Matthew Perry on Ecumenical Dialogue

Within Christianity today, there exists a multiplicity of ideas that have been labeled and are daily applied to the conversations we have, the people we speak to or know of, the sermons we hear and sadly, often the subconscious decisions we make concerning whom to love more fully. When we are engaged in a discussion about Christian faith and belief, we often have an idea in our heads about what we think the other person needs to say in order for their sincerity of faith to be validated. For many politically-conservative Christians, this means that a Christian must demonstrate hostility to progressive Christianity in order for their relationship with Christ to be authentic and real. If the other person partaking in the conversation fails to do this or expresses a sympathetic stance towards progressive Christianity, the conservation for the conservative must then become an effort to evangelize the progressive since he/she ‘must not know Christ.’ For many progressives, their ability to listen often comes to an immediate halt when an opinion is expressed that is often associated with politically-conservative Christianity (e.g. the idea that homosexuality is immoral). These examples are drawn from my own experience and the experience of others I know. There are innumerable more. As CANA’s website states, “…the CANA Initiative is comprised of Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Mainline Protestant, Orthodox, and other Christians…” CANA’s efforts, as I understand and will attempt to embody them in practice, are for us to set aside all preconceived notions of the other and be attentive to the need for a collective interest in ecumenical dialogue.

Thomas Merton, a beautiful Roman Catholic monk who lived in the 1900’s said “The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”  There exists a multitude of challenges facing Christian dialogue today, but unless these challenges are met with open communication that does not, as a friend’s website accurately put it “attempt to demonize the other,” then we will fail in our most important vocation as human beings: to belong to one another.

To engage ecumenical dialogue is to engage a rich and vibrant history of philosophy, sexuality, and culture that demands more attention than an introductory statement to CANA can provide. However, a group of people committed to understanding and advocating for one another regardless of their differences can provide a platform; a way of expressing authentic Christianity in the midst of a melting pot of ideas. I believe that it is in this type of dialogue with others that we come to participate more fully in the mystery of the body of Christ.

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