The October issue of Touchstone arrived in my mailbox today. It is, as I have said before, a magazine committed to an ecumenical orthodoxy - describing itself as "A Journal of Mere Christianity." The editorial this month explains how a group of Christians, representing various traditions can, nevertheless, work together, neither diluting their beliefs, nor retreating into a bigoted sectarianism. David Mills, writing for the editors:
.... This very diverse group includes several Catholics, the dean of the Southern Baptist seminary of which Dr. Mohler is president and other Protestants, and an Antiochian Orthodox archpriest and other Orthodox. ....
Our first rule of operation, which has sustained a high degree of fellowship, even brotherhood, across traditionally sundering differences, is to assume that the other man may be very wrong, but he is not stupid nor wicked. As G. K. Chesterton said, the bigot is not the man who believes he is right. Every sane man believes that. The bigot is the man who cannot understand how the other fellow came to be wrong. We each can understand how the other came to be wrong.
We assume that the other man has plausible reasons for believing as he does, and that he is not consciously sinning against the light but pursuing it through the tradition of which he is a part and in the modes that tradition provides, even if we all think that the other traditions let in only part of the light. We assume he is pursuing a true Christian ideal, one we all share, even if we think his map is wrong or incomplete. We recognize his commitment to the shared Christian doctrinal and moral tradition. ….
One needs a certain generosity and liberality to do this, married (we hope) with a discernment of principle, but it seems to work. It allows us happily to do together what we can do together, which seems to us part of being a Christian.
Most of us find ourselves disappointing the stricter members of our communions, who think us liberals, while upsetting the looser members, who think us reactionaries. In my experience the intensity of the reaction is stronger from our left than from our right. The right tends to be quizzical, the left angry, and the center-left (those just outside the circle) the angriest of all.
But as I said, it seems to work. The way to whatever ecumenical understanding and fellowship we may achieve in this life, in which brother is divided from brother for what seems to each good reason, is not to deny the differences, especially when that denial is merely a way of asserting one's doctrine.
The way to ecumenical understanding is to admit the differences, submit to one's tradition, respect the integrity of the others, and join with them in facing the common challenges. This you can do with unfurrowed brow and clear eyes, the better to see your brothers for themselves.