Thursday, July 24, 2008

May it Ever Be So

The Baptist World Alliance, meeting this week in Prague, is about to discuss a letter sent from 138 Muslim leaders to 32 Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christian leaders. The letter is titled, "A Common Word Between Us and You." It is a 29 page letter so there is no room for the entire text here. However, there is a web site where you can read the letter. The link is here:

Robert Parham, of the Baptist Center for Ethics, has a story about the letter and its discussion at the Baptist World Alliance meeting this week. The link for Parham's story is here:

Some of the key quotes from the letter are as follows:

"Finding common ground between Muslims and Christians is not simply a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders. Christianity and Islam are the largest and second largest religions in the world and in history. Christians and Muslims reportedly make up over a third and over a fifth of humanity respectively. Together they make up more than 55 percent of the world's population, making the relationship between these two religious communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world."

It goes on to say, "Love of the neighbor is an essential and integral part of faith in God and love of God because in Islam without love of the neighbor there is no true faith in God and no righteousness," the letter says. "Without giving the neighbor what we ourselves love, we do not truly love God or the neighbor."

Read the letter for yourself. I think this is very, very good. It is one of the most positive developments for world peace that I have seen in a long time. Many of you who have had my classes have heard me say before that if Christians, Jews, and Muslims could just come together and recognize that we have so much in common it would go a long way toward bringing peace in the world.

There will be Fundamentalist Muslims who condemn this. There will be Fundamentalist Christians who condemn this. Fundamentalism, whether Christian or Muslim, never wants cooperation. Fundamentalism only seeks domination. So, I don't expect a groundswell of support from the right wing fringe in either religion.

But, for the rest of us who seek to be more mainstream in our faith and really care about promoting peace in this world in which we live, this is a very good development. The fact that it was initiated by Muslims is also very positive. It is another example that the stereotype that many Christians have of Islam as being a violent, oppressive religion is wrong. The majority of Muslims want to live with Christians in the same way that the majority of Christians want to live in peace with Muslims. This is not calling for Christians to convert to Islam. Neither is it a call for Muslims to convert to Christianity. It is a call to stand together on the common ground that we share.

A quick story from my own experience. I had a student a few years ago who was Muslim. He was a brilliant student intellectually. He wore the traditional dress of his native country and very devoutly prayed five times per day as required by his religion. But, here at a Baptist college, he was treated harshly by some of our more conservative students who thought it was their job to convert him. They went beyond a simple Christian witness to harrassment of him in their zeal for his conversion. One day he came to me and said, "why do they hate me so much? I'm only living my faith. I respect them for their faith. Why can't they respect me?" I tried to assure him that not all Christians are like them. In the same way I now try to tell students that not all Muslims are like the 9/11 attackers.

There is a lot of common ground between Muslims and Christians. Let's celebrate what we have in common rather than fight over our differences. Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God." May God give us the grace and strength to be peacemakers in this violent world!

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