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Where “Ecumenical” Does Not Mean “Nice” & “Bland”

If the word “ecumenism” is ever to be rescued from connoting mushiness and vacuous smiles, much of the credit will probably have to go to the folks at Touchstone. This increasingly impressive Christian magazine defines itself on its masthead as “conservative in doctrine,” saying that its “mission…is to provide a place where Christians of various backgrounds can speak with one another on the basis of shared belief in the fundamental doctrines of the faith….” On its cover, Touchstone calls itself “A Journal of Mere Christianity,” and while we’ve called attention in this section (Jan., p. 6) to the hazards in this Lewisian concept, there’s no danger that Touchstone will become a journal of Merest Christianity. That’s clear from merely looking at the names on the masthead — e.g., James Hitchcock, David Mills, Leon Podles, Helen Hull Hitchcock, Donna Steichen, William Tighe, Mark Tooley.

Touchstone is making great strides: Formerly a quarterly and now a monthly, its readership has doubled since 1998. And it’s no surprise, given that Touchstone doesn’t mess around or pull its punches. Consider, for example, Fr. Louis R. Tarsitano’s blast against “nice” conservative Christians (Nov.-Dec. 1999). Tarsitano is a priest of the Anglican Church in America, one of the doctrinally conservative spin-offs from the Episcopal Church, and he’s been through the Episcopalian wars and seen what “the cult of niceness” results in — namely, retreat.

“Nice” conservative Christians, Tarsitano tells us, “believe themselves to be compassionate and kind, especially when they are chiding” their fellow conservative Christians “who want to fight battles and name names.”

Nice conservative Christians are especially allergic to naming names. Instead, says Tarsitano, they will only resist evil “principles and ideas.” (Actually, we know of some conservative Catholic leaders who shy away even from that, asserting that one must be “upbeat” about the state of the Church, stressing the “positive” and basically ignoring the “negative,” for fear of being “divisive.”) Tarsitano points out that “no evil ideas or principles exist apart from human or angelic persons. The Scriptures teach that there is no substantial evil. There is only the evil will of men and angels…. Evil is always, always personal.” Tarsitano adds that ideas and principles don’t sin, men do, and he notes that when Christ called certain people “whited sepulchres” and a “brood of vipers,” our Lord was engaging in ad hominem attacks. According to Tarsitano, who’s been in the trenches and knows whereof he speaks, theological liberalism has been able to advance so rapidly because nice conservatives insist on condemning as uncharitable “those who would speak as did our Lord.”

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