LONDON – There is much that the church in Europe can learn from Middle East churches about how to live side by side with Muslims, the general secretary of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe said.
Michael Buenker made the comments upon his return from Lebanon, where he took part in the General Assembly of the Federation of Middle East Evangelical Churches last week.
Buenker said dialogue between General Assembly delegates and local Muslims during the gathering had given both sides valuable insights and should be continued on a "regular basis."
"Church fellowship does not allow itself to be limited by cultural and geographical differences," he said.
With many Europeans feeling uncertain about the growth of Islam on the continent, Buenker said Protestant churches in Europe could learn from their sister churches in the Middle East.
Middle East churches are, he said, "experienced in living together with Muslims."
Abbas El Halabi, chairman of the Arab conversations group of the Muslim-Christian dialogue in the region, noted, "We have lived together in peace for centuries and we want to hold firmly to that in spite of all political difficulties."
Buenker and CPCE President Thomas Wipf, who traveled with him, said they were impressed by the level of cooperation and solidarity among churches in the Middle East.
Many of the churches in the Middle East are suffering from a drain of young people, who are leaving the region in large numbers due to the lack of job prospects, according to Wipf.
"Sadness at this can be felt everywhere," he said. "In spite of the pressure of this situation, the churches are lively.
"Cooperation and solidarity between the Protestant churches are an important sign of hope."
He went on to say that Europe has a responsibility to work for peace in the Middle East and expressed his desire to deepen relations with the FMEEC, whom he called an "important partner."
As citizens of a continent from which "racism and war were carried into the whole world," he concluded, "Europeans must engage ourselves for a peaceful life together of Christians, Muslims and Jews."