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DR. BERNARD WILSON OFFERS A PENTECOSTAL VIEW OF ECUMENISM

November 16, 2000, ATLANTA – The Rev. Dr. Bernard Wilson used his own family as a metaphor for the ecumenical movement in his address to the National Council of Churches General Assembly today, "A Pentecostal Vision for the Future of the Ecumenical Movement."

"My eight siblings and I have established a scholarship fund that gives nine scholarships a year," said Dr. Wilson, a minister of the Church of God in Christ, "but getting the nine of us to the same table, on the same day and at the same time, for our monthly board meetings is a challenge. Sometimes one is mad at another and submits a letter of resignation. What they really want is to resign from the family. They can’t, so they take it out on the board."

Similarly, he said, Christians – mainline Protestant, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Evangelical, Roman Catholic and so forth -- make up one family, as divided as we are. And as much as we’d like to sometimes, we can’t "resign" from our family, he said.

"All of us, individually and institutionally, are gifts of God to each other," Dr. Wilson continued. "God posits in each of our traditions an incompleteness, requiring us to be in communion with each other in order to find completeness in faith. My siblings and I can meet without one or the other of us and operate the fund, but without all of us, we are incomplete."

So how do we get everybody to the table? "We can’t," he said, "but the Holy Spirit can and will, because the Holy Spirit has the power to change lives, transform communities and breath new life into institutions and organizations."

Reality check time – these days "it’s challenging even to have a reasonable, respectful conversation on those things on which we disagree," he acknowledged.

Should the hand count of ballots go forward in Florida? Should we tolerate people whose sexual orientation is different from ours? Is abortion a woman’s right to choose? Do federally funded school vouchers hurt public schools?

"Whatever you believe about anything, you can be sure someone else has a completely opposite view – and can probably cite religious reasons why you should go to hell for even thinking such a thing," he said.

"Whoever wins this strangest of elections, there are those who will feel left out, locked out, without anyone to hear their deepest concerns….If ever we needed the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we need it now," he said.

"Thank God for the day of Pentecost. It served to unite the believers. They were all in one room – maybe all in the same hotel – perhaps discussing how different their lives were because of this man Jesus. Something happened as they were all sitting … I venture that it was the Holy Spirit. It infused their lives, sent them forth, changed their lives and changed the course of history on this planet."

"As a Council of Churches, we must fight against exclusivity. Every believer ought to be able to lock hands and say, ‘We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord … and we pray that our unity will one day be restored.’"

Dr. Wilson, serving as Executive Minister at The Riverside Church in New York City, credited the Holy Spirit with moving, half a century ago, "to bring about this institution, the National Council of Churches. Some of us were not included in that beginning. But it’s all too easy to use that exclusion as the basis for continued exclusion. That ought not to be the case."

-end-

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