restricted access Guru Nanak's Vision of God as a Model for Christian Ecumenism
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Guru Nanak's Vision of God as a Model for Christian Ecumenism

As a practicing Latter-day Saint, I attended the 2014 annual gathering of the North American Academy of Ecumenists. While the company was delightful and the conference enlightening, the most impactful thing I took away from the symposium was the reality that there are many within the umbrella of Christianity—even among those who consider themselves ecumenists—who remain very uncomfortable with Latter-day Saints.

As a singular example, during a conversation over dinner an acquaintance said to me, in a rather matter-of-fact way: "You know, your Church is not part of the World Council of Churches." Surprised, I replied, "Yes. We've really never actively sought membership, and, owing to our use of the Book of Mormon (alongside of the Holy Bible), I suspect we never would be accepted." My dinner companion replied, "I don't think the Book of Mormon is your problem. I think it is your understanding of the nature of God that is at issue." This surprised me a bit, as I had always thought the Book of Mormon was the bigger issue, and I had been told by leaders of the Community of Christ (formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) that the Book of Mormon was the chief concern during their application for membership in the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. I indicated to my acquaintance that Latter-day Saints are "Social Trinitarians"—believing in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and that, in light of that, I did not think our view of God should raise objections, 1 but I could see that he was unconvinced. [End Page 330]

While our conversation took twists and turns over the course of our dinner—and I in no way found myself offended by it—I was, nevertheless, left to ponder the significance of the suggestion that one's profession of Jesus as his or her personal Savior was insufficient to constitute one a Christian—at least not if one's understanding of the Trinity were different from that of the next person. That seemed contrary to the spirit of ecumenism (which we had gathered to celebrate); it also seemed to me to run the risk of placing organizations such as the World Council of Churches (W.C.C.) and the National Council of Churches (N.C.C.) in a logical paradox. Let me explain.

The membership of the W.C.C. consists of nearly 350 Christian denominations. Though most are Protestant, at last count there were eight denominations that consider themselves Catholic and seventeen denominations of Orthodox Christianity that currently hold membership in that esteemed organization. As would be expected, there are a variety of beliefs and practices in these several denominations. If each held to the exact same view of the Trinity—which they certainly do not—one could see the logic behind excluding a given tradition from its membership because it rejected the one and only view espoused by those who are members of that body. But, owing to the fact that there are a number of variations in how this denomination or that interprets the doctrine of the Holy Trinity—and yet they, nevertheless, consider each other Christians—it seems puzzling that variations in trinitarian doctrine would be tolerated for some but not for others.

How does one justify excluding any given tradition from membership if that tradition accepts Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world, even if it has a slightly different definition of how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit express their oneness? Speaking to this same subject, Roman Catholic theologian Stephen H. Webb noted that "what gives Christianity its identity is its [End Page 331] commitment to the divinity of Jesus Christ." 2 This seems an obvious standard because, if theological uniformity or conformity is our measure, then a dilemma arises, for, while the Council of Nicaea sought to establish the strict monotheism of Christianity, it did not successfully bring the church into "theological uniformity." Consequently, within the "circle" of orthodox Christianity there has...