“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:2)
I look forward to visiting the United States, particularly Long Island, next month. Your prayers and hard work – indeed, the prayers and efforts of all the faithful in the Diocese of Rockville Centre – in service to our Savior and His Church are precious gifts from which I take great strength and encouragement.
While the logistics of my visit are being finalized among our respective aides, it is important that you understand what we – with the inspiration and support, I pray, of the Holy Spirit – are trying to initiate today, and that my Long Island visit will be the leaping off point for a global effort.
The challenges that Christianity faces and our wounds that must be healed are grave and deep. Unfortunately, much of this has been self-inflicted over the centuries. In turn, a wounded Christianity has not ably illustrated and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. For this shortcoming, each of us will have to answer on Judgment Day.
What does the world see when it looks at the Christian faith?
Too often, it is conflict and division. We should be saddened and ashamed that Christian unity is so lacking. After all, Jesus specifically prayed: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
We can – and will – debate the degree of unity necessary, but Christians certainly must achieve much more than what exists today. While progress has been made, we have fallen far short of Christ’s desire.
Unfortunately, this is not just a task of trying to bring together different denominations. Disunity exists even within the Roman Catholic Church, as well as within most other Christian bodies. As a result, Christians too often send confusing signals to the world on essential matters of faith and morals when our message should be clear and strong.
Like so much of our culture, Christianity suffers from an internal erosion of the truth. Why do Christians follow rather than inform the culture? Too many leaders have lost credibility due to scandals, due to a willingness to abandon Holy Scripture and Tradition, or because they seem far more interested in politics and social activism than in spreading the Gospel.
Some of our Lutheran friends have a point when arguing that Martin Luther’s “Two Kingdoms” means that when Christian leaders or the Church do not have to speak out on a political issue, perhaps then they should not speak out. When Christians have the freedom to disagree on political and social issues, for example, declarations by the Church on such matters tend to create further strife and division. The Church must root Christians in faith and morality, and help form the Christian conscience as informed by Holy Scripture and Church teachings, with individual Christians then encouraged to act and serve accordingly in the world.
When diverging from its central mission, Christianity becomes clouded. Love, forgiveness, redemption and salvation through Jesus Christ get pushed aside. Moral authority is lost. Christianity is then unable to stand firm when it must speak out, when it needs to, when it is imperative to do so.
What are the most critical challenges faced today? Three stand out.
Relativism plagues our age. The truth of Christ has been treated as just another choice among many so-called “truths.” Or the very notion of truth has been rejected. Moral verities that have served as the bedrock of civilization have been and continue to be displaced in favor of the latest whims and desires. Tragically and sinfully, many Christians have joined with and strengthened the forces of relativism.
Coupled with this is a growing and militant secularism. God is being pushed out of the public square. In your own country, your noble Constitution, a document that has offered so much for the benefit of peoples around the world, has been twisted so that the separation of church and state now is taken by many to mean that the Church should never speak out on issues carrying clear and significant moral weight. Indeed, especially in Europe and increasingly in the United States, Christians are expected to leave their faith in the pews and in their homes when they venture to discuss and debate in public, to cast votes or to serve in government. That, however, is unacceptable. The Christian cannot, and should not, be expected to ever leave God behind, or to restrict the Lord to only certain realms of one’s life. That is not what it means to be a Christian.
Finally, in contrast to a militant secularism, Christians, along with all of God’s children, face the grim reality of a radical arm of Islam. While we all realize and must emphasize that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the world are peace-loving, Christians and Muslims cannot afford to ignore the dark realities of the small, but significant extremist movement within Islam. From that dangerous perversion springs evils of terrorism and religious persecution in our current age. While Christianity certainly has had and continues to experience dark times – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 2:23) – the Church has left behind the mistaken path it sometimes ventured down in centuries past regarding war and persecution, and imposing the Faith at the point of a sword or gun.
Too often today, however, Christianity loses confidence, retreats and even turns inward when confronted by these grave “isms” – relativism, secularism and what has been called Islamic fascism.
The Roman Catholic Church is proposing a modest, but important first step towards enhanced Christian unity. Specifically, the proposal I am putting forth is that traditional, orthodox faithful from across Christianity come together to speak with one voice on matters of the faith and culture where Holy Scripture and Church teachings are fundamental, clear and imperative. It is necessary that Christians come together in love and brotherhood to address the culture.
Allow me to first make clear what this is not. It is not a vehicle for political and social activism to supplant the Gospel. It does not place the Roman Catholic Church in a position of leadership, but merely as one of hopefully many participants. Nor does it attempt to address the issue of the papacy itself, and the accompanying obstacles for many other Christians. It is not an attempt to gloss over or ignore the unfortunate theological differences that exist among Christians.
Instead, this is an effort to bring much of the Christian world together to express a unified voice – where possible – on matters of fundamental morality. It is my hope that Christians across the spectrum will join in this effort; that we will meet regularly to discuss, work together in Christian love, come to agreement, and then issue clear and bold Christian declarations on issues confronting the Faith and the world.
With guidance and strength from the Holy Spirit, this effort hopefully will build, expand, and eventually bring about an even more far-reaching unity.
It is my intention to travel the globe to speak and meet with Christian leaders on this important undertaking from late September until the eve of our Savior’s birth. These travels will begin in the United States, with you on Long Island on September 20, and will proceed through Central and South America, Australia, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe, ending back in Rome. Invitations will be presented for the first official gathering in this effort scheduled for the spring of next year in Wittenberg, Germany, where the Reformation started, and where Christianity can come together in order to speak with one voice to the world some 500 years later.
I have long appreciated the writings of C.S. Lewis, the great Christian apologist and Anglican layman of the twentieth century. Lewis has been adopted by all kinds of Christians around the world, from Roman Catholics to independent evangelicals. So many of his books are classics, including his thoughtful Mere Christianity. In that book, originally a series of radio broadcasts during the Second World War, Lewis observed:
“It is at her centre, where her truest children dwell, that each communion is really closest to every other in spirit, if not in doctrine. And this suggests at the centre of each there is something, or a Someone, who against all divergences of belief, all differences of temperament, all memories of mutual persecution, speaks with the same voice.”
In many ways, this is the spirit we hope to capture in this mission. That is, on many issues we need to speak with the same voice to the world – serving, empowered and inspired by that Someone.
To start, then, I call this “A Public Mission of Mere Christianity.” Of course, once assembled in Wittenberg, the mission may choose another name, but this is how we will get started.
“A Public Mission of Mere Christianity” has begun today, with approximately 500,000 letters arriving in the hands of Christian leaders around the globe. However, the first on-the-ground step in this mission will start in your diocese, Peter, on Long Island.
Thank you, once more, for your willingness to serve. May God grant courage, wisdom and caring – to both of us.
Yours in Christ,