This is what you folks who are so dead set on atheism or who have an abject hatred for all organized religions have to really worry about when it comes to the Christian church. It means a movement toward unity and cooperation between all the various Christian religions. In other words, they'd all get together and gang up on you folks who are non-believers. Can you imagine it? A Mormon, a Jehovah's Witness, a snake handler and a Catholic schoolgirl all ring your doorbell at the same time, wanting to talk to you about Jesus (or his mother)?

The word comes from the Greek oikoumene, meaning "the inhabited world" and oikos meaning house. All of the world's people worshiping in the same house every Sunday? Roman Catholics used this word in the 1960's to refer to a concept of making Catholicism more responsive to other forms of Christian religions.

So far, the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Pentecostal and Protestant churches have managed to agree on a few issues, such as baptism and the Eucharist, but you can bet your sweet holy water that these Protestants don't really find it comfortable to be in bed with the Catholics. In fact, when you hear the term evangelical, it is really a word that describes the movement away from ecumenism by some Protestants.

Likewise, some of the higher ups in the Catholic church today are not too happy with John Paul II's commitment to a greater folding in of all religions. See, this poor ol' dude is getting from the left (gay parades) and the right. Only a strong man can stand that heat.

Naw, I don't think so.

If there is anything that divides into competing factions like left-wing, or progressive politics, it's religion.

In fact, it always seemed to me that the model for internecine battles, was between the sects of the Catholic Church. And isn't schism--the division into sects--originally a term in theology?

There is nothing so fervent as a true believer--and while they may be found among political activists, they can certainly be found among the religious. They will spilt from larger bodies over fine doctrinal points.

Who can tell which is the more fervent, or which divides into smaller and smaller, but more determined sects?

More than anything else I see ecumenism as a great hope for religion--and quite possibly for those who don't like religion much as well.

What Christians would like ecumenism to be is a gathering of the whole church--a church mostly broken up by culture, geographical boundaries, and petty human actions.

In practice ecumenism works out to several different "ecumenical" groups. Left leaning (liberal)denominations tend to be in ecumenical groups with other left leaning denominations. Conservative denominations tend to be in ecumenical groups with more conservative denominations.

Wacky, eh?

If anywhere, true ecumenical action occurs in small, local church councils (I've worked for two of them) where concern for one's city prevents the usual political or theological squabling.

Personally, I don't see this as problem particular to religious organizations. I practiced Tae Kwon Do for several years and was amused to find groups constantly splitting off from the main group. Close your eyes for just a second and bam--it's a schism.

What's cool about ecumenism is that even if Christians aren't necessarily accepting all other denominations, they're making more of an effort to so than they used to. And some are accepting of other religions (or lack thereof) as well.

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