Moral Ecumenism

One of the things I first noticed when I became executive officer for the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission in 2002, was the difficulty of getting agreement among the Churches on issues of a moral nature concerning our society. For instance, there had been some attempt in the past (our files had the draft statements) to organise a joint Christian stand on the matter of abortion in Victoria. These attempts never finally saw the light of day, as the period in which they were attempted coincided with a new division among Christians themselves on moral issues surround matters of human life and sexuality. To this day, “moral ecumenism” seems a doomed endeavour.

And yet, and yet… We have seen at the same time a coming together, precisely over moral questions, not only of Christians previously divided but also with other religous groups, particularly some groups of Jews and Muslims. Here in Victoria this is evidenced by the existence of the Ad Hoc Interfaith group which includes members of protestant groups such as the Presbyterians (not known otherwise for their ecumenical engagement in this country), Lutherans and Evangelicals, together with other Evangelicals and Catholics, and indeed with some significant input from a significant member of the Jewish Community. In the US there are movements such as “Evangelicals and Catholics Together”, a particular project of the late Fr Richard John Neuhaus. The anti-abortion movement in the US has seen a quite astonishing coming together of Evangelicals and Catholics – overcoming many previously existing animosities.

Now, the new Health Scheme mandate of the Obama administration in the US seems to be forging another round of ties between groups not previously regarded as obvious bedfellows. Here is an example from the blog of my one time neighbour and friend, Pastor Matt Harrison, the President of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod: Lutherans Support Catholics on HHS Mandate (From the LCMS Reporter online. Catholic bishop ‘overwhelmed’ by Lutheran support). The story includes some neat pictures of pastors and members of the LCMS in Fort Wayne, Indiana, standing in solidarity with the local Catholic community and their bishop Kevin Rhodes against the restriction of religious freedom represented by the HHS Mandate.

Of course, the pictures also tell a story about who isn’t there. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America congregations and pastors did not take part in this protest. And so we see the sad side of even this “good news story”: while moral issues draw together members of some religious communities with those communities from which they have been historically divided, never-the-less new divisions are opened up (or should I say, exposed?) precisely within those very communities over these very issues. What kind of times do we live in, when we see Lutherans of one ilk standing side by side with Catholics over an issue on which they cannot stand together?

This should be a warning to Catholics also. It is no secret that there are divisions between the members of the Catholic Church on issues of morality. Not that the Church is divided, of course – communion remains intact, and the Church’s magisterial teaching has not wavered. But we should be aware of how crucial it is that the members of the Church (and her bishops) remain united in their stand on these moral issues, lest these real divisions of opinions between Catholics manifest themselves in a real division of communion. Thankfully, as far as one can tell, the issue of the HHS mandate has done more to unite Catholics in the States than divide them. Yet we cannot ever take such a stand for granted.

Perhaps here too is a connection with the (otherwise seemingly unrelated) issue of the possibility of the SSPX returning to the fold of the Catholic Church. From a Catholic point of view, when there is a formal division in the Catholic Church (such as occured with the Lefebvre movement), this is not seen as a split “within” the Church, but a split “from” the Church. Yet there can be no doubt that the Pope has set the goal of restoring communion with the Lefebvrites so high precisely because of the danger of a permanent split “within” the Church. The recent review of the LCWR in the US could be seen in a similar light – a significant group “within” the Catholic fold whose position, especially on moral matters, threatens to create division within the Church. An argument has been mounted that, even though the SSPX disagrees with (say) 5% of what the Catholic Church officially teaches on some lesser points of doctrine, is it not ironic that this bars them from communion when other groups currently in full communion with the Catholic Church disagree on a much larger percentage of much more fundamental doctrines of the Church?

This might be seen within the context of another issue. I have, in recent days, been debating in another circle the question of the movement that has come to call itself “progressive Christianity”, and whether or not this movement can claim to be an authentic Christian “tradition”. Not yet a denomination as such, this movement exists across the Christian community as a real threat to the inner unity of many Christian denominations – our Catholic community included. These “progressive Christians” question not only the traditional morality of the Christian tradition, but also fundamental doctrines concerning Christology, Scripture, and the nature of the Triune God. Yet they remain within their particular folds – most of which have public confessions of faith and morality which are perfectly traditions – as a destabilising factor in the inner unity of their communties.

All this leads me to wonder whether, under our very noses, the whole ecumenical landscape is being drastically redrawn. No longer is it a matter of repatching old divisions between (for eg.) Catholics and Protestants. These traditional divisions continue to exist on a formal level at the level of the public institutions known as “the Churches”, but within the various Christian communities themselves, the rise of “progressive Christianity” appears to be taking place at the same time that a drawing together of more traditional forms of Christianity is taking place. I, for one, have no idea where this will all eventually lead. For the moment, it is of great interest to me to see the new friendships being forged at the line of battle for Christian freedom and traditional morality in our society.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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18 Responses to Moral Ecumenism

  1. Hannah says:

    “This should be a warning to Catholics also. It is no secret that there are divisions between the members of the Catholic Church on issues of morality. Not that the Church is divided, of course – communion remains intact, and the Church’s magisterial teaching has not wavered. But we should be aware of how crucial it is that the members of the Church (and her bishops) remain united in their stand on these moral issues, lest these real divisions of opinions between Catholics manifest themselves in a real division of communion. ”
    David , there is so much political ill will within the “catholic communion” even with moral issues that even blind Freddie and his dog would battle wading through it and I dont believe it’s solvable, because it begins at the top and goes all the way down. That is why the abortion issue was lost and so will the other pending moral issues be lost for the same reasons. Though it should never have been so. Now trying to “undo” the legislation (abortion) will be a houdini of a trick and stopping other moral demands by others will also be a houdini trick.
    And please dont edit what I said David. Thanks

  2. Dan says:

    Thank you Mr Schutz for your considered thoughts, for articulating things that I have felt, but couldn’t quite put into words. Particularly the point in the last paragraph about the “progressives”.

    This would never happen, but… I wish the queen would just leave the Anglicans! lol I wish she would take her title of “…defender of the faith” (I think that’s it) and join the Ordinariate! Now that, would really shake things up! That, would make a lot of traditionally minded Christians sit up and really think about their moral opposition that hinders the authentic progress we need to make this world a better place, and the salvation of souls.
    One can dream!

  3. Matthias says:

    Thanks for this Schutz. “a drawing together of more traditional forms of Christianity is taking place” that is why I am critical of poeple in denominaitons who think that by demonising each other they are doing God’s work, when in fact the battle is against a watering down and dilution of God’s word to make it culturally relevant rather than the neverchnaging Gospel in an everchanging world

    • Schütz says:

      I think this is largely my point, Matthias. The good Lutherans represented by my friend Pastor Harrison have certainly not abandoned their protestantation against the doctrines of the “Roman Church”, but they have put the whole thing into perspective and seen where the real battle lines lie. They realise that, while they may disagree with some of the doctrines of the Catholic Church, they are nevertheless brothers and sisters of the same family and need to stand together. I wish that more Protestants could do this.

      For myself, I saw the way things were going in my own protestant community. The divisions between progressives and traditionalists in the Lutheran Church of Australia have not yet succeeded in tearing that community apart (qudos to them), but it will come to the crunch eventually. And yet some traditional Lutherans in the LCA camp still see the Catholic Church as “Enemy No. 1”. I, on the other hand, realised after much soul searching that there must be some reason why the Catholic Church has remained firm on moral issues, as well as on issues such as women’s ordination, Christology, Scripture etc. There must be something that keeps it going, where all the protestant churches are falling apart, despite the fact that there are just as many “progressive” Catholics as there are “progressive” Protestants. In the end, one cannot escape the conclusion that Christ really meant his promise to Peter, that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church of God.

  4. Mary H says:

    “Thankfully, as far as one can tell, the issue of the HHS mandate has done more to unite Catholics in the States than divide them.”
    I agree. In fact, rather than making the Church out to be archaic and anti-woman, I’m seeing Catholics under about 40 years old actually wondering what the Church teaches about contraception. Remember, this is the generation of women who grew up with contraception and found out it wasn’t quite everything it was cracked up to be. Despite what some loud voices say, I think there’s interest in other options. And I know very few people who think women are going to suffer if Georgetown students have to pay for their own contraceptives. Sheesh.
    More moving, to me at least, is that groups of Christians who used to think of us as the “whore of Babylon” and question whether we were even Christian in the first place, are standing with us. They really seem to admire that we’re standing up for the issues that are very unpopular (at least with the MSM). I can understand why the Bishop was overwhelmed.

    “The recent review of the LCWR in the US could be seen in a similar light – a significant group ‘within’ the Catholic fold whose position, especially on moral matters, threatens to create division within the Church.”
    They may have used the moral matters as examples, but the leadership of the LCWR is far gone doctrinally as well. And I’m not talking about fine points of theology either, or even the ordination of women. They’re not sure of the idea of the Eucharist as *the* sign of unity, and wonder whether one could take one’s spiritual journey “beyond Christ”. And then for Sister Joan Chittister to think they’ve done “nothing wrong” to provoke the oversight. I’d say most Catholics, if they actually read some of what the LCWR leadership was writing, would not only say the USCCB was justified, but wonder why it took them so long.

    “even though the SSPX disagrees with (say) 5% of what the Catholic Church officially teaches on some lesser points of doctrine, is it not ironic that this bars them from communion when other groups currently in full communion with the Catholic Church disagree on a much larger percentage of much more fundamental doctrines of the Church?”
    The SSPX believes that there are fundamental doctrines which define who is Catholic. They own up to that 5% disagreement. People like much of the leadership of the LCWR (or Pelosi or Sebelius) don’t believe that agreement on fundamental doctrines is important in defining who is Catholic. Their being Catholic is based on something else, maybe on family history, maybe on an idea of religion being aligned with justice in the world, maybe on a secular ideology of some kind, etc. So if they are are formally investigated and told to change, they will see it as an attack on them for their ideas about justice, or for being women, or something else. I believe they just don’t think that differences in doctrine are justifiable reasons for them to be told to change or to be formally considered out of communion with the Catholic Church.

    As for progressives, maybe it’s my past background as a feminist, but that movement doesn’t look at all new to me. What does look new, or perhaps just more mature, is the drawing together of elements from other Christian churches. I’m very much encouraged by this, and I must say, I get overwhelmed too, sometimes.

  5. PM says:

    Much of this is indeed encouraging but I have one caveat: that it doesn’t meld into an identification of orthodox Christianity with the radical free-market social darwinism and shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later foreign policy of the US right. That is a distortion not just of the Catholic position (cf Rerum Novarum and later teaching) but alsoof the Scriptures, which are insistent on concern for the poor.

    Moreover, alliance with the ‘God and guns’ tendency is self-defeating. One of the main reasons society has stopped listening on abortion is the identification of the pro-life movement with the right of the Republican party – which has scant regard for life if it’s poor, black, Arab, etc, etc.

    • Mary H says:

      @PM “the Republican party – which has scant regard for life if it’s poor, black, Arab, etc, etc.”

      I’m used to seeing this mis-characterization from the MSM and on many other blogs. Here, not so much.

      You do realize that conservatives, according to a liberal study, give more to charity even after disallowing church contributions? Liberals seem to make the mistake of assuming that any opposition to a program that is intended to benefit a needy group is the same as opposing help to that group. Social justice is not the same as voting for anything that is *supposed* to help.

      This is a real problem, because I think Republicans / conservatives need the balance of Democrats / liberals. Republicans tend to be more on the “justice”, “tough-love” side and Democrats on the “mercy”, “fix it now no matter what” side. When Democrats assume that any opposition to their programs is racist / bigoted / against the poor, they miss out on what Republicans really do know about helping the needy, and miss a chance to build common ground.

      For example, nice as it sounds, the minimum wage either has no effect (as when everyone is already getting it) or it most negatively effects those who are the neediest by eliminating the lowest paid jobs. Really, Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree on this (it’s well documented) and move on to what to do about people who are only able to work at jobs that don’t pay a living wage. Raising the minimum wage may make you feel good about helping the poor, but it doesn’t actually help.

      In the same way, I was appalled at the Republican program to force welfare mothers of small children, even under a year of age, to go to work at minimum wage jobs to keep their welfare benefits. So if a welfare mother leaves her children with strangers to work as a grocery store cashier, or maybe even as a daycare worker watching someone else’s kids, that’s work, but staying home to take care of her own kids isn’t?

      I really wish the two parties could discuss the issues without demonizing the other. They have a lot to offer each other.

  6. Matthias says:

    Thanks for taht Schutz again. i gently-i hope-commented on a Orthodox blog that it was Metropolitan Hilarion who said that the issue is now between traditional Christians and progressives;between the culturally relevanites and the Gospelites , and that it was really not a case of Orthodox versus the rest but of the orthodox-from across the Christian churches-against the rest.

  7. Peregrinus says:

    “. . . even though the SSPX disagrees with (say) 5% of what the Catholic Church officially teaches on some lesser points of doctrine, is it not ironic that this bars them from communion when other groups currently in full communion with the Catholic Church disagree on a much larger percentage of much more fundamental doctrines of the Church?”

    Well, I see your point, but is it really accurate to say that it’s the doctrinal views of the SSPX which “bar them from communion”? The truth is that there is a small but not insignificant number of Catholics in full communion whose doctrinal position is not really distinguishable from that of the SSPX. The impediment to communion is not so much the doctrinal views of the SSPX as the actions they took on foot of those views – viz, ordaining their own bishops.

    And perhaps this highlights a different irony – it’s partly (and perhaps largely) because they took those actions that the church is now so concerned to bring them back into the fold. A schismatic movement is one thing; a schismatic movement with its own valid-but-illicit episcopal and sacerdotal line is another. I confess that I haven’t really followed the LCWR brouhaha in any detail, but there is a striking difference in approach in relation to the two organisations. With the SSPX, the church seems anxious to find common ground, and work towards agreed understandings, with a view to restoring full communion. With the LCWR, the church seems to be taking positions which involve – in the view of at least some commentators – quote-mining, and interpreting every ambiguity in the most negative way, in order to minimise common ground and to justify disciplinary measures against the people involved, rather than addressing the issues they raise.

    The lesson seems fairly clear – if you want the church to engage with your issues, go into schism and, if possible, get yourselves some valid episcopal ordinations. This may seem cynical, but it is undoubtedly the set of incentives which the church seems to be creating. We should not be surprised if dissidents respond to these incentives.

    • Mary H says:

      @pere “quote-mining” and “interpreting every ambiguity in the most negative way”? Instead of addressing the issues they raise? What are you smoking? Have you *read* any of their documents for yourself? Perhaps the CDF ought to be charging them with arianism or syncretism instead of direct disobedience to their bishops and “ordaining” women? Honestly, what more do they have to do to warrant the CDF action? If not them, then who?

  8. Peregrinus says:

    “All this leads me to wonder whether, under our very noses, the whole ecumenical landscape is being drastically redrawn. No longer is it a matter of repatching old divisions between (for eg.) Catholics and Protestants. These traditional divisions continue to exist on a formal level at the level of the public institutions known as “the Churches”, but within the various Christian communities themselves, the rise of “progressive Christianity” appears to be taking place at the same time that a drawing together of more traditional forms of Christianity is taking place. I, for one, have no idea where this will all eventually lead. For the moment, it is of great interest to me to see the new friendships being forged at the line of battle for Christian freedom and traditional morality in our society.”

    Interesting thought.

    I don’t mean this in a pejorative sense, but what we could be seeing here is something analogous to “moral relativism” (and perhaps something which is a reaction to moral relativism). Let’s call it “doctrinal relativism” or “ecclesiological relativism”. Essentially, it’s the idea that differences in belief or ecclesiology either (a) don’t matter or (b) matter less than was formerly thought, in the light of a shared moral or social position.

    Perhaps another way of seeing it is as an adjustment of priorities. The differences that use to divide people no longer do, because they relate to things that no longer seem as important as they did in the past; those people now accord relatively more importance to (e.g.) abortion law or marriage law, and relatively less to (e.g.) a shared eucharistic faith, resulting in a degree of realignment in their religions relationships and religious communities.

    I said at the outset that I don’t intend this in a pejorative way, and I mean that, but I realise that it could easily look that way. It would be richly ironic if more traditionally-minded Christians, some of whom have long accused more progressive Christians of reducing the faith to a social agenda, were to realign with conservatives of other denominations because of a shared social conservatism.

    • Mary H says:

      @Peregrinus “doctrinal relativism” or “ecclesiological relativism” is, I think, a very good description of the LCWR leadership, Catholics for Choice, etc. They are clearly willing to drop or re-prioritize doctrine for what they perceive as empowering the powerless and serving the needy.

      I see where you get the idea of other Christians realigning based on social conservatism. Given that liberals have completely dropped the ball on the abortion issue, faithful Catholics really have no where else to build alliances except with social conservatives.

      I’m assuming you already understand that most social conservatives are just as anti-racism, anti-sexism, etc as liberals. The real differences between liberals and conservatives on secular social issues (as opposed to economic issues or internal religious issues) are on capital punishment, whether a given war is justified, whether abortion should be legal and whether same sex relationships should be recognized as marriage by the state. Among Catholics, the opinion on the first two items align with the current liberal position, and on the last two with the current conservative position.

      I see the alliance between conservative Christians who are not Catholic, with Christians who are Catholic as potentially having more impact on the non-Catholics than the Catholics. Catholics have accepted the baptism of most other Christians, and find common ground on other doctrinal issues, although not, of course, on all. Some non-Catholic Christians, though, don’t necessarily accept Catholics as Christians and have considered any association with Catholics as evil at worse and dangerous at best. Working with Catholics may possibly require “re-prioritization” of doctrine for them, while requiring none for Catholics.

      Moreover, they are affected by seeing that the same Church that stands up so strongly against abortion and for marriage is also opposed to capital punishment and questions the justification of our war in Iraq. I think it is causing some of them to rethink their ideas on those issues as well – they can’t just write it off as “liberal immorality”.

      • Peregrinus says:

        Hi Mary

        Sure. I’m not suggesting that, simply by working together with non-Catholics or non-Christians on (say) a pro-life campaign, a Catholic thereby compromises themselves or their catholicity in any way. (No more would they compromise themselves by working with non-Catholics on an anti-war or anti-death penalty campaign.)

        No. I think the reprioritisation occurs when you take matters a step further. I have in mind a comment made a while back on this very blog, if I’m not mistaken, suggesting that when Pope Benedict talked about unity with other Christian tradition he was thinking, not of the Orthodox, but of the Sydney Anglicans, on the basis that Peter Jensen disaspproved of abortion, gay marriage and female ordination.

        It seemed to me then (and still seems to me now) that that comment pointed to a significant reprioritisation, in whicha general social conservatism was placed at the centre of Catholic faith, and the issues which divide us from the Sydney Anglicans – from the eucharist to priestly ministry to ecclesiology to much more besides – were marginalised. The person who made that comment, it seemed to me, if they meant it seriously was in significant danger of abandoning the Catholic faith for a purely social gospel – albeit a conservative, rather than a liberal, one.

        OK; maybe the person concerned was being provocative, or just unthinking. Fair enough. But I think in general terms the danger of embracing a purely social gospel is one to which conservatives are tempted just as much as liberals. In general we are much more inclined to make this accusation about those with whom we disagree than those with whom we agree – the beam in one’s own eye, and all that – but there is no obvious reason, when you think about it, why social liberals should be prone to this error and social conservatives should not.

        • Mary H says:

          @Peregrinus
          Yes, I think conservatives also have a temptation to put a social gospel first, as you describe it.

          But I do think there is a difference between liberal and conservative in their reaction when it is pointed out. Both are, of course, equally prone to missing the “beam in their own eye”, but having seen it, the liberal is more likely to give an answer that s/he honestly doesn’t believe the dogma is that important. The conservative still believes that it is.

          I agree with David – the difference is between those who think that dogma matter and those who think that other things are more important.

          Although finally, even if they don’t characterize it that way, the progressives also have their dogmas that must not be called into question.

          • Peregrinus says:

            Well, as I’ve hinted elsewhere, the difference may not be that liberals think that dogma isn’t important and conservatives think it is, so much as that liberals recognise that they ascribe limited importance to dogma, whereas conservatives are in denial about that.

            (Yes, I’m being mischievous. But not completely mischievous.)

            I think your final paragraph is telling. The truth may be that both camps have dogmas that they don’t question, and neither camp may be entirely self-aware about what those dogmas are.

    • Schütz says:

      And yet… Having had some dialogue with Progressive Christians of late, they are all to ready to tell me that differences in doctrine don’t matter, and that dogma is in fact a negative in matters of faith. But this is exactly the lines that are drawn – between those who believe that dogma matters and those who don’t.

      Now, dogma can be in relation to either faith or morals. I think the relation between the two is a little more intimate than you are making allowance for. It is no coincidence that the groups who hold to moral certainties are also those most likely to hold to doctrinal certainties.

  9. Peregrinus says:

    And yet… Having had some dialogue with Progressive Christians of late, they are all to ready to tell me that differences in doctrine don’t matter, and that dogma is in fact a negative in matters of faith. But this is exactly the lines that are drawn – between those who believe that dogma matters and those who don’t.

    It might be a bit more nuanced that that.

    Thinking about it, I don’t believe that “pro-life Christians” on the one hand, and “progressive Christians” on the other are quite opposing analogues of one another.

    What characterises pro-life Christians, I suggest, is not just that they adhere to the traditional Christian view of abortion (namely, that it is gravely wrong in all circumstances) but also two other things. First, they hold a view that it’s the proper role of the state to prevent gravely wrong things or, at any rate, to prevent this gravely wrong thing. And, secondly, they attach a sufficient priority to this view to make it a particular focus of their Christian endeavour – which is to say, they get involved in campaigning about this, as opposed to campaigning in a way that reflects other Christian teachings on, say, war or poverty or justice.

    That’s not to say that they don’t accept those other Christian teachings; just that they don’t choose to make them the focus of their apostolic work. And nor is it to say that no pro-life Christians campaign or work on these issues; some may well do, but it’s not true of pro-life Christians as a class that they campaign on such issues.

    But it’s not necessarily true of pro-life Christians that they commit with similar enthusiasm to every Christian teaching, or even that they accept it. I know plenty of (Catholic) pro-life supporters who either don’t accept, or don’t observe, Catholic teaching on contraception, for instance. And I know plenty who would support US (and Australian) nuclear defence policy.

    The latter is interesting because accepting the Catholic position that an attack on innocent life is intrinsically gravely wrong and supporting strategic nuclear defence requires some nifty intellectual footwork, to put it charitably. And while it’s an awkward fit with Catholic moral teaching, I can’t but observe that it’s a very neat fit with a general secular right-of-centre political conservatism.

    Again, I stress, I’m not suggesting that this combination of positions is generally true of all pro-lifers; it certainly isn’t. But my observation is that it’s not uncommon. And yet people who hold this position will often see themselves as, in some way more faithful or more orthodox believers than people who take the Catholic position on innocent life seriously enough to make campaigning against war, or against particular wars, the focus of their activity.

    In short, pro-life activists may not always take dogma quite as seriously as you suggest. If it doesn’t fit with a particular social/political agenda, they may reject it, discount it or simply pay it little or no attention, while at the same time denying to themselves, or at least not acknowledging, that that is what they are doing.

    Progressive Christians, by contrast, aren’t identified or defined by what they do, or what work they engage in. It’s essentially a theological position which emphasises the virtues of love and justice, and is associated with particular emphasis on stewardship of the earth, an intellectual rather than literalist reading of scripture, and an embrace of diversity.

    There are a couple of reasons why it can’t be seen as the “opposite” of a pro-life position, not the least being that pro-life Christians would also insist that they are committed to love and justice. Furthermore, Progressive Christians do not see evangelism/proselytism as the central concern, a positions implicitly shared by pro-life Christians who seek to build ecumenical, interfaith and non-religious alliances in which they work with others to achieve their common aim, rather than trying to convince others to share their Christian faith.

    In many ways, the two can be seen as exposed to the same temptation – selectivity. Most of the objections to Progressive Christianity are centred not on what it is, but on what it isn’t. We might object that the commitment to love, for example, is not matched by a commitment to truth. (Not that Progressive Christians tell lies, I hasten to add, but that their embrace of diversity leads to a certain relativism about what is revealed.) But we might similarly object that the problem with the pro-life movement is not what it is, but what it isn’t; it enthusiastically applied Catholic teaching on the sanctity of life where this fits with a secular social/political conservatism, but not so much where it doesn’t.

    • Mary H says:

      @Peregrinus
      “Thinking about it, I don’t believe that “pro-life Christians” on the one hand, and “progressive Christians” on the other are quite opposing analogues of one another.”
      Well, no. The opposing analogues would be traditional Christians and progressive Christians. Pro-life Christians may also be progressive, as when the only Church doctrine they take seriously is being against abortion.

      Your characterization of pro-life Christians is accurate. They are anti-abortion, they believe the state should be work to prevent this grave wrong, and they make it a focus of their Christian endeavor. Some of them do this because they are following the dogma of the Church and the priorities being taught by the Pope and the Magesterium. Some do this because they have determined it is the right thing to do. Not that the two reason are self-exclusive, of course.

      But everyone, however they get into the pro-life movement, then finds that they are, in fact, involved in something that is, in fact, based on a dogma and priority of the Church. People in the pro-life movement get drawn to other traditional Catholic teachings, just because they see that the Church is standing up for something the mainstream is not, so they wonder what else the Church has right. Which include the stand against capital punishment and the concept of what is required for a just war.

      “Progressive Christians, [snip] essentially a theological position which emphasises the virtues of love and justice, and is associated with particular emphasis on stewardship of the earth, an intellectual rather than literalist reading of scripture, and an embrace of diversity.”

      The only difference I see here between “progressive” Christians and “traditional” Catholics is that the progressive Christians emphasize stewardship of the earth and diversity for its own sake and traditional Catholics emphasize anti-abortion. Traditional Catholics aren’t any more literalist than progressives. What you say may or may not be true of non-Catholic Christians.

      “Furthermore, Progressive Christians do not see evangelism/proselytism as the central concern, a positions implicitly shared by pro-life Christians who seek to build ecumenical, interfaith and non-religious alliances in which they work with others to achieve their common aim, rather than trying to convince others to share their Christian faith.”

      I agree that Progressive Christians don’t have evangelism as a central concern. How could they? If they don’t think dogma is important, how could they justify trying to convince someone else to change their deeply held belief in a particular dogma?

      On the other hand, I strongly disagree that traditional Christians who work together on common projects thereby implicitly admit that dogma is not a central concern. Just because not everyone is called to evangelize in a particular way does not mean they are not evangelizing. Some of the strongest evangelizing is specifically the witness of what we are willing to do because of our dogma – which means the truths that we believe.

      “Most of the objections to Progressive Christianity are centred not on what it is, but on what it isn’t. We might object that the commitment to love, for example, is not matched by a commitment to truth.”
      I suppose I would put it this way. Without your commitment to dogma, on what do you base your commitment to love? Commitment to love must lead to commitment to truth, and vice versa. If they do not, you’re on the wrong path, because God is both love and truth. You can’t have one without the other.

      “But we might similarly object that the problem with the pro-life movement is not what it is, but what it isn’t; it enthusiastically applied Catholic teaching on the sanctity of life where this fits with a secular social/political conservatism, but not so much where it doesn’t.”
      I would put it the other way. Secular social/political conservatism aligns with the pro-life movement on its anti-abortion agenda. There is actually quite a diversity of thought in the pro-life movement on issues such as capital punishment, war, environmentalism, contraception, etc. There is somewhat less diversity among Catholics on these issues.

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