The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches appealed for hope in the global ecumenical movement during a recent visit to Canada, in the face of controversy and discontent within the movement.
Konrad Raiser was in Halifax to deliver a lecture sponsored by the Atlantic School of Theology and the Society of the Atonement.
He then stopped in Toronto for meetings with members of the Canadian Council of Churches.
Dr. Raiser attempted to inspire a renewed sense of commitment to the cause of worldwide ecumenism leading up to the WCC’s eighth assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe in December.
“We need to express afresh the ecumenical vision,” he said during his speech.
“But if this is to truly be a fellowship, we have to have good relationships between the members.”
Dr. Raiser admitted in an interview some people think the movement is going nowhere.
“People feel that somehow the dynamic of the movement has disappeared and seems to be stuck in many respects. That is the source of discontent because one expects from the WCC to be giving leadership, setting orientations, articulating a vision.”
Dr. Raiser said much of the unhappiness is coming from Orthodox churches in Eastern Europe, whose members oppose the liberal philosophies of the West.
The Orthodox are particularly opposed to “the introduction of inclusive language, the ordination of women (and) the recognition of sexual minorities, as they call it.”
Dr. Raiser said the Orthodox are trying to develop a “new self-understanding of the place and role of the Orthodox churches in a new social situation. They are not convinced that the ecumenical movement, in fact, is helpful in that regard. The ecumenical movement seems to be introducing new irritation, new difficulties, new demands for change, and there comes a point where there’s simply an overload …
“They are asking the other member churches of the world council to be patient to allow them to come to terms with a radically new situation internally.”
He also acknowledges discontent is brewing among Pentecostals and Evangelicals in North America, which “has really similar sources and causes” to the unhappiness among the Orthodox churches.
Despite the problems, Dr. Raiser hopes the assembly in Harare will be successful. “We have for the last 60, 70 years tried to work patiently with deeply rooted differences of doctrinal systems, of liturgy, of piety, of church order … It shouldn’t be too difficult against the background of all this ecumenical experience to also work our way through those tensions.”
Ellie Johnson, director of partnerships for the Anglican Church, was encouraged by Dr. Raiser’s “acknowledgement the ecumenical movement depends on healthy relationships between the various participants, but the structure and functioning of the world council needs to change in order to enable a deepening of existing relationships and the nurturing of new links in this worldwide movement.”
Dr. Johnson is among 20 Anglican delegates and visitors from Canada who are going to Harare, including Primate Michael Peers.