Friday, November 17, 2006

Ecumenism and liberal politics

At the risk of seriously offending some of the folks at my meeting back in Grand Rapids, I have been thinking about ecumenism this afternoon while talking with a theology prof. While discussing things such as liberal democracies and other things that are generally only discussed openly within the realm of liberal democracies, the subject of truth or narratives as being inherently oppressive came up. Reinhold Neibuhr suggests that their are two types of utopias, those that are dangerous such as communism or fascism, and those that are not, such as Quakerism or other non-violent communities. Obviously, Neibuhr didn't think that Quakers were particularly competitive in the marketplace of ideas, or if he did, you would only find Friends on the clearance rack of the religious apparel aisle. Circling back, does a narrative have to be competitive with others in order to be legitimate, and if so, can it survive without doing a certain kind of violence (not necessarily physical, but perhaps cultural) to those who do not subscribe to it. Can a story-formed community experience growth and retain intellectual integrity if it does not compete, in some sense, with other narratives or truth claims.

This brings us to ecumenism. What is possibly gained by Quaker communities who engage in a dialogue but refuse to insist upon non-violence, social and economic justice, and equality as understood truths upon which God is properly reflected. Friends who have been anxious to participate in ecumenical organizations, especially with churches or faiths that do not adhere to the non-violent example of Jesus as understood in Scripture and by the early church, are selling our peculiarity short. Already, many FGC Friends are dedicated to the support of liberal political institutions that (mainly the Democratic party)
have historically and contemporarily done nothing but underwrite the national narrative of wealth obtained and defended through physical and economic violence. A liberal corporate machine is still a machine, and human beings that exist outside of the operators chair get caught up in the grind. Ecumenism, especially alongside of mainstream institutions of faith, dilute the Quaker testimonies to non-violent peace-making, equality, and justice, by yoking Friends with institutions that thrive only on coercive power, whether it be through military means abroad or the ballot box at home.

While ecumenism might win Quakers friends and respect from those who subscribe to the mainstream narrative of political power struggles and victory at all costs, it does very little to enhance the once distinctive elements of our faith that made Quakers a peculiar people.
How much more will people be lovingly served by a community that insists upon serving from a place of humility, than by a community insistent upon the acquisition and maintenance of a political machine ordered to do the job that Quaker communities should be doing on their own.

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