Dialogue and Change

I am in Canterbury, England, at Canterbury Cathedral, home of the archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Anglican/Episcopal Church. I came to attend as an observer the annual meeting of the Council of Secretaries of the Christian World Communions. There are about 25 people attending the meeting: leaders from many denominations. Dr. John Graz, director of the Seventh-day Adventist Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department for the world church, is the current secretary general of the Christian World Communions.

Today was mostly a day of reports by various denominations: Baptist World Alliance, World Evangelical Alliance, Roman Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist, Armenian Orthodox, and Mennonite World Conference. I was struck by several things during the reports:

First, I noted the respect shown for others’ distinct beliefs. The emphasis is on brotherhood within the mission of Christ for the world.

Second, I noted the awareness of Christian history/heritage over the centuries. Several groups referred to their long heritage—400 years for the Baptist movement and the Mennonites, who also trace their roots to the Anabaptists of the 1600s.

Third, I was struck by some of the questions following reports at how the Roman Catholic Church seems willing to absorb other groups without much concern for doctrinal compliance—most notable, of course, their recent overtures to the Anglican congregations and bishops who asked to join the Roman Catholic Church. There was a fair bit of discussion about that. The same theme of absorption was present in the report of the Orthodox bodies—minimizing the split of many centuries ago—even referring to the pope as the bishop of Rome! Can such deep doctrinal differences be ignored?

Then at dinner on Wednesday night I learned that the Italian court—yes, Italian—has ruled that the crucifix must be removed from public schools because of potential offense to students. We are in a strange paradigm of religious relationships.

Halvard Thomsen is president of the North America Religious Liberty Association, Silver Spring, Maryland.

Article Author: Halvard Thomsen