Christian/Muslim Interfaith Dialogue
I consider interfaith dialogue to be both a genuine way of witnessing to the gospel of Jesus Christ (a way of conversation that listens and expects to learn and doesn’t just drown out the other), and a necessary part of peacemaking. In our current context the most urgent need is for greater Christian/Muslim dialogue and understanding. This needs to go on at the grassroots level with groups from local mosques and churches gathering to inform each other about beliefs, customs, rituals, etc. Only by truly knowing our Muslim sisters and brothers can we keep from bearing false witness against them.
When I have made such statements on other blogs, I have been accused of either believing in universal salvation (that is for God to decide, not me), in believing that “all religions are equal,” whatever that would mean, or in denying the Good News of Jesus Christ. This is not true. I am a Christian. I would be overjoyed if every Muslim became Christian–just as every Muslim I know would be overjoyed if we Christians (whom they consider to have some truth, but to be imperfectly worshipping and serving God) would convert to the “Straight Path.” As far as I can understand, Islam and Christianity, though holding to several common beliefs, also hold mutually incompatible ones. We disagree over some very important things: Although Muslims believe in Jesus’ virgin birth, they deny that he was God incarnate and deny his Sonship (“God has no sons.”). They deny both the crucifixion and the resurrection. They deny the Trinity and, like our Jewish sisters and brothers, suspect that the Trinity either means that Christians cannot do math or that we aren’t really monotheists.
These are significant areas of disagreement. I don’t want to minimize them. Nor do I wish to avoid discussing them–although sometimes it helps to build relationships of trust before tackling really strong differences.
My concern is to defend the religious liberty of Muslims, to avoid bearing false witness against Islamic neighbors by sweeping generalizations that compare the best of Christianity against the worst exemplars of Islam, and to work together with Muslims for justice and peace in the world.
Currently, I see a debate going on WITHIN the major world religions over whether the pursuit of justice (as each sees it) or the advance of their faith can use violent means. The question of whether Islam is or can be nonviolent is something only Muslims can decide. I know which side of that debate to cheer for; I’m pulling for my friends in the Muslim Peace Fellowship and similar organizations and for the heritage of Khan Abdul Gaffer Khan, “the Frontier Gandhi” who led a nonviolent army of Pathans along the Indian Afghanistan border (in the area now between Afghanistan and Pakistan) that was the most disciplined part of Gandhi’s nonviolent movement. But I cannot, as a Christian, say which group is heretical according to Islamic teachings. I can say that, from the inside, about Christianity. The nonviolence of Jesus and the early church was RIGHT and the abandonment of this nonviolence and embrace of “just war theory” by the later church constitutes a massive heresy. Yes, for 16 centuries now, the MAJORITY of Christians have been heretics. I work to call the church universal to repent and re-embrace the nonviolence that Jesus taught and practiced.
We Christians have an advantage in seeking to reform our faith: Throughout much of the Christian world, there is widespread literacy. People can read the New Testament and see that they violent false preachers like John Hagee are blowhards who don’t have a clue. By contrast, illiteracy is widespread in the Islamic world, making the average Muslim even more vulnerable to manipulation by fanatics posing as scholars. Considering how widely Christians confuse militaristic nationalism with the gospel, I believe we should spend less time criticizing Muslim violence and more time criticizing our own compromises with violence–and praying for the success of reform movements like the Muslim Peace Fellowship.
Meanwhile, we need to continue to seek better understanding among all faiths, especially the three monotheistic faiths.
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