Loving our Neighbors

Should Christians dialogue with Muslims? Some prominent conservative Christians approach such a question with deep suspicion, if not downright opposition. For example, Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has criticized evangelicals who signed a Christian letter to Muslims last fall, saying their participation reflected “naiveté that borders on dishonesty.” A Web site produced by James Dobson’s Focus on the Family approvingly quotes a Muslim convert to Christianity who wrote that the letter’s signatories “actually are betraying the Christian faith.”

What, exactly, has raised such ire from the right?

It all started last October, when 138 Muslim scholars and clerics released a statement titled “A Common Word Between Us and You,” which declared that “the future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians,” the basis of which can be found in “the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and love of the neighbor.”

More than 300 Christians of all stripes signed a response drafted at Yale Divinity School’s Center for Faith and Culture, saying they were “deeply encouraged and challenged” by the Muslim initiative, and moved to “extend our own Christian hand in return, so that ... we may live in peace and justice as we seek to love God and our neighbors.”

That’s what really started to raise issues for some right-wing Christians. The Yale response, titled “Loving God and Neighbor Together,” included an acknowledgement that many Christians have been guilty of “sinning against our Muslim neighbors,” including actions “in the past (e.g. in the Crusades) and in the present (e.g. in excesses of the ‘war on terror’).” Mohler, of the Southern Baptist seminary, took umbrage at this apology and specifically defended the Crusades, saying, “Are these people suggesting that they wish the military conflict with Islam had ended differently—that Islam had conquered Europe?”

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Sojourners Magazine April 2008
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