Thursday, August 16, 2007
Adventures in Ecumenism (III): Gift-giving vs. Cherry-picking
It has become a commonplace to describe ecumenical encounter as a gift-exchange. We come to the table and share what unique gift each tradition has to offer the church universal. Cardinal Dulles made much of this metaphor in his lecture. Some people find that they learn more about the unique gift of their own tradition through the very process of this exchange.
A number of younger ecumenists, many of whom were present at the Oberlin conference a few weeks ago, experience ecumenism differently. For many of them, ecumenical dialogue is already going on in their own heads. When asked what tradition they represent, many younger ecumenists answer with a hodgepodge identity along these lines: "Well, I grew up Methodist, became a fundamentalist Baptist, then went to a liberal Presbyterian seminary, and now I am a catechumen in the Russian Orthodox Church." Even those who have a more consistent ecclesial identity often draw from a wide range of theological resources, signaled by strange monikers like "high-church Mennonite" or "Holiness Barthian." Diversity is no longer just about living with others, but living with ourselves.
Although this internal diversity may make us more open to dialogue, it may not in fact make us better dialogue-partners. Why? Because we are so prone to cherry-picking the ideas and practices we like from other traditions that we are often blinded to the different logic undergirding them. To cite just one example, some low-church protestants make use of Roman Catholic liturgical practices while rejecting or even ignoring the account of authority that underlies them. Now such cherry-picking may be entirely legitimate, but it can spoil ecumenical dialogue because what the Roman Catholic wants to offer as a gift (let's say, Roman primacy) is overlooked while the dialogue-partner simply takes what they want. The result is that we never get around to dealing with the knotty issues that divide us. So, we need to be careful to not get stuck cherry-pick but also exchange gifts.
What have you learned through an ecumenical gift-exchange?
Do you cherry-pick?
What are the benefits of cherry-picking?
What are the dangers?