Church divisions over moral issues can be bridged with fruitful dialogue, webinar shows

 — May 6, 20216 mai 2021

A webinar on how churches make moral decisions—and what causes divisions—brought a lively discussion attended online by more than 100 people on 29 April.

Basing their remarks on a World Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission publication, “Churches and Moral Discernment. Volume 1: Learning from Traditions,” the speakers shared insights from very different church perspectives.

As the foreword of the publication says, “The hope is that necessary prerequisites are fulfilled, allowing for constructive conversations within traditions. This will prevent divisions over moral issues and provide solid ground to engage in fruitful ecumenical dialogues that appreciate and attribute appropriate relevance to moral issues.”

Prof. Dr Myriam Wijlens, professor of Canon Law, Faculty of Catholic Theology, University of Erfurt (Germany), who moderated the discussion, said: “The churches see themselves confronted with moral issues that threaten the existing unity within the church or that prevent further progress on the unity between the churches.”

Rev. Vladimir Shmaliy, associate professor, Ss Cyril and Methodius Postgraduate School and MEPhI University (Russia), reflected on the methodology of the ecumenical study process on moral discernment. “We decided to start a study process with careful listening to the self-understanding of the church traditions themselves. Then we asked questions to grasp together where there are similarities and differences between the different traditions.”

Five panelists introduced key dimensions of moral discernment in their tradition:

Kristina Mantasasvili, PhD candidate, Faculty of Theology, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece), spoke from an Orthodox perspective. She explained how the church responds to new questions and developments in society by drawing on sources and criteria from “the conscience of the church.” The conscience of the church is nurtured and informed through the holy scriptures, the sacred tradition, the liturgical life, especially the holy eucharist, the teachings of the church fathers and the ecumenical and local councils.

Prof. Dr Rachel Muers, professor of Theology, University of Leeds (UK), highlighted that, in historical peace churches, “Peace can be seen as one moral issue but within the historical peace churches it’s more than that. It’s how we do our moral discernment.”

Prof. Dr Steven R. Harmon, professor of Historical Theology, Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity, Boiling Springs, North Carolina (USA), reflected on the ecumenical horizon of moral discernment in his tradition: “Baptist freedom means a freedom to draw from the moral resources of the whole church, wherever those resources may be found.”

H.E. Dr Polycarpus A. Aydin, metropolitan for the Archdiocese of the Netherlands of the Syriac Orthodox Church (Netherlands), spoke on the Syriac theologian Saint Ephrem, “He offers the church a dynamic understanding of scripture, the focus is on the salvation of the human person. Hence, the method is more therapeutic than judicial.”

Prof. Dr Vimal Tirimanna, professor of Systematic Moral Theology at the Pontifical Alphonsian Academy, Rome, and at the National Seminary of Our Lady of Lanka, Kandy (Sri Lanka), underlined from a Catholic perspective the importance of the formation of the conscience of a person who is called to respond to challenges in diverse contexts. “The role of the magisterium to propose, not to impose.”

Posted: May 6, 2021 • Permanent link:
Categories: Resources, WCC NewsIn this article: moral discernment, WCC Commission on Faith and Order
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