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‘A Common Word’ in the News

YALE DIVINITY SCHOOL News Release

CONTACT:  Gustav Spohn, Director of Communications and Publications,

203-432-3466, 203-464-8335 (cell), gus.spohn@yale.edu

For immediate release:  November 18, 2007

Historic unanimity of major Christian leaders, liberal and evangelical alike, marks response to unprecedented overture by influential Muslims to Christians worldwide

NEW HAVEN, CT—Nearly 300 prominent Christians representing a broad spectrum of theological perspectives have endorsed Loving God and Neighbor Together—a document calling for Christian and Muslim leaders “at every level” to carry forward “the earnest work of determining how God would have us fulfill the requirement that we love God and one another.”

The statement, published in its entirety as a full-page advertisement in the New York Times on Nov. 18, was initially released by four Yale Divinity School scholars in mid-October in response to the widely publicized open letter to the Christian community from 138 Muslim leaders, A Common Word Between Us and You.  In that letter, Muslim scholars, clerics and intellectuals pointed to love of God and love of neighbor as shared principles that can serve as a solid foundation for peace and understanding.

Harold Attridge, dean of Yale Divinity School, said the decision to run the advertisement—which includes the names of many of the endorsers—was made to capitalize on current momentum and gain further support for the document, entitled Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to A Common Word Between Us and You.  Joining Attridge in releasing the document in October were Miroslav Volf, founder and director of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture and Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology; Joseph Cumming, director of the Reconciliation Program at the Yale Center for Faith & Culture; and Emilie M. Townes, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of African American Religion and Theology and president-elect of the American Academy of Religion.

Loving God and Neighbor says, “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.”

Attridge said, “The early twentieth century has proven to be a critical time for relations between Christians and Muslims throughout the world.  In a climate where the voices of extremism and intolerance are heard loud and clear it is important that men and women of good will on both sides of that religious fault line reach out and affirm the values that they share.”

He noted that the Common Word document from the Islamic world “presented an extraordinary opportunity to effect that outreach and further constructive communication between the religious leadership of the Christian and Muslim worlds.”

Joining the Yale Divinity School scholars are Christians at various points on the theological spectrum, including, for example:  Rick Warren, evangelical pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA and author of The Purpose Driven Life, and Harold Masback III of The Congregational Church of New Canaan in Connecticut; William Graham, dean of Harvard Divinity School, and Richard Mouw, president of evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary; John M. Buchanan of The Christian Century, a mainline Protestant publication, and David Neff of the evangelical flagship publication Christianity Today; Diana Eck of Harvard Divinity School and Marguerite Shuster of Fuller Theological Seminary.

The Yale Center for Faith & Culture’s Volf, author of The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World and described by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams as “one of the most celebrated theologians of our day,” said, “The extent of agreement of major Christian leaders—representing a broad diversity of positions——in responding to the Muslim initiative is truly extraordinary, and may represent a sea-change in relations of Christians to Muslims

“Evangelicals and liberals can now join in common effort, not just around the pressing problems of poverty and environmental degradation but around the issue of Muslim Christian relations—a defining issue of the 21st century. This has the potential of being one of the most hopeful developments in inter-faith relations in recent decades.”

The diversity of the signatories to the Christian document mirrored the wide appeal of the Muslim document, as the 138 signers of the Common Word letter included leaders and scholars from the Middle East, Gulf states, North Africa, Turkey, Indonesia and virtually every corner of the Muslim world, representing all major schools of Islamic thought.

The New York Times advertisement is being paid for by a member of the Yale Divinity School Board of Advisors who wishes to remain anonymous and who has a passion for Christian/Muslim reconciliation efforts.

Loving God and Neighbor Together concludes, “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.”

In follow-up to the statement, the Yale Center for Faith and Culture is working directly with drafters of A Common Word Between Us and You and with other leading institutions and individuals in interfaith dialogue to schedule a series of several conferences and workshops in the U.S., the U.K. and the Middle East.  Plans are to involve many of the top signatories of both the Muslim letter and the Christian response in all events, and also to include other key Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders.

“We are committed to building on the religious foundation of love of God and of neighbor as we address not only areas of agreement, but also substantive points of disagreement and conflict between our communities, and we are committed to seeking real resolution to real grievances from both sides,” Volf said.

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Yale Divinity School is an interdenominational school of theological education that draws its faculty from the major Christian traditions, preparing students for service in lay and ordained ministries, other professions, and academic careers. It is one of 11 graduate and professional schools at Yale University. Each year, some 140 students graduate with one of three degrees offered by the school: Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Religion, and Master of Sacred Theology. The school’s mission statement says, “Yale Divinity School has an enduring commitment to foster the knowledge and love of God through critical engagement with the traditions of the Christian churches in the context of the contemporary world.”  http://www.yale.edu/divinity

The mission of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale Divinity School is “to promote the practice of faith in all spheres of life through theological research and leadership development.” http://www.yale.edu/faith

The goal of the Reconciliation Program at the Center for Faith and Culture is to “promote reconciliation between Muslims and Christians, and between Muslim nations and the West, drawing on the resources of the Abrahamic faiths and the teachings and person of Jesus.” http://www.yale.edu/faith/reconciliation

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