Christians, Muslims move ahead on global talks
Religious leaders plan to meet this year in the US, Britain, and at the Vatican to defuse tensions.
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Some influential conservative leaders were distressed by the wording of the response. John Piper, pastor of a large Baptist church in Minneapolis, and R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the letter and any dialogue should speak from the unique Christian standpoint, including the nature of Jesus Christ and the Trinity. Given different understandings of God, "to talk as though the love of God is a common standpoint is wrong," Dr. Piper said in a video that's played on YouTube.Skip to next paragraph
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The president of Wheaton College, a prominent evangelical school, initially signed the letter but later withdrew due to concerns within his college community. Numerous influential evangelicals are on board, however, including megachurch pastors Rick Warren and Bill Hybels.
Viewing this discussion among Christians as healthy, Yale has put the questions being raised on its website along with responses. For example, is Allah the same God that Christians worship?
"The point of the Muslim letter was starting with common ground," Mr. Cumming says. "They resisted the temptation to polemicize against [Christian] doctrines, and our response resisted the temptation to polemicize for them."
On the Muslim side, there are those who are reluctant to join a dialogue because of negative statements some Christian leaders have made about Islam, Nakhooda says. But those voices are overshadowed, he says, by "the fact that so many of the most important figures who have street credibility in Muslim capitals are fully behind it."
Plans for the week-long Yale conference include workshops on theology and ethics. Sessions tackling the toughest issues – such as religious freedom, including proselytism and apostasy – are expected to be closed-door.
Georgetown University will host the next US-based conference in March 2009. John Esposito, head of Georgetown's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, sees these dialogues as different and significant. "This process has an in-built snowball effect: The number of signers on both sides keeps broadening," he says. "When you realize that leading religious leaders have to think of repercussions within their communities, it's really phenomenal."
In April 2009, the plan is to invite all those involved to Amman, Jordan, for a meeting at a site where according to tradition Jesus was baptized. "Muslims and Christians are living in a wounded world," Nakhooda says. "Part of the [effort] ... is to start the process of healing.... It's going to require a lot of open-hearted, sincere discussion."