Posted by: Titus Presler | January 30, 2016

Inter-religious conflict and Christian-Muslim engagement are discussed in keynote

“Headwinds: Challenges and Opportunities of Christian-Muslim Engagement in the 21st Century” was the theme of the keynote address I offered at Christ Church, Ponte Vedra, on Monday, Jan. 25, as the annual lecture sponsored by the Bridge Institute, a ministry of Christ Church.

The Bridge Institute has posted the presentation to YouTube, and it is available here.  The recording equipment malfunctioned just at the start of the talk, so the first minute is missing.  Here is the text of what is missing:

‘Headwinds: Challenges and Opportunities of Christian-Muslim Engagement in the 21st Century.’  That is the title of evening’s talk.  The image of ‘headwinds’ actually understates the theme, for the weather in inter-religious relations feels more like gale-force winds today.  On one side we see such events as churches burning in Egypt, ISIS killing and driving out Chaldean Christians from entire stretches of Iraq and Syria, and their lining up Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach and beheading them. On another side, we see a US presidential candidate proposing to ban Muslims from entering the United States, German right-wingers in Cologne and Dresden marching against Islam, and scattered attacks on Muslims and mosques in Europe and the USA.  And then there are the countries where major conflict between Muslims and Christians has been underway for years: Nigeria, where Boko Haram is a relative latecomer to the inter-religious violence that has gripped the north of that country for a couple of decades; the center of north Africa, where Muslim-Christian conflict resulted in the creation of South Sudan in 2011; and Malaysia, where Christians have been forbidden to use the name Allah for God.

The global community must address three major crises in the 21st century, three overarching crises that are unlikely to be resolved entirely even 100 years hence: the poverty crisis, in which over 2 billion of the world’s people live on less than $3 a day; the environmental crisis, which is driven by human-generated climate change; and the inter-religious crisis of whether people of different religions can live together in peaceful co-existence.

It was a privilege to offer this talk as Theologian-in-Residence at Christ Church.  About 400 people attended the event, which was emceed by the Rev. Remington Slone, Associate Rector for Worship and Formation.

Time for questions followed the talk.  The first speaker was a Pakistani-American who said pressure on the Christian minority had prompted him to leave the country for the sake of the future of his children and move to the USA.  He expressed appreciation for many Muslims but commented that extremism had shifted the mood of the country.

Current controversy about immigration and refugees was the context of another questioner.  She said her concerns about the adequacy of background checks for people seeking to come to the USA from Syria and Iraq had prompted others to ask whether she was approaching the issue with a “Christ-like attitude,” and she asked me to comment.  I responded that it is important that Christians agree that we can have legitimate disagreements with one another about matters of public policy, especially when the differences involve particular policy details.  At the same time, I said, we must prayerfully examine our motives in order to ensure that we are not driven by fear, chauvinism or revenge.  I then reiterated that people of genuine faith must recognize that we can, from the standpoint of faith, have legitimate policy differences.

A third questioner testified to the longstanding friendship that his family had with a Muslim colleague in the Middle East and how they had been able to share perspectives at a deep level, including religion.  I responded with the story a Christ Church couple had shared with me the previous day, about how a chance meeting years ago with a young Pakistani Muslim looking for a job had developed into a decades-long friendship.  I then shared vignettes from shared times of prayer that I had had with Muslims in Peshawar.

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