Tuesday was the first full day of the "Loving God and Neighbor" conference that is bringing together Christian, Muslim, and (a few) Jewish leaders on the campus of Yale University.
The day's meetings were kicked off by two articulate and compelling Muslim speakers.
First was the remarkably articulate and charming Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan (who attended Princeton for his undergraduate work and holds a Ph.D. from Cambridge). Prince Ghazi characterized the "Common Word" document issued in 2007 by 138 Muslim scholars and clerics as "our extended global religious handshake." This was not a concession to Christians, he said. The statement was "about equal peace and not capitulation."
The first item on his list of tension-producing factors between Muslims and Western Christians was "the question of Jerusalem and Palestine" and during a break in the meetings he re-emphasized the issue of the control of and access to Jerusalem as a factor that would have to be resolved before any lasting d?tente could be achieved.
Did Ghazi go over the top when he claimed that hostility to Muslims in Western countries was at a high enough level to warrant worries about internment camps - or even concentration camps - in the near future?
It was encouraging that he treated the Holocaust as a historical fact and cited the standard six-million figure (things that often get denied by Muslims in the Middle East). But it was shocking that he claimed that Western societies were, with respect to Muslims, now comparable to the pre-genocidal prejudices among Rwandan Hutus and Tutsis in 1994.
Following Prince Ghazi was Shaykh Mustafa Ceric, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia. "Ours is not the problem of difference," said Shaykh Ceric about relations between the three great Abrahamic faiths. "Ours is the problem of similarity."
"Those who are similar are more severe to each other than those that are different," he pointed out. "We must learn how to live with our similarities."
Dr. Ceric preached the value of forgiveness. Having witnessed the terror and brutality of the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, he has had much to forgive. He told the Yale gathering of Muslims and Christians that "the human being has the right to ?an eye for an eye.'" But the right to revenge is balanced by Islamic teaching: "If you forgive, you will be forgiven in the world to come, and [here my notes are a bit shaky] it will be your propitiation."
But Ceric startled several evangelical listeners when he suggested that not everyone was worthy of love all the time. While he talked about love for widows and orphans, for example, he named "the arrogant" as an example of those who should not be loved. This contrasts sharply with Christian notions of love, in which we are called to love unconditionally "because he first loved us." And the difference between the two notions of love became a point of discussion.
Yale theologian Miroslav Volf made a point of explaining the Christian view of love in his panel presentation just before lunch. Contrasting with another Muslim cleric's assertion that we cannot speak of love as being of the essence of God, but only of love as God's actions, Volf read the locus classicus from 1 John 4:7-21, with its famous sentence, "God is love." Because God loves (among the persons of the Trinity) before the world comes into existence, said Volf, God's love is not reactive, but is of his essence.
The Muslim and Christian presentations on Tuesday were characterized by good will, but neither group backed away from the fundamentals of their faith. Critics of the 2007 "Loving God and Neighbor Together" document feared that it was not as explicitly Christian as it ought to have been. But if the conference is any indication, their concerns were unfounded. Explicitly Christian assertions of the divinity of Jesus, the Triune nature of the Godhead, and the unconditional nature of Christian love were the order of the day.
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