Unification News For January 1996
The Inter Religious Federation for World Peace Christian Ecumenism in the Americas: Toward One Christian Family Under God
The Inter Religious Federation for World Peace concluded a highly active and productive year by co-sponsoring with the Washington Times Foundation, a major Christian Ecumenical conference in Montevideo, Uruguay. The conference "Christian Ecumenism in the Americas: Toward One Christian Family Under God," convened by Professor William Cenkner of the Catholic University of America, had a total of 183 people in attendance, of whom 121 were formal participants. Activities included a little over two full working days, and a day of tourism and celebration, occurring from December 11"15, 1995.
Conveners and organizers did a yeoman's work to secure representation from all corners of the Christian World in the Americas, and despite the boycotts, censures, and prejudices that typically plague ecumenical and reconciliation efforts, this goal was surprisingly well achieved. Among the communities we sought to have present to each other in respectable numbers were Christians from North and South, Catholic and Protestant, liberal and conservative, and Pentecostal, Evangelical,and what might be described as Mainstream, Liberal Protestant Denominations. In some areas a balance in racial representation (say between black and white) was also pursued. To reiterate, I am most pleased to report that, even though there is room for improvement, there was unprecedented success in bringing together leaders from a broad spectrum of representation. Many among the participants and guests had NEVER been in the presence of brothers and sisters at least of one sort or another, but were able to do so here in Uruguay. This fertile field of discovery and fellowship may well have been the sweetest part of the conference.
The overall conference theme was divided into five Plenary Sessions, one of which was further sub-divided into yet three additional sections. These seven areas of focus provided the conference direction and structure. The opening plenary bore the same title as the overall conference theme "Ecumenism in the Americas: Toward One Christian Family Under God." Plenary 2 was "Christianity in the Americas: Assessing the Past and Looking to the Future." Plenary 3: "Bridging Divisions: Catholic-Protestant, North-South, Liberal Conservative." The 4th Plenary was the one that was further subdivided into three sub-sections. This plenary with the larger theme: "The Role of Religion in the Creation of a Good Society," had the following committee sessions: Committee 1. Religion and Politics. Committee 2. Religion, Culture, and Society, and Committee 3. Religion and the Economy. The 5th and final plenary was entitled "The Role of Christianity in the emerging Unity of North and South America."
IRFWP conferences have come to bear, over the years, a trademark pattern in which virtually all participants write full papers, most of which are published. As such we tend to have very few "plenary sessions," and instead devote the conference time to dialogue in small round-table sessions of 16"20 people. This conference, however, broke from this tradition with a format unlikely to occur very often in the IRFWP. The small group format was missed in Uruguay, where the conference consisted mostly of plenary sessions and debate and discussion "from the floor." Yet, there were benefits to be derived from this pattern more common to large international conferences. These include the freedom to offer the ecumenical experience to an audience wider than is possible when requiring written contributions from all who participate. This Uruguay format acknowledges the reality that influential Christian leadership is far broader than just those for whom writing papers is common to their leadership responsibilities.
This greater inclusivity allowed for a range of direct ecumenical experience, rarely available, even to the most experienced ecumenists present. Often "professional" ecumenists can go for years without ever meeting a pastor. In many instances a Lutheran "professional ecumenist" (for example) may be far more similar to his Catholic counterpart, than to a significant portion of his or her fellow Lutherans. The Uruguay experience was anything but a like-meets-like conference. So diverse was the constituency that encounters even may have been uncomfortable or frustrating at times.. It must be said, however, the encounter was rich, challenging and fruitful when all was said and done.
In selecting speakers, a mighty effort was made by the conference organizers to obtain balance of positions and perspectives among speakers and presenters. This was impeded a bit by the fact that some invited speakers were forbidden or obstructed by leaders or biased peers in their communities from fulfilling their desires to attend and present positions from their community. We look forward to gradual, growing ecumenical and interfaith openness among all members of the Christian family.
In the interest of communicating some of the essential content of the conference, the personalities and positions represented, let me here present an abbreviated, annotated, summary of the formal conference program. The annotation includes excerpts from papers for which we already have the text in hand.
Monday, December 11, 1995 Arrivals
Tuesday, December 12, 1995
9:00 - 11:00 AM Opening Plenary: "Ecumenism in the Americas: Toward One Christian Family Under God"
Convener's Welcome: Dr. William Cenkner, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.
Dr. Cenkner wrote: "The image of one Christian family is the challenge as we enter a new millennium. It challenges us because Christian unity is a biblical imperative.... Difficult questions will be raised in this conference. Can Christians really shape the Americas in the coming century? Can the Christian churches and communities be gathered harmoniously and cooperatively in this hemisphere in order to renew nations, cultures, and peoples?... Interreligious dialogue is the work of the Spirit. Reconciliation of Christians toward one Christian family is the work of the Spirit. We are a pilgrim people and we continue to be a pilgrim people until end times. If we are to advance this pilgrimage, each of us must recognize as individuals and with membership in a particular Christian church that the mystery of the Risen Christ is larger than one's own experience or the experience of any one church at any one moment in the history of either."
Keynote Address: Reverend Dr. Nilson de Amaral Fanini , President of The Baptist World Alliance, headquartered in Washington, D.C.,
Dr. Fanini's written text was not available at the time of this writing. Dr. Fanini gave a stirring, and captivating call for Christian cooperation and unity. I have seen few speakers as fine as Dr. Fanini. Please look for his text in the upcoming publication from this conference.
Founder's Address: Reverend Sun Myung Moon
Reverend Moon delivered a speech entitled "True Family and I." He writes: "In the Last Days, Satan, who has spiritually dominated humanity will lose that position to God's side. To prevent that from happening, Satan introduced atheism to sow the seeds of humanism, materialism, and communism. This [ultimately] led to global conflict. After World War II, with the victory of the Christian world, and era of transition toward a world of peace began.... However the present era is the era of the Kingdom of individualism, the era of free sex, which has completely destroyed families based on true love, the era of denying parents, the era of denying husband and wife, the era of denying children....To enter heaven, originally Adam's family should have been a family with the true love of God as its center... only this kind of family can enter heaven... The Bible teaches us that he who is willing to lose his life shall gain it, and he who wishes to save his life shall lose it. If we conquer the flesh and reach the liberation of our conscience, we can enter heaven."
11:30 AM - 1:00 PM Plenary Session Two: "Christianity in the Americas: Assessing the Past and Looking to the Future"
Reverend Dr. Jerry Falwell, Chancellor of Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia, USA
Dr. Falwell wrote: "It is my observation and personal conviction that conferences and seminars like this one can be very beneficial towards building bridges of communication. However, I believe the ultimate and only permanent solution from bringing the Americas together spiritually is to pray and work toward a mega-movement of God int he hearts of the pastors, religious leaders and the people of our churches which results in repentance and absolute acknowledgement of the Lordship of Jesus Christ." Dr. Falwell cited Dr. Francis Schaeffer's emphasis on Paul's teaching in Ephesians 4:16, as providing key insights into the premise for ecumenism. Based on this and supported with other verses, Dr. Falwell unfolded his views on ecumenism, all ultimately harkening to the necessity of an intimate, personal communion with Jesus Christ.
Dr. Ninian Smart , J.F. Rowny Professor of Comparative Religion at The University of California, Santa Barbara, California, USA
Dr. Smart spoke on the history of Catholic missions in the "New World."
3:30 - 5:00 PM Plenary Sessions Three: "Bridging Divisions: Catholic- Protestant, North-South, Liberal-Conservative"
Dr. Thomas Oden , Professor of Theology, Drew University, Madison, New Jersey, USA
Dr. Oden unfolded the essence of his on-going work in the area of what he has dubbed "post-modern evangelical-catholic spirituality [in order] to define the context of ecumenism in the Americas. By Spirituality [I] point to personal life lived in union with Christ-- a relationship with the incarnate risen Lord through the power of the Holy Spirit, where his death is my death, his resurrection my resurrection. This life expresses itself in praise of God through loving service tot he neighbor.... Speaking of evangelical/catholic spirituality I point to an actual ethos, a living history of a worldwide covenant community of worship, in which life in Christ is taken seriously and joyfully as creation's true center, a community in which a disciplined approach to life in the Spirit is informed by scripture study within a community of prayer. I refer more specifically to traditions of discipleship shaped by the heirs of Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Luther, Cranmer, Calvin, Wesley, and revivalism." These themes and that of post-modernism was worked out with great complexity and thoroughness, so as to advocate Dr. Oden's vision for key elements enhancing the possibility of successful Christian ecumenism.
Dr. Douglas Jacobsen, Professor of Religion at Messiah College, Grantham, Pennsylvania, USA
Dr. Jacobsen reported on a current project of his entitled "Reclaiming the Center," in which he challenges conventional habits of American Church Historiography which tend to emphasize a liberal and conservative split in New World Christianity. Dr. Jacobsen suggests that this division is too simplistic to yield an accurate historical understanding. Dr. Jacobsen takes as part of his task highlighting important strains of Christianity which defy this classification, yet which have had strong influence on American Christianity.
The Rt. Rev. Rawle Douglin, Bishop of the Diocese of Trinidad and Tobago, The Anglican Church of the Province of the West Indies, Trinidad
Bishop Douglin gave a detailed exposition of the current ecumenical AND interreligious challenges facing himself and his fellow leaders both political and ecclesiastical in Trinidad and Tobago. This carefully laid out and documented piece attracted a great deal of response from the floor.
Wednesday, December 13, 1995
9:00 - 10:30 AM Plenary Session Four: "The Role of Religion in the Creation of the Good Society"
Committee I: "Religion and Politics"
Speaker: Mr. Michael Cromartie, Senior Fellow in Protestant Studies and Director of the Evangelical Studies Project at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, D.C., USA
Dr. Cromartie writes: "I commend the conveners of this conference from bringing us together for such a worthy task. But we should suffer from no delusions. This has all been attempted before... [T]his ecumenism has produced not so much the overcoming of differences as the gathering together of groups that decided that their differences did not make that much difference. So much of this now discredited Protestant attempt at Christian unity failed, at least in part, because it sought conformity of opinion on political and ideological issues more than it did on theological distinctives.
New ecumenism will have to begin by helping cultivate, through dialogues at conferences like this, attitudes and habits of mutual Christian respect and understanding. The great Jesuit scholar John Courtney Murray famously said once that perhaps our goal ought to be "to achieve disagreement; genuine disagreement is an achievement because most of what is thought as agreement is simply confusion." Perhaps clearing up misunderstandings and developing mutual understanding of our differences is ecumenical challenge enough, at least for a time. Certainly this conference has helped clear up some confusions."
Speaker: President Francisco Morales Bermudez, Former President of Peru
President Bermudez's paper was entitled: "The Role of the State in Relation to the Social Teachings of the Church." President Morales Bermudez focusses on two fundamental encyclicals namely: Rerum Novarum (1891), and Centesimus Annus (1991). He also examined historical conditions for those liberal trends which ultimately manifest themselves in the forms of totalitarianism and Social Marxism, and those which opened the way for a free economy, individual liberty, and the economy of the marketplace. He reflects on these influences in light of the effort (including his own) to instill Christian and spiritual ideals at the base of political and social structures.
Committee II: "Religion, Culture and Society"
Dr. Manuel J. Gaxiola, Director, Center for the Study of Religion in Latin America, Mexico City, Mexico
Dr. Keith J. Pavlischek, Director, Crossroads Program in Faith and Public Policy, Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, USA
11:00 AM - 12:30 PM Plenary Session Four (Continued) Committee III: "Religion and the Economy"
Dr. Daniel Finn, Professor of Theology, St. John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA
Dr. Finn's paper is entitled: "Morality, Markets, and Government: The Structure of a Christian Moral Assessment of Economic Systems." In it Dr. Finn carefully argues that "Just during those times when Christians have been the wielders of political and economic power that Christian prophetic denunciation of injustice has been the strongest... In times and places where Christians were less influential politically, prophetic critique of injustices has been less apparent and Christian ethics has focused more fully on personal morality.
Unfortunately, much of the recent conversation among Christians abut alternative economic institutions has bee unproductive at best. Many of us have been struck by the sterility of debates between proponents of capitalism and socialism as alternative economic systems... There are critically important differences between the two sides, and I do not hold the illusion that there are any universally acceptable answers. However, we can immensely improve the debate by reconceiving the alternative positions against a single conceptual framework which, I hope, would be acceptable to participants on all sides. Thus the main intention of this paper is the articulation of such a framework. It is an attempt to specify more carefully the interrelation between personal moral intention and the shape of economic institutions."
Dr. Amy L. Sherman , Visiting Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Author of The Soul of Development: Biblical Christianity and Economic Transformation in Guatemala; Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
Dr. Sherman wrote: "Protestantism and Democratic-Capitalism in Latin America: A Guatemalan Study." In her paper, Dr. Sherman examines the implications of two current Latin American phenomena. First, what is called the "Evangelical Explosion," in which "in such countries as Guatemala, Chile, and Brazil, the Protestant community approaches 15 to 25 percent of the population. Throughout the region as a whole, there are now some estimated 50 million Protestants -- mostly Pentecostals -- up from a mere 200,000 at the beginning of the century." Second is that "politically, Latin American countries have inched closer toward democratic and participatory forms of government.
Apart from Alberto Fujimori's strange brand of authoritarianism in Peru, and Fidel Castro's anachronistic totalitarianism in Cuba, most Latin American countries have made notable strides towards democracy, replacing military regimes with elected, civilian governments. This democratic trend has not by any means been yet fully consolidated -- judicial systems, in particular, need overhauling; armies still retain great behind-the-scenes power; corruption is common. Nonetheless, democratic stirrings are evident." Dr. Sherman linked these demographic data to important implications with regard to the economic aspects of these societies.
4:30 - 6:00 PM Closing Plenary , "The Role of Christianity in the Emerging Unity of North and South America"
Reverend Chung Hwan Kwak, President of Inter-Religious Federation for World Peace; Chairman of International Religious Foundation, New York, New York, USA
Reverend Kwak gave some testimony of his experience as a 38 year disciple of Reverend Moon. "We were a tiny handful of war refugees, hungry and in rags. Yet somehow our lives had joy. Often we would stay awake until day-break listening to Reverend Moon as he passionately preached to our small number about the heart of Jesus and the Will of God. Reverend Moon would speak about Jesus and His contemporary followers with such love. Never was his teaching without profound implications for our own lives of faith."
He included in his talk an overview of the theological rationale for the vast array of international peace projects founded by Reverend Moon, and concluded with an outline of reasons for IRFWP's interest in the current conference: "1. The crisis of faith and the rise of disbelief and consumer and ideological materialism, and the resulting decline in the status of the church and its leadership among young people. 2. The disintegration of the family as the root for instilling in each person proper religious belief and faithful life, and the resultant sexual anarchy and social breakdown that derives from family breakdown. 3. Persistent disparity and injustice in economic opportunity, educational opportunity, and racial equality."
Mr. Dong Moon Joo, President of the Washington Times Foundation, and President of Newsworld Communications Inc.
In his closing remarks, Mr. Joo pointed out that while "The Washington Times Foundation is not a religious organization, and the Washington Times is not a religious newspaper at all, The Washington Times is the paper that respects religious values and insists that God;y principles contain within them, the fundamental solutions to the problems of modern society.... The Washington Times Foundation has been established to focus energies on mediating conflict in the world. Through conferences and dialogue we have contributed to bringing together people of opposing views between Arabs and Israelis, between North and South on the Korean Peninsula, and between races in the United States, particularly black and white. It is part of the mission of the Washington Times Foundation to be part of the healing process. That's why the Washington Times Foundation is also becoming a sponsor of reconciliation and harmony among Protestant and Catholic, and also North and South America.... Approaches of North and South America have been limited to an emphasis on political democracy or the building of external prosperity, there is a noticeable lack of serious effort being made to establish a spiritual base to support our material progress, and further, to encourage active cooperation between nations...
Our coming together here today has powerful symbolic meaning.
Protestants and Catholics and North and South Americans are originally brothers under the parenthood of God. Therefore, that separated brothers are united is good, not only for ourselves bur for mankind -- eventually, for God. It is steps like this that will truly open up the third millennium for humankind. The men and women of religion must lead the way."
Dr. William Cenkner , Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America; Conference Convener, Washington, D.C., USA
Dr. Cenkner entitled his closing remarks: "Three Phases of Ecumenism in the Americas." In these remarks Dr. Cenkner says: "Some will leave this conference with more questions than answers. And this is probably the way it should be. What underlies most of the questions is the growing distance between theory and experience, between ideology and practice, between belief systems and socio-political systems, between life within our churches and life in the greater society and world.... Twentieth century life is witness of the growing chasm between public and private affairs. The twenty-first century needs to bring into closer relationship and interaction these two phases of human life.
At the core of this problem is the reality of pluralism, a pluralism within and among religious communities. Pluralism is not a modernist category, but it is a fact of 20th century life...1) Christianity in the Americas has reached that moment I believe, to move from toleration to collaboration. We need to labor together.... 2) Theology and Scripture as [as] collaborative if not more inter-ecclesial disciplines... 3) A stage of phased reconciliation... [Finally] In the Third Millennium we need to bring into common cause both our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters."
The conference concluded with a tour of the cultural and religious cites of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and later that same day a joyous Christmas banquet at which the participants were treated to dramatic local dance, and a heavenly choir performing, and leading us all in Christmas Carols. At the end of the night gifts were exchanged.
True Christian ecumenism is a rigorous and demanding task. Many important strides towards authentic, loving harmony in the Christian family were successfully taken during these precious few days in Montevideo, Uruguay.
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