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, Ph.D.
One of the most important reasons I enjoy attending the annual CESNUR (Center for the Study of New Religions) conferences is that they help me check my own prejudices and ignorance regarding the religious beliefs and practices of others. It’s probably the Golden Rule that tugs at me the most, because I realize how eagerly I’ve wanted others to understand and respect my own faith. I keep asking, “Am I as willing to learn the reasons for others’ faith and their interpretation of their scriptures as deeply as I wish for others to learn of mine?” And, “how do my beliefs relate to the beliefs of others?”
The scholars who contribute to the annual CESNUR conference have academic backgrounds in the study of new religions; often they are professors or writers of articles in professional journals. Most of them are curious to learn the way religion works in the world and why people are attracted to and follow certain kinds of religious practices.
Christian Science is commonly studied at CESNUR because it is categorized by most scholars of religion as one of the ‘new religions’. Defining ‘new religions’ is often a topic of conversation and debate, but in general the definition includes anything that is not mainstream or well understood in most parts of the world. All of the nineteenth-century American-born religions are considered ‘new religions,’ even though they are now over 150 years old. The main reason for this categorization is that they are all considered distinct enough from mainstream Christianity that they warrant special attention.
The majority of the participants at CESNUR are not adherents of the faiths they study, but as a Christian Scientist I find myself between two worlds. Christian Science can be understood as both ‘non-mainstream’ (thus a topic for CESNUR study) and deeply Christian (thus, not a topic for CESNUR study) simultaneously. Those of us who are Christian Scientists and make presentations naturally emphasize the Christian identity and source of Christian Science. In the context of the CESNUR studies, it is understood as one of many distinct religious traditions from around the world that were established either a couple of centuries ago or just a few years ago.
For the first time, three Christian Scientists presented papers at this year’s conference, which was held in early July in Jerusalem. Mine was first, a theological study on Mary Baker Eddy’s exegesis on the New Jerusalem. Sue Searle presented a paper on both the physical and metaphysical meaning of Jerusalem as a sacred site. And finally Robin Harragin spoke on the events and influences late in Mary Baker Eddy’s career that led to the spread of Christian Science beyond the USA.
We all agreed that we learn as much from the research for our presentations as we do from other talks. I am intrigued to learn of some of the similarities and strange differences among this rich multitude of religious beliefs and practices. I confess that I am happy to discover similarities with my own faith, but I still squirm when I learn of others that differ the most from my own religious ideas. I won’t mention their names, as I don’t want others to categorize me in the same vein. But I continue to learn from seasoned “new religion” scholars’ examples how to listen for something to respect. My negative reactions are usually due to my own ignorance of the meaning of others’ beliefs and behaviors. Those who are more informed than I seem to ask more insightful questions and bring out the reasons for respecting those I have not understood.
A wonderful part about practicing the Golden Rule in religious studies is that others listen to and learn respectfully from me. It exposes and removes my own hidden prejudices as well as doing the same for others. You may want to join us in Taiwan next year!
By Madelon Maupin, MTS
Unity comes in lots of shapes and sizes. The media makes us aware daily and hourly of the need for unity within the political arena, or between Sunni’s and Shiites, or labor and management and dozens of other areas.
Unity in the Christian world has been so challenging through the centuries that the ecumenical movement was actually started to address historic divisions. One wonders, with all the various denominations or communions, if Christianity can still find ways to unify in order to achieve a greater good. For example, there is growing evidence of the powerful force for good at the community level when Christians from multiple backgrounds agree on how to solve common issues. Is there a place for Christian unity on an even larger scale?
In my work on the Faith and Order Commission of Southern California, we’ve taken up this topic of unity in an area that had previously been quite unknown to me. First, a bit of background. In 1965, Rome (represented by Pope Paul VI of the Catholic Church) and Constantinople (represented by Patriarch Athenagoras of the Orthodox Church) had a ‘game changing’ meeting that laid to rest centuries of differences called The Great Schism begun in 1054. Talk about Christians coming together. They still retain their unique practices and theology but the acrimony of centuries was finally laid to rest.
Similarly, within the Orthodox tradition, there was a shattering split in the fifth century over the human and divine nature of Christ, resulting in the Orthodox church fracturing into two parts: Eastern and Oriental. While they continue to have their differences, just as the Catholics and Orthodox do, there was a hope that after meetings in the 1960’s, this great schism within the Orthodox faith would be reconciled. But it still hasn’t happened, unlike the Catholic/Orthodox coming together.
Our Faith and Order Commission has been discussing these efforts at reconciliation, or the lack thereof, within the Orthodox community, and crafting a document that will be sent to all Christian churches in Southern California encouraging the healing of this breach.
While this seems far from the familiarity of my own church, a Christian Scientist isn’t in ecumenical conversations as a historian but as a healer. Knowing little about Orthodox beliefs doesn’t preclude a student of the Bible from knowing how to pray for unity. Jesus’ many calls for unity among the brethren because of each one’s status as a child of God, is clear in statements like this one: “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word that they may all be one” (John 17:20,21).
The writer of Ephesians builds on Jesus’ prayer by explaining what binds all of God’s children together and even conveys the promise of what such unity will bring. “ Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future" (Eph. 4:3,4).
While theological discussions on other denominations’ efforts to resolve internal differences might seem far from home, our prayers for unity can help to lift thought to new solutions, new opportunities for reconciliation. And such prayer comes back to bless us in countless ways, not to mention the object of our prayers. This is the real work of ecumenism, and that takes away all the unfamiliarity one might otherwise feel. You know how to pray!
By Susan Humble, Ph.D.
News Flash: “World’s Top Religious Leaders Issue Rare Joint Appeal”
Last week, 22 leaders of the world’s religions gathered in Norway to make a joint appeal to people of all faiths “to make friends across religions.” (Carol Kuruvilla reporter for the Huffington Post 6/15/2017). Each leader stressed the vital importance of this new initiative called, “Make Friends.” The list of participants includes the Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Archbishop Antje Jackelen, and Ven. Khandro Rinpoche. Sikhism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity were represented in this joint appeal.
Here is a sampling of their statements that I highly recommend you listen to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRoUlohRiKQ.
The conference was organized by Rabbi Dr. Alon Goshen-Gottstein of the Elijah Institute. He shared that these diverse religious leaders came together as a “testimony of what they have learned, a way of being in this world that does not base itself on competition, hate, or violence, but on friendship, trust, growing, and sharing together for the common welfare of the world.”
Why should I care about these religious leaders meeting and encouraging me to create friendships with others? First, they have taken very complex and difficult issues and focused on their key solution--that of creating friendship; in other words, getting to know people (the other). Second, they are sharing the wisdom learned from their experiences as they have been walking their talk.
In listening to their statements, I began to grasp the importance of their coming together and sharing and thinking more deeply about the importance of friendship at this time in our world. For me, it is calling for more than an attitude of tolerance with others, but rather a demand for active engagement in developing friendships. There are certainly many ways to develop friendships, and I found these religious leaders sharing from their experiences very helpful.
How am I going to proceed? Prayer, listening, and being open to new opportunities. I have learned from previous experiences that loving God more and desiring to love and get to know my neighbor brings opportunities for new encounters.
If you are interested in learning more about their meeting and the initiative, they held a press conference that can be viewed by continuing past their statements. At the end of the press conference Rabbi Dr. Alon Goshen-Gottstein mentioned that a toolkit on developing friendships was created. That toolkit can be downloaded at http://elijah-interfaith.org/. I was curious about what he wrote, so I downloaded the document. In reading it I found it includes several practical suggestions on expanding friendships with those of different religions.
Please share your impressions and takeaways of the comments by these important religious leaders, and ways you are, or may, act on their ideas.
By Shirley Paulson, CS, MTS
As I was browsing through my ecumenical twitter connections this morning, I ran across some interesting comments and links. I want to share just a few here to indicate the ideas and issues other ecumenists are thinking and talking about.
The link to the google doc is: https://docs.google.com/document/d/18363h8Sx48vJwYicA-coZWvFDi4m-Ecv35_puzEbj0M/edit?usp=sharing
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)