The Words of the Wells Family
Dr. Paul Mojzes, convenor of the conference, chats with participants.
The New Ecumenical Research Association (New ERA) grew out of a summer seminar on Unification theology and lifestyle held in 1979 in the Virgin Islands. This first meeting brought together Unificationists, professors of religion, and Christian clergy from various denominations to study and discuss the Principle and its applications.
Although the discussions were often punctuated by sharp disagreements, the conference ended with a feeling of collegiality and goodwill that transcended doctrinal differences. Many of the participants, although they continued to disagree on points of doctrine, became close friends and defenders of the Unification Church, and some are now even convening conferences under our auspices.
From 1980 to the present, New ERA has not only continued to sponsor seminars on Unification theology and lifestyle but has expanded its activities to include the international and inter-religious conference on "God: The Contemporary Discussion" In this conference, as in all its activities, New ERA encourages participants to discuss controversial issues openly and freely, without any obligation to agree on points of doctrine or ideology, on the assumption that the mutual understanding and respect fostered by such discussions will promote religious harmony and world peace.
In 1986, New ERA further expanded its activities to include dialogue between Christians and Marxists. Dr. Paul Mojzes, a Methodist minister and member of the New ERA advisory board, has written extensively on Christian-Marxist dialogue. A native of Yugoslavia, Dr. Mojzes spent the summer of 1985 traveling through Western and Eastern Europe to visit past participants in such dialogues.
New ERA's first Christian-Marxist dialogue was then convened by Dr. Mojzes in September 1986, in Weggis, Switzerland. Among the participants were twelve scholars and clergy from Eastern Europe (including three from Yugoslavia, three from Poland, two from Hungary, two from East Germany, and one from the Soviet Union), and six from Western Europe (including three from West Germany, one from Switzerland, one from the Netherlands, and one from Norway). Approximately half of the participants were Christians and half were Marxists, but the distinction between Christians and Marxists did not coincide with the distinction between East and West: four of the Christians were from Eastern Europe, and one of the Marxists was from Western Europe.
The theme of the dialogue was "Christian and Marxist Views on a Just Society:' The conference opened with a paper critical of Marxism, presented by Dr. William van der Bercken, a Roman Catholic professor from the Netherlands. It was sharply critiqued from the Marxist side by two professors (one from Poland and one from Yugoslavia), and the rest of the first day was devoted to discussion. The second day began with a paper by Dr. Svetozar Stojanovic, a Marxist professor from Yugoslavia, which was then critiqued by a Roman Catholic priest from Poland and a Lutheran minister from Norway. The third and last full day of the conference was devoted to discussion of the papers and the general theme.
Although no consensus was expected, and none was reached on any issue except the value of the dialogue itself, at least one important lesson emerged from the meeting: a realization of the diversity within both Christianity and Marxism. Some of the Christians present were adamantly opposed to Marxist ideology in general, while others opposed only the more totalitarian and/or atheistic forms. Some of the Marxist participants, while deeply committed to socialism as an essential element of a just society, were vehemently opposed to Stalinism and other forms of totalitarian communism.
Several of the Marxists felt that their ideology was fundamentally atheistic, in the sense that belief in God is considered an illusion; but even some of these opposed religious repression on the grounds that religious values often have beneficial social consequences. Some of the other Marxist participants, however, argued for a socialism that is "atheistic" not in the sense of dogmatically excluding belief in God, but only in the milder sense of approaching social problems scientifically, from a humanistic perspective rather than a religious one. Some Christian participants, of course, pointed out that they could never regard belief in God as an illusion, and others argued that social problems cannot be solved if religious considerations are ignored. Furthermore, objections were raised to the implication that Marxism is more "scientific" than Christianity, since the philosophical assumptions of the former appear to be as unverifiable as the religious convictions of the latter.
As usually happens at such conferences, no one was noticeably converted to the opposite side, but participants departed with at least a better understanding of the positions, and with a commitment to continuing the discussion. Accordingly, a second New ERA Christian-Marxist dialogue is being planned for Austria in mid-1987. This second meeting will expand the dialogue beyond Europe by including participants from North America.
The 1986 dialogue has also opened a door for the sort of summer seminars with which New ERA began: In 1987, the annual conference on Unification theology and lifestyle is being planned for Yugoslavia. For the first time in the history of New ERA, one of its conferences will teach the Principle in a communist country.