Committee 14: Ecumenical & interreligious relations

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Resolutionpalooza continues with the resolutions heading to the committee on ecumenical and interreligious relations. Jesus prayed that we in the church might all be one, but his vision remains sadly out of reach. Still, we who labor together in the vineyard can and should find ways to worship, to serve, and to grow together.

For a long time, much of our energy has been on denomination-to-denomination talks. These are important, and I’m glad for them to continue. But I’m heartened by recent trends to find ways to work together at the congregational level across denominational lines. There are lots of small towns with tiny churches that could be stronger together. My view is that rather than negotiating cosmic agreements at the denominational level, perhaps we could find ways to be flexible to allow local cooperation and even shared ministries. I think we can do this in ways that honor and respect our polity while recognizing the urgent opportunities for Gospel work with our siblings in other denominations. There are some proposals on this front coming to this General Convention, but they’re in another committee. Stay tuned to 7WD!

For now, let’s look at these resolutions on both ecumenical and interfaith relations.

 

A009 Accepting the agreement “Sharing the Gifts of Communion” between The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria. Full text. Likely vote: NO, because there is a newer version of this resolution.

This version of the resolution was referred from the 2022 General Convention. It has been updated with a newer, revised version (see below). That is the one to approve.

 

A037 Accepting the agreement “Sharing the Gifts of Communion” between The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

The Episcopal Church is present in many nations, including Germany. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria is among the member churches of the Protestant Church in Germany. This resolution proposes a full-communion partnership similar to the relationship we have with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Presumably, this will strengthen our mission and the mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria where our geographies overlap. I trust that the various folks who have held the conversations necessary to get to this point have done all their homework. If we can bring increased unity to the church catholic, I’m all for it.

Oh, and kudos to the proposers for offering the key documents in English and Spanish.

 

A038 Practical Guidance for Interreligious Relations. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

In a pluralistic world, it is essential that our church learn to have conversations with our neighbors of other faiths. This resolution adopts, as official, a set of guidelines for interfaith conversations. These will be helpful in many situations. If a local church has a relationship with a nearby mosque, shrine, or temple, these guidelines could be used to help clergy and lay leaders engage respectfully and productively. The guidelines offer basic teachings about the distinctives of the Episcopal Church, along with some suggestions for how to engage in conversation. They are written clearly and accessibly. Kudos.

 

A039 Practical Guidance for Episcopal-Jewish Relations. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

This resolution establishes guidelines to aid conversations between Episcopalians and Jews similar to the more generic interfaith guidelines of A038. Given the history of Christian anti-Jewish violence, and the present-day challenges of the situation in Israel/Palestine, it is important to have deep and loving conversations with our Jewish neighbors.

I was especially grateful for the note about why it’s actually unhelpful for Christians to call the Old Testament the “Hebrew Bible.” I wish we also had some notes in here about our prayer book’s unfortunate use of the Tetragrammaton, and perhaps we could have offered some teaching on how not to be anti-Jewish when advocating for peace in the Holy Land. But what is here is a great basis for instruction and conversation.

While I have your attention: Christians, before you condemn Israel, get to know some Jews. Learn their story. Hear their perspective. And, yes, by all means, urge peace with justice. We all need to hear that, all of us.

 

A040 Practical Guidance for Christian-Muslim Relations. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

Again, the principle here is similar to the interfaith guidelines of A038 but specific to Islam. Given world events — and local context — it’s critical for Christians to learn about Islam and to learn to love our Muslim neighbors. These guidelines offer clear teaching and practical guidance.

 

A042 Commend PCUSA-TEC Dialogue. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

For some time, conversations have been underway between the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church USA working toward the potential of full communion or at least closer cooperation. This resolution authorizes continued conversation. I can’t think of a single reason not to keep talking with our Presbyterian siblings.

Personally, as I wrote in the introduction to this post, I’m not super excited about denomination-level negotiations, but I’m glad for others to carry the flag and do the work. In the case of Presbyterians in particular, I think there are significant differences in ecclesiology, sacramental theology, and basic doctrine. But maybe this will help us Episcopalians recover a bit of the Reformed theology that was more present in the origins of modern Anglicanism. (Read the 39 Articles if you don’t believe me that Reformed Anglican theology is/was a thing.) I mention all this because it’s easy to think of reasons NOT to have conversations fostering unity, but that’s the wrong perspective. Much better to try to find common ground and to work across our identified differences. No need to deride others for their different perspectives; let’s talk precisely because of those differences.

 

A048 Adoption of the Proposal for the Exchangeability of the Diaconate in The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have had a full communion relationship for decades. This included mutual recognition of each others bishops and presbyters. However, the ELCA had a diaconate that included commissioned lay leaders (without an ordination). Recently, the ELCA changed its polity toward a threefold order of ministry, bringing their practice of the diaconate closer to what the Episcopal Church and other churches with threefold ministry have taught and practiced. Therefore, this agreement allows for the mutual recognition of ELCA and Episcopal deacons. Makes good sense to me.

 

A049 Affirming the Goal of Full Communion between The Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

As you’ll know if you’ve been reading Resolutionpalooza for long, I’m not a fan of resolutions that merely affirm, commend, or condemn things. But most rules have an exception, and this resolution is an exception. For more than a decade, we’ve been in conversation with our United Methodist siblings about the possibility of a full communion relationship. Given the fact that both the UMC and the Episcopal Church are children of the Church of England, it makes good sense that we might be able to reach a full communion relationship. Our friends in the Methodist church have had a rough patch with denominational quarrels and schisms, much as the Episcopal Church did 20 or so years ago. This resolution extends a hand of friendship and says that we are still eager to have conversation and that we still share the goal of full communion. This resolution is both a gesture of kindness and an act of hope, and it is completely in line with what we’ve already said. So, rarely, I affirm this affirmy resolution.

 

A159 Affirm the Continuation of Ecumenical Dialogues and Membership in Ecumenical/Interfaith Organizations. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

Now I’m back to wanting to reject an affirmy resolution. This one affirms our conversation with Presbyterians and Methodists — which we’ve already done with A042 and A049 — and adds the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue, but I don’t think there’s danger of that longstanding conversation ending. This resolution also says we should stay in the National Council of Churches and other ecumenical groups, but I can’t think of a reason why our continued participation would be in question. So this resolution is an example of doing a thing that does not need to be done — and it undermines our polity by suggesting that previous resolutions somehow wear out and need to be reaffirmed. Let’s let our earlier resolutions stand, and by all means, let’s continue our ecumenical work.

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