Ecumenism often becomes a meaningless social or religious platitude and at its worst a Trojan horse when it is misunderstood or misused.
I think many people try to force an ecumenical cohesiveness when we should be fostering a pluralistic engagement.
The definition of pluralism is, "A state of society in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain and develop their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization."
WHAT IS PLURALISM?
Below is the description of pluralism from Harvard University's The Pluralism Project by Diana L. Eck:
- Pluralism is not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity. Diversity can and has meant the creation of religious ghettoes with little traffic between or among them. Today, religious diversity is a given, but pluralism is not a given; it is an achievement. Mere diversity without real encounter and relationship will yield increasing tensions in our societies.
- Pluralism is not just tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference. Tolerance is a necessary public virtue, but it does not require Christians and Muslims, Hindus, Jews and ardent secularists to know anything about one another. Tolerance is too thin a foundation for a world of religious difference and proximity. It does nothing to remove our ignorance of one another, and leaves in place the stereotype, the half-truth, the fears that underlie old patterns of division and violence. In the world in which we live today, our ignorance of one another will be increasingly costly.
- Pluralism is not relativism, but the encounter of commitments. The new paradigm of pluralism does not require us to leave our identities and our commitments behind, for pluralism is the encounter of commitments. It means holding our deepest differences, even our religious differences, not in isolation, but in relationship to one another.
- Pluralism is based on dialogue. The language of pluralism is that of dialogue and encounter, give and take, criticism and self-criticism. Dialogue means both speaking and listening, and that process reveals both common understandings and real differences. Dialogue does not mean everyone at the “table” will agree with one another. Pluralism involves the commitment to being at the table — with one’s commitments.
My problem with non/religious ecumenism is when it disconnects from a clear understanding of pluralism and begins the work of trying to form the diverse, into a type of Perennialism. Recognizing common values is healthy, trying to make Native Americans into Europeans isn't.
Ecumenism will always work when we say the sun rises in the east but it will fail when someone says it sets in the east.
Pluralism doesn't try to create new absolutes but recognizes they already exist and works to promote healthy understanding.
The reason I think more diverse voices are not present at the table is because these agendas become prohibitive to a healthy community with very real differences, values and beliefs. If the dominant narrative doesn't recognize the historical and current numerical realities of the largest social or religious groups, the dialogue will become merely an echo chamber.
I think pluralism is welcoming ground for conservatism more than ecumenism, maybe even more so than for progressives. Progressivism is often driving to change people, values and institutions while religious conservatism recognizes the beauty, liberty and independence of the spirituality of the individual. In light of this, I invite and even plead with my fellow moderates and conservatives to come to the table. Your voice matters in these community conversations. Don't hide behind your conservatism like a fearful Perseus, unwilling to face the imagined Medusa nature of the other. You won't turn to stone looking into the face of someone who disagrees with you, in fact they may become your friend.
I hope such freedom of thought and belief can be true with our work in Spokane Faith & Values, but I think the success or failure of groups like this will rise or fall in the understanding of these definitions and distinctions.