I harbor no illusions of being an expert in inter-religious dialogue or relationship, but there has been an overabundance of conversation and opinionating about the proposed Cordoba center; further, I harbor no illusions of being an expert on biblical history or interpretation. Still, I though I'd offer my opinions on Christian / Muslim relationship and interaction here in this somewhat public forum. Fair warning; what follows may well be complete nonsense, but perhaps my seven readers will indulge me.
I see in the biblical gospel accounts of Jesus’ life quite a bit of animosity between Judeans and Samaritans. Obviously these accounts were written from a Christian perspective, and we can see evidence of hostility between the burgeoning Christian community and the Judean establishment. But when we see interaction between Jew and Samaritan depicted in the story, there seems to be an assumption of bad relationship between the two communities. As I understand it, Jews and Samaritans were very closely related ethnically and religiously. There are enough similarities for each to have a passable understanding of the other tradition; there are enough differences to make it difficult to find real and significant common ground, especially without a will to do so.
The Babylonian religious practices were different enough from the Hebrew traditions that they were easily able to distinguish for themselves. The Samaritans were too similar; perhaps the fear was that corruption of one by the other would too easy, and that's part of the reason for the animosity and separation.
I wonder if this is part of our trouble some Christians have with Muslims in this country. Are our theologies and histories too similar that we feel threatened by one another? Both traditions are monotheistic; both traditions have a great many adherents who theologically moderate, and who simply want to live in harmony and cooperation with their neighbors no matter what their neighbor's religious beliefs are; both traditions have vocal elements on either end of the tolerance spectrum; both are rooted in and grew out of the same part of the world, but have moved and adapted well in different and disparate cultures.
Do we see the same negative and harmful cultural manifestations of the Islam that we are embarrassed about when we consider the way Christianity is manifest in the world? Many Christians are quick to point out that it has been Islamic extremists who have caused significant problems in USAmerica and other parts of the world. They don’t seem quite so willing, though, to recognize the same elements present among adherents to our own Christian faith. We quickly dismiss Timothy McVeigh and Christian Militias as the edges of our faith, and not representative of most Christians. At the same time, we conflate the beliefs and practices of Al Qaeda as representative of all of Islam without recognizing that reasonable and moderate Muslims denounce terrorist actions and beliefs in the same way that we do everything we can to distance ourselves from the Ku Klux Klan, because both Al Qaeda and the KKK distort beyond recognition everything that is good and life-giving about the religious traditions they associate themselves with.
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In Jesus’ time, the Judeans arguably wielded greater power in the Jewish/Samaritan relationship. So I look at how Jesus, Jew that he was, treated Samaritans. Jesus made a point, in a culture that was hostile to Samaritans, of being open to those who others ignored or condescended to. Jesus treated Samaritans with compassion and mercy and grace.
Christians, today, wield greater power in USAmerica than do Muslims. I wonder, how should Christians treat our Muslim brothers and sisters? Do we succumb to our very natural and human fear & mistrust of our neighbor, or do we take our example from our Messiah?