Christian Leaders Respond to "A Common Word"

Christian Leaders Respond to "A Common Word"



A Christian Response to A Common Word Between Us and You

On October 13, 2007, on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, 138 Muslim scholars and clerics sent an open letter "to leaders of Christian churches, everywhere." The signatories to that letter, titled "A Common Word Between Us and You," include top leaders from around the world representing every major school of Islamic thought. 

The following response was drafted by scholars at Yale Divinity School's Center for Faith and Culture. It was issued by the first four signatories below and endorsed by almost 300 other Christian theologians and leaders, including those listed here.

Preamble

As members of the worldwide Christian community, we were deeply encouraged and challenged

by the recent historic open letter signed by 138 leading Muslim scholars, clerics, and intellectuals from around the world. "A Common Word Between Us and You" identifies some core common ground between Christianity and Islam which lies at the heart of our respective faiths as well as at the heart of the most ancient Abrahamic faith, Judaism. Jesus Christ's call to love God and neighbor was rooted in the divine revelation to the people of Israel embodied in the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18). We receive the open letter as a Muslim hand of conviviality and cooperation extended to Christians worldwide. In this response we extend our own Christian hand in return, so that together with all other human beings we may live in peace and justice as we seek to love God and our neighbors.

Muslims and Christians have not always shaken hands in friendship; their relations have sometimes been tense, even characterized by outright hostility. Since Jesus Christ says, "First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye" (Matthew 7:5), we want to begin by acknowledging that in the past (e.g. in the Crusades) and in the present (e.g. in excesses of the "war on terror") many Christians have been guilty of sinning against our Muslim neighbors. Before we "shake your hand" in responding  to your letter, we ask forgiveness of the All-Merciful One and of the Muslim community around the world.

Religious Peace-World Peace

"Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world's population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world." We share the sentiment of the Muslim signatories expressed in these opening lines of their open letter. Peaceful relations between Muslims and Christians stand as one of the central challenges of this century, and perhaps of the whole present epoch. Though tensions, conflicts, and even wars in which Christians and Muslims stand against each other are not primarily religious in character, they possess an undeniable religious dimension. If we can achieve religious peace between these two religious communities, peace in the world will clearly be  easier to attain. It is therefore no exaggeration to say, as you have in " Common Word Between Us and You,"  that "the future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians."

Common Ground

What is so extraordinary about " Common Word Between Us and You"is not that its signatoriesrecognize the critical character of the present moment in relations between Muslims and Christians. It is rather a deep insight and courage with which they have identified the common ground between the Muslim and Christian religious communities.

What is common between us lies not in something marginal nor in something merely important to each. It lies, rather, in something absolutely central to both: love of God and love of neighbor.

Surprisingly for many Christians, your letter considers the dual command of love to be the foundational principle not just of the Christian faith, but of Islam as well. That so much common ground exists—common ground in some of the fundamentals of faith—gives hope that undeniable differences and even the very real external pressures that bear down upon us can not overshadow the common ground upon which we stand together. That this common ground consists in love of God and of neighbor gives hope that deep cooperation between us can be a hallmark of the relations between our two communities.

Love of God

We applaud that "A Common Word Between Us and You" stresses so insistently the unique devotion to one God, indeed the love of God, as the primary duty of every believer. God alone rightly commands our ultimate allegiance. When anyone or anything besides God commands our ultimate allegiance—a ruler, a nation, economic progress, or anything else—we end up serving idols and inevitably get mired in deep and deadly conflicts.

We find it equally heartening that the God whom we should love above all things is described as being Love. In the Muslim tradition, God, "the Lord of the worlds," is "The Infinitely Good and All-Merciful." And the New Testament states clearly that "God is love" (1 John 4:8). Since God's goodness is infinite and not bound by anything, God "makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous," according to the words of Jesus Christ recorded in the Gospel (Matthew 5:45).

For Christians, humanity's love of God and God's love of humanity are intimately linked. As we read in the New Testament: "We love because he [God] first loved us" (1 John 4:19). Our love of God springs from and is nourished by God's love for us. It cannot be otherwise, since the Creator who has power over all things is infinitely good.

Love of Neighbor

We find deep affinities with our own Christian faith when "A Common Word Between Us and You" insists that love is the pinnacle of our duties toward our neighbors. "None of you has faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself," the Prophet Muhammad said. In the New Testament we similarly read, "whoever does not love [the neighbor] does not know God" (1 John 4:8) and "whoever does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen" (1 John 4:20). God is love, and our highest calling as human beings is to imitate the One whom we worship.

We applaud when you state that "justice and freedom of religion are a crucial part" of the love of neighbor. When justice is lacking, neither love of God nor love of the neighbor can be present. When freedom to worship God according to one's conscience is curtailed, God is dishonored, the neighbor oppressed, and neither God nor neighbor is loved.

Since Muslims seek to love their Christian neighbors, they are not against them, the document encouragingly states. Instead, Muslims are with them. As Christians we resonate deeply with this sentiment. Our faith teaches that we must be with our neighbors—indeed, that we must act in their favor—even when our neighbors turn out to be our enemies. "But I say unto you," says Jesus Christ, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good" (Matthew 5:44-45). Our love, Jesus Christ says, must imitate the love of the infinitely good Creator; our love must be as unconditional as is God's—extending to brothers, sisters, neighbors, and even enemies. At the end of his life, Jesus Christ himself prayed for his enemies: "Forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).

The Prophet Muhammad did similarly when he was violently rejected and stoned by the people of Ta'if. He is known to have said, "The most virtuous behavior is to engage those who sever relations, to give to those who withhold from you, and to forgive those who wrong you." (It is perhaps significant that after the Prophet Muhammad was driven out of Ta'if, it was the Christian slave 'Addas who went out to Muhammad, brought him food, kissed him, and embraced him.)

The Task Before Us

"Let this common ground"—the dual common ground of love of God and of neighbor—"be the basis of all future interfaith dialogue between us," your courageous letter urges. Indeed, in the generosity with which the letter is written you embody what you call for. We most heartily agree. Abandoning all "hatred and strife," we must engage in interfaith dialogue as those who seek each other's good, for the one God unceasingly seeks our good. Indeed, together with you we believe that we need to move beyond "a polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders" and work diligently together to reshape relations between our communities and our nations so that they genuinely reflect our common love for God and for one another.

Given the deep fissures in the relations between Christians and Muslims today, the task before us is daunting. And the stakes are great. The future of the world depends on our ability as Christians and Muslims to live together in peace. If we fail to make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony you correctly remind us that "our eternal souls" are at stake as well. We are persuaded that our next step should be for our leaders at every level to meet together and begin the earnest work of determining how God would have us fulfill the requirement that we love God and one another. It is with humility and hope that we receive your generous letter, and we commit ourselves to labor together in heart, soul, mind and strength for the objectives you so appropriately propose.

 

Harold W. Attridge, Dean and Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament, Yale Divinity School

Joseph Cumming, Director of the Reconciliation Program, Yale Center for Faith and Culture, Yale University

Emilie M. Townes, Andrew Mellon Professor of African American Religion and Theology, Yale Divinity School, and President-elect of the American Academy of Religion

Miroslav Volf, Founder and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology, Yale Divinity School

Martin Accad, Academic Dean, Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (Lebanon)

Scott C. Alexander, Director, Catholic-Muslim Studies, Catholic Theological Union

Roger Allen, Chair, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania

Leith Anderson, President, National Association of Evangelicals

Ray Bakke, Convening Chair, Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding

Camillo Ballin, Bishop, Vicar Apostolic of Kuwait (Roman Catholic)

Barry Beisner, Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Northern California

Federico Bertuzzi, President, PM Internacional, Latin America

James A. Beverley, Tyndale Seminary, Canada

Jonathan Bonk, Executive Director, Overseas Ministries Study Center

Gerhard Böwering, Yale University

Joseph Britton, Dean, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

John M. Buchanan, Editor/Publisher, The Christian Century

Joe Goodwin Burnett, Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska

Samuel G. Candler, Dean, Cathedral of St. Philip, Atlanta

Juan Carlos Cárdenas, Instituto Iberoamericano de Estudios Transculturales, Spain

Joseph Castleberry, President, Northwest University

Colin Chapman, Author

David Yonggi Cho, Founder and Senior Pastor, Yoido Full Gospel Church, Seoul, Korea

Richard Cizik, Vice President, National Association of Evangelicals

Corneliu Constantineanu, Dean, Evangelical Theological Seminary, Croatia

Robert E. Cooley, President Emeritus, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Harvey Cox, Harvard Divinity School

John D'Alton, President, Melbourne Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Australia

André Delbecq, University of Santa Clara

Keith DeRose, Yale University

Andrés Alonso Duncan, CEO, Latinoamerica Global, A.C.

Diana L. Eck, Harvard University

Bertil Ekstrom, Executive Director, Mission Commission, World Evangelical Alliance

Mark U. Edwards, Jr., Senior Advisor to the Dean, Harvard Divinity School

John Esposito, Director Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding,

Georgetown University

David Ford, Regius Professor of Divinity, Cambridge University

Timothy George, Dean, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University

Roberto S. Goizueta, Boston College

Bruce Gordon, University of St. Andrews

William A. Graham, Dean, Harvard Divinity School

Lynn Green, International Chairman, YWAM

Frank Griffel, Yale University

Edwin F. Gulick, Jr., Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Kentucky

David P. Gushee, President, Evangelicals for Human Rights

Kim B. Gustafson, President, Common Ground

Elie Haddad, Provost, Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, Lebanon

L. Ann Hallisey, Hallisey Consulting and Counseling

Paul D. Hanson, Harvard Divinity School

Heidi Hadsell, President, Hartford Seminary

David Heim, Executive Editor, The Christian Century

Norman A. Hjelm, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, retired

Carl R. Holladay, Candler School of Theology, Emory University

Joseph Hough, President, Union Theological Seminary, NY

Bill Hybels, Founder and Senior Pastor, Willow Creek Community Church

Nabeel T. Jabbour, Consultant, Professor, Colorado

Shannon Sherwood Johnston, Bishop Coadjutor, Episcopal Diocese of Virginia

David Colin Jones, Bishop Suffragan, Episcopal Diocese of Virginia

Stanton L. Jones, Provost, Wheaton College, IL

Tony Jones, National Coordinator, Emergent Village

Riad A. Kassis, Theologian, Author, Consultant

Paul Knitter, Union Theological Seminary, NY

Manfred W. Kohl, Vice President of Overseas Council International, USA

James A. Kowalski, Dean, Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, NY

Sharon Kugler, University Chaplain, Yale University

Peter Kuzmic, President, Evangelical Theological Faculty Osijek, Croatia

Peter J. Lee, Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Virginia

Linda LeSourd Lader, President, Renaissance Institute

Tim Lewis, President, William Carey Int'l University

John B.Lindner, Yale Divinity School

Duane Litfin, President, Wheaton College

Greg Livingstone, Founder, Frontiers

Albert C. Lobe, Interim Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee

Rick Love, International Director, Frontiers

Douglas Magnuson, Bethel University

Peter Maiden, International Coordinator, OM

Danut Manastireanu, World Vision International, Iasi, Romania

Harold Masback, III, Senior Minister, The Congregational Church of New Canaan, New Canaan, CT

Donald M. McCoid, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

C. Douglas McConnell, Dean, School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary

Don McCurry, President, Ministries to Muslims

Brian D. McLaren, Author, Speaker, Activist

Kathleen E. McVey, Princeton Theological Seminary

Judith Mendelsohn Rood, Biola University

Steve Moore, President and CEO, The Mission Exchange (formerly EFMA)

Douglas Morgan, Director, Adventist Peace Fellowship

Richard Mouw, President, Fuller Theological Seminary

Salim J. Munayer, Academic Dean, Bethlehem Bible College, Jerusalem

Rich Nathan, Senior Pastor, Vineyard Church of Columbus

David Neff, Editor in Chief and Vice-President, Christianity Today Media Group

Alexander Negrov, President, St. Petersburg Christian University, Russia

Richard R. Osmer, Princeton Theological Seminary

George E. Packard, Bishop Suffragan for Chaplaincies of the Episcopal Church

Greg H. Parsons, General Director, U.S. Center for World Mission

Doug Pennoyer, Dean, School of Intercultural Studies, Biola University

Douglas Petersen, Vanguard University of Southern California

Sally Promey, Yale Divinity School

Thomas P. Rausch, S.J., Loyola Marymount University

David A. Reed, Wycliffe College, University of Toronto

Neil Rees, International Director, World Horizons

Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., Fuller Theological Seminary

Leonard Rogers, Executive Director, Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding

William L. Sachs, Director, Center for Reconciliation and Mission, Richmond

Lamin Sanneh, Yale Divinity School

Andrew Saperstein, Yale Center for Faith and Culture

Robert Schuller, Founder, Crystal Cathedral and Hour of Power

Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Harvard Divinity School

Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, Harvard Divinity School

William Schweiker, University of Chicago

Donald Senior, C.P., President, Catholic Theological Union, Chicago

C. L. Seow, Princeton Theological Seminary

Imad Nicola Shehadeh, President, Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary

David W. and K. Grace Shenk, Eastern Mennonite Missions

Marguerite Shuster, Fuller Theological Seminary

John G. Stackhouse, Jr., Regent College, Vancouver

Glen Stassen, Fuller Theological Seminary

Andrea Zaki Stephanous, Vice President, Protestant Church in Egypt

Wilbur P. Stone, Bethel University, MN

John Stott, Rector Emeritus, All Souls Church, London

Frederick J. Streets, Yeshiva University

William Taylor, Global Ambassador, World Evangelical Alliance

John Thomas, President and General Minister, United Church of Christ

Iain Torrance, President, Princeton Theological Seminary

Michael W. Treneer, International President, The Navigators, CO

Geoff Tunnicliffe, International Director, World Evangelical Alliance

George Verwer, Founder and former International Director, OM

Harold Vogelaar, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago

Berten A. Waggoner, National Director, Association of Vineyard Churches

Jim Wallis, President, Sojourners

Rick Warren, Founder and Senior Pastor, Saddleback Church, and The Purpose Driven Life, Lake Forest, CA

J. Dudley Woodberry, Dean Emeritus, Fuller School of International Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary

Christopher J.H. Wright, International Director, Langham Partnership, London

Robert R. Wilson, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Yale Divinity School

Nicholas Wolterstorff, University of Virginia

Godfrey Yogarajah, General Secretary, Evangelical Fellowship in Asia

Community Council of the Sisters of the Precious Blood, Dayton, OH.