To live peacefully with Muslims and Jews, Christians must put aside the notion that their faith requires the creation of a Christian kingdom on Earth, a Lipscomb University theologian told an interfaith gathering at the university.
“We are not going to get very far in our relationship with Jews or Muslims if we do not let go of this idea,” Lipscomb professor Lee Camp said at Tuesday’s conference.
The unusual gathering of several dozen clergy and lay people was devoted to resolving religious conflict in Nashville and around the world.
“We need to forsake the Christendom model,” Camp said. “The most basic Christian commitment €¦ is that we say we believe in the Lordship of Jesus. But, if we claim that, how can a Muslim or Jew trust us, if we say Jesus is the Lord of all Lords?”
Co-sponsored by the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, the daylong conference was prompted by a desire to begin a dialogue about global religious conflict.
After five years of rising gas prices, disturbing privacy issues that followed the Sept. 11 attacks and the fear of terrorism, it became apparent that everyday life in Nashville is directly affected by religious conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere, conference organizers said.
“We felt like the larger community is calling for this,” said Larry Bridgesmith, executive director of Lipscomb’s newly established Institute for Conflict Management.
Panelists representing different faiths presented their own views on how to begin to bridge the religious divide.
For Kahled Sakalla, a spokesman for the Islamic Center of Nashville, some of the answers lie in better education about Islam in the non-Muslim world.
Allah, the God Muslims worship, is the same God Christians and Jews worship, and the Quran recounts the same biblical stories of Mary and Jesus, he said.
“Yes, we have differences, but it’s important to focus on commonalities,” said Sakalla, one of four panelists representing different faiths who addressed the Lipscomb conference.
Mark Schiftan, rabbi of the Temple in Belle Meade, said he also believes people of faith must begin to look for common ground.
“If all of us believe we were created in God’s image, then we have to believe that everyone else is also created in God’s image,” Schiftan said.
Charles McGowan, president of the Christian group Operation Andrew said: “It’s important to us in Nashville that we be proactive. Religious leaders must engage one another if we are going to experience in this city the peace and calm we all desire.”
But the issues that have divided the world’s religions for millennia are so deep and fundamental — ranging from the question of whether the land of Israel rightfully belongs to the Jews and whether there is one way to salvation — that tackling them will require both dialogue with other faiths and a more introspective look at one’s own beliefs, panelists said.
Some liberal theologians have suggested that different faiths are all variations on one another and that beliefs are all basically the same, a position with which Camp deeply disagrees.
Instead, he believes, Christians must not back away from their beliefs but further examine them and their own history.
First, Christians must examine their “sins of omission,” he said — such as not taking the time to learn about other religions. Then they must look at their “sins of commission.”
“We have such short historical (memory) spans as white Christians,” he said. “There is a history of anti-Semitism, the violence and bloodshed of the crusades and cultural imperialism. We have to deal with the reality of what Christians have done, which in some cases has been to kill people.”
Camp described himself as a conservative Christian but conceded his opinions may be viewed as “radical” by other evangelical Christians.
Christians must shed the idea that they need to promulgate a worldwide Christianity, he said.
“If I hold to a model of Jesus €¦ what I’ve committed to in my baptism is loving my enemy,” Lee said. “I’m committed to not killing you, but to serving and honoring you. It’s an exclusive commitment to the way of Christ, not to the exclusive authority of Christ.”
Sakalla said there may never be reconciliation on the fundamental theological divisions.
“Every religion has different teachings,” he said. “For Muslims, it’s: Do you believe in one God and that Muhammad” is his prophet? “I don’t think we can teach individuals that the way you go to heaven in other religions is OK. You have to teach differences.”