Dear Mr. Spencer,
Having read your weblog’s "About" page, I am now acquainted with your clear and admirable opposition to jihad theology, though not to the religion of Islam, itself. Previously, I was unacquainted with your voice or cause. But in the last 48 hours, my church’s office administrator and I have received a series of protest messages from readers of your blog, based on your July 21 post which features a photo of our church signboard with a seasonal greeting in it. We are now, of course, more than well-acquainted with you… and some of your apparent devotees.
Please be assured, Mr. Spencer, that not only I but my friends across the religious landscape agree with you in your opposition to jihad theology. In particular, I venture to say that my Muslim friends agree with you strongly in this regard. They and I have had numerous conversations about the blasphemy practiced by militants who pervert the meaning of jihad, that great spiritual struggle which is so common to our religions. I tell you nothing new when I identify jihad as the wrestling of the faithful person with doubt, despair, and the discipline required to maintain a life of faith. It is never holy war with others but only with oneself.
Christianity, as you know, has many examples of the misapplication of our principles and beliefs which resulted in violence toward innocents and some death as well. My own religious tradition within Christianity offers numerous illustrations of this sinful application of religion as a defense for intolerance and cruelty. So, it is reassuring for me to discover your stated, common purpose with our own, of encouraging dialogue and cooperation.
In keeping with our common purpose, let me assure you, the greeting is not one way, as you presume. Our church’s most recent signboard message was composed, preliminary to the announcement of an iftar we would host with a nearby Muslim faith community. Unfortunately, this traditional breaking of the daily fast could not be scheduled during Ramadan as needed and will be replaced by another time together in the near future. Your “fine” support of our attempt to increase interfaith conversation is much appreciated, even if you do seem a bit doubtful about our potential for success.
For example, although you begin with saying, “This is just fine,” you mitigate your congratulations, with your conclusion:
Since Muslims consider the Christian confession of the divinity of Christ to be an unacceptable association of a partner with God, this verse is saying that the “common word” that Muslims and the People of the Book should agree on is that Christians should discard one of the central tenets of their faith and essentially become Muslims. Not a promising basis for an honest and mutually respectful dialogue of equals.
These are very cautious words on your part. I appreciate your concern.
Since you do not know us yet, and we are only just becoming acquainted with you, please allow me to say that I do hope that you do not by your conclusion indicate any genuine disrespect for the “common word” between Christians and Muslims which we are attempting to engage.
Surely you know, the purpose of interfaith discussion cannot be to reach an agreement on every point discussed, nor to convert the infidel, but to conduct that “honest and mutually respectful dialogue” you clearly crave.
For if we are to live together, and we must learn to live together, it will be necessary as well for us to find new ground on which to live, the renewing ground of respect and cooperation. Religious absolutism cannot be an option.
Thank you again for your endorsement of our work, albeit an endorsement with qualifiers. Please be assured that we do not approach our interfaith partnerships naively or without appropriate discernment. We are intelligent people and realistic ones, and we respect the intelligence and realism of our partners.
Please receive my encouragement for your efforts with my church’s own toward changing perspectives and affecting lives and hearts of enemy, stranger, neighbor, and friend.
Rev. David Denoon, PastorFirst Congregational Church of Webster Groves