"The Ethical Horizon from an Ecumenical Point of View": Introduction

Article excerpt

The 2009 Annual Meeting of the North American Academy of Ecumenists, held September 25-27 at Washington (DC) Theological Union, was a most significant one, at which participants addressed "The Ethical Horizon from an Ecumenical Point of View."

Ethical issues have recently moved from the background to the foreground of ecumenical concern. Contentious moral issues seem to present an impasse to the movement toward full communion. As Dr. Michael Root notes in his essay which follows, there have been few in-depth discussions of moral method and of personal morality in the dialogues. I am cautious about presuming an impasse before there has been a thorough discussion of moral method and moral issues, l am reluctant to presume that the Holy Spirit will not act in the dialogues we will have with one another.

The essays that follow make a strong contribution to the emerging discussion. They provide an in-depth analysis of many dimensions of the moral horizon. They indicate areas for future discussion. Their footnotes provide a wealth of references to other important resources. These introductory comments can only highlight certain elements of these rich presentations. Each article is worth thorough study. Together they offer a tour of the horizon and a catalyst for personal reflection.

Root's "Ethics in Ecumenical Dialogues: A Survey and Analysis" is the best survey I have seen. He offers a comprehensive overview of all the dialogues. He shows that ethical matters have been discussed--but that in-depth discussions are infrequent. He begins by surveying "Dialogues that Deal with Ethics in General." He moves on to the "Dialogues that Deal with Specific Ethical Issues." Here he reviews eight issues--from marriage and divorce to the environment--that have been discussed. He then offers his conclusions, including a critique of Life in Christ: Morals, Communion, and the Church, the 1993 International Anglican-Roman Catholic Agreed Statement--which has been the most detailed agreement on morals. He challenges the key contention of the Agreed Statement that there is no "fundamental divergence" in general moral understanding. Root contends that "Commitments to... specific rules, virtues, and practices may be as important, both for moral reasoning and for ecclesial communion, as more general commitments."

The seasoned ecumenist Fr. Stanley S. Harakas's essay, "What Orthodox Christian Ethics Can Offer Ecumenism," calls for a "return to the original and primary purpose of the ecumenical movement--ecclesial unity." (2) He questions the turn toward "subjective ethical criteria as a tool of ecumenism." (3) He reminds us about the importance of outreach to others both within and outside the Christian community. He commends the light of our historic faith rooted in scripture and Holy Tradition. Both ethical reflection and norms need to be rooted in the Triune God

In "The Ethics of Peacemaking: The Genesis of Called Together to Be Peacemakers--Report of the International Mennonite-Catholic Dialogue (2004)," (4) Drew Christiansen, S.J., offers a participant's extended analysis of the implications of the report. He discusses Catholic and Mennonite reconciliation, shifts in thinking in recent decades, and other important questions. Many Catholics would not be aware of the shift in Catholic thinking toward the primacy of nonviolence--while not endorsing pacifism. One of Christiansen's intriguing references is to points for further study. These are neither convergences nor divergences. I would comment that full communion need not resolve every moral difference. Christian ethicists can study questions in coming decades and centuries. After full communion, church councils may resolve some ethical issues.

Dr. Timothy F. Sedgwick's essay, "Exploring the Great Divide: Sex, Ethics, and Ecumenism," offers a clear overview of the state of the question on sexual morality in the Western Christian traditions. …