A week ago, four Yale Divinity School scholars and administrators issued an affirmative response from the Christian community to the Muslim community’s statement “A Common Word Between Us and You,” a call for a rehabilitated religious dialogue through the use of common principles.
On Nov. 18, Divinity School Dean and New Testament professor Harold Attridge and three Divinity School professors and administrators published a response in support of the October letter signed by 138 Muslim leaders around the world, which called for acknowledgement and use of the theology held in common between both Christianity and Islam.
The Christian community’s response, titled “Loving God and Neighbor Together,” discusses the fundamental beliefs common to both religions and how these overlapping principles can be used to build a more “loving” pattern of religious cooperation and respect.
Joseph Cumming, one of the four original Divinity School signatories, is a staff member at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and director of the Reconciliation Program — a Yale Divinity School program specifically focused on Muslim and Christian reconciliation.
He said roughly 200 of the approximately 400 signatures in support of the Christian document come from major Christian leaders who represent almost all Christian sects, ranging from conservative evangelicals to the very progressive. The 138 signatories of the Muslim document represent “every major branch of Islam” and range from conservative to progressive, Cumming said.
Attridge wrote in an e-mail that the four original Divinity School signatories felt a need to respond to the Muslim letter “lest the Muslim statement simply fall on deaf ears.” The Muslim letter “deserved a meaningful response,” he wrote, especially in light of negative stereotypes on all sides and the war in the Middle East.
“Loving God and Neighbor Together” concentrates on the importance of loving God and loving one’s neighbor — friend or enemy — that followers have identified in in both the Bible and the Qur’an.
“‘None of you has faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself,’ the Prophet Muhammad said. In the New Testament we similarly read, ‘whoever does not love [the neighbor] does not know God’,” the Christian document states. “God is love, and our highest calling as human beings is to imitate the One whom we worship.”
The Christian response also notes the importance of peace between Muslims and Christians, citing the constant historical influence of the Muslim-Christian relationship on worldwide religious and political life. If peace can be attained between Muslims and Christians, world peace will be much more easily achieved and should be pursued, the Christian document says.
“Indeed, together with you we believe that we need to move beyond ‘a polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders’ and work diligently together to reshape relations between our communities and our nations so that they genuinely reflect our common love for God and for one another,” the Christian response stated, referencing the Muslim letter.
The Christian document acknowledges the tense and at times outright hostile relationship between Muslims and Christians. “Loving God and Neighbor Together” asks forgiveness of the Muslim community worldwide for Christian acts that have been detrimental to the relationship between the two faiths — including the Crusades and the “excesses of the ‘war on terror.’”
Cumming said the large number of signatories for both statements, as well as their range of beliefs and of progressiveness, is unprecedented, as leaders of both religions have rarely in the past agreed on any public statement, let alone a constructive outreach to another religious community.
Signatories of both documents and Jewish leaders will come together to develop constructive means of building more “loving” and inclusive relationships that include but also extend beyond that of Muslims and Christians, Cumming said.
There will be a major press conference today at 10 a.m. local time in Dubai to assess how to put into practice the ideals and goals of both documents. Divinity School systematic theology professor Miroslav Volf — the founder and director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and one of the original writers of the Christian response document — will represent Yale Divinity scholars at the upcoming conference, Cumming said.
Cumming said one goal mentioned in both documents is greater religious freedom and the protection of civil liberties for members of both religious groups in countries predominantly of a different religion.
“It’s a two-way street,” he said.
The fourth original signatory from the Divinity School is African-American religion and theology professor Emilie M. Townes, who is also president-elect of the American Academy of Religion.