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.

Any thoughts?
What have you learned through an ecumenical gift-exchange?
Do you cherry-pick?
What are the benefits of cherry-picking?
What are the dangers?


WTM said...

I try not to cherry-pick, and I worry about the ecumenical consequences of doing so, as you pointed out. For my part, I want to learn one tradition very well before worrying about accurately understanding the logic of another.

To what extent does this cherry-picking problem stem from non-denominationalism? I have the 'new evangelicals' in mind, of course.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Thank you John...I am one of those persons...and I believe that faith development, as well as intellectual and moral development must be understood within the context of the individual...So, although one may grow up Baptist (Jesus alone) and understand faith as a literal atonement, and the Scriptures as supernaturally inspired, that does not mean that "education" in another more naturally centered faith tradition (grace perfects nature or nature is graced)is not "more healthy". For I believe that humans are by nature, social beings that identify with a group (context). But, as the individual undergoes transformation of mind, the shackles that inhibited their development in a certain area "fall off"...The "reasons" a person "holds to" a faith tradition is of importance...for it is then that one has struggled in understanding the why of their faith and has chosen then to commit to that faith tradition..A person who has a shame-based self concept will naturally respond to a message of love and acceptance...but that is not the ultimate for that individual...If the individual has certain gifts or strengths and desires, then, it is important for that person to pursue those "ends" to give back to God what has innately been given by Him...that is the message of 'stewardship"...I believe that what each individual at maturity "looks like and acts like" will be different because of personal convictions which may differ from another....Identifying with one side of the Quadralateral is probably necessary if one is pursuing a Ph.D., but I believe a healthy understanding of faith is combining ALL sides of the Quadralateral (and the disciplines that refer to them), so that faith seeking understanding has developed and is settled...That is my pursuit...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Oh, and by the way, understanding "self" within a "context" is an important demension with growing up (tradition), but understanding "faith" is coming to understand a broader and wider context than the one of identification...It is then that "self" chooses to commit for the sake of ministry...but that takes a struggle of self-understanding, as well as "other understanding"...and it is not about "conversion" from one faith to another. It is about understanding the dimensions to faith (and I am speaking about inter-religious dialogue...) and these are goals and purposes that humanity shares, not just Christians...

Left Coast Drury said...

I think your concerns about cherry-picking are a great observation. While you are raising this as a concern of ecumenical exchange, I see this same cherry-picking approach in the Willow Creek/Saddleback teaching style which cherry-picks Biblical translations looking for the English phrasing that suits the message or point being made without seeming to have any concern for the underlying logic or intent of the translators. Maybe Willow Creek/Saddleback teaching pastors have such a command of the original languages, they can freely choose their phraseology. Then again, maybe they are just cherry-pickers.

I think there is a deeper philosophical issue going on here.