Some of the good religious sisters responsible for my parochial elementary education in the United States planted notions in the evolving consciences of their young charges, like me, indicative of the 1950s. For example, I clearly understood that if I even placed my foot across the threshold of a Protestant church I risked eternal damnation.
This lingering leftover of the Counter Reformation, and an attitude probably compounded from the accumulated insults borne by an immigrant minority in a Protestant land, walled us off from others. The ‘whore of Babylon’ rhetoric equally afflicted the church-going public school kids in my neighbourhood creating an invisible but potent divide even between Catholic and Protestant youngsters.
The ecumenical, civil rights and women’s movements of the 1960s and 1970s started the process of breaking down some of the long-standing religious, racial and gender barriers between neighbours. However we still live in a very troubled world. The deep social, economic and political fault lines and fractures as well as theological ones continue to impede our finding solutions to problems that urgently cry out to us locally as well as globally.
How long, for example, has it been since the leaders or members of the local Yukon churches listed below this column actually all sat down together to discuss community concerns? Most do co-operate in the spring ecumenical food drive in support of the Whitehorse Food Bank but imagine the impact if they could turn their collective energy towards questions like homelessness, addictions or refugee relief.
The psychotherapist, John Welwood, in his 2006 book Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships, writes: “According to saints and mystics, love is the very fabric of what we are; we are fashioned out of its warmth and openness.” Welwood notes, however, that “The greatest ills on the planet – war, poverty, economic injustice, ecological degradation – all stem from our inability to trust one another, honour differences, engage in respectful dialogue, and reach mutual understanding.”
Dr. Welwood writes that “all the beauty and the horrors of this world arise from the same root: the presence or absence of love.
“All hatred of ourselves and others; all our fear, egoism, communication problems, and sexual insecurities; all the pathology, neurosis, and destructiveness in the world; the whole nightmare of history, with all its bloodshed and cruelty, boil down to one simple fact: Not knowing we are loved and lovable makes the heart grow cold. And all the tragedy of human life follows from there.”
John Driver in his important book How Christians Made Peace with War enlarges this argument. “The social, economic, and political practices of Christians often determine how the church understands the life, teachings, and death of Jesus.” As Driver states: “The early church took seriously Jesus’ teachings on love toward the enemy and his nonviolent response to evildoers” but by the 4th century “when Christians began to enjoy power, wealth, and prestige, these convictions changed.” After the Roman Emperor Constantine saw a political advantage in tolerating Christianity, Driver seeks to demonstrate that the “theology of the Church was brought in line with the practice of Christians” to the detriment of its foundational beliefs.
The fractured global Christian community cannot deny the doctrinal differences, long histories of exclusivity or downright painful and often bloody results of internecine prejudice and hatred. However we approach overcoming our differences and addressing together the immense challenges of our times Welwood and Driver would probably agree that any unity of purpose will demand love at the individual and institutional level as a core principle.
Since 1894 the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has been continuously celebrated, however, it represents a much older call for healing. Now held in January, the theme and biblical texts have been prepared by a joint committee of the World Council of Churches and the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.
Trinity Lutheran Church at 4th and Strickland in Whitehorse will host this year’s events beginning with a daily ecumenical discussion group from noon until 1 p.m. from Jan. 17 to Jan. 26. A special ecumenical prayer service arranged by the Christian community of Poland will also be held there as well on Jan. 22 at 4 p.m. All are welcome. For more information call Sharon at 633-6383.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.