An eternal God does not need to be defended using human violence, said the Archbishop of Canterbury this week in response to a letter by Muslim leaders and scholars.
Dr. Rowan Williams was referring to Christian-Muslim relations as he responded to the historic letter, “A Common Word Between Us and You,” signed by 138 prominent Muslim figures last fall that sought a dialogue with Christians based on the common ground of loving God and loving thy neighbor.
In the Anglican leader’s letter, he tackled issues of religious freedom, pluralism and religiously-motivated violence. He insisted that the “eternal God cannot need ‘protection’ by the tactics of human violence.” He also emphasized that there can be no justification for “violent contest” based on the “need to ‘protect God’s interests.’”
To make his point, Williams cited John 19:36 where Jesus says to the Roman governor, “My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight.”
Meanwhile, the Qur’an Al-Baqarah 2:256, he noted, also says there can be no compulsion in religion.
“[W]e will be aware that to try and compel religious allegiance through violence is really a way of seeking to replace divine power with human,” Williams wrote in the letter to the Muslim leaders.
He called for a Christian-Muslim relation that “breaks the current cycles of violence, to show the world that faith and faith alone can truly ground a commitment to peace.”
Other than expressing his opinion on difficult Christian-Muslim issues, the church leader also expressed the Anglican Communion’s deep appreciation for the Muslim leaders’ effort to develop better relations with Christians. He described the original letter as having a “hospitable and friendly spirit.”
The original letter, sent last October, was signed by Muslim clerics, scholars and intellectuals from all the major sects calling for peace between Muslims and Christians. It was hailed as an unprecedented peace effort by the Muslim community towards Christians.
In return, nearly 300 Christian theologians, ministry leaders, and prominent pastors signed a response letter in November issued by the Yale Center for Faith and Culture.
Signers included Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners; Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church; John Stott, rector emeritus of All Souls Church in London; and Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
But several of the signers soon after removed their names from the Christian letter, citing that they felt it compromised the Christian faith. Wheaton College president Duane Litfin, provost Stanton Jones and chaplain Stephen Kellough withdrew their signatures from the letter.
Critics of the letter said the wording failed to clearly define what Christians believe, especially the unique belief in Jesus Christ as mankind’s savior from sin through his death on the cross and his resurrection. They pointed out that Muslims reject this teaching so they do not believe in the same love of God as Christians do, thus affecting the Muslim letter’s claim to having a common love of God.
Litfin said he could not support a statement in the Christian response letter that speaks as if the Qur’an’s Allah and the God of Christians are the same.
“I need to back away,” he had said, according to The Record, the student publication of Wheaton College. But he added he does not criticize others who do not share the same sentiments.
The Anglican Communion will invite Christian and Muslim leaders and scholars to a conference in October to discuss practical steps to deepen mutual understanding on the anniversary of the publication of “A Common Word Between Us and You.”