Top Christian and Muslim leaders have convened at Yale University for a historic conference that is expected to promote understanding and peace between Christianity and Islam on an unprecedented level.
The conference, "Loving God and Neighbor in Word and Deed: Implications for Muslims and Christians," will officially be held July 28-31 but leaders from both faiths have initiated dialogue on peace during closed-session workshops since Thursday.
The gathering is a direct response to a letter signed by 138 Muslim leaders last fall that called for peace between Muslims and Christians for the sake of world peace.
The letter, entitled "A Common Word Between Us and You," urged followers of the two faiths to find "common ground" in the love of God and engage in more sincere discussions on peace rather than simply just "polite ecumenical dialogue" between certain religious leaders.
Yale scholars responded with a statement that pledged more open dialogue to "reshape" the two communities to "genuinely reflect our common love for God and for one another." Some 500 Christian leaders – including prominent Christians including Saddleback pastor Rick Warren, theologian John Stott, National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson – endorsed the Yale statement.
But several withdrew their names from the letter following criticism by respected theologians.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, disagreed with key points raised in the letter because he felt they compromised the Christian faith. Among them, he said that amid calls for love in a common God, the letter "failed to clearly define the Christian understanding of God as the trinity."
Participants at the "Common Word" conference will explore ways to "rectify distorted perspectives Muslims and Christians have of each other and repair relations between the Middle East and the West," according to the Yale Center for Faith & Culture.
Notable leaders at the event include Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan; former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi of Sudan; Geoff Tunnicliffe, CEO and international director of World Evangelical Alliance; Leith Anderson, president of NAE; and Antonios Kireopoulos of the National Council of Churches. A handful of Jewish leaders will also attend the conference.
On Tuesday, Senator John Kerry is scheduled to give a keynote address.
"Christians and Muslims have gone through periods of good relations and bad relations over the centuries," said Kireopoulos, senior program director for NCC's Faith and Order and Interfaith Relations.
"Recent history has reinforced ill will between the two communities, so this interfaith initiative can make progress toward mutual understanding."
The "Common Word" conference at Yale is one of a series of interfaith workshops and events. The other conferences will take place in October (Cambridge University), November (the Vatican), March 2009 (Georgetown University), and October 2009 (Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute, Jordan).
On the Web: More information on "Common Word" conference can be found at: http://www.yale.edu/divinity/commonword/ .