Note: The text below was written in response to questions addressed to me over a year ago, by Rev. Dorin Druhora (now Rev. Dr. Druhora), from Los Angeles, US, while he was doing his doctoral research on Evangelical-Orthodox relations in the USA. In the mean time he has successfully defended his thesis and I will publish soon some details about it.
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- Please define the uniqueness of the ecumenical dialogue here on the North American continent, in contrast with the dialogue in Europe or elsewhere? Do you see a paradigm that is specific to western culture (particularly in US, in the context of a pluralist Christian tradition or in the light of the dialogical development)? If your expertise is focused more on Europe, please address the question based on your experience.
DM – Although I never lived in the US, I traveled extensively there and I follow constantly the religious landscape there. Ecumenism is well and alive in the US. Yet, it involved more the Catholics and the mainline Protestants. Many of the American evangelical leaders do not strike me as very open ecumenically. That is true especially with the neo-reformed movement (the likes of Piper and Mohler), which is the new form of fundamentalism. However, there is a lot to appreciate also.
The movement called Evangelicals and Catholics Together, which has significantly slowed down now, is a remarkable example. Although a number of initiatives were attempted, there is nothing comparable to this on the evangelical-Orthodox front. This may be explained by the small number of Orthodox believers in the US. The situation is similar in the West of Europe. In UK however, theologically speaking, the resurgence of Trinitarianism in the last decades (by theologians like Colin Gunton, Thomas Torrance and others) was influenced in a major way by the visibility of Orthodox theologians like John Zizioulas, Andrew Louth or Andrew Walker.
Pluralism certainly helps ecumenical dialogue. In homogeneous cultures people rarely feel the need to engage with minorities. That is why I see pluralism as a blessing, rather than a problem.
- What are some of the major challenges of ecumenical dialogue in North America? (Or Europe) Something that you have encountered or that you have observed in the midst of ecumenical conversation, at different levels (personal, academic and ecclesial/organizational). Are these challenges unique to North America? (or Europe).
DM – I have been an ecumenist all my life. I was born as a Christian ecumenist. This is not something acquired. It is in my blood. It defines my identity and my commitment.
Because of this, I look at ecumenism with different eyes. I am structurally a realist (some would describe me as a pessimist, but with so much unrealistic optimism in America, it is no surprise my American friends see me this way). My ecumenical experiences have been from the whole spectrum, from the worst to the very best. However, generally, it seems to me that ecumenism is not doing too well in the world in the last two decades.
WCC has never done very well, but it seems it is really dying these days. And maybe it deserves to die, as in promoted an unrealistic, ideological, highly institutional, lowest common denominator kind of ecumenism. No surprise then that it lost its attraction to the younger generation, with its postmodern suspicion towards institutions and bureaucracy. This is the kind of ecumenism that dominated Western Europe.
The Global Christian Forum tries to replace it and it has the advantage (unlike WCC) of also including the Catholics. Yet, I am not so sure of its future, mostly because of its lack of a grass roots dimension.
In Central and Eastern Europe, after the fall of communism there was a resurgence of grass roots ecumenism that made many young people enthusiastic and hopeful. This, however, was short lived. Ecclesial institutions recovered quickly from the ambiguity of the sudden change and reassessed its control and promoted a more or less sectarian denominational identity. And, I believe, this is true of all Christians traditions, from the majority churches to the smallest minorities.
Things we were able to do ecumenically in the nineties are not imaginable now. I could give you countless examples. Genuine ecumenical initiatives are rare, and they are often pursued at great prices and with the risk of strong reactions from church hierarchy.
As much as I see the US, things are not much different there. There were not many Evangelical-Orthodox dialogue initiatives there, and even those are now dormant. Even Catholic-Evangelical dialogue initiatives, which were very consistent in the nineties – even if not institutional – have almost totally disappeared.
- What do you see for the future of the ecumenical dialogue, here in America (or Europe) and in a broader sense globally? What steps do you consider necessary in order to build the ecumenical bridge not only between Orthodox and Evangelicals but among all Christian traditions?
DM – Ecumenism is not doing too well currently in the world. My only hope is that, with the rise of secularism and persecution, Christians of various traditions will be forced again to work together, beyond denominational barriers. Otherwise the church will become totally irrelevant in our world.
Real and sustainable ecumenism has to develop at the grass roots and grow from there, reaching eventually the top of ecclesial institutions.
Certainly, the presence and influence of providential leaders, like Pope Francis, could help a lot. Yet, such people are the exception, rather than the norm if the Christian world, which is dominated by selfish entrepreneurs and soulless bureaucrats.