On October 25th, the Consortium sponsored a discussion on the future of ecumenism at the Catholic University of America. Friedrich Wilhelm Graf, from the University of Munich, was the featured speaker, with responses offered by Michael Root of CUA and Sathianathan Clarke of Wesley Theological Seminary.
Dr. Graf’s comments were pessimistic, focussing on problems with the major ecumenical organizations like the WCC and the “well-fed functionaries” of ecumenism, as well as on the lack of a real need for ecumenical advancement. On this latter point, Dr. Graf spoke from the striking situation in Germany, where divisions between the churches are regarded as having no functional significance.
His rhetoric, while entertaining, was not entirely convincing, particularly given the sharp difference between the religious atmospheres of Germany and the United States, where religious persons are liable to latch on to the distinctives of their own tradition and make them fundamental to their religious identity (such as a Calvinist who heavily emphasizes the five points, or a Catholic who heavily emphasizes good works).
The responses were rather more substantive. Dr. Root sympathized with Dr. Graf’s lack of optimism, but made the crucial distinction between optimism based on evidence and hope based on faith. If we believe that in the end, the prayer of Christ “that they might be one” will be effective, we must persevere in ecumenical work in the face of trails and discouragements, even if we see nothing to indicate church unity will be restored before the Last Day. Meanwhile, Dr. Clarke offered encouragement by speaking of his background in the Church of South India, a concrete example of ecumenical work, brought to fruition.
The discussion did not end there. A number of questions were fielded by all the speakers, many of them offered by the sizable contingent of CUA students who were present. Unfortunately, the Consortium board and the other consortium schools were not very well represented at this engaging event on a topic of central concern to the Consortium. To help bring the schools together, we need to put more effort into promoting these events to the student bodies.