Quaker Universalist Conversations

An Unlikely Ecumenist

By Charley Earp
Northside (Chicago) Friends Meeting                                                  Christian and Interfaith Relations Committee                                                                            

Truth be told, I often feel I have no business being involved in the
work of interfaith and ecumenical ministry. Most people involved have an
overarching religious conviction, usually about “God’s work” or
something similar. For me, this work is human work, and that is enough
for me.

I love religion and have been immersed in it since I was a child. My
father was a Pentecostal preacher and we were in church at least three
times a week. My growth as a human being was intimately marked by
intense religious experiences.

That growth took an unexpected turn in my early 30s, when my most
powerful commitment shifted from a faith in Jesus towards the necessity
of seeking heaven on earth. This took the form of a socialist politics,
which has historically been atheistic and hostile to religion. The fact
that thousands of human beings starved to death everyday, wars
devastated lives daily, and the earth was being destroyed by
capitalism’s industrial juggernaut became far more important to me than
whether there was an afterlife or personal God.

As one who grew up in churches, I still craved the community that is
possible in them, even after my deconversion. My search led me to a
liberal Quaker meeting, where I’ve been involved for 13 years. An even
more unlikely turn led me to interfaith and ecumenical work, when I was
offered an opportunity to represent my Yearly meeting within Friends
General Conference.

As I explored FGC Central Committee, I sat in on a few different
committees. By some odd impulse, I found myself in the session of the
Christian and Interfaith Relations Committee (CIRC). The business they
were doing with the World Council of Churches, Historic Peace Churches,
Christian-Muslim dialogue, and the Parliament of World Religions gripped
me as rich and vital work towards the kind of world to which my radical
philosophy aspired.

While this work may not directly overthrow the oppression, repression,
domination, and exploitation of our world, the quest for mutual
understanding and cooperation seems part and parcel of humanity’s
emancipation. I often ask my atheist comrades whether they would choose a world where everyone was an atheist, but systemic injustice continued
pretty much as always, or a world in which the vast numbers of religious
people retained their respective faiths, but were working together to
end poverty, war, and ecocide. No question which one I would choose.


Thank you, Charlie, for you post. On many days I am a theist, even a Christian Universalist; on others I wax between atheism and agnosticism. I am all these things, and I hold to the need to listen. If there is a hereafter, a notion that is transformed in my mind with Einstein's space/time unity, eternity is begins now. If not, still eternity is the eternal now. Either way, now is the time to live rightly, lovingly, sweetly, even angrily at the soc8ial systems that, for many of us, unconsciously maims, kills, and hates.
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