kinds of criticism upon itself when it became one of the first in the nation to welcome a Druid priest and a neo-pagan witch into its membership. And shortly after the infamous September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Reverend David Benke, a high-ranking Lutheran pastor in the Missouri Synod, found himself suspended and ordered to apologize to all Christians after he participated in an interfaith prayer service held in New York's Yankee Stadium. Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and Hindus all took part in the service, and this was unacceptable to twentyone Lutheran synod pastors and congregations. In comments made to the San Francisco Chronicle by denominational spokesman David Mahsman, Benke was accused of "compromising the gospel of Jesus Christ" by appearing to place Jesus on an equal footing with Allah, Vishnu, "and whatever gods are involved."

Charges made against those who endorse ecumenism generally include "unionism" and "syncretism." Unionism involves mixing differing beliefs of Christian organizations. Syncretism pertains to joining together Christian and non-Christian religious views.

Perhaps the need for ecumenism in today's volatile world was best demonstrated at the very beginning of the movement. On August 2, 1914, a worldwide Christian conference was held to discuss ways churches of all denominations could work together for peace. It was felt this was a common cause that should unite people of all traditions. On that day, in the city of Constance, Germany, an ecumenical peace organization was founded, the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches, designed to be the first of its kind.

The organization never had a chance to meet, because that was the very day World War I began.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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