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Michael Kinnamon welcomes, reflects on, expanded participation in mission conference

By Theodore Gill

"An ecumenical movement that doesn't involve conversations between people who disagree would not be an ecumenical movement," says Michael Kinnamon in the following interview given at the 9-16 May 2005 Conference on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME).

Dr Kinnamon, a minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), is professor of mission, peace and ecumenical studies at Eden theological seminary in suburban Saint Louis, USA. He has served on the staff of the WCC's Faith and Order commission as well as on many national and international church committees and task groups.

The author of The Vision of the Ecumenical Movement - And How It Has Been Impoverished By Its Friends (Chalice Press, 2003) is not reluctant to disagree, even with friends and colleagues in the search for truth and Christian unity.

Expanding participation and interreligious dialogue

Kinnamon has been pleased that the Athens mission conference is taking the risk of including a broader range of church traditions than have past conferences. Even so, he notes that the involvement of increased numbers of Catholics and Pentecostals, as well as Protestants, Anglicans and Orthodox, comes at a certain cost.

"With the phenomena of fragmentation and globalization, the growing reality confronting churches in mission is a religious pluralism that has itself become global," explains Kinnamon. "This means that the great question for us is that of inter-religious dialogue, yet the interfaith dimension of mission has been noticeable by its absence from the agenda of this conference. Partly, this is simply because one conference can't deal with everything. But expanding participation on the part of Christian traditions may also have made some issues more difficult to deal with."

He continued, "As an ecumenist, I want to say an emphatic Yes! to expanding participation in the movement. But we should recognize that it does complicate things. For the moment, we continue to accept the two main assertions on interfaith relations formulated in the San Antonio mission conference in 1989: We know that we can place no limits on the extent of God's grace, but at the same time we know that we are called as Christians to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and saviour."

Kinnamon expresses the hope that, "as the relationship matures" among traditions represented at this conference, a new conversation may begin examining "the place of faiths other than Christianity in God's plan for salvation".

Mutual accountability

Kinnamon does sense new possibilities for dialogue opening up in other areas. Recalling the ecclesiological principle of a 1950 Faith and Order meeting in Toronto that the World Council of Churches makes no claim to be "a church", much less "the Church", Kinnamon notes how this principle was underlined by the recent Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC.

"We know that the Council is not the church," he says, "but what has been coming up again and again in this conference is another principle - that of mutual accountability. When an instrument of the ecumenical movement arrives at a common stand on behalf of churches it represents, like the WCC's commitment to the Decade to Overcome Violence, we find ourselves in a position to call one another to accountability. So the Toronto statement is quite clear that we are not one church. But that does not relieve us of the responsibility to be answerable to one another once we have entered into mutual commitments." [559 words]

(*) Theodore Gill is senior editor of WCC Publications in Geneva and a minister ordained by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).