Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Lived Witness

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Lived Witness

Article excerpt

Ecumenically minded Christians and churches seek to engage the world faithfully, to bear witness to Christ, and to present a united voice and united effort to address oppression and injustice in society. Whether that evil manifests itself as human trafficking or religious persecution or systemic injustice in the penal system, the community of faith seeks to speak out with a united voice for safe haven, for just treatment, and for the dignity of every human being, made in God's image.

Through convergence and communion, Christians and churches are coming to realize that there is no more urgent challenge before the church today than the need to deepen life in Christ together through moral teaching, witness, advocacy, and action. This essay will explore moral decisionmaking, moral witness/advocacy, and moral teaching/formation, framed in terms of receptive ecumenism. It will articulate how the churches in dialogue are addressing ethical issues, providing examples of current effective ecumenical efforts around moral decision-making, advocacy, and action, identifying eight challenges to this work, and positing six characteristics of morally serious ecumenical communities.

The theological dialogues made great advances in the twentieth-century ecumenical movement, but the dialogue process has been challenged and at times stymied by differences in the perceived appropriate Christian stance on specific ethical questions, such as the morality of same-sex unions. Now, some of the dialogues have discovered common ground on the principles of moral decision-making and the importance of moral formation, even when the churches involved in the dialogue are unable to achieve agreement on the content of specific moral stances. Episcopal priest Jared Cramer has written, "A careful analysis of the new polarities and streams arising across denominational lines, streams that are already present in the pews if not recognized by the leadership of communions, could yield remarkable fruit for a new unity that seems to be breaking out among Christians." (1) The present essay seeks to explore the theological and practical dimensions of this outbreak of new unity.

In a paper for the North American Academy of Ecumenists presented in Washington, DC, in 2009, Michael Root provided a comprehensive survey and analysis of how various ecumenical dialogues have addressed issues related to ethics. He found the ecumenical literature on ethics to be extensive, compiling a list of all of the dialogues that have addressed ethical matters in anyway. (2) Of the ecumenical dialogues that have attempted to address moral and ethical issues, the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue has been preeminent in this field ever since the international Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue statement, Life in Christ: Morals, Communion, and the Church, released in 1994. (3) The 2014 U.S. Anglican-Roman Catholic statement, Ecclesiology and Moral Discernment (EMD), (4) builds upon the differentiated-consensus approach of Life in Christ. It analyzes the differences between the two traditions in moral decision-making and moral teaching, identifies basic agreement in core moral values, and then assesses how those general moral values play out in particular moral discernment on the issues of immigration and same-sex marriage. EMD asserts that contextual theological agreements on moral principles can be achieved even when disagreement persists on the content or application of those principles to a specific moral question.

EMD's mandate, "to address questions of ethics and the Christian life in the context of ecclesiology" (5) stands in a lineage with dialogues that have brought together the doctrine of the church and the nature of the moral life in Christ. The World Council of Churches' study on Ecclesiology and Ethics from 1992 to 1996 resulted in three reports, all issued on January 1, 1997: Costly Unity, (6) Costly Commitment, (7) and Costly Obedience. (8) Costly Commitment asserts that ethics is part of the church's essential identity, its esse, (9) and Costly Obedience defines this more fully: "the church as intrinsically a 'moral community' . …

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