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 Susan Jostyn
Last week, this Circle of Faith blog posted an interfaith request for help from the National Council of Churches (NCC) in anticipation of the rally in Charlottesville, VA. Without a doubt, the prayerful response had an effect, though it may not have been fully seen by human eyes. Now, more prayer is dearly needed, given the visible results in Charlottesville and the fact that other potentially violent rallies are planned as soon as this weekend. Most important, it’s not just rallies that need our prayerful attention. Now, the Christian question is, how does Christ call each of us, individually and collectively—including ecumenically—to confront racism and division of any kind?
Christ Jesus stated that we must love God “with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength”, love our neighbor as ourselves, and... remember the kicker at the end? “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40) I'm grateful that my fellow Christians value these two foundational ideas as much as I do. I trust Jesus’ direction to be sufficient to carry us all forward, no matter how difficult the road, even to the healing of racism and division—which are the opposite of neighborly love!! Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension strengthen my confidence. It also strengthens me to affirm the unity of the body of Christ, trusting Christ to inspire me and my fellow Christians to work together in confronting and healing racism and division, accomplishing through unity what one individual or church couldn’t fathom alone.
Mark Sappenfield, Editor of The Christian Science Monitor, said, “When leaders show moral courage, it gives vital momentum to the humane and uplifting… America is at a delicate point in its racial conversation. The times are demanding citizens and politicians to bring out each other's best selves.” (See the leading news article here for more). The times are also demanding that Christian congregants and leaders overcome denominational divisions; to help each other become better Christians, and thus to be better equipped to rise to the challenge of confronting and healing racism, based on the teachings of Christ Jesus.
Ecumenically, I am listening closely to how my Christian neighbors are addressing Charlottesville and racism, and praying with them. This is in response to Jesus’ prayer that his followers “may be one” (John 17:11), and to the Massachusetts Council of Churches (MCC) request that we “hold [them] and one another in prayer, as we do for you.” On Tuesday, an event was organized by the MCC and various other groups around Boston to discuss how to confront the possibility of racially-motivated violence in Boston. I attended, listened, and prayed attentively as many ideas, questions, and potential next steps were discussed. The prayers and actions of my fellow Christians definitely strengthened me! I volunteered my time to help lift up the unity, peace, and love that is present within Boston. And, when I told a few fellow Christians that I was praying with them, they thanked me.
Historically, this week, this coming weekend, and beyond, Christian preachers across the United States have been and will feel called to speak prophetically in the face of racism. For many, it is a regrettably familiar topic. Laura Everett, Executive Director of the MCC, said on Monday, “the recent violence should make religious leaders go through a ‘self examination’ of their roles in society. ‘What are the ways that our Christian institutions have excluded and marginalized?’ she said. ‘What are the ways we are just in relationships with people who look like us?’” (See this news article for more). These are tall orders and big questions. I pray that all of our responses, statements, sermons, conversations, and actions be inspired, honest, practical, repentant, rousing, healing... faithful to Christ.
As a Christian Scientist, Jesus’ command to love God and neighbor has inspired me to be more vigilant in my prayerful affirmations of God’s supremacy over all, thereby subjugating any belief in, desire for, or fear of human supremacy in any form. This doesn't preclude me from declaring that an idea like loving my neighbor is better and more powerful to me than other ideas like fearing, hating, or oppressing my neighbor, but it does help me to resist the temptation to apply blanket negative categorizations to people who believe, act, or look different from me. All are neighbors, children of God, made in God’s image, worthy of God’s love, and worthy of my love. So, I’m asking myself, how can I love more, not just in word but in deed? How can I better confront that which is not loving? I have plenty of work to do, just to better myself! That's important, but only focusing on myself is not enough. Church means I must do this together with others, even if we don't entirely agree.
What questions are you asking yourself and your church about racism and division? What challenges are you facing? What healing answers are you finding? What actions are you taking? How are your fellow Christians helping you? Even if our ideas, questions, answers, statements, and actions are different, Christ’s leading to love God and all our neighbors will reveal and bring the unity, love, and peace that we cannot see or accomplish alone. Engaging in ecumenism can strengthen our prayer and actions, whether we are confronting and healing racism or division in our own lives, within the body of Christ, or within our cities, states, nations, and the world.
By Shirley Paulson, CS, Ph.D.
The National Council of Churches has distributed a letter from Congregate Charlottesville, as they are seeking help facing an ugly uprising of racial bigotry in their community this weekend. We are sharing the letter here on Circle of Faith, so we can bring healing prayer to the situation. Before reading the NCC letter, it is helpful to consult the Scriptures and ask a few questions:
* Why should we oppose racial bigotry? The belief in the supremacy of any category of persons is an evil that must be destroyed by an abiding awareness of God’s love for all.
* How shall we oppose racial bigotry? With courageous prayer. Hiding behind others or just waiting for things to change without prayerfully engaging in the healing work will never achieve the goal of active peace among all God’s children.
* When should we oppose racial bigotry? Whenever it appears. In this case, Congregate Charlottesville seeks your help specifically “to confront a national white supremacist rally” this weekend, on Saturday, August 12.
Jesus was aware that his disciples would need courage to face the opposition they would encounter when he was gone, and he assured them that they would have everything they needed in the most difficult of circumstances.
Jesus’ disciples were terrified by the prospects of physical and emotional persecution after Jesus’ death. Aware of the potential danger ahead, Jesus comforted them with the reassurance that even in his absence, he would send the ‘Paraclete’ – usually translated as ‘Advocate’ or ‘Comforter’ or ‘Helper’. He agreed the enemy would rise up against them, but they would have all they needed from this spiritual authority.
Such prayerful presence is the great need both in Charlottesville and wherever this kind of bigotry claims legitimacy. We are called upon to expose the false foundations of any form of human supremacy, and it takes moral strength and spiritual courage to resist aggressive bigotry. But Jesus’ promise for this Paraclete still stands. Following in his footsteps, Eddy encourages every individual to engage in this work in whatever way is appropriate for them: “When error confronts you, withhold not the rebuke or the explanation which destroys error.” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 452)
With this Christian admonition in mind, we present excerpts from the NCC letter and hope that our community will show up prayerfully. And if so inspired, individuals may participate in any other way that feels appropriate.
To our Colleagues in Ministry and Friends in Faith,
We need your help. On August 12th we call for 1,000 clergy and faith leaders to show up in Charlottesville, VA to confront a national white supremacist rally.
On August 12, will you please join us in prayer and in person in Charlottesville, Virginia? We call on white clergy, especially, to join us in person. This is a call for partnership in direct, nonviolent action on a crucial day for our city, and in a critical moment for our country. We need your prayerful presence.
Charlottesville has recently become a hotspot for national white supremacist organizations and demonstrations. Our city council recently voted to move Confederate monuments from our prominent public parks, sparking increasingly explicit and violent expressions of white supremacy in our community. An infamous white nationalist held a threatening torch-lit rally in our park. Most recently, a KKK chapter from North Carolina held a rally in the center of our city. During this rally, non-violent community members standing against racial hatred were met with chemical weapons, military vehicles, and hundreds of militarized police, some carrying grenade launchers and automatic weapons.
On August 12, hundreds of white supremacists from around the country will rally with white nationalist leaders for hours in our most prominent public park. From the information that these groups are presenting and sharing online, we have concluded that there is an extremely high potential for physical violence and brutality directed at our community.
We need your help - we don’t have the numbers to stand up to this on our own.
This is a local event, but white supremacy is a national problem, and the way we respond on August 12 will have national implications as we move through these trying times. It is our hope and prayer that your congregations will commission you to join us in this movement to confront white supremacy.
As faith leaders in Charlottesville, we are committed to nonviolent direct action, standing in solidarity with community members and groups such as Black Lives Matter and Showing Up for Racial Justice. We do not want a repeat of July 8th - we want to grow forward in number and in narrative to visibly counteract this hate, proclaiming with our bodies and our sanctuaries that God rejects white supremacy, and that God is present with those hurt, angered, afraid and confused by this massive national event in our small town. We call on 1,000 clergy and faith leaders to join us on August 12th.
To inquire further and/or commit to coming, please click on Join Us! (https://congregatecville.com/take-action) and we will reply with further information on housing, timing, and more to get you here smoothly and equipped to stand with us. Thank you!
By Shirley Paulson, CS, Ph.D.
Those words – “the good news is that we’re here!” – articulated the conclusion of the Ecumenical Officers Retreat that I attended a couple of weeks ago. Each of us works for a different denomination or communion of Christians. We love and are faithful to our church communities. Each of us also is deeply committed to the Christian calling of unity; that we strive to respond to Jesus’ prayer for his followers to be one (John 17:21). This two-day gathering brought to the surface new and colorful pictures of Christian love, reminding me of the beautiful images of ever-changing relationships in a kaleidoscope. Our oneness comes from our mutual love of the one Christ, but our unique gifts beautify and amplify its expression.
Father Nathanael Symeonides of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America invited us to be his guests at the Archdiocese in New York. Sometimes Orthodox communities are uncomfortable with ecumenical settings. The idea of seeking unity with and respecting the Christian identity of non-Orthodox others rubs against the grain for some. But Father Nathanael welcomed us warmly, fed us royally, gave us some good laughs, and introduced us to some of the serious ecumenical concerns he addresses for his Greek Orthodox constituents. Just near the end of our two days together, he invited His Emminence Archbishop Demetrios of America (Greek Orthodox) to join us. What an ecumenical story-teller he is!
Margaret Rose, the Ecumenical Officer for the Episcopal Church, is the one who said, “Despite all the stubbornness, fear, and apathy we encounter in our ecumenical work, the good news is that we’re here!” She acknowledged that even within our own churches, we know of some who resist accepting and respecting the Christian identity of others. But Margaret epitomizes the patient, wise and loving commitment to ecumenism from her church. She’s been doing this a long time, and she’s the one who recognized that despite the yet far-distant goal of finding true unity among Christian denominations, the fact that we (the ecumenical liaisons for our churches) found a way to come together said something.
I pondered that idea with a moment of quiet gratitude, because I knew it was the Holy Spirit that called us together and paved the way for it to happen. Even though this gathering occurs annually in different places, I couldn’t help but notice the resemblance with the early Christians in Acts 2: “On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place…. Everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages…. At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem…. They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed…. Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, … what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel.... A deep sense of awe came over them all.”
The twelve of us in New York represented many of the ‘languages’ of Christianity in the US, and we were in awe of what we had been able to discuss that afternoon: difficult issues in politics, religion, race, ethnicity, health care, and climate – all from contrasting perspectives. And yet we spoke respectfully, thoughtfully, and lovingly. I was convinced that we all were there and experienced that conversation because each of us believed in the ecumenical principles that Christ is at work in others, and that unity is God’s law. We never agreed on any single topic, but we understood each other better and cared about each other more.
We needed each voice – African-American, white, Asian, Greek, female, male, older, younger, experienced and new – as well as each of our denominations. Everybody was a ‘minority’ by some definition, because everybody was different; but everybody also felt the strength of unity that arises from a shared love of the one Christ. The photo was taken in the chapel of St. Paul, in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, and participants in the photo from left to right are:
- Rev. Robina Winbush, Presbyterian USA
- Dr. Kathryn Johnson, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America
- Protodeacon Sergei Kapral, Orthodox Church in America
- Rev. Margaret Rose, The Episcopal Church
- Rev. Paul Tché, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
- Rev. Al Baca, Roman Catholic Church (Conference of Bishops)
- Archimandrite Nathanael Symeonides, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America , PhD.
- His Emminence Archbishop Demetrios of America
- Rev Herman Harmelink, International Council of Community Churches
- Rev Dr Angelique Walker-Smith, National Baptist Convention USA, Inc. (Bread for the World)
- Rev Hermann Weinlick, Moravian Church
- Dr. Shirley Paulson, CS The First Church of Christ, Scientist
- Mr. Andrew Calivas, assistant Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
- Rev Karen Georgia Thompson, United Church of Christ
This is really good news!
By Susan Humble, Ph.D.
I’ve been thinking a lot about circles lately, what they are, their design, and their function. I began to be aware of ways the idea of a circle can be useful in ecumenical and interfaith interactions, particularly when thinking about the circle as the encircling arms of Love. Simply put, a circle is a curved line where the ends meet and every point on the line is equal distance from the center. Like any line, the circle is infinitely expandable, allowing for additional points to be included. The circle does not require the points be equal distance from each other, nor are they required to be identical; thus, a circle allows for the inclusion of individuality. I also image that all the points are facing toward the center, also creating a sense of connectedness with one another. Thus, the circle is a symbol of inclusivity, expandability, unity, infinity, completeness, and connectedness, and relationships.
Pause here a moment and imagine a circle of Love.
The name of this Facebook group, “Circle of Faith,” suggests an ever-expanding circle of inclusion of people of all denominations and faiths. By this, I am not suggesting that we are creating a circle for others to join, for I believe the circle of Love always exists for everyone, and we recognize everyone’s inclusion in this circle.
Why is it important for the readers of this blog to cherish our connection to and connecting others in the encircling arms of Love in our ecumenical and interfaith relationships? This work is about relationships through connectedness. We begin by acknowledging that we and those we are in contact with are already a point on this circle.
Recognizing that every person in Love’s circle is connected to others in the circle, we explore for more points of common connection, even if they appear to be insignificant. We value each member’s individuality and distinctiveness, and we cherish the unity that is inherent in this circle of Love.
This circle is infinitely expandable. Are we actively cherishing and recognizing opportunities to welcome others into Love’s circle? The prophet Isaiah spoke of the demand for this expansion: “Enlarge the site of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitation be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes (Isaiah 54:2).
As a reader of this blog, you are a cherished point on the Circle of Faith. I know from experience that each time I have reached out in my ecumenical and interfaith activities, I have felt the encircling arms of Love for everyone, who are already valuable and cherished points along Love’s circle.
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)