Summer Conventions '97
This was a summer that offered few surprises for American denominations, but much cause for hope for those desiring stronger ecumenical ties between Christian churches. Against the odds, A Formula of Agreement passed at four conventions, and unless it is rejected in the coming months by the Presbyterian Church's regional units, the agreement should bind more closely the Lutheran and Reformed churches of the United States.
Questions remain as to whether this agreement will help the four denominations to resolve differences or simply cause them to ignore vital theological disagreements. But the other events of the summer show that unity can be difficult to achieve even amongst Christians who belong to the same religious body. Issues of sexuality, gender, and general moral values continue to cause heated debate in many denominations, though this summer may be noted as the year when the Episcopal Church did not follow media predictions and break apart. Overall, church members of all faiths remain more optimistic about the futures of their denominations than most outside observers, and many are impatient with the single-issue coverage of their conventions. The Southern Baptists, for example, looked in vain for media reports that would mention news about their convention besides the Disney boycott.
What is clear from the tone of the conventions is that American Christians on all sides of the issues remain deeply concerned about the moral condition of their nation. Some Christians may disagree with tactics such as boycotts or argue that certain behavior is not immoral, but most Christians agree that American society is in need of moral renewal, and that the Christian Church has an obligation to be at the forefront of such a fight. Whether the important ecumenical agreement will strengthen or weaken that fight remains to be seen, but it cannot be said that American Christians are unaware of the stakes in their battle.
©1997 Heather Elizabeth Peterson