Wednesday, October 19, 2005

the language of ecumenism

I went to a lecture offered by the Christian Conference of Connecticut Ecumenical Forum last night. The speaker was Dr. Thomas L. Hoyt, President of the National Council of Churches USA and bishop of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. His lecture was entitled, "Blind Spots in the Ecumenical Vision".

Perhaps a more apt title would have been, "Ecumenism: The Tower of Babel Revisited".

The brunt of it: Bishop Hoyt said little to convince me that the Catholic Church and the churches of the NCC are anywhere near speaking the same language when it come to ecumenism.

The 'blind spots' he referred to in his discourse were: the mentality of dominance and exclusion that seeps into church structures from society at large, the preference for 'ritual' and 'tradition' over gender and racial inclusiveness, the defense of institution and the disregard for the individual that it supposes, the lack of interest in the plight of the poor and the favoring of a 'priestly model' over a 'prophetic model' in some quarters of the ecumenical forum.

He told stories of bravely joining the communion line at a Catholic Mass, knowing full well the Catholic sensitivity to all things sacramental. He expressed outrage at being told that his title of 'bishop' didn't mean the same thing as 'bishop' in Catholic tradition. He commented that during his visit to Rome he was received by the Pope and daringly broke all protocol by calling John Paul II 'Pope' instead of 'Holy Father'... and still the Pope autographed his copy of the Bible.

I don't know what Rev. Hoyt's intentions were, but I can't see the cause of ecumenism being furthered by his lecture. For him, ecumenism is a social issue, a question of justice, equality and desegregation. It is about race and power and democracy taking root.

No sense of history. No sacramental theology. No concept of Tradition. No inkling of the complexities of 'apostolic succession'. No metaphysics.

How will unity ever be possible if we don't even speak the same language?

The Exorcist is perplexed and, apparently, still has a lot to learn.