One of the things I am fond of blurting out to the amazed faces I get when people find out that my husband and I are a mixed marriage is this: “Well, I never believed in ecumenism before!” (Ha, ha, chuckle, chuckle). For most of my young life I imagined growing up and finding a nice, evangelical “spiritual leader” who would make my knees melt, court me incessantly (but purely) with my parents’ consent, and marry me in a modest ceremony filled with froth and bubbles.
Not so much.
Kind of funny how both expectations and reality change. Instead of the prototypical Protestant “nice young man” (i.e., listener of alterna-rock Christian music, fond of coffeehouses in which he read Thomas a Kempis and Jonathan Edwards, perhaps a goatee?), I got a Catholic one. Knees melted aplenty, but the romance was far from idyllic. He crossed himself after we prayed at dinner. Some evenings I couldn’t reach him on the phone because he was at mass. When he attended my church, he let the communion plate pass, even as my (DAD) pastor nodded that it was OK. I found myself glancing furtively around on more than one occasion, to read peoples’ reactions. I never worried about my own reaction, or analyzed it any further than to determine that I was OK with “the whole Catholic thing”…but what about everyone else?
Ecumenism suggests dialogue, cooperation, or even “communion” between two traditions, usually Christian traditions. It has been the dream of many a theologian, philosopher, and faithful over the centuries, who, seeing such deep divisions in the faith, longs to bring people into one body to worship and serve Christ. Some see ecumenism as a “glossing over” of theological differences, or a lessening somehow of the truth, as in, “we can only be united if you think the way I do” (c.f. The Jeremiah Project).
I think there are several things to think about in discussing ecumenism (and I in no way have come to any conclusions, even in discerning the relative value of ecumenism itself). First and foremost, then:
What’s the point? What’s the eventual goal of ecumenical dialogue, or communication and conversation between the traditions? The Catholic church has traditionally held that ecumenism only is possible with a “change of heart” (Ut Unum Sint). I’m with them on this one. There are hundreds of years of hurtful history to contend with, and approaching ecumenism from any angle necessitates a real reliance on the healing work of Christ in our lives. Unfortunately, ecumenism too often translates to: “come back over to OUR side, accept the faith as taught by the Catholic Church”. In this sense, ecumenism=evangelization. While this may be a worthy goal in Catholic eyes, it’s hardly going to “win friends and influence people”, especially when done with what I call the “college professor” attitude- “Once you know enough/study enough/read enough, you’ll realize I’m right”. And (hold on, hold on) this attitude is very common in Protestant apologetics, as well.
Put into the perspective of a marriage (remember? where we started?), the goal is easy to define- to build a family together, in love and peace. At least, that’s my starting point. Is it possible that this, perhaps, can also be the goal of ecumenism on a larger scale- building a family of believers in Christ, in love and peace?