FaithWorld

Beyond financial crisis, Christian-Muslim dialogue progresses

Dialogue participants at Lambeth Palace, London, 15 Oct 2008/Episcopal Life Online, Matthew DaviesThe financial crisis so dominates the news these days that reports on a meeting of the Christian and Muslim religious leaders and scholars pictured here zero in first on what they said about the economy. These men and women of faith would readily admit they look like anything but a group of portfolio managers, but comments on the crisis now get top billing no matter where they come from. We grabbed the crisis angle too, breaking out the economic statement from the final communique yesterday as our first item on this meeting. With that done, let me go back to look at the rest of the news from the latest Common Word dialogue meeting in Cambridge and London on October 12-15.

Probably the most interesting aspect of this meeting was how both sides — 17 Muslims and 19 Christians — worked to understand the other’s faith and find ways to spread that understanding within their communities. For example, in his opening address, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams tackled the problem of how to deal with the the two faiths speak differently about God. “While what we say about God is markedly different,  irreducibly different in many respects,” he said, “we recognize in each other’s language and practice a similarity in the way we understand the impact of God on human lives, and thus a certain similarity in what we take for granted about the nature or character of God.” 

Meeting in Cambridge, they held sessions in the “scriptural reasoning” practiced at the university’s Inter-Faith Programme. In these sessions, Christians, Muslims and Jews read passages from their scriptures together and then explain them to each other. David David Ford/Cambridge Inter-Faith ProgrammeFord, an Anglican theologian from Northern Ireland who is director of the Inter-Faith Programme, told me he attended one such session with a British Anglican bishop, a German Jesuit priest, a Muslim sheikh from the Emirates, a Libyan Islamic theologian, a British Methodist theologian and an Iranian ayatollah.  “We were all studying together and dealing with important issues,” he said. “Some of the Muslim scholars were doing this for the first time with Christians,” said Aref Ali Nayed, a senior advisor to the Inter-Faith Programme.

Nayed told me the theological issues they discussed included the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, the way canons of scripture are established, the question of prophesy, the notion of a convenant with God and various aspects of hermeneutics, or how to analyse scripture. At their last meeting at Yale University in July, both sides explained how they understood concepts like love, compassion and mercy. The question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God was also discussed and that dialogue continues, he said.

If those terms seem overly academic, consider what an agreement could mean down at the level of the average church or mosque. If Muslims understand how Christians understand the Trinity, for example, then imams might not stoke tensions by preaching that Christians are polytheists.  By the same token, priests and pastors might not condemn Islam as a false religion if they believed Christians and Muslims worshipped the same God and valued love, compassion and mercy in similar ways.

Christian-Muslim statement on world financial crisis

Common Word conference at University of Cambridge, 11 Oct 2008/Sohail NakhoodaThe Common Word group of Muslim scholars met Christian leaders and theologians in Cambridge and London this week. Discussions in this interfaith dialogue have mostly been theological, based on the idea that the love of God and neighbour is a core dogma of both religions. In a statement on Wednesday, they included a paragraph about the world financial crisis. There have been lots of comments from various faith leaders about the crisis, but this is the first Christian-Muslim statement I’ve seen.

Here’s the paragraph:

We live in an increasingly global world that brings with it increased interdependence.  The closer we are drawn together by this globalisation and interdependence, the more urgent is the need to understand and respect one another in order to find a way out of our troubles.  Meeting at a time of great turbulence in the world financial system our hearts go out to the many people throughout the world whose lives and livelihood are affected by the current crisis.  When a crisis of this magnitude occurs, we are all tempted to think solely of ourselves and our families and ignore the treatment of minorities and the less fortunate.  In this conference we are celebrating the shared values of love of God and love of neighbour, the basis of A Common Word, whilst reflecting self-critically on how often we fall short of these standards.  We believe that the divine commandment to love our neighbour should prompt all people to act with compassion towards others, to fulfil their duty of helping to alleviate misery and hardship.  It is out of an understanding of shared values that we urge world leaders and our faithful everywhere to act together to ensure that the burden of this financial crisis, and also the global environmental crisis, does not fall unevenly on the weak and the poor.  We must seize the opportunity for implementing a more equitable global economic system that also respects our role as stewards of the earth’s resources.

Do you see any link between faith and the financial crisis? Could this crisis lead to tensions between people of different religions — or bring them closer together?

European Christian politicians respond to pope’s call

College des Bernardins, 1 Sept 2008/Charles PlatiauOne recurring theme in Pope Benedict’s speeches is the need he sees for Christians to speak out more in public on moral issues. A group of European politicians has taken up the challenge and held a brainstorming session in Paris to “find forms of political commitment that responds to their convictions and to the challenges of the 21st century,” as their hostess, French Housing and Urban Development Minister Christine Boutin, put it. The meeting was held at the Collège des Bernardins, the refurbished medieval college where Benedict spoke only last month about Europe’s Christian roots.

Although most politicians there could be described as Christian Democrats, there was no question about starting a specifically Christian political party. Instead, speakers stressed they wanted to bring Christian values back into the general political discourse after decades of being derided as old-fashioned. Several speakers from France mentioned the way secularists had sidelined them in politics. “We Christians have gotten used to living under a kind of house arrest,” said Jean-Pierre Rive, secretary general of the Church and Society Commission of the French Protestant Federation. “We have to get back into politics.”

The financial crisis, they said, provided a dramatic example of what can happen when greed and shady bank practices sideline values such as solidarity and concern for the poor. “A new world is being built and we Christians must play our part,” said Boutin, one of the most outspoken Catholic activists in French politics, at the Oct. 10 meeting. “Christians in France have lost the habit of communicating their experiences. There are politicians who are open to new ideas now. Let’s meet them and talk with them.”

Hindu nationalist politics fuels anti-Christian campaign in India

Christians at New Delhi protest against Orissa violence, 2 Oct 2008/Vijay MathurOne of the weakest responses when someone reads about religious strife in a developing country is to mutter something about “ancient enmities” or “religion is the root of all evil” and turn to the next story. It takes only a little scratching beneath the surface to find there are often clear present- day political motives behind the violence and religion is being used as a pretext to help press one group’s claims.

Alistair Scrutton from our New Delhi bureau has just done a bit of that scratching in Orissa, where at least 35 people — mostly Christians — have died in religious strife since late August, and he got a very direct response. Look at how his analysis “Religious card being played in India election game” starts off:

“Asked when he thought attacks by Hindu mobs against Christians would end in this remote part of eastern India, local Christian leader Ranjit Nayak replied immediately, and with a resigned smile. “March,” Nayak said, referring to a general election due in early 2009. “This is all totally politically motivated.”

Looking for the red lines between Christianity and Islam

Christian crosses and Muslim crescent in Beirut, 28 Nov 2006/Eric GaillardCan someone be Christian and Muslim at the same time? This came up over the weekend in two articles from almost opposite sides of the globe.

Rev. Ann Holmes Redding in Seattle thinks she can be both. Her Episcopal Church does not and is moving toward defrocking her if she does not renounce Islam. Redding, who has been an Episcopal priest for 25 years, first announced her dual faith over a year ago and was given 15 months to think it over. Now facing defrocking, she told Janet Tu of the Seattle Times that she is “still following Jesus in being a Muslim” and feels “privileged to see God in more places, rather than fewer places.”

Now take a Google Earth-style leap to Istanbul. There, Mustafa Akyol asked in the Turkish Daily News whether Islam required Christians and Jews to give up their traditions in order to be saved. The standard answer is yes, but Hayrettin Karaman, a professor emeritus of Islamic law, recently questioned that in the conservative Islamic daily newspaper Yeni Safak. “He noted that Islam does not necessarily ask Christians and Jews to abandon their traditions. It rather tells them to keep their traditions while respecting Islam as a sister faith,” Akyol wrote.

Who is the most Christian among U.S. candidates?

Given the faith factor in U.S. politics, it was probably inevitable that someone would come up with a poll asking who is the most Christian among the presidential and vice presidential candidates. The Times in London has done it — and come up with some interesting results so far. After an initial lead by the candidate thought to appeal most to evangelical Christians, the candidate now way out in front is the one who rumours say isn’t a Christian at all.

Articles of Faith blogThe online poll is open until next Wednesday, so click to Ruth Gledhill’s blog Articles of Faith to vote. The poll is a bit confusing — the post starts out asking whether Sarah Palin is a good Christian and then presents a voting table asking you to choose the “better Christian” among the presidential and vice presidential candidates. The winner of a four-horse race should be termed the “best” in the group, but maybe that sounds too judgmental.

Anyway, after voting, let us know here if you think this poll is representative of American voters’ views or skewed by votes from outside the United States.

What Americans hear in church

If you’re a white evangelical or black Protestant attending church in America, you have probably heard a thing or two about homosexuality. If you’re Catholic, maybe not.

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Those are among the findings of a new survey conducted by Public Religion Research on behalf of Faith in Public Life, a non-partisan resource center.

It found that among the white evangelicals and black Protestants surveyed, 67 percent said their pastor speaks out about the issue of homosexuality — among Catholics that number drops to 37 percent.

Monthly church attenders swing Obama’s way

Americans who attend church once or twice a month have become a sought after “swing vote” — and they are swinging to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in the run-up to the Nov 4. presidential election.

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That is one of the key findings of a new survey conducted by Public Religion Research on behalf of Faith in Public Life, a non-partisan resource center.

It found that, based on religious service attendance, the biggest shift in candidate preferences between 2004 and 2008 was among those who went once or twice a month. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry got 49 percent of their vote in 2004 while Obama is now pulling 60 percent.

U.S. soldier sues over mandatory Christian prayers

A non-religious Kansas soldier is suing U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on the grounds that his constitutional rights were violated when he was forced to attend military events where “fundamentalist Christian prayers” were recited.

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Specialist Dustin Chalker’s cause has been taken up by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), which is joining him in the suit.

The MRFF said in a statement that Chalker, a decorated Iraq war veteran stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas, “was forced to attend three events in late 2007 and in 2008  at which the battalion chaplain …  delivered  sectarian Christian prayers”.

Should religious groups talk to Iranian president?

ahmadinejad-waves.jpgA rabbi, a Mennonite and a Zoroastrian priest were having dinner with the president of Iran — sounds like the start of a joke, but it happened in New York this week.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had dinner with around 200 people of various faiths including Mennonites, Quakers, United Methodists, Jews and Zoroastrians who said they wanted to promote peace by meeting such a prominent foe of the United States.  You can read our story about the meeting here.

Those who attended the Iftar meal in a Manhattan hotel ballroom had to brave a line of protesters outside who accused them of sitting down with a man little better than Hitler. Major Jewish groups had urged the cancellation of the event.