Rev. Nathan Day Wilson: “Sunday’s values need to become Monday’s values”

Rev. Nathan Day Wilson, Ecumenical Centre, Geneva, 13 August 2019, Photo: WCC

WCC-Rev. Nathan Day Wilson is a pastor with the Disciples of Christ in the United States and currently holds the position as director of communications at the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is associate editor and columnist for the Faith and Values section of the Indianapolis Star. Wilson was a lecturer at the seminar, “Equipping each other for Christian Witness in a multi-cultural and multi-faith world”, taking place at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute from 5-15 August.

Q: In our multi-cultural and multi-faith world, a world where we feel less optimism, how do we hang onto hope?

Rev. Wilson: I want to start by talking about basic ecumenical education. I like to use Luke 24, which speaks of the walk on the road to Emmaus and two disciples who are accompanied by Jesus. Building on this, I teach about the importance of humility in ecumenical conversations, that is, the importance of realising that you only ever have partial truth. From this, focus on the ecumenical movement. There was this great period of optimism, where there was this great confidence in human progress, great confidence in the power of technology that would move us forward. Today we are less optimistic about the power of those things but that doesn’t mean we should be any less hopeful in a broad sense. Because the difference is, optimism is rooted in me and my own ability to make progress. Hope is rooted in God and God’s love made known in Jesus Christ – and that has not changed.

Q: Can you talk about your experience as a student at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute?

Rev. Wilson: The classroom sessions are always beneficial, yes, but more than that it was the whole living together with people from 32 countries, doing dishes together or watching television shows. I also made a number of good friends. With one I would disagree on things – on matters of ecclesiology, matters of theology, the role of women in the church, things like this – without backing down, and neither would he! So we became really close partly because of our willingness to debate forcefully alongside a willingness to care for each other. Ecumenism is not foremost about official dialogues or documents but fundamentally it is about relationships. The formal dialogues and documents are important, but they are not the most important. It has different levels.

Q: As the ecumenical movement addresses racism and pluralism, would you say white supremacy and racism are global issues?

Rev. Wilson: I come from the USA, and therefore I have to speak very contextually about racism and its connection to the striking rise in hate crimes and white supremacy over the last two years. What many Americans would prefer to see is an exclusively fringe movement has, as evidenced by Charlottesville and many other examples, moved more towards the political center. Seeing the Confederate flags and Nazi flags together really brought home to a lot of people that racism isn’t a foreign matter in this  country. Beyond the rallies, my concern is how much racism and white supremacy is becoming a part of US policies, for example, housing and education policies, job availability.

Checks and balances are needed, particularly within the judicial system. In the USA, the senate appoints all members of the judiciary at federal level. In my home state, senators for decades have only allowed people to go forward who ideologically agree with them. So now the pool of potential judicial candidates is 70 percent people that they helped get into it.

Q: In connection to the churches and the ecumenical movement, are you satisfied with the way they address nationalistic rhetoric, fake news and hate speech?

Rev. Wilson: We haven’t been able to mobilize many people to the polls to make a difference. I don’t know what the breakthrough has to be but my hope and prayer is to be effectively utilizing social media to step outside of church communication structures. That would be a way that will compel more people to become active. Also, I think it is still the case that most American Christians keep Sunday morning separate from the rest of their lives and the values don’t carry forward. And so Sunday’s values need to become Monday’s values.

Q: What does Thursdays in Black mean to you personally?

Rev. Wilson: I have been really pleased with this because it is both simple and profound. It’s very simple, just wear black on Thursday. It is profound to protest gender-based violence and to promote, to hope for, pray for, dream for a day it is no longer an issue. I hope it doesn’t end just with the campaign; I hope it penetrates further.

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