Studia Historicae Ecclesiasticae, the journal of the Church History Society of Southern Africa, includes a review of my book Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Eugene, Ore.: Cascade Books, 2010) by Professor Christina Landman, Director of the Research Institute for Theology and Religion at the University of South Africa in Pretoria, South Africa. The review, which appears in vol. 37, no. 1 (2011), p. 289, is a challenging reminder that a number of ecumenical issues look very different when viewed through the lenses of a social location in which ecclesial divisions are not merely matters of differing intellectual accounts of Christian faith or ecclesiological preferences. The recovery of the distinctiveness of denominational traditions as a means toward deeper convergences toward visible unity can suggest one thing in a North American or European context; it can mean something altogether different for a context in which the conservation of denominational distinctiveness was historically linked with the conservation of distinct racial identities that are purported to be "equal but different." Here's an excerpt from the midst of the review:
....Sometimes the word [ecumenism] simply refers to a modern tendency among Americans to casually exchange churches. In South Africa, this may be a habit among a few white people, but the majority of black people are committed to their churches through the wearing of uniforms. The author of the book is not himself at ease with this expression of "ecumenism" as "church hopping," and suggests that this be counteracted by believers being loyal to their denominations....[he] makes use of the concept of ecumenism to appeal to Christians to "unite," although this "oneness" does not imply sameness. Again, for South Africans this will smack of apartheid and its slogan: "Equal but different"....
I'm grateful for Professor Landman's review and its insistence that a thick ecumenical encounter deeply rooted in particular traditions must not become an excuse for a renewed denominationalism, especially in light of the modern ecumenical movement's insufficient attention to divisions of race and class as the more problematic and enduring divisions of the church.
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