Global Baptists are scheduled today to discuss an open letter from 138 Muslim religious leaders to 32 Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christian leaders. Issued Oct. 13, 2007, the letter calls for finding common ground based on a shared understanding of each tradition’s foundational principles of love for God and neighbor and warns that world peace depends on Christians and Muslims.

The two-hour forum discussion is sponsored by the Baptist World Alliance’s Freedom and Justice and Doctrine and Church Study Commissions, meeting in Prague, Czech Republic.

Titled “A Common Word Between Us and You,” the 29-page letter says: “Finding common ground between Muslims and Christians is not simply a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders. Christianity and Islam are the largest and second largest religions in the world and in history. Christians and Muslims reportedly make up over a third and over a fifth of humanity respectively. Together they make up more than 55 percent of the world’s population, making the relationship between these two religious communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world.”

“If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace,” the document warns. “With the terrible weaponry of the modern world; with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world’s inhabitants. Thus our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake.”

Providing extensive quotes from sacred texts and interpretations from the Quran and the Bible, the letter argues that both faiths share a common ground in the belief in the sovereign unity of God and in the required practice to love neighbor.

“Love of the neighbor is an essential and integral part of faith in God and love of God because in Islam without love of the neighbor there is no true faith in God and no righteousness,” the letter says. “Without giving the neighbor what we ourselves love, we do not truly love God or the neighbor.”

The letter acknowledges that both faiths were “obviously different religions” and that “formal differences” should not be minimized.

“As Muslims, we say to Christians that we are not against them and that Islam is not against them ”so long as they do not wage war against Muslims on account of their religion, oppress them and drive them out of their homes,” the religious leaders said.

The letter concludes with a challenge for both faiths to “vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill.”

Baptist World Alliance President David Coffey replied personally to the letter three days after its release, calling it “a groundbreaking initiative which could make a major contribution to a better understanding in Christian-Muslim relations, the cause of religious liberty and global peace.”

“I am concerned wherever Christians or those of any faith are denied full religious liberty,” Coffey said. “Religious liberty includes the right for all persons to freely worship and live their faith without fear and prejudice. I know the BWA will be seeking to foster and develop the understanding of tolerance and respect expressed in the letter and that any future conversations will truly advance the cause of religious liberty and global peace.”

Drafted by the Yale Divinity School’s Center for Faith and Culture, over 300 scholars signed a letter of Christian response.

“We receive the open letter as a Muslim hand of conviviality and cooperation extended to Christians worldwide. In this response we extend our own hand in return,” said the scholars, who acknowledged that “Muslims and Christians have not always shaken hands in friendship.”

Baptist signatories included Martin Accad, academic dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, Elie Haddad, provost of ABTS, and Glen Stassen, ethics professor at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Expressing gratitude for the letter and recognizing the need for future study, Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and president of the Lutheran World Federation, said the document “attests to both the love of God and our shared heritage of true hospitality to one’s neighbor. These commandments convey prophetic witness for mutual and vital co-existence that Christians and Muslims must embrace in one another.”

Pope Benedict XVI will host a “Catholic-Muslim Forum in November 2008 where 24 leaders from each faith group will dialogue about the principles of love for God and neighbor.

The initiative launched a Web site with links to Christian and Jewish responses.

Anticipating the forum discussion, Neville Callam, BWA’s general secretary, told of his appreciation for the responses of Baptist scholars and confidence that leaders will “craft a response to a welcomed invitation to a needed dialogue.”

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics and is attending the meeting in Prague.

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