There have been two open letters signed by dozens of religious leaders in the past few months. In October 2007, 138 Muslim "scholars, clerics and intellectuals" signed an open letter to Pope Benedict, A Common Word Between Us and You, which discussed the commandments to love God and to love one's neighbor. The letter was in response to the Pope's Regensburg lecture, and called for more dialogue between Muslims and Christians.
There were a few signers to that letter that I'm familiar with: CAIR's Nihad Awad, a Muslim Brotherhood director from Jordan, Zaid Shakir and Hamza Yusuf Hanson of the Zaytuna Institutte, and ISNA's Ingrid Mattson. I don't know who they represent or why they can claim to speak for Muslims. They appear to be Islamic supremacists, based on what they say. The letter didn't impress me much, I'm not a fan of symbolic gestures. I'd be way more impressed if Zaid Shakir called for abolishing laws against changing one's faith in Muslim countries, or if Ingrid Mattson called for protection for Christian churches from being burned to the ground in Indonesia. I'd be impressed if Nihad Awad offered free legal services to apostates being prosecuted in Malaysia or Afghanistan. But no, instead of actually working towards religious freedom and mutual religious respect around the world, this self-appointed religious committee writes a letter. Sounds good, nice gesture, but accomplishes nothing.
On November 1, 2997, another self-appointed committee of religious clerics wrote a letter in response, this time a Christian group affiliated with the Yale Divinity School. The letter was titled, A Christian Response to 'A Common Word Between Us and You.' I found it deeply disturbing, and I was relieved (a little) that few Catholics were signatories. Lots of evangelicals, oddly enough. Recently indicted Mark Siljander was a signer! Here's the preamble:
As members of the worldwide Christian community, we were deeply encouraged and challenged by the recent historic open letter signed by 138 leading Muslim scholars, clerics, and intellectuals from around the world..... We receive the open letter as a Muslim hand of conviviality and cooperation extended to Christians worldwide. In this response we extend our own Christian hand in return, so that together with all other human beings we may live in peace and justice as we seek to love God and our neighbors.
Muslims and Christians have not always shaken hands in friendship; their relations have sometimes been tense, even characterized by outright hostility. Since Jesus Christ says, “First take the log out your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye” (Matthew 7:5), we want to begin by acknowledging that in the past (e.g. in the Crusades) and in the present (e.g. in excesses of the “war on terror”) many Christians have been guilty of sinning against our Muslim neighbors. Before we “shake your hand” in responding to your letter, we ask forgiveness of the All-Merciful One and of the Muslim community around the world.
Good Christian ladies and gentlemen signatories, could you be anymore obsequious? Could you grovel any lower? As with the 138 above, who put these people in charge? How do they presume to speak for anybody but their own, ivory-tower selves? It's almost enough to make one turn away from organized Christianity for good (although not from Christ). I have nothing against people of different faiths joining cause to spread peace, love, goodwill. But I reject that Christians are uniquely required to "apologize" for "our excesses." I reject that Christians need to beg forgiveness of the Muslim community. The self-abasement is breath-taking. Where does it come from? Are there no historians amongst that group? Do you not know the extent of the earliest Christian church? What happened to that vibrant community where our earliest saints came from? What happened to the vast Buddhist community across Afghanistan? How many millions of Hindus were slain in the Muslim invasion of India? How can it be that in your collective guilty little minds, only Christians need to beg forgiveness?
Look around the world, Yalies, Pluralism Project folks, et al. The people suffering religious persecution today are largely Christians in the Middle East, South East Asia and China. They are persecuted mostly by the Muslim community in which they live, and to a lesser extent by Hindus. (Obviously, the state is doing the oppression in China against any and all religions). The other group of people suffering the worst religious persecution are Muslims who want to change their faith, and who often end up jailed or dead because of that. And of course, thousands of Muslims (millions?) are being persecuted by fundamentalist Taliban-types and jihadists, because they aren't sufficiently "Islamic."
The Barnabas Fund penned a thoughful response to the Yale letter, you can read it here. In their analysis (which provides lots of background, history and explanations of Islamic terms), they open with this 16th century proverb:
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions."
Bruce Thornton wrote a sharply-edged article at City Journal, Epistle to the Muslims - Christian leaders abase themselves before Islam. Thorton examines the history that the Yaley Christians overlooked:
"The groveling self-abasement of this language, particularly its begging forgiveness of Allah, is matched only by its remarkable historical ignorance. 'Outright hostility' has indeed existed between Muslims and Christians, for the simple reason that for 13 centuries Islam grew and spread by war, plunder, rapine, and enslavement throughout the Christian Middle East. Allah’s armies destroyed regions that were culturally Christian for centuries, variously slaughtering, enslaving, and converting their inhabitants, or allowing them to live as oppressed dhimmi, their lives and property dependent on a temporary 'truce' that Muslim overlords could abrogate at any time."
"And let’s not forget the seven-century-long Islamic occupation of Spain, the centuries of raids into southern Italy and southern France, the near-sack of Rome in 846, the occupation of Sicily and Greece, the four-century-long occupation of the Balkans, the destruction of Constantinople, the two sieges of Vienna, the kidnapping of Christian youths to serve as janissaries from the fourteenth to the nineteenth centuries, the continual raiding of the northern Mediterranean littoral for slaves from 1500 to 1800, and the current jihadist terrorist attacks against the West."
Really, who needs these open letters? Who profits by them? Whose lives are improved by them?
Enough with the platitudes and guilt complexes. I greatly prefer the Vatican's approach: skip the theology lessons, and focus on life on the ground for persecuted religious minorities. Set my people free!