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
On March 23, I introduced my ongoing efforts to improve and elaborate on the way I describe mine and other Christian Scientists’ engagement in social justice. This blog post is a continuation of those efforts. Here, I’ll share some observations about role(s) that The Christian Science Monitor can play in social justice and ecumenism.
In that March blog, I discussed the Biblical origins of social justice, as found both in the prophetic tradition* of the Hebrew Bible, as well as in the parables of Jesus in the Christian Bible. Here, I will note that in an increasingly secular world, the Biblical basis for social justice is sometimes forgotten. Definitions and implications of the words “social justice” are often hotly contested.** But that does not mean that religious people should not be involved; indeed, in today’s interconnected world, believing that one isn't involved is an avoidance of considering the broader social implications and effects of personal choices and actions.
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, wrote: “Certain elements in human nature would undermine the civic, social, and religious rights and laws of nations and peoples, striking at liberty, human rights, and self-government — and this, too, in the name of God, justice, and humanity! These elements assail even the new-old doctrines of the prophets and of Jesus and his disciples. History shows that error repeats itself until it is exterminated. Surely the wisdom of our forefathers is not added but subtracted from whatever sways the sceptre of self and pelf over individuals, weak provinces, or peoples. Here our hope anchors in God who reigns, and justice and judgment are the habitation of His throne forever.” (Message for 1900, p.10)
Along with offering that observation, Mary Baker Eddy also supported and modeled examples of effective engagement in social justice. One of those was her founding of The Christian Science Monitor in 1908. The “social” quality of the news organization is its care about and coverage of national and international news in family-accessible ways. The “justice” it does may be seen in its motto “to injure no man, but to bless all mankind” and in its corresponding handling of stories and editorials.
Conflict resolution classes in seminary teach that, along with prayer, essential steps in healing any social conflict include listening to diverse narratives with a sincere desire to understand each perspective, promoting informed and respectful engagement between parties, putting people in direct contact with the humanity of the "other" side instead of cultivating an image of "them" as inhuman, sub-human, or homogeneous, and so on. These steps are so essential that any individual or publication who engages in them is “doing” quite a bit. Therefore when the Monitor engages in this type of coverage, it is not just a distant observer; is an active participant in and model of social justice best practices.
Along with news stories, the Monitor also includes editorials that recommend moral actions, such as truth telling, listening, gentleness, trust, anti-corruption, and reducing anger in ways that lead toward solutions. The Monitor also regularly highlights people who are making a difference through working with at-risk individuals, animals, communities, and environments; addressing issues such as poverty, racism, violence, addiction, and suicide; as well as improving education, employment opportunities, food and water supplies, etc. These editorials and examples may inspire people to do something similar. However, the Monitor does not endorse any one political action or organization and the Christian Science Church does not dictate specific social justice stances or actions to members.
This socially just approach by the Monitor is what makes it so appreciated in ecumenical circles. Prominent theologians today echo Karl Barth’s assertion that one must “do theology” while staying abreast of the news. Fellow Christians are thankful that Mary Baker Eddy provided tools for doing this work in such a healing manner.
Here are few ways that I have recently observed the Monitor being well promoted and received by non-Christian Scientists in ecumenical environments: A professor of Religion and Conflict Transformation had students read and discuss articles and examples from the Monitor during class every week. Attendees at the National Workshop on Christian Unity (NWCU) thankfully took and read free copies of the Monitor. Members of the National Council of Churches (NCC) Joint Action and Advocacy for Justice convening table welcomed references to Monitor articles on social justice issues. A Boston ecumenical cohort convenor suggested that all members accept a gift subscription to The Christian Science Monitor to observe the Christian way it handles the news.
Have you seen any other examples of how The Christian Science Monitor has operated effectively in social justice and ecumenical environments? We’d love to hear.
*Note that the prophetic tradition of the Hebrew Bible is the collective work of Jewish prophets that rose up over the years. Abraham and Moses were considered prophets, as were Elijah and Elisha. Other prophets have whole books of the Bible named after them: the three “major” prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and the twelve “minor” prophets are Hosea through Malachi. Each of these prophets said significant things about how a just society should operate, and Jesus referenced their work.
**In the United States, the fourteenth amendment--which guarantees any person “equal protection of the laws”--was vigorously debated before passing in 1868 and since then has been the basis for more legal cases than any other amendment. This is partly because of the broad economic, cultural, educational, religious, and linguistic arenas in which social justice issues are pertinent.
By Monica Karal (Guest blogger), and Susan Humble, Ph.D.
Monica attended the National Workshop on Christian Unity in April and was inspired by what she learned and her encounters with attendees from various denominations. During her conversations she became aware of varying views on participation in the Eucharist and wanted to share what she was thinking and praying about.
Faith, hope, love. That was the sacred atmosphere at the 49th National Workshop on Christian Unity (NWCU), held in Washington, D.C. in April 2018. This yearly event honors the spirit of ecumenism by "celebrating the unity which already exists among Christians and searching for ways to overcome the divisions that remain." (http://nwcu.org/who-we-are)
As I contemplated the above statement in prayerful preparation for the NWCU, I asked myself: What’s the most important thing for me to keep in mind during this special opportunity to meet with Christians from so many different denominations? Pondering this question in light of the teachings of our Master, Christ Jesus, I came to feel that the most important thing was for me to express love.
One meaningful way I can express love for my fellow Christians is to take a genuine interest in the issues important to them.
An issue that continues to be of concern to many Christians is the question of who is permitted to receive holy communion in churches. Some churches will serve the Eucharist only to individuals who are members of their denomination and meet other requirements.
Sincere efforts have been made by NWCU planners to shed light on this issue. Workshop Co-Chair The Rev. David Simmons (ObJN), explained in this year's NWCU liturgies booklet that years ago, Catholic and Protestant attendees left the NWCU site at worship time to have liturgy and communion in their respective churches. But for the past several years, two liturgies have been held on site. All conference participants are welcome at both (although one group can’t receive communion at the other group's services).
Rev. Simmons writes, "While it is true that there is still pain over the fact that we cannot receive the sacrament in each other's services, I have come to see our common celebrations as a commitment to future unity." This represents progress for NWCU participants, who are often leaders in their faith communities.
During the NWCU, I made a point of learning more about this issue. I didn’t know much about it, having grown up in a Jewish home and become a Christian in adulthood. I listened with interest to those who shared their views about this issue both in plenary and in informal conversations during meals and breaks. I now understand that churches who restrict communion to their own members feel that it isn’t right to offer the Eucharist to those who don’t fully ascribe to their church's beliefs and practices. At the same time, I now understand that those not allowed to receive communion at another denomination's mass may yearn to feel included in this central sacrament which they feel should be freely offered to all believers.
Seeing how important this issue is for many Christians has led me to feel compassion for all involved, and I feel moved to pray about it to support progress and healing. I'm finding that praying with the Lord's Prayer is a good place to begin.
The following passage in Luke’s account of the Lord’s Supper is significant to Christians of all stripes:
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
—Luke 22:14-20 (NIV)
All Christians, including Christian Scientists, are included in the sacred calling to think and pray deeply about Jesus' call to his followers to eat of this bread and drink of this cup. In his sermon where he explains that he is "the bread of life," Jesus says, "... it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven." (see John 6:32, NRSV).
I trust that God in His infinite wisdom and goodness is speaking to each Christian and revealing the deep meaning of the Eucharist in a way that best promotes our growth in grace, our path to redemption, and our ability to follow our beloved Master.
We may not all be united in our liturgies or sacramental practices. Yet all Christians are embraced in the divine calling to partake of our unity with Christ and pray for the full manifestation of Jesus' promises. I have a growing conviction that this collective prayer will bring us in closer communion with Christ and thus with each other.
By Susan Humble, PhD
On April 19th, 18 Christian Scientists from Canada and around the U.S. gathered together in Silver Spring, Maryland at the National Workshop on Christian Unity (NWCU). It was the largest group of Christian Scientists to attend this annual workshop, and it was noticed by other attendees. We felt warmly welcomed by the organizers and many others.
Why were we there? What drew us to attend was our common interest in wanting to learn how to talk with others about Christian Science and learn more about other denominations. Christian Scientists from Canada and ten different states across the country attended. We all learned that to practice ecumenism requires love, prayer, learning, and practice, and more prayer.
There were several highlights that were meaningful to me. The first one was the rare opportunity the eighteen of us had to gather together for nearly five hours on Monday afternoon. Our topic for discussion was “Living Love: Cherishing how Christian Science and Christianity are one.” Shirley Paulson and I shared several points on why some say Christian Science is not Christian, and how we can help lift this misconception. We had an open question and answer session that included the importance of sharing ideas from the Bible rather than starting by quoting Mrs. Eddy and of beginning conversations by focusing on what you have in common rather than differences.
An Evangelical friend of Shirley’s stopped in to share a few ideas on how he came to understand, appreciate, and now correct people’s misconceptions of Christian Science. His support for Christian Science, which came from numerous discussions with Shirley, is an inspiring story and a true testament to loving and sharing with your neighbor; in other words, engaging in ecumenism.
One attendee shared, “I think our beginning session was outstanding, it so prepared me for the openness and Love I needed to express while there.”
One of the primary purposes I attend this workshop is to talk to attendees from other Christian denominations. I began thinking of these conversations as “ecumenical encounters.” I find rich opportunities in most discussions to watch God work, to let Love lead, to learn about and from others, and to share something about Christian Science. Several people said to me, “I didn’t realize that about Christian Science.”
Another important lesson I learned is that “ecumenical encounters” do not always require much verbal communication to be effective. One experience that I had involved a Catholic priest I had met at a couple other meetings. He previously had no interest in talking with me. He and I were attending the same workshop, and he had to leave the room because of a physical challenge. As I began to pray I left the room to see if I could be of assistance in any way. I stood near him in silence, praying, and smiling at him. I asked if there was anything I could do for him. When he was ready to go back into the room he thanked me multiple times for caring enough to come out to help him. We’ve had pleasant interchanges since then.
I recognize that most, if not all the readers of this blog have experienced inspiring “ecumenical encounters.” We would love to hear one of your meaningful experiences, so we have a chance to learn from each other.
By Maryl Walters
I’ve been involved in the interfaith community in St. Louis for about 25 years. It has been educational and enriching all along the way. Let me share with you an example of the kind of interfaith experience you might have in your community. This occurred a week ago. It was the annual meeting of the Interfaith Partnership (IP).
I’ve served on the Cabinet of IP for a number of years, but the meeting was open to everyone interested. It was held in a Reform Jewish temple. I’ve been to the temple before and it is a warm, contemporary space with beautiful stained glass windows. As I walked in, I realized that the 50 or so people I knew out of about 100 in attendance, were people I would never have met if it weren’t for interfaith. They have become dear friends over the years and enriched my life in many ways.
The meeting opened with a prayer given by a Shi’a Muslim doctor whose mosque is in my neighborhood. (See the picture above.) Business was accomplished quickly, and then the visiting speaker, Rev. Robert Chase, presented wonderful ideas on the topic: “Courageous Conversations.” His recently published book, Beyond the Comma: Life at the Intersection, provided a framework for moving us past our sometimes awkward feelings and fears toward dialogue that is more authentic and compassionate.
Rev. Chase gave a surprising example of misperceptions: a group of ordinary Pakistanis who were asked to describe Americans in one word. Their word: “terrorists.” And of course, a group of Americans were asked to describe Pakistanis in one word. They came up with the same word: “terrorists.” How important for us to actually meet others and get to know them so we don’t categorize them in such mistaken ways.
The audience was asked if we had ever missed an opportunity to challenge a situation where we observed racial slurs or actions, for instance. We all thought of times when we wished we had spoken up, or stepped up. He encouraged us to be attentive to these experiences and learn from them—to think how we might respond differently in the future.
Rev. Chase encouraged us, when someone makes a negative or disparaging comment to resist a direct argument but to say, “I’m sorry, but that’s just not my experience. And then share a personal experience that shows the humanity of whomever is being disparaged. He spoke of creating intersections, not boundaries, and how important it is to keep listening and keep talking with others.
In fact, I’ve learned over the years that the Golden Rule of ecumenical and interfaith relationships is: Listen as you would be listened to. Know the other as you would be known. And of course, love them as you would wish for them to love you.
How does The First Church of Christ, Scientist participate in ecumenical affairs?
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)