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ECUMENICAL AND INTERFAITH RELATIONS – August

(Submitted by the joint Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee of the Southern California Nevada Conference, UCC, and the Pacific Southwest Region, DOC)

EIRCCome and Meet Some Cool Muslims: Saturday Morning, October 26

Those of us who have been involved in what has come to be called the interfaith or interreligious movement have experienced again and again that the simple meeting and being together of adherents of different religious faiths does more than anything else to overcome prejudicial stereotypes and create genuine openness.  (The ongoing prevalence of such prejudice has recently come to national attention through the Fox News interview of Dr. Reza Aslan, an outstanding Muslim scholar at UC Riverside who was subjected to rude and ignorant questioning by the interviewer concerning his new book about Jesus.)

Such meetings do not need to include theological presentations or debates.  The first thing is to meet, find out a bit about the lives of these “others” who belong to such a different faith from our own, and, through just being together, to let it dawn on us that they are people really a great deal like ourselves, with similar struggles and a comparable depth of spiritual commitment.   For us as Disciples and UCC’ers, bringing Christians and Muslims together continues to be probably the most urgent type of interreligious meeting needed, because of our American memories of 9/11 and also because of our country’s involvement with the Middle East, not just Israel/Palestine, but also the Muslim countries.

EIRC is organizing such a meeting, the first of its kind specifically for our Region and Conference, on Saturday morning, October 26, at the Interfaith Center at Chapman University in Orange.  We are inviting all of our congregations to send at least one person.  This will be an informal gathering, mostly conversational, with a continental breakfast at 9 a.m. and the lunch at noon.  We will be done by 1:00 p.m.  We will have a fine group of Muslim men and women present with whom members of our committee are, to our great benefit, already somewhat acquainted.  With them, we free church Christians can just sit down and chat.  We hope that you will see this autumn morning as a valuable way of fulfilling the witness of our two denominations that God’s will for humanity is unity, oneness.  For further information, write to Jeff Utter at hefffer@earthlink.net or call him at 626-794-1839.

Different Approaches to a Challenging Issue

The 2013 national meetings of our two sister denominations, one right here in Long Beach, the other in Orlando, Florida, are now past.  Some of us were privileged to attend one; others the other.  There is real life yet in both expressions of Christ’s Body!  Besides the soaring worship and preaching, the many workshops and exhibits, the business sessions and the multiple informal meetings, reunions, and conversations in the halls and over meals, there were, yes, the resolutions: the public statements as to what our communions believe and intend to do about significant and controversial issues of the country and the society in which we live.  On the UCC side, perhaps the most daring resolution called for divestment from companies engaged in fossil fuel production, since these are huge contributors to potentially disastrous worldwide climate change.  One strong Christian Church resolution condemned the USA drone strikes in foreign lands which inevitably kill civilians, turn foreign populations against us, and very probably create more terrorists.

Another carefully and finely word resolution passed by the Orlando General Assembly filled out the Disciples emphasis on welcoming all people to communion with one another at the table of the Lord.  The “radical hospitality” represented by the communion table must include human beings no matter their race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, physical or mental ability, political stance or theological perspective.”  Despite the less central position of communion in the worship of the UCC, the welcoming thrust is certainly shared by the UCC.  The hot-button item in this list is “sexual orientation.”  Here the two denominations have different emphases.  The UCC has for decades been the leader in being “open and affirming” toward those of same-sex orientation.  This has been stated by past Synods and is embodied in the decision by over a thousand UCC congregations to declare themselves open and affirming.   At the Synod in Long Beach, a same-sex wedding was performed and very much celebrated.

The Disciples gathered in Orlando, in contrast, spoke of the need for us in the church to accept one another and affirm one another, at the Lord’s table, precisely when we have serious and potentially inflaming differences on the correct interpretation of Scripture and on the ethics of matters such as same-sex relationships.  What’s most crucial is that we see ourselves all as loved by God and in relationship to one another in Christ even when we differ drastically on difficult matters.  There are two basics in play here: on the one hand, basic justice; on the other, basic acceptance of one another no matter what.  The danger, perhaps, in the UCC emphasis is that it can deteriorate into a kind of smug self-righteousness: that we are more “progressive”, further ahead in understanding and acting on God’s will for society—and consequently an implicit lack of welcome to those who have a different opinion.  The danger, perhaps, in the Disciples stance is an avoidance of decision as to what is right and what is wrong, what is just and what is unjust, and what needs to be said to the broader society at this point in time.  

May the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ listen to one another and learn from one another more than ever, in the years ahead.

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