Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Metaphors for Spirit

Debra Bendis blogs on "Metaphors for Spirit" on Theolog--the weblog of the weekly magazine Christian Century.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Vatican Document on the Nature of the Church

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) of the Roman Catholic Church recently issued a document entitled "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church." This document has elicited strong reactions from many Protestant communions, including the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Lutheran World Federation. ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, in his response to the CDF document, reaffirmed the ELCA's commitment to on-going dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church particularly with regard to the difficult questions of ecclesiology and ministry.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council on Christian Unity, in a Vatican Radio address, sought to reassure Protestants that the Roman Catholic Church is still committed to ecumenical dialogue. He stated that the "declaration is not taking back anything of the ecumenical progress already reached, but drawing attention to the ecumenical task that still lies ahead." Ann Riggs of the National Council of Churches, in her official response to the statement, reminds Protestants that this was an "in-house" document, i.e. written for Catholics, not for Protestants. Even so, she argued that "it affords us all an opportunity for more dialogue and more insight. This reaffirms that the ecumenical nature and purpose of the Second Vatican Council is still very much alive within and outside Catholic circles."

John Allen, of the National Catholic Reporter, offers a less sanguine perspective in this piece: "Struggle to Reassert Traditional Catholic Identity Scores Two Wins." The Catholic News Service, in its story on the document, also raised the question of why it was released at this particular moment. "The Vatican said it was because of possible confusion in theological and ecumenical circles. Those who see a grand design in Vatican actions, however, suspected it may have been another olive branch to the breakaway traditionalist followers of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre -- just three days after the Tridentine Mass decree. In this reading, the Vatican has delivered a double demonstration, liturgical and doctrinal, that answers some of the Lefebvrites' strongest objections about the modern church."

As a newly appointed member of the U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue (which is now in Round XI), my first reaction to the release of the CDF document was one of frustration even though it did not state anything new. Mostly, I was frustrated with the way in which the document was presented. Although it was written to Catholics, it was not written in a spirit of ecumenical sensitivity nor in a way that emphasized the real -- though imperfect -- communion that Catholics claim to have with other Christians in spite of our on-going differences in how we each understand "the church."

More Reports on Empire Seminar

The Lutheran World Federation this week issued a press release on our seminar: "Theologians Propose Responses to Counter Empire."

One of participants, Michael Hoy, offers his reflections on the seminar in "Thursday Theology #474: The Confessing Church in the Midst of Empire." Thursday Theology is part of the ministry of the Crossings Community of which Michael is a member.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Being the Church in the Midst of Empire: An Initial Report

I just returned from the LWF Seminar, "Confessing and Living Faith in the Triune God: Being the Church in the Midst of Empire." The impetus for the seminar came in part from the work that the Reformed churches are doing on this issue. Some Lutherans participated in the ecumenical consultation sponsored by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches held in Manila, July 13-15, 2006, that resulted in this document: An Ecumenical Faith Stance Against Global Empire. In the same year, the United Church in Canada issued the statement "Living Faithfully in the Midst of Empire"(also known as "The Empire Report"), that was drawn from background papers by Douglas John Hall ("Christianity and Empire"), Ofelia Ortega ("When the Empire Lies, People Suffer, They are Exploited, and Life Becomes Death"), Nestor O. Miguez ("Jesus and Empire: Then and Now"). [Note: Miguez has also written "The Empire and After: Biblical Hope in the Midst of Oppression."]

One of the topics of conversation, of course, had to do with defining what is meant by "empire." Some members of the seminar cited the book Empire by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri--which stipulates "empire" as a supranational global-network of sovereignty--rather than a single country (e.g. the US). The Global Policy Forum offers many excellent resources on the question of the US as empire; this link examines the concept of empire in political discourse today and provides a general analysis of the unilateralist agenda of the US. A wide range of materials are posted, including articles from pro-imperialists (e.g. The Project for a New American Century) and critics of empire, as well as those that debate whether it is appropriate to attribute the term "empire" to the US. Other perspectives are offered in articles by Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, "American Empire, Not 'If,' But 'What Kind';" and Michael Walzer, "Is there an American Empire?"

However empire is defined, we all agreed that it is important for theologians to wrestle with the disturbing features of this emerging economic and political reality, such as the unlimited quest for power and profit (if not territory) and the avoidance of moral accountability. This is especially important, because as Karen Bloomquist (who convened this seminar) noted, “From the outside, Christians in the US seem mostly silent and complicit with the assumptions and policies of empire, reinforced by expressions of religiosity that are the handmaiden to empire.”

Because of the theme, the seminar met in the U.S. and a number of U.S. scholars were invited to participate; however, those of us from the US were joined by several scholars from the global south which led to a rich conversation on the topic. To give a sense of voices around the table and the variety of perspectives that were heard, I will list the names of the participants and hyperlink an article or book review (if one could be found on-line):

Charles Amjad-Ali (Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN); Evangeline Anderson-Rajkumar (United Theological College, Banglaore, India); Karen Bloomquist (Director of the Department for Theology and Studies, LWF); Hans-Peter Grosshans (Evangelisch-theologische Fakultät Tübingen, Germany--but soon to join the LWF DTS staff); Guillermo (Willy) Hansen (Instituto Superior Evangelico de Estudios Teologicos, Buenos Aires, Argentina); John Hoffmeyer (Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, PA); Michael Hoy (St. Louis, MO); Allen Jorgensen (Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, Waterloo, Ontario); Peter Lodberg (Aarhus Universitet, Denmark); Deenabandhu Manchala (Faith and Order, World Council of Churches); Cynthia Moe-Lobeda (Seattle University); Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer (University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN); Cheryl Peterson (Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, OH); Gary Simpson (Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN); Bill Strehlow (Geneva); Deanna Thompson (Hamline University, St. Paul, MN).

Also participating were several international graduate students: Mary Joy Philip (India) from LSTC, and several from Luther Seminary: Faith Lugazia (Tanzania), Elieshi Mungure (Tanzania), Margaret Obaga (Kenya), and Johannes Swart (South Africa). Unfortunately, two South African scholar/church leaders, Musawenkosi Biyela and Puleng Lenka Bula, who had been invited to participate were not able to attend.

We discussed our papers for the first two days and on the third day we explored how our papers relate to one another and suggested revisions, in preparation for an LWF book that is anticipated for publication later this year.