As part of his final address to the participants in the law and religion symposium last week, Rik Torfs, a Belgian senator and head of the faculty of canon law at KU Leuven, observed that some of the great things in public discourse occur in the context of vociferous initial backlash. After all, he said, if you posit something and everyone just accepts it as a matter of course, then it is merely a truism and of no benefit to anyone. You haven’t really said anything at all.
Forgive me for the personal detour, but Torfs’ observation reminded me of one of the responses to my book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness. In a lengthy “reply to Jordan J. Ballor,” Christopher Dorn essentially argues that “Ballor excludes himself from a discussion which can properly evaluate the claim that the use of ’empire’ does in fact rest on a theological basis.” Dorn’s appeals to Karl Barth on this point for a “theological basis” may resonate with some, but do little to allay my fears about the particularly Reformed rationale for doing so, glosses to John Calvin notwithstanding.
Dorn does charitably contend that “there is always room for honest disagreement and divergence.” In a similar way Rev. Peter Borgdorff of the Christian Reformed Church has said that he prefers to call the Accra document a “conversation” rather than a “confession.” But I think that a plain reading of the Accra Confession, on its own terms qua confession, does little to validate the claim that there is “always room” in the ecumenical tent for “honest disagreement and divergence.” In fact, the concern that unity not be reduced to unanimity on these points was one of the major motivations behind my critical engagement.
It’s nice to be part of the conversation, I suppose, but I’d feel better if such “critical voices” were not, as Dorn puts it, “in the minority.”