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(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.
References in periodicals archive ?
Meanwhile, with the rise of ecumenicism, abstract piety took precedence over the prescriptions of particular denominations.
Over time, this proactive Islamist ecumenicism has helped make it seem acceptable for Sunnis not only to identify politically with Iran, but also to be open to Shia dawa (proselytization).
The changing nature of "faith" in faith-based organizations: Secularization and ecumenicism in four AIDS organizations in New York City.
Officially opening the conference, Hope University Vice Chancellor Professor Gerald Pillay emphasised the uniqueness of his university's ecumenicism in Europe.
It is very popular, in the age of interfaith conversations and ecumenicism, to quote the universalist sentiments of Malachi: Have we not all one father?
In Finland, most people may be fed up with the official Lutheran Church, but large numbers of urban teenagers and young adults are flocking to the alternative "Thomas Mass," which is based on liturgical traditions of the Lutheran Church, heavily influenced by ecumenicism. Jenkins estimates that Europe's evangelicals, charismatics, and Pentecostals, many of them immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, outnumber Muslims by almost two to one, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
The fact might be received as a bit surprising by those who are not well informed of the latest changes in Christianity, which are sometimes referred to as 'ecumenicism.' The fourth book is titled 'Is God Really One' and is expected to be issued soon."
When asked about ecumenicism, Tessier responds: "I guess you could say that our programming is ecumenical--but I'm not supposed to use that word any more ...
"It was the authoritarian idea of the 'compulsory organization of human happiness,'" wrote Philip Rahv, "that was the essential link in his conception of socialism and Catholicism as two aspects of the same heretical self-will driving toward the obliteration of human dignity and freedom of conscience." (9) In our age of (more or less) tolerant ecumenicism, the critique of Catholicism implicit in the Legend excites little interest; its relevance today resides, rather, in its anticipation of totalitarianism, in its anticipation of the central ideological conflict of the twentieth century.