… has launched a federally funded project for making peace with Muslims, featuring a proposed code of ethics that rejects offensive statements about each other's faiths, affirms a mutual belief in one God and pledges not to proselytize. …
The Fuller project, funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, is intended to develop practical peacemaking practices for Christians and Muslims, publish a book about them and train local communities in their use. It is the latest of several efforts that Fuller has launched since Sept. 11 to build bridges with Muslims.
"We hope to lead a large portion of evangelical Christians into a better understanding of Islam," said Sherwood Lingenfelter, Fuller's provost and senior vice president. …
The project will build on work led by Fuller professor Glen Stassen and other Christian scholars to develop a peacemaking theory that features practical ways to reduce conflict in the United States and abroad.
The project proposes, among other things, to convene two national conferences of Christian and Muslim scholars to develop parallel peacemaking practices based on the Koran and other Islamic sources. It aims to expand the work into an eventual book. And participants will train Christian and Muslim leaders throughout the country on such techniques and encourage interfaith exchanges.
Glen Stassen is a Southern Baptist ethicist who was purged from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville, Ky., when Al Mohler led the conservative takeover of that institution. Stassen has worked for decades promoting conflict resolution and activist peacemaking (see, for instance, his book Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace and much more on Stassen's page at Fuller's Web site).
The kill-all-the-Bad-People approach that seems to dominate America's "war on terrorism" does not seem to me to provide any long-term hope for real security or a just peace. I'm encouraged to learn that our government is interested in funding the work of people like Stassen, whose efforts seem particularly well suited to helping to resolve this new kind of conflict.
I don't agree with the idealists who think that Stassen's nonviolent approach to conflict resolution might someday eliminate the need for military force, but I do think this approach can and ought to complement military efforts as a vital component of our national security. This point encounters little argument from those in the military — if a just peace can be secured without them having to shoot or be shot at, all the better.
The Fuller initiative is meeting with resistance, however, but not from the hawks and not from the Muslim community. The most vocal critics are conservative evangelicals:
"For Fuller to declare that Christians and Muslims worship the same God would be a radical departure, not only from the evangelical tradition but also the tenets of orthodox Christianity," said John Revell, a spokesman for the Southern Baptists' executive committee. He also questioned whether evangelical Christians who signed the proposed code against offensive statements and proselytizing would compromise their religious obligation to "speak truth in love" and "spread the good news of Jesus Christ."
The controversy over whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God recently flared anew when President Bush affirmed a shared belief with Muslims at a London news conference last month — a view that was immediately disavowed by conservative evangelicals.
Fuller's similar assertion is tragic and lamentable, said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He said the Koran explicitly rejects Christianity's central beliefs in the divinity of Jesus and a triune Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
"The more we know about Christianity and Islam, the more we see there is a basic incompatibility," he said. "The essential ground of conflict and controversy cannot be removed."
For people like Mohler, disagreement must always mean "conflict." No one at Fuller is suggesting that Christianity and Islam are indistinguishable or equivalent — such a suggestion would be deeply offensive to the Muslim believers with whom the seminary is seeking to establish a deeper mutual respect. But Mohler cannot seem to imagine that two distinct and very different religions might co-exist peaceably without feeling compelled either to kill one another or to abandon their respective beliefs for some Baha'ist melange.
The code will not compromise Christian beliefs, according to Lingenfelter and other scholars at Fuller. … They reiterated their belief that Christians, Muslims and Jews worshiped the same Creator and God of Abraham but had different understandings of the divine nature.
I've tagged this post as part of the "Left Behind" category because, as Lingenfelter notes, some of the fiercest opposition to this kind of interfaith peacemaking comes from adherents of the premillennial dispensationalist lunacy that LaHaye and Jenkins' Left Behind novels are making more popular:
[Lingenfelter] said the wary view of Islam by many evangelical Christians was rooted in part in their commitment to Israel. Many believe that the physical presence of the state of Israel is required for Christ's return and therefore vigorously defend Israel from perceived Islamic enemies, he said.