The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States (4.6 million members), just approved and welcomed into the clergy, actively gay ordained ministers who are in committed relationships.
Recently the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada (ACCC. members) began the process of corporate union with the Roman Catholic Church as a “Personal Prelature.”
Recently The Episcopal Church in the U.S. established a Committee to prepare liturgical rites and resources to officially bless same-sex couples in an established relationship.
Because all three of these issues relate to homosexuality it would be appropriate to approach my commentary from that perspective. However, I have another interest for this post.
With Vatican II, the Catholic Church opened outward to engage in dialogue with other Churches and Christian “ecclesial communities.” For forty years theological discussions and cooperative activities grew and we saw ourselves as a growing mosaic of Christian communities in Christ. But I wonder how the different denominations will react to the kinds of events listed above, especially in light of recent moves in the Catholic Church to emphasize Catholic identity, increase boundary markers, and a theological focus on apologetics.
The Catholic Church is a central player in all of these issues. But there are serious internal stresses and strains within the Catholic Church and these other Christian communities.
As long as the current strong, centralized, even authoritarian, institutional structure of the Catholic Church maintains power, there is little likelihood that theological dialogue and advances will be made, for example in sexual ethics, women’s ordination or the nature and suitability persons for ministry. In my state there are two Catholic and one ELCA dioceses. For a number of years the three bishops have publically affirmed a “Lutheran-Catholic Covenant” pledging continued dialogue and sharing (even facilities and some cooperative religious education programs). What is to happen now between the Church and the ELCA with approval of ordination and acceptance of active gays into the ministry? Will the “Covenant” be put on the back burner, shelved, or, less likely, become a key mechanism to maintain close fraternal relationships? It remains to be seen.
Perhaps the greatest hope for continued ecumenical dialogue and cooperation rests on what happens at the congregational and parish level. Last evening the pastor of our parish and I attended a meeting called by the pastor of a Lutheran church (ELCA) in the city. Attending and participating were pastors and laity from the Episcopal, Methodist, Catholic, and, of course, the Lutheran churches. A Presbyterian pastor was not able to attend this meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to create a cooperative “College for Adults” to develop, “…disciples through Christian educational opportunities that are: spiritually relevant, intellectually stimulating, and personally challenging” and which assist Christian people to: understand their faith, live out their faith, and share their faith with others.
If the increasingly fragile fraternal relationships (I use this word because the power and leadership in these communities are dominated by males) between the leadership of the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations / ecclesial communities disintegrates there may be dire irreparable damage done well beyond the confines of these religious groups. Globalization of the world is increasing as a result of the rapid growth on new electronic, communication, and transportation systems. We used to say, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The whole world is rapidly becoming “the village.” Will there be any kind of “global ethic"?” Will the great religions of the world have any role in creating a world to assist in holding together the mosaic of cultures that will continue to exist? Or will the “ethic” be the crassest form of utilitarian ethics? God forbid, that we fall into a dog-eat-dog world or the “war of all against all.”
If Christians can realize they have more in common than the differences between them, they will be part of re-creating a renewed world. If Christians can reaffirm that those of “other faith traditions,” also seek to discover the Truth, there can be dialogue and cooperative action,especially regarding respect for each other and building a more peaceful world. We do have a common humanity and a common search for the Ultimate. All of us know only partially now; and now only through many different perspectives or “faiths” in our search for Truth and purpose in life. We have the opportunity, today, to live together in a more harmonious world. We no longer can allow differences to destroy the deeper realities of who we are together.
But for us here and now, we must maintain hope and openness to “the other” who can become our brothers and sisters, free to worship God by whatever name we give God and called to serve the world. So maybe in my case one beginning step to to help make this “College for Adults” a success.