In conference opener, Massachusetts Senator tells Christian and Muslim leaders they are on ‘the right side of the debate.’
Senator John Kerry kicked off the “Loving God and Neighbor in Word and Deed” conference (also known as the “Common Word” conference) Monday night with a largely unsurprising, but welcome speech. He was, after all, preaching to the choir: Christian and Muslim leaders from around the world who want to find a way to live together peacefully.
Kerry began by telling his roughly 150 listeners that the meeting they were attending at Yale University “can help change the world,” while warning that pessimism about future relationships between the Muslim world and the West hands demagogues who play to pessimism about the inevitable violent clash of cultures and religions. “You have placed yourselves among those who are on the right side of the debate,” he told them. “We must love one another or die.”
Kerry, who is a direct descendant of Puritan governor John Winthrop, famous for his “city on a hill” sermon, recounted for the benefit of the global audience the way in which early American history was shaped by a series of bitter religious splits. But the fruit of that early experience of division was a commitment to welcoming all faiths, he said.
Kerry balanced his assertion that “we all worship the One God, the same God” with a plea that religious differences not be played down among the Abrahamic faiths. We don’t need to succumb to “mush” in order to find tolerance. Nor do we need to remove the influence of faith from our public life, he said. “If we aren’t shaped by our faith, we don’t have faith.”
Our goal should be a politics that seeks the global common good, Kerry said, not just the politics that cares for the people of one nation. He cited Vatican II documents to support this planetary notion of common good politics.
The audience gave Kerry a courteous welcome, but none of his comments drew applause until he called for the US to put Middle East peace back on the mainstream foreign policy agenda, and to do it in a way that would deal with “everyone’s grievances.”
Most quotable line of the evening: “Faith may be worth dying for, but it cannot be worth killing for.”
Kerry has gone back to Washington, but the choir has stayed behind to hear each other sing. The panel discussions today will be less inspirational and motivational and will deal with substantive issues. The dozen or so Muslim and Christian panelists Tuesday include evangelical leaders such as Miroslav Volf (Yale), Peter Kuzmic (Croatia), Tukunboh Adeyemo (Kenya), Martin Accad (Lebanon).