Lay Cooperation in Canada: Catholic and Mainline and Conservative Protestant Attitudes toward Interdenominational Cooperation

By Reimer, Samuel H. | Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview
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Lay Cooperation in Canada: Catholic and Mainline and Conservative Protestant Attitudes toward Interdenominational Cooperation


Reimer, Samuel H., Journal of Ecumenical Studies


In 1530, Reformers presented their criticisms of the church to Catholic authorities in the form of the Augsburg Confession, the foundational document for Lutherans worldwide. Central to this document was disagreement over the doctrine of justification. For nearly five centuries, Lutherans and Catholics have viewed each other with suspicion, at best, with no efforts at reconciliation. Not until 1963, when Pope John XXIII initiated Vatican II, did efforts toward rapprochement begin in earnest. After more than thirty years of dialogue, on Reformation Sunday, October 31, 1999, in Augsburg, Germany, Vatican and Lutheran World Federation officials signed the historic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. Refusing to sign the declaration was the conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, whose leader, the Reverend A. L. Barry, called the signing "the latest example of Lutherans sacrificing God's truth on the altar of unity." (1)

The historic signing of the Joint Declaration is one of many conciliatory efforts by North American mainline Protestants and Catholics near the turn of the twenty-first century. Canadian Anglicans have sought reconciliation with Canadian aboriginals, even as lawsuits from past abuses in church-sponsored aboriginal schools threaten to cripple the church financially. (2) The Consultation on Church Union's forty-year effort to promote unity among nine U.S. denominations has resulted in the creation of Churches Uniting in Christ, inaugurated on January 21, 2002, in Memphis, Tennessee. Standing on the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, denominational officials signed a document committing themselves to working and worshiping closer together and to ending racism. (3)

With the increased Catholic inclusivity since Vatican II (1962-65) and the resulting creation of the Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs in 1964, (4) Catholics have initiated ecumenical dialogue with Orthodox and with mainline and conservative Protestant Christians. (5) The Vatican's efforts seemed to gain momentum as the new millennium approached. In addition to the ecumenical Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adventiente, Pope John Paul II promulgated the encyclical "Ut Unum Sint" (That They May Be One) in 1995, encouraging renewed ecumenical efforts. In his last years, the pope resolved to seek reconciliation and forgiveness for past wrongs committed by the Roman Catholic Church, traveling to Jerusalem and elsewhere to make amends despite his frail health. (6)

Just as the Missouri-Synod Lutherans reject the Joint Declaration, so conservative Protestants have historically been resistant to, though not uninvolved in, rapprochement efforts with mainline Protestants and Catholic Christians. (7) Conciliatory efforts by conservative Protestant elites, however, are numerous of late. In Canada, evangelical groups are seeking reconciliation with Jewish Canadians (8) and aboriginals, (9) while in the U.S. Pentecostals and Baptists have pursued reconciliation, particularly between Blacks and Whites. (10) Former leaders of national evangelical coalitions--the National Association of Evangelicals' Kevin Mannoia (11) and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada's Gary Walsh (12)--are promoting reconciliation and unity across religious, racial, and gender lines. With obvious exceptions, the rhetoric of evangelical elites seems more conciliatory now than even a decade ago. Even Jerry Falwell's once vicious vilification of homosexuality seems more irenic. (13)

In spite of this recent ecumenical and cooperative activity, most commentators in the 1970's and 1980's argued that "local, national and international interest in ecumenism has declined sharply" since an upsurge in the 1960's. (14) Mainline Protestant survey respondents in the U.S., for example, agree that ecumenism is important but give it low priority, placing more importance on intra-congregational agendas. (15) Kelly calls the religious civility in pluralistic societies "folk ecumenism.

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