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Faith leaders discuss interfaith, ecumenical ties

Believing God cares about all people, the Rev. Bob Edgar told those gathered for the Fig Tree anniversary lunch in Spokane that the United States’ greatness is its respect of different traditions.

Speaking on ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, he announced that there will be a larger ecumenical table in April 2005:  Christian Churches Together (CCT).
CCT will include Roman Catholics, the Salvation Army and Evangelical churches, as well as the National Council of Churches’ Protestant and Orthodox members.

“As churches lose money, there is good news.  They ask what they can do together,” Bob said.

CCT will be a new way Christians can come together to learn about each other’s traditions.  It will increase conversation among churches theologically from the right to the left, but it will be hard for it to take prophetic stands.  So it will not replace the NCC but will provide another level to ecumenical relationships, he said.

Bob likens ecumenical cooperation to a spaceship with docking stations, like Church World Service, Catholic Relief Services, World Relief, Lutheran World Relief, Evangelical Associations and Churches Uniting in Christ—formed by nine denominations open to share communion.

“The message for our times is for the Christian ecumenical community to come together so they can work on interfaith relations,” he said.

Local faith leaders then told him about local ecumenical and interfaith life.

The Rev. Randy Hyvonen the Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ (UCC) conference minister, said that he encouraged the local ecumenical council to become an interfaith council.

Randy Hyvonee
Randy Hyvonen

He said UCC pastors are involved in interfaith work in Richland, Yakima, Pullman and other communities of the region.  Beyond that many UCC congregations themselves are ecumenical:  Lutheran pastors serve two, others are federated UCC-United Methodist and UCC-Presbyterian; four are Disciples-UCC unions; one is a UCC-Mennonite combination and two are UCC-Brethren.

Interculturally, the regional UCC includes six Samoan congregations plus German, Taiwanese and Japanese congregations.  It has partnerships with Presbyterians in Seoul, Korea, Evangelical United Churches in Berlin, Germany, African congregations and a congregation in Russia.

“Our global perspective is emerging as we live on the Pacific Rim and need to look at the world with new eyes,” Randy said.

“Last fall, the Interfaith Council helped us focus on religious and environmental issues.  We found we are on the same page and use primary documents from the National Council of Churches to inform our stands,” he said.

Interfaith Council director Kateri Caron said Sept. 11 consolidated interfaith relations in Spokane as people gathered each week afterwards for vigils.

“To develop interfaith ties with Muslims seemed a logical ste

Kateri Caron
Kateri Caron

p,” she said, adding that she has heard positive feedback from unchurched people about the “move into the interfaith space from the I’m-right-you’re-wrong space.”

Kateri finds several common understandings:

• Each person is a human being.

• The core of every tradition is love, compassion and caring, and a call to work for all who are vulnerable in one’s own community and beyond.

She resists when people compliment her as a Christian with vision, and seek to steer her to condemn Evangelicals.  She meets regularly with the Rev. John Tusant, director of the Greater Spokane Association of Evangelicals.
“We look for what we can raise up and work for together,” she said.

Bishop Mize
Bishop Walton Mize, Sr.

Bishop Walt Mize of the Christ Holy Sanctified Church said his denomination is not in the ecumenical movement, but his aunt was Methodist, a cousin was Pentecostal, and he was Catholic before becoming Pentecostal.

“What will it take for us to see what God sees when we look at Spokane:  one Church, broken into pieces?  How can we move the pieces to see themselves as one, so that they work together for the peace of the city in which all may prosper?”

When Walt came to Spokane, he joined the Spokane Council of Ecumenical Ministries, the Greater Spokane Association of Evangelicals and the Interdenominational Ministers’ Fellowship Union.

I have been a thorn in the side of all three.  I ask the GSAE how they can do city-wide reconciliation if they talk only with Evangelical churches.  I helped the SCEM start Churches Against Racism to find positive solutions to racism in ways that involve churches in evangelization.  With 16 black churches for the nearly 3,000 black people in the community, it’s clear there are many to evangelize, but we live in a 97-percent white population.  Churches should reflect that.  Government cannot mandate integration of churches.  We need to make it happen.”

“When I travel overseas, I attend services with people of different faiths.  We can act in goodwill to love people who are different,” he said.  “How can we put aside what divides us to act for the common good?  As churches work together, the renewal Evangelical churches pray for will happen.”

Bishop Martin Wells of the Eastern Washington Idaho Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) said ecumenical dialogue concerns order and power: “Who is in charge?"

Martin Wells
Bishop Martin Wells

Within churches there are divisions.  When the Lutheran Church started in the 1500s, there were divisions among leaders and then divisions by nationalities—Danes, Finns, Swedes and Germans.

Lutherans are involved in bilateral and multilateral dialogues with Catholics, Methodists, Orthodox, Disciples of Christ, and with those in full-communion, the Episcopalians, Moravians and the Reformed churches—Presbyterians, Reformed Church in America and United Church of Christ.

Other levels of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue include The Fig Tree, the Washington Association of Churches, the Interfaith Council, the Spokane Alliance, Whitworth College and Gonzaga University, Martin said.

He also participates in personal dialogue with the Octet—once eight—judicatory leaders who meet Wednesdays for breakfast. 

“We receive one another as brothers and sisters confessing Jesus Christ and as colleagues,” he said.

Martin challenges the region on its unfinished dialogue on the Catholic Bishops’ Pastoral on the Columbia Watershed.  “We need to begin conversations about water justice issues, about who has rights and access to the West’s limited water supply,” he remarked.

In follow-up discussion, Bob said the National Religious Partnership on the Environment with the NCC has worked “secretly”—meaning with little press coverage—for 10 years with Roman Catholics and Evangelicals for Social Responsibility, Reformed Judaism and the World Council of Churches, collaborating on environmental issues in 20 states.

On Sept. 11, Bob said:  “We learned about the world and rediscovered that we do not live in isolation.  After World War II, we rebuilt enemy nations.  In the 1950s and 1960s, churches filled, and there were strong youth programs.  Churches became complacent in the 1970s and began to refocus on denominationalism.

“In the 1980s and 1990s, churches discovered money was important and began to focus on survival.  As they continue that trend, mainline denominations become irrelevant,” Bob said.

Since Sept. 11, he said, Americans realized oceans no longer provide protection.

We discovered we are interconnected,” he said.  “We received much international compassion and support, but we have squandered it, becoming the nation the terrorists say we are.

“If we are to survive as a nation, the war on terrorism should be a police action with all nations collaborating to address issues that create terrorism.  If we address terrorism and its causes—by feeding and educating people—we can model democracy, pluralism and compassionate rule that help people living in poverty and hopelessness,” he said. In one sense, exporting jobs to alleviate poverty may be okay, if jobs here are maintained and jobs both abroad and here pay living wages so people have access to health care and education,” he said.

Spending New Year’s Eve 2003 in Bagdhad with Orthodox Christians, Chaldean Catholics and Presbyterians, Bob learned that under sanctions, hospitals were denied parts to repair equipment and water pipes because those items “might be used” for weapons of mass destruction.  “So children died of diseases we don’t see here,” he said.

“All faiths are damaged by a handful of overly literalistic, violent core of Christians, Muslims and Jews.  We should not label all Christians, Muslims or Jews by the handful,” he asserted.

In several sessions in Spokane, Bob quoted Martin Luther King’s words of 1968 in Washington, D.C., words that continue to give impetus to his ministry:  “Darkness does not drive out darkness, only love can.  Hate does not drive out hate, only love can.  Violence multiplies violence.  Toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.  That chain reaction of evil must be broken or we will be plunged into an abyss of annihilation.”

Bob considers Sept. 11 a “test of faith,” moving people from being an isolationist nation to becoming a global village, from isolated churches, synagogues and mosques to brothers and sisters of different faith traditions.

“We gathered for common prayer and community interaction.  We gathered to walk, talk, sing, pray and learn about our neighbors, people we are called to love,” he said.

He also considers it a test of faith that calls people “to love our enemies, to be peacemakers, to have the courage of Jesus, to stand up to intolerance, to stand firm on principles and never to stand by when there is violence and never to stand still when we are called to act.”

For information, visit www.ncccusa.org.


By Mary Stamp, Fig Tree editor - Copyright © September 2004