Christian Unity in a Post-Christian World

Brendan MacCarthy FAITH Magazine January – February 2012

Canon MacCarthy makes an appeal for a pro-life ecumenism. This piece is based on a well-received sermon given to an ecumenical gathering in his parish of All Saints, Hersham, Surrey.


Christians are related to each other through the Sacrament of Baptism. We share many Christian values, in differing ways and degrees. However, our communion with each other, if it is to be full communion, needs to go beyond the Sacrament of Baptism. Understanding what this might mean is part of the challenge of our work and prayer for Christian unity

The Acts of the Apostles tells us that the early followers of Christ "held all things together in common". This can mean something equivalent to a common purse. It also indicates a faith where Christ was central to people's lives, as He is central to our lives today. But since some of our beliefs can be in contradiction with each other, the work for Christian unity can never be easy. Yet we remember St Paul's words: "The charity of Christ urges us on." Jesus in his own words says: "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." The quest for Christian unity invites our exploration of Christ's personally expressed identity

Dignity of the Human Person

There is something else we hold in common. It is our humanity Each of us has an immortal soul. It is the life principle within us. The powers of knowing and willing, including our ability to evaluate information and make choices, mark us off as rational beings. We are unique in God's order of creation.

The society in which we live has become highly influenced by secular values. Some can be in harmony with God's law. But not all. There are many areas in modern life where popular attitudes clash with truths that uphold the dignity of the human person. The promotion of such contrary attitudes causes tension, setting the culture of life in conflict with the culture of death, the culture of reverence and respect in conflict with the culture of selfishness and exploitation. These conflicts merit our Christian concern.

It is fair to ask: "How can we respond to these assaults on the dignity of the human person?" A look at the burning issues of today in the light of God's word would, I believe, be a positive start.

The Anti-life Mentality

An example of such issues is the legality of a "woman's right to choose" where unborn human life is concerned. Almost 200,000 unborn children are aborted in the United Kingdom each year - a legalised slaughter that hardly gets a mention. In this context the law recognises two rights: the right to kill and the right to keep. But choosing between killing and keeping is not something that is morally neutral, like choosing between different brands of tinned beans in the supermarket.

In defending the right to life from conception to natural death, we are also defending the dignity of every woman. It was in the womb of Mary that Jesus grew for nine months. Her womb was the "tabernacle of the Most High". The womb of every woman is a sacred place, and the life that grows within it is sacred too. It is men's duty to honour and reverence women. This reverence is expressed, in a special way through the chaste mastery of their manhood.

Marriage, too, is much happier when wives are blessed with the peace and security that such reverence brings to home and family life. Yet the Christian concept of marriage, as a life-long covenant between a woman and a man, has been undermined by the legal recognition given to same sex unions, as an alternative to what God has established in nature. "Faith schools" too are the target of those who dismiss their specific ethos, in an attempt to secularise all education.

Virtuous Living

Many people, especially the young, are influenced by the media in all its forms. And the permissive attitudes presented distort the moral conscience of viewers and listeners. Virtuous living, once a noble tradition, is often neglected. With this neglect can come - and often does come -unhappiness, and an inner turmoil that destroys peace of heart. It is control of self that speaks the language of authentic love. This love is not self-seeking. Motivated by a Christian approach, this becomes a mutual sharing of interpersonal harmony, of a deepening peace and of a responsible reaching out to others in need. Man's duty is to reverence the sacredness of life. Modern society needs to rediscover the true worth of every person.

Virtuous Action

In considering how we might respond to our shared concerns, it is helpful to remember that our civil laws, for good or evil, are made by elected and non-elected politicians. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese Nobel Peace Prize winner, was released from house arrest in November 2010. In the course of a long address to her many supporters she said: "It is not enough to think only of oneself or one's own family. Please do not have the attitude that politics is not our business. You may not be concerned with politics, but politics will be concerned with you. You can't avoid this". Although her remarks were tailored to an audience in a country where political freedoms are severely limited, we who enjoy such freedoms in the United Kingdom need to know how best to use them for the common good ofhumanity

During his visit to Britain last year Pope Benedict addressed politicians, diplomats, academics and business leaders in Westminster Hall. Among other things he highlighted the relationship between religious belief and secular rationality. He urged a "conversation", saying that reason and faith needed each other for the common good. But he also expressed his concern at the "increasing marginalisation of religion, particularly Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters". He added: "There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere."

Hearing these words it is fair to ask: "Is there something here that speaks to us Christians? Does this moral turmoil prompt us to do something? If it does, what should it be?" The level of Christian unity we share should surely move our individual communities to search for principled answers. The benefits provided by the modern media permit us to make our views known to our MPs and to anyone we think has influence in framing law and in forming, and informing, public opinion. A well-known phrase comes to mind: "For evil to triumph it is sufficient that good people do nothing."

The Christian Vision

In all ecumenical endeavours there are concerns that go beyond the strictly religious. One, as I have said, is reverence for all human life. This motivates us to re-create that deeper respect for all men and women that has been so badly damaged in modern Britain, and in the wider European context as well. Our attachment to Jesus can never be exclusive of the needs of others. The culture of life blesses our society, its people and communities. The culture of death does the opposite and must be firmly confronted with objective truth.

At the conclusion of St Matthew's Gospel, Jesus says: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." Then, in the light of this authority, he tells his disciples to "go and teach all peoples all the things I have commanded you". This is our duty too. To quote St Paul: "We are ambassadors for Christ."

I will finish with the gracious words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, addressed to Pope Benedict at Evening Prayer with the Pope at Westminster Abbey. "We pray that your time with us will be a further step for all of us into the mystery of the cross and resurrection, so that growing together we may become more efficient channels for God's purpose to heal the wounds of humankind, and to restore once again, both in our societies and in our environment, the likeness of his glory as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ".

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