Winter 2020 Vol. 55.1
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The essays in this special issue of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies arose out of the work of the “Violence in an Age of Genocide” study group, part of the National Council of Churches Faith and Order Convening Table. In light of the proliferation of extrajudicial killings of people of color in the United States—Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, and too many more to name—the majority of these essays address racialized violence against Black people in the U.S. Similarly, these essays are also often directed toward the “white church,” broadly defined, and its need to engage these issues more critically, both theologically and practically. As we reflected on these tragedies, however, another crisis began to form—or, rather, to enter a new stage—on America’s southern border as Latinx families continue to be separated, with frightened children held in makeshift internment camps. Therefore, a few essays also address the racialized violence associated with the U.S. immigration system.
Interfaith and Racist Violence and Genocide: Definitions, Contexts, and Theology
Religious communities have historically been involved to one extent or another in genocide. Christian churches are no exception. Sometimes they are complicit in the violence; sometimes they are its victims. In recent years, when extreme violence seems to confront us continually, whether in one place or another, whether at a particular moment of crisis or painfully over time, many have been quick to designate the violence as genocide. But, do they meet the high bar set by the international community’s definition of genocide? And, what is the church’s response to be? This essay seeks to start a conversation aimed at answering these questions.
This essay analyzes what is involved in structures and patterns of racism that are obvious to one community and yet easily overlooked by another. It contends that this has to do partly with Western culture’s broader postmodern difficulty with truth and partly with the cherished legitimacy of the very institutions that are subtly affected by racism. At a more theological level, it argues that our often unwitting involvement in structural racism may make us susceptible to deception and self-deception regarding the truth about racism in American life. Knowing the truth and exposing our sins against the truth are important if the churches of the United States are going to contribute to the healing of American racism.
This essay explores the question of what makes a martyr by placing the early Christian discourse on martyrdom in conversation with the protest and commemoration practices surrounding recent killings of persons of color by United States law enforcement. It argues that white Christians, who are often skeptical of the application of martyrial language to the victims of such racialized violence, ought to be open to the theological significance of such practices. Doing so will allow us to learn new ways of understanding and participating in God’s justice and victory over the forces of death in our world.
There is hardly any disagreement in calling racism evil, but how can we express this theologically when racism reaches beyond personal, individual acts to a pre-existing, all- encompassing system? In Catholic theology, language of sin does not relate to the reality of systematic racism. This essay proposes recovering an understanding of ritual purity that lies at the root of the Christian tradition. While Christian theology has never been entirely comfortable with language of purity, the historical and sociological elements help explain the mechanisms by which systematic racism functions as a structure of sin.
The term “racial reconciliation” has been rejected by many committed anti-racist Christians for multiple reasons. Racial harmony and equity never existed in the United States and, therefore, cannot be restored. Furthermore, popular understandings of reconciliation imply that all sides must admit guilt, when in reality white people created the myth of white supremacy to further their economic, political, and social goals. Th is essay admits that, while these issues are serious, reconciliation is central to Christian theology and unity. The writer describes two essential components for reclaiming the concept for use in promoting racial equity and unity.
The Intersection of Palestine with Ferguson, Missouri
James R. Thomas
Is there intersectionality between the batt es waged against state-sponsored violence and oppression on the streets of Gaza and the streets of Ferguson, Missouri? This essay examines and compares events in Gaza called Operation Protective Edge to a police crackdown on protest movements in Ferguson, both occurring in 2014. The military action in Gaza launched by the Israel Defense Forces was a reaction to the murder of three teens in Hebron. In Ferguson 18- year-old Michael Brown was shot by white police officer Darren Wilson. The murder of Michael Brown triggered a national wakefulness to the ways policing affects communities of color. Brown’s death came less than a month after a New York Police Department officer used a chokehold on Eric Garner in New York City. The deaths of these two black men was a breaking point in a summer where telephone video and eyewitness descriptions of police violence drew national attention. In Ferguson, protesters rallied by the Black Lives Matter movement ignited the Ferguson Uprising, a series of protests where residents—the preponderance of them black, many of them working-class or low-income—called attention to questions that had long been present in parts of the St. Louis suburb: poverty, inequality, and police violence. The protests were met with police who were wearing elite killing gear similar to that of the Israel Defense Force. The Ferguson protests both added momentum to the national Black Lives Matter movement and generated offense from people angered by TV coverage of protesters who hurled rocks and insults at police. The end game of policing in Gaza and Ferguson is the same. The objective is to suppress the right to free assembly, expression, and association. The mission is to stop unarmed people from protesting against their oppression.
Statements on immigration by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Council of Churches, and the latter’s member communions all counter a simplistic moral distinction between those who immigrate to the United States legally and those who come illegally by addressing the social and economic factors spurring migration, identifying the flaws in the U.S. immigration system, and calling for solidarity between citizens and immigrants, regardless of legal status. The immigration and refugee policies of the Trump administration, however, reveal that the rhetorical distinction between “legal” and “illegal” has less to do with the law than it does with the arbitrary exercise of power and reinforcing racial hierarchies. The churches must learn to address this darker side of anti-immigrant rhetoric more adequately.
This redacted essay provides a vision of the Reign (basileia) of God in response to the crisis of the mass incarceration of migrants, particularly those considered “undocumented.” It argues that, created in the image of the triune God, we are made to live in vínculos (intimate ties that bind), or perichoretic ties, with our neighbors. Mass incarceration violates these ties. Drawing on biblical notions of justice, particularly to the stranger, this essay ultimately argues that the church is called to be a hospitable community of holistic vínculos in eschatological anticipation of the realm.
Interreligious Dialogue? Interfaith Relations? Or, Perhaps Some Other Term?
Christopher Evan Longhurst
In the mix of discussions on diverse religions in dialogue, the terms “inter-faith” and “interreligious” seem to be used rather arbitrarily. Most people involved in interreligious dialogue and interfaith relations fail to distinguish clearly between them, and even the plethora of literature on interreligious and interfaith studies uses these terms rather fluidly and interchangeably. Specialized lexica also offer no clear distinction in their meanings.
This reflection seeks to offer some amplification of the terms “interreligious dialogue” and “interfaith relations,” asking what, if anything, differentiates them. Are these terms alone sufficient for a comprehensive and inclusive global dialogue around diverse religions?
A Roman Catholic, I recently joined a Muslim group on their pilgrimage to the Holy Land, along with my Muslim husband of fifty years. The trip included visits to sacred sites in Israel, Jordan, and Turkey. Our first visit was to what Jews refer to as the Temple Mount and Muslims as the Haram esh-Sharif or the Al-Aqsa Compound. Located on a hill in the Old City of Jerusalem, surrounded by massive stone walls, it has for thousands of years been venerated as a holy site by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. However, religious sentiments associated with the site are being overshadowed by political tensions.
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Summer 2019 Vol. 54.3
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Not many scholars of religion can claim to have ever had their work appear on the New York Times’ “Best Seller List,” but Stephen Prothero, a professor of American religion at Boston University, can, for that is where his 2007 book wound up: Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—and Doesn’t.1 One of the book’s greatest merits is its demonstration of just how dangerous for humanity religious illiteracy is. The dangers are compounded in the United States, furthermore, by the fact that it is an ethnically and religiously diverse country, as well as being the world’s third largest country and its oldest democracy, which amplifies the possibility for religious misunderstanding and its legal and political ramifications. If we wed to these factors the reality that the U.S. is home to some of the world’s best hospitals, which attract patients and their families from all corners of the globe, the issue at hand becomes even clearer: The consequences of the combination of religious diversity and religious illiteracy for the contemporary health care profession are serious and many.
Teilhard de Chardin and World Religions*
Teilhard de Chardin had a broad vision of religion and evolution. Religion was less a human phenomenon for Teilhard than a cosmological one, serving a vital role in evolution by orienting cosmic life toward ultimate fulfillment. In this respect, he felt that world religions are still too tribal and separate to satisfy adequately the spiritual needs of the earth. Hence, a new convergence of world religions is needed for a renewed spirit of the earth. This essay examines Teilhard’s insights on the convergence of world religions and his notion that Christianity is a religion of evolution, normative of evolution, and thus the form of a new religion of the earth.
The rise of religious disaffiliation represents one of the most significant events of the last 100 years in religious history. Catholicism in the United States has experienced the greatest “losses” associated with this movement, but Catholic theology has not been curious enough about what sorts of people disaffiliating Catholics are becoming. Scholars such as Tom Beaudoin and Patrick Hornbeck have proposed new directions for theological research by tracking not just what “brokers of official Catholicism” count as normative but also what ordinary and disaffiliating Catholics take to be normative out of their own formation and everyday life. This essay explores the experience of disaffiliation through a research portrait of a conversation between one affiliated religious educator and his disaffiliated former student. The study provides a compelling way into the larger contested conversation concerning disaffiliation. These two perspectives—of the affiliated religious educator and of the disaffiliated former student—offer insight on a growing but underrepresented experience in contemporary theological research. The essay suggests that positive religious life and learning can lead beyond affiliation with the Catholic Church and that, when disaffiliated persons are engaged in conversation, we can learn from them. The purpose of this study, however, is not to find a solution to the “problem” of disaffiliation but to propose a more affirming way to speak of and with persons and groups disaffiliating from conventional religious communities.
The juridical aspect of ecumenism is very important. A sign of reception of ecumenical ecclesiology is its integration with canon law. This essay evaluates the value of the Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium as an instrument in their hands of the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome for promoting unity between Orthodox and Catholics. It contrasts it with the ecclesiology of the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue on unity. It also shows that in many important points the ecumenical value of this code of law is limiting more than facilitating and reflects the need to integrate the results of the ecumenical dialogue with canonical legislation.
The topic of race and violence in the United States brings to mind an array of images: lynchings, race riots of various kinds, police brutality, violent crime within some minority communities, and so on. In most of these cases, the word “violence” refers to actions of serious physical harm—a mob committing murder, the burning of a car, the beating of a suspect in custody, a shooting in a drug deal gone bad. While these examples certainly warrant the word “violence,” they only scratch the surface of violence related to race. Describing them with that one word without further comment can obscure important distinctions about the nature of violence related to race and racism. What follows hopes to contribute to greater clarity by drawing upon a key resource pertaining to violence in the ecumenical theological and ethical traditions of Christianity—the just war tradition. We will find, however, that true clarity about violence and racism requires a recognition of the issue’s profound ambiguity.
Medellín through Methodist Eyes
This essay examines the ecumenical aspects of the 1968 conference of Latin American Bishops in Medellín. It begins with the historical context of the conference, showing how Medellín, by focusing on specifically Latin American issues, was a major break from tradition set by previous conferences. It then examines José Míguez Bonino’s reading of the conference, highlighting its ecumenical currents and its focus on liberation of the poor. It discusses the impact of Medellín on the Latin American Protestant ecumenical and evangelical movements, followed by an analysis of how Methodists are to understand themselves in light of Medellín, with a focus on Medellín as an affirmation of the Latin American, catholic, and Wesleyan aspects of Methodist theology.
Explorations and Responses
When studying the great ideas that have changed or could transform the human and the world, thoughts emerge from verba et scripta, thoughts that try to pinpoint fragments of truth, in order to give birth to an exit from roaming into the labyrinth of our microcosm. There is a struggle against egocentric individualism, in order to distance ourselves from the pursuit, the disturbance, the root of the problem and its solution—from the constant “why?” Each era has its own historical background and its own interpretation.
The Ecumenism of the Polyhedron: A New Ecclesiology?
Raniero Cantalamessa, ofmcapp, Translated from Italian by Marsha Daigle Williamson
The image of a polyhedron, a three-dimensional body with many angles and surfaces such as a prism, was used by Pope Francis for the first time in Evangelii gaudium in a general ecclesiological sense to describe the Church as a whole.1 He used it in the address he gave at the Pentecostal Church of Reconciliation in Caserta—but this time in terms of the ecumenical dialogue among the various Christian churches. It is worth listening to its central part again:
This essay shares some of the aspects of my research journey and the pedagogical approaches implemented during the Islamic Guidance Programme (IGP). The IGP is a faith-based, spiritually embedded intervention that has been designed to cater to the rehabilitative needs of Muslims charged under extremism legislation, as well as those who appear vulnerable to faith-based radical extreme ideology. A spiritually based critical theological approach is adopted throughout the whole process of teaching. As a spiritually based intervention, IGP has its own theological foundations, epistemological principles, and unique teaching techniques that need to be used during the process of rehabilitation of a selected group of participants. This essay presents a summary of these theological, empirical, and educational aspects.
Elie Wiesel: Teacher, Mentor, and Friend ed. by Alan L. Berger (review)
Eugene J. Fisher
Confronting Hate: The Untold Story of the Rabbi Who Stood Up for Human Rights, Racial Justice, and Religious Reconciliation by Deborah Hart Strober, Gerald S. Strober (review)
Eugene J. Fisher
The Sufi and the Friar: A Mystical Account of Two Men in the Abode of Islam by Minlib Dallh (review)
The Divine Christ: Paul, the Lord Jesus, and the Scriptures of Israel by David B. Capes (review)
Glenn B. Siniscalchi
Spring 2019 Vol. 54.2
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“Living Unity: Ecumenical Shared Ministries” was the theme of the North American Academy of Ecumenists’ 2018 annual conference, exploring forms of ecumenical relationships at the local level in Canada and the United States. Five speakers and a panel of representatives from Ecumenical Shared Ministries (ESM’s) informed the conversation among some three dozen participants gathered for the weekend.
Space for the Other: Ecumenical Shared Ministries
Sandra Beardsall, Mitzi J. Budde, William P. McDonald
Ecumenical Shared Ministries (ESM’s) combine two or more traditions in a variety of contexts and for as many reasons. The space such congregations share suggests resources for an ESM ecclesiology. Ecumenical parishes live with their multiple traditions in a mutual “otherness” that invites reciprocity, mutual indwelling, and communion. Their shared space—“disruptive” of the norms of single-traditioned churches—marks a shared practice of both acknowledging and dying to boundaries across a history that becomes necessarily experimental. Finally, ESM’s witness to the church’s cruciform body of self-giving—in this case, of one tradition to the other—in a sharing of gifts and graces.
Sharing of life and faith is not a question of just occasionally joining hands in a joint project, entered into perhaps once a year. Rather, it is a question of renewed relationships and awareness of one another precisely as Christians. Congregational ecumenism means sharing our faith, our tradition, our prayer, our play, and our mission in the place where we live together. It involves listening, learning, acting, and communicating. The importance of local ecumenism is seen immediately when one reflects that it is groups of people more than sets of doctrinal propositions; it is communities of belief more than systems of belief, which ultimately need to be reconciled.
This essay considers the life work of Catholic Reformer Teresa of Ávila through the unusual lens of the vocational theology of two key Protestant Reformers. It aims to show that although Martin Luther’s and John Calvin’s shared opposition to Catholic monasticism was closely connected to their notion of calling, even certain post-Tridentine monastic traditions, such as that of the founder of the Spanish Discalced Carmelites, might be particularly well understood through Protestant-Reformer articulations. The project begins with an exploration of Luther’s and Calvin’s theology of vocation and general implications for sixteenth-century monasticism, continuing with monastic traditions that lent themselves well to the Christian practice of vocation, both in general and among Spanish female religious. From there, Teresa of Ávila’s specific vocational context is studied from within a Lutheran or Calvinist perspective. This seemingly antithetical vocabulary contributes a concluding suggestion that reevaluating seemingly paradoxical elements of early-modern-schism Christianity as potentially meaningful points of connection can contribute both to our historical understanding and to current ecumenical efforts between Catholics and Protestants.
The segregation between faith communities is better explained by exploring the socio-cultural frameworks with which people identify because of their value orientations than by reference to doctrinal disagreements. In most faith communities, not only do such values as charity or justice count, but also important are the sacredness and authority of traditions, people, and places, as well as ethnic recognizability and loyalty to the ingroup. These latter normative orientations explain why it is so difficult for faith communities to engage in ecumenical processes of unification. Given this, the essay explores two sociopsychologically viable ways in which ecumenical unity may be fostered.
Toward a Christian Peacemaking Approach to Jerusalem
Julie Schumacher Cohen
The future of Jerusalem for two peoples and three faiths remains a basis of conflict in the Holy Land. In the context of the Trump Administration’s 2018 move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, this essay lays out and critiques a key motivator—Christian Zionist theologies, including dispensationalism as a subset—while also critiquing non-Zionist replacement theologies. Rejecting these different projections of Christian-centric solutions as insufficiently universalistic or pluralistic, the essay also examines contrasting positions of a variety of other Christian bodies and leaders, including heads of Jerusalem churches. It concludes by offering a Christian peacemaking approach grounded in humility that neither sidelines Palestinian claims nor subsumes or severs Jewish ones but respects the core narratives of Jerusalem as a matter of justice.
Bahá’í Contributions to Interfaith Relations
The Bahá’í Faith “claims not to destroy or belittle previous Revelations, but to connect, unify, and fulfill them,” according to Shoghi Effendi (Bahá’í “Guardian,” 1921–57). Seena Fazel proposed “three bridges that can link the Bahá’í community to other religions in dialogue”: “ethical,” “intellectual,” and “mystical-spiritual.” The Universal House of Justice (elected international Bahá’í council) addressed its public “Letter to the World’s Religious Leaders” (April, 2002) to promote consensus “that God is one and that . . . religion is likewise one.” Shoghi Effendi’s declaration that the Bahá’í Faith “proclaims all established religions to be divine in origin, identical in their aims, complementary in their functions, continuous in their purpose, indispensable in their value to mankind” potentially can promote ideal interfaith relations through reciprocal recognition and respect.
EXPLORATIONS AND RESPONSES
The “Golden Rule”: The “Best Rule”
The “Golden Rule”—“Love your neighbor as yourself”—is doubtless the most widely known and affirmed ethical principle worldwide. At the same time, it has its serious, quasi-serious, and jocund critics. There are also variations of the Golden Rule, such as the so-called “Silver Rule” (the negative articulation: “You should not do to your neighbor what you do not want done to yourself”) and the extrapolated “Platinum Rule” version1 (“You should treat your neighbor as she or he wishes to be treated”). It is worthwhile to spend some energy on each of these “variations” and critics, but most of all I would like to reflect on the meaning, implications, and applications of the Golden Rule for the twenty-first century.
A Palestinian Theology of Liberation: The Bible, Justice, and the Palestine-Israel Conflict by Naim Stifan Ateek (review)
Lilian Calles Barger
The Life, Legacy, and Theology of M. M. Thomas: “Only Paraticipants Earn the Right to Be Prophets.” ed. by Jessica M. Athyal, George Zachariah, Monica Melancthon (review)
Gandhi in a Canadian Context: Relationships between Mahatma Gandhi and Canada ed. by Alex Damm (review)
Reid B. Locklin
Praise the Name of the Lord: Meditations on the Names of God in the Qur’an and the Bible by Michael Louis Fitzgerald, and: Dialogue of the Heart: Christian-Muslim Stories of Encounter by Martin McGee (review)
The Wittenberg Concord: Creating Space for Dialogue by Gordon A. Jensen (review)
Religion and Faith in Africa: Confessions of an Animist by Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orabotor (review)
Eric J. Montgomery