ECUMENICAL AND INTERFAITH RELATIONS – November
(A joint committee of the Pacific Southwest Region, Disciples of Christ, and the Southern California Nevada Conference, United Church of Christ)
In 1893, a group of liberal Protestant leaders convened the first ever gathering of adherents of the great religious traditions of the planet. The purpose of the gathering was dialogue on an equal basis, in an atmosphere of mutual respect. In this sense it was a great departure from previous religious thinking which considered that the only authentic approach to members of other religions was to convert them to one’s own. The”Parliament” was held in Chicago, and featured an electrifying address by a young Hindu swami from India, Vivekananda. Who in the Cristian world knew that a so-called “heathen” could have so much wisdom and personal grace to offer?
Unfortunately, there was not another such gathering until a century later, in 1993—and at the urging of the religious society founded by Vivekananda, the Vedanta Society. Again held, fittingly, in Chicago, this gathering generated huge energy and a new interfaith organization, the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (CPWR) which sponsored subsequent Parliaments in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1999; then in Barcelona, Spain, in 2004; and then in Melbourne, Australia, in 2009. Each of these gatherings brought together five or six thousand people from all the great and little religions of the world. Then CPWR had some financial difficulty: it is difficult enough to raise money for one’s own religious community, and it is that much more difficult to do so for a group dedicated to the coming together of widely different faiths.
However, a way has been found to resume the tradition, if on a somewhat smaller scale. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has provided funding which will make it possible to hold a Parliament gathering in Salt Lake City in October of next year. Most likely, there will not be as many delegates and visitors from outside the United States as have attended previous Parliaments, in part because there is not as much advance notice of this next meeting. Finding ways to help especially those in poorer countries who are both religiously devout and spiritually open to attend these exciting and fruitful gatherings is also an ongoing issue. Still, the Salt Lake City meeting will no doubt bring together leaders and teachers from many religions. There will be deeply moving interfaith worship and a great many workshops dealing both with the spiritual resources that the various traditions offer and the issues of justice and peace which clamor for common endeavor in our day. Considering especially how close the location is to us, you should consider being there!
Church Disunity and Civil Disunity
Both of our denominations say that we are committed to the unity of the Church of Jesus Christ. This is a point of pride, and in a sense a selling point, for both bodies. Yet why is this important? And what is actually happening in this direction?
Years ago now, SCNC and PSWR worked out a deal to bring their offices together on Lake Street in Altadena. This has meant much interaction and sharing of information among our regional/conference leadership. But what else has happened? Not much. The two bodies have held only two joint annual gathering, and those were both years ago. There are very few other common events. The PSWR Golf Tournament draws some UCC participants, and there is an ongoing small UCC-DOC golf group. Recreation is important, even or especially for Christians! But then there is also the serious stuff. Just a month ago the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee hosted a seminar which brought UCC and DOC people from our congregations together for a morning of very substantial theological reflection around the sacrament of communion. Many participants said that there should be more of this kind of thing. (Also, to give credit where credit is due, our Global Ministries committee is also a joint committee. Maybe Global Ministries and Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations can figure out some fruitful unity endeavors together.) If our commitment to unity means anything, surely it means the conviction that we can learn from each other. For instance, Disciples have experience and understanding of communion which UCC’ers lack, and vice versa. Or possibly Disciples have a better grasp of the centrality of communion than UCC’ers do, but UCC’ers understand other aspects of the life of the Church better than Disciples do. (Quiz question: what would those other aspects be?)
Events like this, however, stand out as exceptions rather than the rule. Why don’t we come together more often, to learn more about one another and develop more common worship services, more common programs? Perhaps we should highlight on this page and elsewhere the life and work of the few joint UCC-DOC congregations which we have in Southern California? Would that help? Otherwise, are we just too concerned about the maintenance and survival of our (generally small at this point) congregations to pay any attention to our professed priority of unity? Are we really examining all the possibilities for new mergers of UCC and Disciples congregations which are in the same general area? And are we really doing enough to bring together, across the denominational line, Anglo congregations with Spanish-speaking, Korean, Samoan, Filipino congregations?
Some of us may think that the unity of the Christian Church is not as important as the unity of our society: the overcoming of racism and the increasing economic and educational inequalities which have been developing in American society. There is also an increasing political polarization in America, in which our people talk only to other people who have the same political views as they do. These divisions are crippling and potentially deadly. Yet as the sociologist Robert Bellah has demonstrated, a civil society can only be healthy if it has some sort of “civil religion” to support it: a set of religious and ethical convictions which are shared across the citizenry. Our efforts toward church unity, modest as they are, need to be seen in this context. If we can’t take seriously and work on overcoming our ecclesiastical separateness, our division into different theological and ethnic camps, how are we going to be healing agents in the broader American society which has nurtured us and which we love?
Does anyone have thoughts on this? We on the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee want to hear them. Call 626-794-1839.