Today I intend to change direction and return to the theme of unity and diversity. I will do this by way of a short book with an interesting theme that links unity and diversity to justice. The book is Christ's Body in Corinth:The Politics of a Metaphor by Yung Suk Kim. It examines the metaphor of the Body of Christ in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians.
Over the next few posts I will examine what Kim is saying and how it applies to ecumenism in England today.
Before I do that I will review the three dimensions of ecumenism and identify where the divisions are.
- The first dimension is divisions between churches. In Britain and Europe a great deal of progress has been made towards reconciliation between the mainstream churches.
- However, when we look at reception of the results of formal talks in the churches, things cannot be said to be quite so successful. There is a definite sense of antagonism between local Christians and national church leaders. Formal talks locally are seen as irrelevant and petty whilst church leaders do not take the experiences of local churches seriously or are seen as patronising when they do. Frustration is manifested at the local level by the growth of fresh expressions and a plethora of small non-alligned churches. Many of these see themselves as ecumenical, meaning they ignore denominational differences.
- The introspection on the part of the churches leads to a perception that they do not care about people, about the marginalised.
From the perspective of oikoumene, ecumenism seems narrow and fixated upon relationships between church leaders, and the activities acceptable to them.
Kim argues (page 2) that churches tend to make claims of Christ as a 'boundary marker' and he asks the following questions (page 3):
Who gets to speak about unity? Is unity an essential goal? Or is it an ideologically disguised political rhetoric of control? Did Paul really emphasise unity as we conceive of it today?
These questions cut to the core of the assumptions made by ecumenists and perhaps reveal something of the tensions between local and national ecumenists. Perhaps also it reveals something of the assumptions they have in common. Kim writes (page 3):
... from the perspective of the powerless or the marginalised, unity is often not the solution to their predicaments, because it too often serves a rhetoric of power that sacrifices diversity.
I would argue this happens where the churches have stopped receiving from the poor and marginalised, where the churches have been too concerned with ordering their relationships with each other to the negligence of their relationship with the rest of the world.