Moral Formation and Everyday Issues: Response to the Paper of John De Gruchy

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Study of the paper by John de Gruchy has been extremely rewarding. For instance I would be very interested to enter into a debate about the changes relating to the tension between the Confessing Church and the ecumenical movement. But this is not the place for that...

I cannot do full justice to the paper in a short response, so I will make a few comments from the European context in order to stimulate the debate about ecclesiology and ethics, and about moral formation.

1. First, let me take up de Gruchy's remarks about reconciliation. As you will know, the European churches are entering a new phase of the conciliar process for justice, peace and the integrity of creation. A number of regional activities have been planned, including the European Ecumenical Assembly, jointly called by the Conference of European Churches and the Council of European [Roman Catholic] Bishops' Conferences, with the overall theme of reconciliation. This was chosen because of frequent criticism that the conciliar process was lacking theological profile. So the theme itself is intended to ensure the necessary theological foundation from the outset. Nevertheless, my experience with the preparatory material so far is that a theological term like "reconciliation" is not so easily applied to society as such. Reconciliation can be taken to be a "somewhat" Christian naivete in the midst of conflict.

Here I share de Gruchy's point of view: there is no reconciliation without confession of guilt. Just as there is no cheap grace, there is no cheap reconciliation. Reconciliation does not mean you stand in the middle of two parties who are in conflict; it also includes the necessity of taking sides. As a consequence, reconciliation in South Africa is not possible without a Truth Commission. What that means for other places in this world, we would have to explore. The women participating in the above-mentioned European process are therefore asking: What comes before the reconciliation of women and men? Or, to give an example from another region, people in the Pacific are saying: Yes, we are willing to go the way of reconciliation, but it is not possible if the French leave us with hate in our hearts. Reconciliation is a process involving at least two parties; it is not a one-way act. Reconciliation needs the Christian notion of the ability to fail and still be accepted, the notion of forgiveness, in order to become a possibility.

2. To the observation that Christianity is a factor of division, and a legitimization of it, rather than a source of unification, we can relate European experiences even from the recent past. For instance, the war in the former Yugoslavia: religion, and especially Christianity, became one of the legitimizing factors for ethnic cleansing and for the violation of human rights. In the Ukraine it is Christian division between Orthodox and Uniates that causes civil conflict. And we must not forget the Irish situation, either. So even though we live in the century of the ecumenical movement, and even though there are sound statements about overcoming the dogmatic separations of the past, we find Christianity at the centre of conflicts.

My question is: Where do we locate the lack of moral formation, the lack of ecumenical encounter that leads to the possibility and reality of such distortion? Had there been ecumenical formation, the knowledge and conviction that Christian denominations are in koinonia with one another might have provided them the strength to resist the temptation of being used for political causes.

3. John de Gruchy emphasizes the point that in the midst of the struggle against apartheid there was neither the time nor the energy to deal with doctrinal differences inherited from a European past. I would like to relate that to the experience of many East Germans. They say that during the days of the German Democratic Republic, the struggle for the survival of the Christian heritage was so central that ecumenical differences did not seem to be important. …