Canadian Mennonite
Volume 6, number 18
September 23, 2002

Glimpses of ‘ecumenical future’

If “our future is ecumenical”—as the feature article on pages 6-8 suggests—we should know at least a bit about the future towards which the ecumenical movement appears to be heading.

One such glimpse came to my attention the last week of August, on the eve of the first anniversary of the September 11 terrorist bombings in New York. Almost daily, we got e-mails reporting highlights from the August 26-September 3 meeting of the World Council of Churches Central Committee. And I downloaded more detailed reports from

What I found, for example, in the report of the WCC general secretary, was an articulate Anabaptist-sounding reflection on responding to the challenges of globalization and violence by “being church.” Here’s a sample:

•In the wake of September 11, 2001, “security has…become the central preoccupation of governments and people…. Churches are deeply divided about the question of whether and under what conditions to support military interventions in the…‘war on terrorism.’”

•“There are growing expectations from governments…that the leaders of religious communities might be able to restore communication between conflicting parties and break the spiral of violence, particularly in the Middle East. At the same time, religious sentiments and loyalties continue to be used to nurture enemy images and to legitimate aggressive strategies.”

•“While it would be an obvious over-simplification to establish a direct and causal link between the impact of economic globalization and the emergence of international terrorism, the potential of structural and even direct violence inherent in the power logic of economic globalization has become apparent…. It has become a central, biblically rooted affirmation in ecumenical discussion that peace and justice are inseparably related. True peace is the fruit of justice….”

• “For a short while after the events of September 11 there was the vain hope that the shock might lead to recognizing and acknowledging the fundamental condition of mutual vulnerability [of both the rich and the poor] and thus might become an incentive for new forms of cooperation and solidarity.” The response instead has been “to demand increased security against the threats of terrorism.”

•“God accepted in Jesus Christ the utter vulnerability and defenselessness of death on the cross in order to restore the covenantal relationship broken by human sin. God, the source of all power, became powerless in order to break the logic of domination and violence…. The ecumenical vision of transforming globalization and violence…is rooted in the very being of the church as an alternative community….”

The report goes on to identify how “being church” is emerging as a major theme between the 1998 assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, and the next assembly in 2006 in Brazil.

The vision is no longer one of a hierarchically organized world-wide church. The new vision is a “horizontal concept of interlocking networks”—a “new ecumenical configuration” which will connect the global and local dimensions of church and create some kind of “organic framework.” The major concern is that the world-wide unity of Christians find some form of visible expression—as an alternative to the worldly structures of inequality and dominance. The accompanying concern is that Christians around the world are connected not only by common projects but by their common faith.

At the 1998 assembly in Harare, a Mennonite representative helped to convince the WCC to initiate the Ecumenical Decade to Overcome Violence. There are huge openings for Mennonites to enter into, and benefit from, the discernment which is flowing from that decision.

—Ron Rempel, editor


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