Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Last Shall Be First: Prophetic Families

Too often we forget that the work of Christian unity is part of the prophetic work of the Holy Spirit. 

Prophets challenge existing structures and experiment with new ones.  The show the way to the Kingdom of God by helping us distinguish between what is true and lasting and what is superficial and changeable.

One group of people who fits this description would be interchurch families.  These are people from different Christian traditions who marry and still maintain commitments to their respective denominations.  They try to blend it all together in a meaningful way.  They raise families in this creative mixing.

Like so many other prophets, their voices and their witness are often marginalized.  This exclusion is not always done maliciouslysometimes people just do not know what to do with those who fall outside of established lines.  Their cause or their circumstances get overlooked as a result, even though they may be ultimately pointing to something far better than the current status quo.

Interchurch families often do not receive much pastoral attention.  Churches generally do not know how to minister to them, so they are left to pave the way for themselves.  Sometimes the strength of their faith commitment is held in suspect as they dwell in the grey areas of parish membership.  Intentionally or otherwise, they are often treated like second-class members of their congregations.

Fr. George Kilcourse, noted ecumenist, author and professor, offers another perspective in his book Double Belonging: Interchurch Families and Christian Unity.   We should look to them as leaders.  They are missionary pioneers on the frontier of ecumenism and interfaith relations.  They are doing the work that we are all called to do.

The Catholic Church, for example, has a commitment to ecumenism.  The Decree on Ecumenism opens with these words:  "The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council."  Subsequent popes have echoes this commitment loudly.
This goes far beyond Catholicism, as it is rooted in Scripture:  Jesus himself prayed for the unity of all believers (John 17:21-23), so all Evangelicals and Protestants who take the Bible seriously are met with a challenge here, as well.  As my colleague Fr. Frank Ruff says, "If Jesus Himself prayed for something, then we ought to take that very seriously."

William S. Jewett,
The Promised Land -- The Grayson Family, 1850
The problem is that there is not a lot of agreement as to what exactly this unity could or should look like.

That is where interchurch families come in.  Even if we do not know what Christian unity might look like or even how Christians might arrive at the point of figuring that out, the commitment to that goal stands.  In light of that, we can look to people in mixed marriages who are on the pioneering edge.  They are actively exploring possibilities and looking for visible signs of where the Kingdom might be on the ecumenical front.

Ecumenical relationships are daring.  They are not just cutesy joint prayer services and potluck meals.  They are a living experiment with possibilities—is it even possible to maintain membership in different Christian denominations while also living into the reality of Christian unity at the same time?  It needs to be possible or else there would be something wrong with the respective church denominations, because we trust that Jesus' vision for unity is our destiny.

Theologians and academics are hard at work on the project of Christian unity—and so is couple down the street with the Baptist husband and a Catholic wife.  And so is the Methodist music director married to a Pentecostal preacher.  And so are the Catholic and Evangelical college students who are dating and getting to know someone from a very different background on their first extended time away from their families.

"Is the incidence of religious intermarriage merely a matter of a new laissez faire ecclesial attitude, the free market traffic of marriage in a pluralistic culture?" Kilcourse asks on page 8 in Double Belonging.  "Or is it possible that young adults in interchurch marriages are making a quiet but profound ecumenical statement about their identity as members of the one church with distinct traditions, even though they continue to experience the scandal of divided churches?" 

He continues further:  "Could these interchurch families have navigated a paradigm shift that makes possible an experience of the future church in ways that old patterns of belonging and models do not afford the rest of us?"

Liz on Top of the World from Pride and Prejudice, 2005 film.
Unlike many of their Old Testament counterparts, interchurch families are often quiet prophets.  Still, they call both church and society to take their own beliefs seriously and undergo the changes they themselves know they have to make to live out their own vision.

For more information on religiously blended families, check out:

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