Prof. John Stackhouse, writes in explanation of his signature on a recent response to the letter from a group of Muslim clerics and scholars who drafted a statement acknowledging common ground between Christian and Muslim faiths as the basis for (at least) political coexistence. When the letter was initially released, I offered a few comments as to its importance.
The substance of the original letter, as well as the response, is an acknowledgment that wherever Christians and Muslims are bound up in hatred for one another marked by violence, then neither Christians nor Muslims are being faithful to God’s commands: to love Him above all else, and to love our neighbors. Whatever our theological differences, no one is being convinced or converted in the bloodshed.
Apparently, Prof. Stackhouse has met with some criticism for his signature on that letter, and if he has, then other signatories have likely been chastised as well. I haven’t heard any criticism, but I am persuaded that any objection must rest on misunderstanding. I would really like to run into someone who opposes this mutual attempt at understanding, perhaps he or she can clarify things for me.
The letters are essentially political documents, in the sense that they attempt to structure a relationship in such a way that the parties involved can get along. The theological content of the letters is by no means dishonest about differences between the faiths. Is theological truth being sacrificed to political expediency in this exchange? If this is the objection to this effort, then theological truth and political expedience (in this case, a rather minimal desire for co-existence) are being falsely opposed to one another. There is no theological truth that can be taught with weapons of war. Differences between the faith are not maintained by means of hostility, they are maintained by means of teaching that is faithful. Children of both faiths who learn in a context of violence are taught by fear, which only perpetuates violence. Dialogue on the other hand, does not negate difference but defines it. We all, Christians and Muslims alike, bleed red—no difference there.
If it is objected that the Muslims who sent the original letter do not represent the “true” Muslim faith, which is rather to be seen in those more radical elements which do want to inflict harm on their neighbors, then I would reply that the objection is irrelevant, or at least it should be to a Christian. The location of “true” Islam with the violent ought to be disputed, but the more relevant point is that disregarding the efforts of these Muslims who are reaching out in a gesture of peace, is a shameful begrudging of hospitality. These are neighbors whom we are called to love. In light of the tensions between historically Muslim and historically Christian nations (whatever they are now) the least we can do is return a gesture of respect and acknowledgment. That humility is only the beginning of the love and service that we owe our Muslim brothers and sisters—even those who may hate us.
No one’s identity is being compromised in these letters. Nothing is being swept under the rug. I can’t conceive of a viable objection to this effort at mutual understanding. Perhaps someone can help me understand.
Oh, Prince of Peace, come quickly.