BANGOR, Maine — The head of the National Council of Churches offered views on how the ecumenical movement, which aims to unify Christians from a variety of viewpoints, can find common ground when grappling with weighty, and sometimes divisive, issues such as discrimination and human rights.
“The ecumenical movement isn’t simply a way of saying we must listen to each other. It’s a way of saying we will seek God’s will together, so the dialogue of voices is itself aimed at being able to say, ‘This is what we think God’s will is,’ but we don’t just say it alone, we say it together,” the Rev. Michael Kinnamon said Mon-day after the second of two lectures he delivered on the opening day of Bangor Theological Seminary’s 105th annual convocation at Husson University.
According to Kinnamon, who was elected the NCC’s general secretary in 2007, the NCC is dealing with many of the same issues as the Maine Council of Churches. Those issues, particularly in the past year, have included sexual orientation and same-sex marriage, he said.
“The National Council of Churches is every bit as diverse as the Maine council, but has been able to speak, for instance, about opposition to discrimination against persons who are gay, lesbian or bisexual very strongly,” he said.
“And while we can’t speak any more than the Maine council can about the rightness or wrongness of same-sex marriage because our churches are in different places, we can say that we hold open that conversation within the framework of opposition to all discriminations, that the framework is saying no to all forms of discrimi-nation,” he said.
According to Kinnamon, the national council “has tried to live in a tension that says we will live in community with those who aren’t like us, who don’t think the way we do, but that that will not paralyze us and render us a debating society,” Kinnamon said.
“The reason that I chose some of these issues is that I think they were very important in the last year, especially with regard to the same-sex marriage discussion,” he said.
One of the key concepts Kinnamon said he hoped convocation participants would take home with them was “the importance of Christians living with a tension between being open to persons who aren’t like ourselves, and also saying boldly that we think this is necessary to protect the neighborhood.”
“If you simply emphasize being open, then even Nazis are at the table. If you only emphasize prophetic witness, then you often fall into a kind of self-righteousness, which thinks that only your way is the right way.
“And you do see it on both sides,” he said. “There’s self-righteousness on the left and self-righteousness on the right, and narrowness on the left and narrowness on the right.”
During the three-day convocation, which winds down Wednesday, attendees are slated to participate in worship services, lectures and an alumni dinner, and hear from other nationally known ministers — the Rev. Martin Copenhaver and the Rev. Lillian Daniel.