Something extraordinary has happened in our world of religious tensions between Islam and Christianity. A group of 138 Muslim scholars and leaders banded together to write a letter to the Christians of the world entitled “A Common Word Between Us and You” (http://acommonword.com).
With all the diversity among Muslims it is surprising that so many could agree on what to say and even more amazing that they would agree to sign and send this document to reach out to Christians. I suspect that some on the extremes of Islam would strongly disapprove.
But Christians are also a diverse lot. We know well our differences between Catholics, Orthodox, mainline and evangelical voices in global Christianity. More often we think about our difference more than what we share in common. So, how could we ever agree to answer Islam’s epistle? A group of Christian scholars at Yale Divinity School crafted a response called “Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to ‘A Common Word Between Us and You.’” (http://www.yale.edu/faith/abou-commonword.htm)
In a world filled with tensions between Christians and Muslims it would seem most unlikely that both letters would be written. They seek common ground in the themes of loving God and one’s neighbor.
The originators of the Christian statement asked me to add my signature to a hundred others.
My first response was to take seriously the opportunity. And then I found that there were lines in the Christian letter that were not quite what I would write. I requested some changes that were made although there were others I might have preferred. Yes, I know that it is nearly impossible to keep going back to more than a hundred busy theologians and Christian leaders with the addition and subtraction and rewriting of words and paragraphs. Sometimes we all sign onto things that are not all that we would like them to be. Even after we write and say our own words we discover that we wish we had done better.
I sought the counsel of other evangelical leaders, especially those more knowledgeable of Islam than I. Thinkers I respected told me that they were giving their support and encouraged me to do the same. They told me that signing the statement would be especially helpful to Christians who live and minister in Muslim-majority countries and cultures. In fact, some suggested that not signing could be damaging to these Christian brothers and sisters who live among Muslims.
So, I agreed to add my name to the letter. While I am listed as the President of the National Association of Evangelicals I added my name as an individual and not as an institution. There simply was not an easy way to process the complexities of this inter-faith communiqué on short notice.
What are my hopes from this dialogue? First, mutual respect between the two largest religions on the globe. This includes a freedom to state what we each believe without pretending that there is comprehensive mutual agreement. Second, peace in places and between peoples who are hostile toward one another. Third, religious liberty where every nation allows its citizen to freely believe and worship even if that means changing what is believed and how worship is rendered. Fourth, an opening for future dialogue with the conviction that it is not good to live in either ignorance nor isolation.
Will there be misunderstandings and criticisms? I am sure there will be.
As an evangelical Christian I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord. I take the Bible seriously as my rule of faith and practice. That is who evangelicals are and what evangelicals believe. Just as Muslims want us to know about Islam I want Muslims to know about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
President, National Association of Evangelicals
November 2, 2007