Over time I have become increasingly convinced that the work of Christian ecumenism for cooperation and mutual understanding among different Christian traditions and denominations is vital for addressing the urgent global challenges facing all of humanity and the community of all creation. As the World Council of Churches affirms, it is vital for churches to “engage in Christian service by serving human need, breaking down barriers between people, seeking justice and peace, and upholding the integrity of creation.”
That being said, I don’t think the efforts to find unity in the doctrines and practices of the Christian faith are necessarily beneficial for the creation of Beloved Community in our world. The Christian faith has been its most dangerous and its most deadly when it is at its most unified and when it seeks to make the whole world Christian. Historically, the more unified and more powerful Christian churches have become within human societies, the more patriarchal, autocratic, colonialistic, homophobic, xenophobic, and genocidal and the less free for persons who orient themselves differently to religion those societies have become.
When the church has experienced great unity and great power in society, it has justified Crusades, Inquisitions, the Doctrine of Discovery, the colonization and genocide of indigenous peoples, the expulsion and extermination of Jewish persons, the enslavement of persons of color, the subordination of women, the oppression of persons who are LGBTQ2S+, and now with the rise of Christian nationalism, the xenophobic rejection and mistreatment of immigrants and refugees. Christian unity is a product of empire; created by empire to gain, maintain, and expand imperial power. It is a power that has nothing to with Jesus. In fact it is the very antithesis of Jesus.
When justice for all persons and creation continually gets sacrificed at the altar of Christian unity, one must question the value of Christian unity. Perhaps a more appropriate goal for ecumenism is “reconciled diversity” as suggested by my friend and theologian Kris Kvam. Greater mutual understanding, sharing in service, cooperating in justice making and peacemaking, and finding other ways to advance the common good of all humanity and the community of all creation are laudable goals of ecumenism; but it is time to let go of the dream of Christian unity, a residue of imperial colonizing Christianity, that is a nightmare for so many.
Perhaps if we could agree to affirm a few well-chosen principles…..