In my new book Crossing the Street, I contend that, for many reasons, it is important that Roman Catholics and Protestants come to a deeper understanding both of their own 'tradition of origin' as well as other Christian traditions. Many Protestant congregations, including my own, include in their membership those who were raised within the Catholic Church. A good number of married couples in which individuals come from different church backgrounds have to make decisions regarding religious affiliation both for themselves and for the children they will raise.
It is my view that local congregations must take seriously the importance of integrating serious ecumenical study into their church membership classes as well as other educational programming. As a pastor in the United Church of Christ, for example, I believe it is imperative that when someone considers membership in my church, he/she be exposed to a serious examination of where a UCC congregation would fit into the overall contemporary church scene. As a Protestant church, how are we different from Catholics? As a mainline church, how do we differ from more evangelical/fundamentalist congregations?
This kind of exploration, in my view, has often been little more than cursory. In fairness to the process of decision making, it is important that we teach accurate information about what distinguishes Protestant from Catholic faith and so on. As a Protestant clergyperson, I believe that I am obliged to utilize whatever resources are at my disposal to teach accurate information about Catholicism so as to assist people in their individual discernment process and to help people in relationship with each other to see the commonalities in each tradition.
Catholicism has often been presented by Protestants as monolithic in its approach. The clear distinction between a hierarchical church authority and a tradition which relies more on ' Bible and individual conscience' has often been highlighted. Current conflicts within Catholicism around the role of religious women ( nuns) and the dissenting written work of moral theologians exemplifies what has been fact for several centuries: that there is a PLURALISM of voices within the Catholic tradition. Current data indicates as well that on many significant contemporary church issues ( including contraception and same sex marriage) there is NO significant difference between what Catholics believe and how they act from that of their Protestant counterparts.
In my next article, I will explore the concept of an 'ecumenical center' in more detail. In these few words, I write to encourage all of us, Protestant and Catholic, to value the importance of learning more about other traditions and delving even more deeply into a more thorough and accurate exploration of our own.
I welcome your comments. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org