People from 13 different countries in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia took part in a June 16-20 Middle East Conference at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon, just weeks after the worst violence since the nation’s 1975-1990 civil war threatened to force its cancellation.

The conference, held each June to bring Christian and Muslim religious leaders together to discuss and learn about issues involving the Middle East, is the flagship event of the Institute of Middle East Studies, a division of the seminary established to promote understanding among Christian and Muslim communities in the Arab world and the West.

One of this year’s speakers, Dan Buttry, said the ABTS institute “is doing some groundbreaking work on the relationship of Christianity and Islam.”

Planners feared this year’s conference, the fifth, would have to be called off because of violence in May that killed 81 as pro-government militias clashed with Hezbollah militants in the streets of Beirut.

Qatar brokered a peace agreement that allowed Lebanon to elect a president and form a 30-member cabinet, ending 18 months of a political stalemate. Factions continue to squabble over representation in the new government, however. Fighting in recent days in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli threatened to plunge the nation once more into instability.

According to a press release, participants in the five-day Middle East conference said the experience was worth coming to Lebanon despite the recent security lapse. Christian and Muslim speakers explored a theme of “Islam, Its Message and Law, and the Future of our Societies” in messages described as “heart-to-heart” faith perspectives resulting from a climate of “mutual trust and openness” nurtured through “growing personal relationships” among religious leaders.

“They aren’t just academics sitting back and studying the subject,” said Buttry, Global Consultant for Peace and Justice” for International Ministries of the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. “They are facilitating people talking to each other, interacting constructively as communities, and exploring ways to move constructively into a hopeful and peaceful future in Lebanon as well as in other Middle Eastern contexts.”

According to a Web site, the vision of the Institute of Middle East Studies is “to bring about positive transformation in thinking and practice between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East and the West.”

“We are more and more convinced, especially after this last war, that we have a very important role to play in educating the world on the realities of the Middle East, Islam and Christian-Muslim relations,” the Web site says.

Through events like the Middle East Conference held during the third week of June, the center is “already doing an amazing job of promoting understanding of Islam and encouraging dialogue between Christians and Muslims.”

The institute works to “dispel mutually false perceptions between peoples of different religions and cultures, which eventually result in inadequate practice in social, religious, political, and personal spheres.”

Its mission is “to increase general awareness about Middle East realities and to resource evangelicals to serve specific needs in the Arab World and among Arab communities worldwide.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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Middle East Conference Promotes Understanding Between Christians and Muslims

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