Thursday, March 23, 2006

Beloved Community, World House and "Oikumene"

"Towards a More Inclusive Beloved Community: Building Alliances with Other Religious Communities" was the original title of a workshop I co-led with my colleague Rev. Dr. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, yesterday, at the SCUPE (Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education) Congress on Urban Ministry in Chicago. Building off the theme of the congress, “Beloved Community Breaking Out in the City,” we discussed how to build alliances with communities of other religious traditions in pursuit of justice and peace.

Illuminating to us was a quote from Martin Luther King written in Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? published in 1968. It was surprising to me that in 1968, he could write these words – expressing a notion that many Christians almost 40 years later have trouble grasping:

“We have inherited a large house, a great “world house” in which we have to live together – black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Moslem and Hindu – a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace… All inhabitants of the globe are now neighbors.”

This quote is from a longer essay from the World House Project. You can read the essay here.

The idea of the “world house” comes from the word oikumene Greek for the “household of God” or sometimes used as the “world.” This is the root of the word “Ecumenical.” When the Christian ecumenical community first began to use this word more than a century ago, they intended to express the idea of the “world” except that their intention was the “world” would be converted and become Christian, and then there would be no problem about their participation in the “household of God.”

This is not a notion that we are ready to accept today. Instead, we need to go back to the original meaning of the word oikumene the “household of God” or in Martin Luther King’s words the “World House.” The work of the Ecumenical Movement towards the “visible unity of the Church” is commendable and necessary. However by restricting the meaning of oikumene to the Christian community we lose an opportunity for a broader understanding of and indeed end up dishonoring the grandeur of God’s diverse creation – the plurality of religions. A broader meaning oikumene on the other hand as “World House” in which we must all live together, (because it is the only house there is) is the responsible option open to us today.


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