NEW HAVEN — Participants in this week’s Muslim-Christian conference at Yale University flew home Thursday to Oman, Malaysia, Nigeria, Iran and other places around the globe, but not before they agreed to carry the message of reconciliation with them.
The conference, “Loving God and Neighbor in Word and Deed,” closed with a declaration of shared beliefs and concrete steps, including urging Christian and Muslim religious leaders to designate a week each year “to emphasize the good in the other tradition.”
Speakers at the last session made clear the conference succeeded in bringing understanding and knowledge to participants, but the important outcome would be for them to bring the message back to their followers.
“What we need are words that are turned into deeds — the actions of love,” said Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. Caring for the poor and working to stop terrorism are two key goals, he said.
John DeGioia, president of Georgetown University, urged participants to help advance the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, which include reducing world poverty, the spread of AIDS and child mortality, and improving maternal health.
In the Arab world alone, 65 million people are illiterate, 15 percent are unemployed and 100 million new jobs will be required by 2020.
DeGioia spoke of the need “to build the capacity, the capabilities of every human being in a way that will enable every person to flourish.”
Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a professor at George Washington University, spoke of how, while Christianity and Islam differ in some beliefs — such as the nature of Jesus, the Trinity and the concept of original sin — they have many more in common: the belief in sacred Scripture, the immortality of the soul, the reality of good and evil and the necessity of living an ethical life.
Both traditions need to stop throwing stones at the other, he said. Christians must stop thinking of all Muslims as terrorists, while Muslims must stop accusing Christians of blasphemy.
“Ask not whether he or she is one of us, but ask if he or she is one of his,” he said.
Miroslav Volf, Yale Divinity School professor and a co-host of the conference, said the most valuable interactions came at coffee time and meals. “Our exchanges have been characterized by frankness and honesty,” he said. “We looked at each other in the eye and said what we saw to be the case as we saw it.”
Volf’s co-host, Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan, read the concluding declaration and received unanimous approval.
“Love of God and love of the neighbor are part of our common Abrahamic heritage,” it said. “Based upon this principle, ours is an effort to ensure that religions heal rather than wound, nourish the human soul rather than poison human relations.”