One of those opportunities that I am afforded because of my mission in ecumenism is rich dialogue with people from many diverse backgrounds. Last fall I spoke to the North American Academy on Ecumenists, which met in Chicago. I delivered a paper about evangelical Protestantism and the new opportunities and models for ecumenism that are evolving in our world. This paper will be published in the Journal of Ecumenical Studies in 2014 so I cannot publish it online here.
Before I spoke at the NAAE I was preceded to the podium by a Christian Science practitioner named Shirley Paulson from Evanston, Illinois. Shirley gave a wonderful paper about her own pursuit of the larger church in ecumenism. She shared openly, and quite winsomely, about the work that she does within her own tradition of Christian Science. My reaction, like that of most evangelicals, was to wonder why this work was even being presented, given the story that I had always assumed about Christian Science. But Shirley Paulson did not fit into my box. In fact, she eloquently exploded some of my ideas, though not all.
After Shirley spoke we talked. Then we exchanged emails. The result was a dialogue where we then met once again face-to-face, joined this time by my friend Susan Taylor, a longtime member of the ACT3 board. We had lunch in Wheaton at my favorite restaurant, Genghis Grill. After lunch Shirley wrote a blog for the Christian Science website about our friendship. Shirley is anything but typical of the people that I encounter in my work and yet she is so much like the people that I meet, people who truly long to learn, to listen and to share their lives with me in the love of Christ. Whereas I would have mentally consigned Shirley to a box labeled “cult” some years ago now love required me to listen and learn. What transpired was both unexpected and joyful.
Shirley then wrote a blog about me/us and published it on the Christian Science website.
Here is the opening few lines of her blog:
I’m in the middle of a very rich and meaningful conversation with an evangelical Christian, and I think you’d be interested to know about it as it unfolds.
For those of you who have experienced heart-breaking and difficult conversations with evangelical Christians, this might give you encouragement. If you have not had one of these difficult conversations yourself, you should realize that most evangelicals avoid real conversations with Christian Scientists unless in the attempt to ‘save us’ from the ‘devilish ways’ of our faith tradition.
Like me Shirley has begun to practice the ecumenical precept of “the dialogue of love preceding the dialogue of truth” She adds, “I am convinced that by developing sincere friendships, we are in a better place from which we can deal with the most challenging difficulties between our religious traditions. We learn to respect the way Christ is truly at work in the other, and we trust each other’s sincere commitment to Christ.
After Susan Taylor and I finished lunch with Shirley we talked about inviting her to speak at one of our ACT3 Luncheons on Ecumenism this year. Shirley accepted my invitation and thus she will speak on April 22 on the topic: “A Humble Conversation with a Christian Science Practitioner About Jesus.” You can register for this event at the ACT3 Luncheon series.
I am sure some of you doubt the wisdom of having a dialogue with a Christian Science practitioner. I understand your concerns. I shared all of them before the apologetic of love transformed my life some years ago. I have continually made it as plain as possible that I do not accept many of the teachings of Christian Science but I am also completely willing to listen and dialogue with a Christian Scientist, all in the love of Jesus. If this gives more fuel to the various bloggers and writers who do not care for this mission then so be it. My response is simple – I love you too and I humbly invite you to come and engage in Christ-like conversation with us as we learn and grow. You might be surprised, as I have been again and again, by what God will teach you if you listen with a loving heart and a mind that continually seeks truth while you remain faithful to what you believe and understand.