Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Thoughts on Ecumenism

There are holy, loving folk who throw themselves into Christian unity out of the goodness of their hearts. I've met them, and they are delightful people who see nothing extraordinary about their actions.

And then there are those of us who care about ecumenism because life forces us to.

When you grow up conservative Presbyterian, attend a Southern Baptist school, and marry an Episcopalian called to the priesthood, there's no choice. You have to deal with the fact that you and your parents now see the world differently. You have to deal with the fact that you will hear sermons at home that spur panic attacks - or rage. You have to deal with the fact that people you grew up and love would never take communion at your church. The pressure is great, even for people who move from one Protestant tradition to another. Heck, all I really had to do was get confirmed - imagine the pressure for those who have to be rebaptized. I can only imagine what it's like for Protestant converts to Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, or vice versa. And at the very worst end of the spectrum are those whose parents disown them or their spouses divorce them, sometimes simply for changing denominations.

For those of us who speak multiple faith languages, there's a kind of dual citizenship or double consciousness. We end up being ambassadors for "the other" at every turn, or as interpreters in religious debates. (I can't tell you how many times I've said "Well, what he means by formation is sort of like discipleship -  we're not becoming pod people," etc.) We bilinguals are tempted to pride and arrogance too. Look at me, I can talk to everyone! Check out little miss peacemaker over here! Or more subtly - well, it's so nice that I straddle the fence, since now I can avoid the mistakes of both sides. I'm above all that. (Yes, I'm looking at you, Episcopalians who like to say "via media.")

Except you're not above anything - you're floundering in a sea of pride, hurt feelings, and confusion. And by you I mean me.

I'd love to write some insightful tips on becoming more ecumenical. Unfortunately, my own house stinks. I mock those I grew up with, eager to separate myself, to prove that I know better now. I pretend to be tolerant and then blow up over minor issues. I want to be part of the body of Christ as long as I can avoid the parts I don't like.

I have only one tip, and it's really a plea. There are many Christians who grieve for someone because they've fallen away - because their evangelical son became Eastern Orthodox and has an icon corner in his living room, or their daughter left the Baptists and joined the Catholic church at Easter, or their sedate, Episcopal husband had a religious experience and now attends the Pentecostal church where they speak in tongues, or their grandchildren are being raised as Methodists so the Calvinist grandparents sneak Lacrae CDs into their Christmas stockings. Did I miss anyone? OK, let me bring it home: my daughter decides that the Bible explicitly teaches Reformed theology, becomes OP because the PCA is too liberal, and has a classical homeschooling group with her church.

Now that we're all offended or worried, let me be clear: it's not our job to show them the light. They are adults. They are well aware of what you think, and they made a conscious decision to move elsewhere. You owe them respect - the respect of making their own decisions, teaching their children what they believe, and marrying someone who shares their thoughts.

And if you're the son/daughter/ husband/ wife, then take a good long look in the mirror before you get uppity.

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