Evangelicals & Catholics Together in a culture of life

 — Sept. 20, 200620 sept. 2006

A new statement has been published by Evangelicals and Catholics Together, an ad-hoc group of theologians and church leaders headed by Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus. This text, entitled “That They May Have Life,” is the sixth statement issued by ECT since 1994. In their most recent offering, ECT returns its focus to public policy, morality, and the so-called “culture wars.” Seeking to promote dialogue within the US on the “culture of life,” the group affirms that they share common interests and concerns with those who oppose them. These include a common interest in the American experiment and a common humanity with its God-given capacity for reason. The text, which has the tone of a pastoral letter, appears to be interested in a dialogue between secular culture and Christians.

The first ECT statement entitled “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium” was published in 1994. It immediately attracted sharp criticism within the evangelical community, leading some of the signatories to request that their names be removed from the list of affirming participants. Others, such as J. I. Packer defended their decision to sign the document. The general tone and content of the document was also criticised, particularly in the Roman Catholic community where the document was described as narrowly focused on a conservative social agenda, with emphasis on personal morality. Its call for co-operation in mission did not appear to encompass the breadth of Catholic social teaching, involvement in justice, service, and development, and other issues of public morality. The document also appeared to present the church’s mission in particularly American terms. Despite these criticisms, the document was widely circulated in the evangelical community. Aside from subscribers to Neuhaus’ journal First Things and specialists in ecumenical theology, few Roman Catholics have heard of the document.

The criticisms of their first statement do not seem to have deterred the ECT group from further dialogue. They have since produced a 1997 statement on justification by faith entitled “The Gift of Salvation;” a 2002 statement on scriptural authority entitled “Your Word is Truth;” a 2003 statement entitled “The Communion of Saints;” a 2005 statement on Christian life entitled “The Call to Holiness;” and this most recent offering entitled “That They May Have Life.”

This sixth ECT statement seems to jump back to the co-belligerence encouraged by the first ECT statement. Unlike the intervening statements, this recent text appears to be addressed to US society rather than to the churches. The primary focus of the text is on what is sometimes called a “culture of life.” Pope John Paul II coined the phrase “culture of death” to describe his perception of western society overcome by materialism, militarism, devaluation of human life and dignity, and a “contraceptive mentality.” In contrast, a “culture of life” expresses concern for those who are poor, marginalized, weak, or ill. It expresses special concern for children, disabled, and elderly who are unable to speak for themselves. The participants affirm:

We are morally responsible, however, for the protection and care of life created in the image and likeness of God. The commandment “You shall not kill” is the negatively stated minimum of what we owe to our fellow human beings.

A larger portion of the new ECT text is devoted to the American debate over abortion, however the document also addresses capital punishment and other concerns. Unfortunately, the ECT participants are unable to make a breakthorugh or show any leadership towards resolving the differing views of Christians on capital punishment. The participants appear satisfied with the observation that there is a “widespread perception that capital punishment is in tension, if not conflict, with a consistent ethic of life.”

Aside from passing references to concerns about poverty, the document offers no reflections on the issue. It also fails to address the militarism of American society that has rejected dialogue and development as a means of reducing the causes of terrorism. Although addressed to American society, there is no reflection about the place of the US in the world, or how Christian responsibility for others might lead to an American foreign policy that supports development in the global South. Most strikingly, despite the document’s clear dependence on John Paul II’s concern about a “culture of death,” the participants make no comment on the materialism of western society.

While this latest document is to be welcomed for its clear articulation of certain aspects of the “culture of life,” and for the continuing efforts of Evangelicals and Roman Catholics to speak together on issues of shared concern, it is disappointing for many of the same reasons that the first ECT statement was criticized. There is very little contribution made here to the ecumenical rapprochement between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics. Many of the issues that the participants agreed upon in this statement will divide them from others within their own churches. This statement will likely be received as just another contribution to the abortion debate by the Religious Right. To me, it seems like like they weren’t reaching high enough.

The ECT document can be found online at First Things or in print at First Things 166 (October 2006): 18-27.

Posted: Sept. 20, 2006 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=268
Categories: Dialogue, Documents, Evangelical-Roman Catholic DialogueIn this article: Catholic, Christian unity, Evangelicals, Evangelicals and Catholics Together
Transmis : 20 sept. 2006 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=268
Catégorie : Dialogue, Documents, Evangelical-Roman Catholic DialogueDans cet article : Catholic, Christian unity, Evangelicals, Evangelicals and Catholics Together

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