In recent conversations with my seminary classmates, we've
been lamenting the state of Christian education. In many churches it is evident
that the average member hasn't grown in religious or biblical knowledge since he
or she heard moralistic tales of Noah, Esther or Daniel as a child. Some even resist
pastoral attempts to expand their Christian knowledge, and they simply refuse
to learn about other
religions. As seminarians, we are struggling with how to respond to this.
The deep attention and reverence that Thomas Merton and Abdul Aziz brought to each other's books, traditions and lives undergirded their friendship, and the frank way they explored their similarities and differences enlivened it.
I travel to the Middle East at least once each year, often visiting
multiple countries. I belong to an evangelical-Muslim discussion group
which meets annually, and the participants include pious, brilliant,
generous Muslim scholars whom I count as my friends. When a topic like
"Islamophobic America" comes up, I share intense personal e-mails with
them. But I came away from my trip to the Middle East this past summer with some new concerns.
The scenario might have seemed unlikely: prominent Muslims and Jews from the United States trekking across the Atlantic in mournful, spiritual solidarity to visit two Nazi concentration camps—and doing it together.
Christians and Muslims need to recognize that they are "spiritual siblings," said speakers at a recent global Baptist congress in Hawaii, even as they warned fellow Baptists against the signs of Islamophobia displayed in Western countries.