October 31, 2013
We arrived in Busan on the 29th and upon arriving at the BEXCO convention center where the WCC General Assembly will take place we observed a large demonstration against the WCC conducted by some Korean church people. As far as we can tell from their literature, they are among those who see the WCC as a Communist organization, intent on creating a world church including people of every faith with no regard for the truth, and open to queer people. That last complaint is ironic since most of the gay and lesbian people we know who are present at the assembly do not feel that openness. The complaints are rooted in Korean history as well since the WCC supported the United Nations decisions about the armistice and some in Korea think this is a cause of the continuing state of tensions. At least one of the Korean students in the GETI class is afraid that she may lose her job because of her participation in the class; though her own denomination is a member of the WCC, the congregation she works for in her field education is from another denomination and is against the WCC. She is perhaps more courageously ecumenical than most of the students because she decided to put herself in a situation where her theology would be radically challenged and she would challenge that congregation’s theology in return.
The GETI group is beginning to encounter and grapple with the problems of ecumenical dialogue. There is tension between your own theological position and that of your denomination; which do you represent and when? There is tension between those in the ecumenical movement who most easily join together with other churches in common causes for social and economic justice, peace and environmental policy and those who see such causes as divisive until the churches have a solid theological base for recognizing each other as church. For the first group, focus on theological issues of faith and the shape of the church is energy wasted on things that will never be overcome. Furthermore, to be seen with those who do not fully support your cause identifies you as someone not fully committed. For the second, common understanding of the faith would strengthen the Christian principles behind the causes. Without such theological, confessional unity and the Eucharistic solidarity that would go with it, the churches are not able to fully trust one another. What often happens is that some have decided they do not want to be in any group that does not share their position on issues of justice and peace – that to try to work with people who do not completely agree dilutes the commitment to the cause. And those who engage in the theological conversations often do so with no serious intention of being changed by the engagement. Finally, the students and faculty grapple with the questions of interfaith dialogue. These issues are very different in different settings. For some such inter-religious dialogue is imperative for survival where Christians are a minority and have to constantly guard the public impression of them as a threat to the unity of society. For others, such dialogue is an act of hospitality to minority religious traditions in their context – a much more comfortable position. For yet others, such as those in Korea, Christianity and several other faith traditions are in direct competition with each other, all equally engaged in society, and for some Christians in these contexts (for instance the demonstrators outside the BEXCO auditorium) interfaith dialogue can be seen as a dangerous openness or dilution of the Christian faith.