Ecumenical and interfaith ideas
"The truth is the centre of all religion," Mary Baker Eddy wrote. Here, you'll find ideas that honor that center, the "circle of faith" of which we're all a part. We hope they are helpful as you listen and contribute to the healing dialogue going on between faiths worldwide.
Christian Science in the Christian Community
By Shirley Paulson, CS, MTS
As Committee for Ecumenical Affairs for The First Church of Christ, Scientist, I have enjoyed representing the Church as an official ‘Observer’ of the National Council of Churches (NCC) meetings of the Board of Governors. They meet twice a year, and I have attended every meeting since 2008, when the Christian Science Church began a formal ‘conversation’ with NCC. Those of you who have been following this blog since its beginning in 2010 would know that I’ve shared some of my experiences along the way on this blog.
But it’s been awhile since I last reported on those meetings, so I thought you’d be interested in an update. At the most recent meeting in early May, two topics stood out to me, in particular.
1) Since the restructuring of NCC a few years ago, they have streamlined their focus and made a special commitment to their management of the copyright of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible. It has been 30 years since the NRSV was published, and scholars agree it is time to review the text and help to make it “timely and true.”
The reason for relatively frequent translation updates is that new scholarship continues to help us understand the ancient text better, as well as the culture within which it was written. Without knowing these things, translators must make assumptions about the meaning of certain passages that reflect their own biases and views. Renewed scholarship helps everyone find clearer ways to express the original meaning of the text and what it must mean in modern contexts.
Therefore, with the encouragement of the best biblical scholars from the Society of Biblical Literature and other sources, NCC is embarking on an update, called ‘NRSV2’. This focus on biblical commitment and support is accompanied by a renewed focus on the International Sunday School Lessons and how to use the Bible well in congregational worship as well as in seminaries and scholarly settings.
2) NCC is also committing itself to confronting racism, as a Christian moral imperative. They note that racism has been especially stubborn in the US, and one possible reason is that the faith community has never really stood together in unity to object to it. Now NCC is praying about it and considering the direction of a Truth and Reconciliation process to help churches think through their own relationship to the issues of racism in the US.
NCC churches consist of some historic black churches, nearly all-white churches, ethnic churches, and a very few mixed churches. They recognize that America is racially divided on Sunday morning, and some churches have actively sought to address the subtle and insidious forms of racism within. Others have never spoken out in any clear way. Rather than blaming or shaming, the approach to the Truth and Reconciliation process is for each church to first find the moral courage to consider its own history. In April 2018, at the anniversary of MLK’s death, churches will be encouraged to come together to admit publicly what they have learned about their own past with honest humility. After hearing from each other, churches will be ready to address their own needs for growth with their own best theological and prayer-based solutions.
These two NCC topics – an emphasis on biblical resources and a focus on healing for our churches and country – make me feel at home. I appreciate how the Christian Science Church has something to contribute, and even some contemporary issues to learn from, in these discussions.
By Madelon Maupin
One of the privileges of participating in ecumenical activities is growing spiritually in often new ways. Every time we have an opportunity to broaden our circle of love, including those with different backgrounds – theologically, ethnically, geographically, politically – we learn more about God’s inclusive love and the wideness and richness of Her creation.
This happened last week for me while attending the national meeting of the Faith and Order Convening Table of the National Council of Churches. As a local participant in the Southern California Christian Forum I received an invitation to attend this small gathering of ecumenical theologians from around the United States representing about 13 denominations.
The tendency is often to think we know too little to participate. But love truly leads the way. How can we give our particular talents? This question always provides an opening. In my case it was offering to take the minutes of one session because I had a laptop and can type pretty fast. Everyone brings their own talents and it’s often just a question of seeing the need and being ready to fill it.
The topic the group selected this year is “Climate Justice”. Shirley Paulson, the representative of the Christian Science Church to this Faith and Order Convening Table, presented a paper, “Christian Science and Climate Justice”. This particular group of the NCC meets three times a year to discuss this global top-of-mind topic. The process is modest but intense: a small group of about 12 colleagues who have come to know and respect one another, share theological insights from their denomination’s perspective to this pressing social issue.
I had the joy of hearing Shirley present her paper, no more than 25 minutes but covering a breathtaking look at creation, salvation, nature, the relationship between science and religion, Christ and our role in following Jesus’ healing example. By sharing her love of birds and examples of ecosystems negatively or positively impacted by human involvement, she built a bridge to how one can approach the salvation of our earth through a Christianly scientific understanding of God and His Christ.
Shirley will submit her paper for publication to Ecumenical Trends, a magazine published to educate and enhance ecumenical dialogue. If and when it is published, the link will be made available on a future Circle of Faith blog. I encourage everyone to read it for fresh and powerful insights.
A few highlights:
- A lucid explanation of the profound relationship science can have to religion, rather than the current secular tendency to separate them. To quote her paper: “Right where science usually pulls away from religion, climate justice calls on us to understand science in a way that brings religion into it.”
- An explanation of a broader application of salvation. “A Christian Science understanding of salvation is that it applies to every aspect of God’s creation—all the children of God, as well as all of the plants, animals and minerals of the planet.”
- The way Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 illustrate different perspectives but only one can be the scientific fact. “From our human perspective, we tend to see God looking like us, made in our image – capricious, unwilling or unable to take care of all of us, let alone the whole planet. But from God’s point of view – the opposite perspective – we see how God could say…”I made you in my image…”.
- Christ’s multi-faceted role in awakening, rousing and turning humanity to healing solutions regarding our earth. “Christ is the corrector. Christ turns us, like an informed school teacher, to see the situation from God’s point of view. This correction turns us from our sins, fear, ignorance – everything that contributes to injustice.”
After Shirley concluded and the chairman opened the meeting for comments, a representative from the Orthodox Church in America shared that his favorite professor taught so similarly to Shirley’s presentation that ‘he could have written the paper’. The gentleman continued to commend Shirley for her scope and depth throughout the conference. Others commented on the link made between science and religion, and how with quantum physicists’ reframing of matter, theologians and scientists need to come together to see how Christ can bring needed transformation to concepts such as substance and energy. With every comment, I enjoyed watching how Shirley tried to build on others’ responses then add some insight from the Christian Science perspective. It was an exercise in respectful communication all the way around.
Jesus commended his followers, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father” (John 14:12).
Surely how we care for our planet, all of nature, the people affected by changes in climate, and even each other in ecumenical conversations, are part of these ‘greater works’. By participating, we have the rich opportunity to see Christ at work in ever larger ways so needed for a waiting world. We welcome your thoughts on this blog and ways you can contribute to the climate conversation (via the Circle of Faith facebook page).
By Shirley Paulson, CS, MTS
During one of the church services at the National Workshop on Christian Unity (NWCU) a couple of weeks ago, representatives from the five NWCU networks demonstrated their commitment to each other in Christian unity. The ceremony was poignant, considering the struggles we often have between groups of Christians. Each one lit a candle and spoke aloud one of the following “five commitments”.
I present them here for Circle of Faith readers to contemplate the significance of these commitments in our own hearts for the sake of Christian unity. We are frequently reminded that the purpose of striving for Christian unity is a response to Jesus’ prayer: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20, 21).
In light of this, take a careful look at that second commitment. I think that’s especially challenging, but I’m thinking about it in the context of Jesus’ prayer for us.
The candles were lit by these five ecumenical leaders:
The Catholic Association of Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers; The Consortium of Evangelical Networks for Unity; Episcopal Diocese and Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers; Lutheran Ecumenical and Interreligious Representatives Network; and United Methodist Ecumenical and Interreligious Training.
The five commitments:
- Our first commitment: we should always begin from the perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division in order to strengthen what is held in common even though the differences are more easily seen and experienced.
- Our second commitment: we must let ourselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith.
- Our third commitment: we should again commit ourselves to seek visible unity, to elaborate together what this means in concrete steps, and to strive repeatedly toward this goal.
- Our fourth commitment: we should jointly rediscover the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ for our time.
- Our fifth commitment: we should witness together to the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world.
By Susan Humble and Dave Lowe
This blog comes from a wonderful conversation with a long-time Christian Science friend Dave Lowe about his interfaith work in his community. I find his spiritual approach to this work very helpful and fruitful, and he has agreed to share a few ideas.
Sue: Dave, how long have you been engaged in the work?
Dave: I have been involved for about 3 1/2 years.
Sue: How did you get interested in the work?
Dave: My interest was first peaked when I learned of Christian Scientists working on community projects, which led to hosting Christian Science lectures on the topics related to the focus of the community organization. Then about 3 1/2 years ago a local Christian church invited several of the area faith communities to join an interfaith group and I volunteered to be a representative.
Sue: Since doing this work, why do you think the interaction with people of different Christian denominations and religions is important?
Dave: Just getting to know our neighbors is a fantastic outcome of this activity. Most important are the opportunities to offer spiritual solutions and insights from my study and practice of Christian Science.
Sue: Would you please share how you pray about this work?
Dave: Whether someone is hungry or needs shelter, the human footsteps to meet the needs are important and relevant. Jesus provides a model for meeting the needs of individuals and communities. While helping others with prayer-inspired steps, we can support everyone’s spiritual development to a deeper feeling of God’s love and care. Sometimes it can be easy to listen to the voices that say this work is not important, that it is more about making friends and being involved in human problem solving through activities. What is important for me is lifting my conversations and activities to a spiritual and healing perspective. I experience the fruitage of this impetus of Love/God regularly.
Sue: Can you share a specific example?
Dave: I was asked to be a panelist on a sex trafficking awareness forum. During the Q&A portion of the panel discussion I began to wonder “What do I have to offer?” It seemed all the questions were directed to and answered by a vice detective on the panel, and the conversation was headed downhill fast! The problem and its effects were horrible and the event was becoming depressing. I kept asking God, "Why am I here?" At that point, I picked up the microphone and began explaining, in very simple terms, how someone with evil intentions could make young people feel safe and trusting when they should be suspicious and cautious. I quoted a passage from the Bible in Ephesians 5:6 where Paul speaks about not being deceived into thinking or doing something you would not do, “let no one deceive you with vain words.” It wasn't very long, but by the time I was finished I knew why I was there!
During the reception afterward, the detective thanked me for what I had said, saying that my comments made the event work. Without them the evening would have been a net negative experience. Teenagers approached me and thanked me. Years later I am still getting feedback from those uplifting, spiritually-based comments.
Sue: What have you humbly learned from others, which comes along with your giving?
Dave: I have learned that regardless of one’s religion, people feel and show a genuine love for humanity, a desire to see the good in one another expressed through true concern for each other’s wellbeing.
Sue: Dave, I really think this is a powerful example of the blessings that come when sharing specific relevant ides with a spiritual perspective. Thank you. Your practical examples of prayer- based love and activity for and in your community is very helpful. As we talked, I was struck by your emphasis on prayerful listening for the steps to take in serving others and uplifting humanity which, as you have pointed out, must be the basis of our ecumenical/interfaith work.
How does The First Church of Christ, Scientist participate in ecumenical affairs?
The Committee for Ecumenical Affairs works under the auspices of the Committee on Publication, and is engaged in ‘correcting in a Christian manner’ the misconceptions of Christian Science, particularly within the Christian community. Ecumenical team activities include writing pieces that appear on christianscience.com and articles for The Christian Science Journal and Christian Science Sentinel, and participating in ecumenical conferences, meetings, and organizations such as the National Council of Churches.
What is ecumenism?
Ecumenism is a worldwide movement among Christians to promote unity between Christian churches or denominations (or ‘communions’) in response to Jesus’ prayer that we be one (John 17:21). It recognizes the body of Christ in its entirety, learning to understand the ways, values, and communications styles of our fellow Christians. Ecumenical dialogue is vibrant and respectful, welcoming the gifts of others, while maintaining the integrity and purpose of each Christian faith tradition.
Why should Christian Scientists participate?
The ongoing dialogue with Christian leaders, clergy, and religion educators allows everyone to grasp better the idea exactly why Christian Science is Christian.
All churches and denominations are concerned with maintaining the purity of their ideas and practice of religion, and the ecumenical dialogue respects that integrity in others. It is with a spirit of humility that Christians value one another's faith and service to the common cause of Christianity. As we learn from others, we often find ourselves learning to appreciate and articulate better our own denominational roots. We have the opportunity to cultivate bonds of love and dispel misunderstandings. Ecumenism is one of many ways to practice active Christianity.
One of the most compelling reasons Christian Scientists have become ecumenically involved is that other Christians have been asking for us to participate in the greater dialogue and especially to explain and share our unique gifts more widely.
Talking to other Christians about Christian Science
One of the greatest stumbling blocks to successful ecumenical engagement can be the language we use. Every church or denomination has its own jargon, which can be baffling or unwittingly offensive to others. Without understanding the language, culture, and history of others, we often find ourselves trying to share our most precious ideas only to discover they mean something entirely different to our listeners. With love for others, we make the effort to learn their Christian ‘language’ in order to communicate the greatest depth of thought. Just as we maintain our own culture and identity when we learn a foreign language, we also maintain the identity of Christian Science while we learn the Christian practices and theology of others.
Prayer and insights about ecumenical engagement
- Getting our assumptions right in interfaith work by Brian Talcott
- Opening closed doors by Maryl Walters
- Invitation to worship by Kristin Jamerson
- What Christian Scientists Believe (Video) by Madelon Maupin, Brian Talcott, Eric Nelson
Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon (who first invited the Christian Science Church to engage in the ecumenical movement, 2008)
Video: Mary Baker Eddy — A Heart in Protest
Responding to common questions
Michael Kinnamon talks about the meaning of ecumenical dialogue (YouTube video)
Discussion with Michael Kinnamon about Christian Science in ecumenical dialogue (in The Christian Science Journal)