Christian Leaders Apologize to Muslims
On October 13, 2006, 38 leading Islamic scholars, clerics and intellectuals sent an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI in response to his lecture at the University of Regensburg in Germany in September of 2006 in which he addressed such topics as Holy War, forced conversion and the need for dialogue and respect between Christians and Muslims.
One year later to the day, on October 13, 2007, another open letter, this time penned by 138 major Muslim leaders, was sent, not just to the Pope, but to any and all Christian leaders around the world. The letter entitled, A Common Word Between Us and You, presents a long and detailed treatise on the common ground between Christians and Muslims, mainly as it relates to the importance of loving the one true God and loving your neighbor.
In response, a group of scholars at Yale Divinity School’s Center for Faith and Culture drafted the document, Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to a Common Word Between Us and You. The letter was then forwarded to Christian leaders and theologians around the world, encouraging them to endorse and sign the statement. The letter, which affirms the importance of loving God and loving your neighbor, as well as the need for dialogue and living in peace, has so far been signed by over 300 Christian leaders, including some prominent names:
- Leith Anderson (president) and Richard Cizik (vice president) of the National Association of Evangelicals.
- Richard Mouw (president), C. Douglas McConnell (dean) and numerous professors from Fuller Theological Seminary.
- Doug Pennoyer (dean) and Leonard Bartlotti (associate professor) of Biola University.
- David Yonggi Cho, senior pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea.
- Lynn Green, international chairman, Youth With a Mission.
- Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church.
- Stanton L. Jones (provost and professor) and Stephen B. Kellough (chaplain) of Wheaton College.
- Roy Oksnevad, director of Muslim ministry at the Billy Graham Center, Wheaton.
- Robert Schuller, founder of the Crystal Cathedral.
- John Stott, rector emeritus at All Souls Church, London.
- Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church.
While much of the content of both documents is positive, many Evangelicals are very concerned about certain aspects of the letter penned by the Yale scholars. For example, it seems to acknowledge Allah as the God of the Bible. A paragraph in the preamble states, “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.”
Islam expert Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo has called it a “betrayal” and a “sellout,” and has called for Christian leaders who signed the letter to withdraw their names. He explains that the confession of guilt puts Christian communities in Muslim areas of the world at risk.
Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the agreement “sends the wrong signal” and contains basic theological problems, especially in “marginalizing” Jesus Christ and offering an apology for the Crusades. “I just have to wonder how intellectually honest this is,” said Mohler. “Are these people suggesting that they wish the military conflict with Islam had ended differently — that Islam had conquered Europe?”
Some are concerned about “hidden” meanings in the document. A CitizenLink report notes that the very name of the Muslim communiqué — “A Common Word Between Us and You” — is from a verse in the Quran that condemns “people of the Scripture” (Christians) for alleged polytheism (the doctrine of the Trinity).
In a letter responding to criticism he received for signing the statement, Leith Anderson wrote, “Sometimes we all sign onto things that are not all that we would like them to be. … I sought the counsel of other evangelical leaders [who] told me that signing the statement would be especially helpful to Christians who live and minister in Muslim-majority countries and cultures. In fact, some suggested that not signing could be damaging to these Christian brothers and sisters who live among Muslims.”
The full text of the letter from the 138 Muslim leaders and the response which has been signed by over 300 Christian leaders can be found at http://www.yale.edu/faith/abou-commonword.htm. The statement by Leith Anderson explaining why he signed the document can also be found there.