Reading Scripture Across Interfaith Lines

This article appeared some time ago in Christian Century.  It offers a suggestion as to how Christians and Muslims and Jews can get together in positive ways to reflect on each other’s sacred texts and the lives that are shaped by them.  Such projects are sorely needed in the current political climate in the West. 

by Jeffrey W. Bailey

Jeffrey W Bailey is a Ph.D. candidate in political theology at the University of Cambridge. This article appeared in The Christian Century, September 5, 2006 pp. 36-42. Copyright by the Christian Century Foundation; used by permission. Current articles and subscriptions information can be found at www.christiancentury.org. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


On a blustery Wednesday evening in central London, about a dozen people from different parts of the city made their way to St. Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace. They included an attorney from a large London law firm, a political lobbyist, a corporate consultant, a Muslim college chaplain, a university professor, a female rabbi and a research scientist. After pouring cups of coffee, the group began a two-hour discussion marked by moments of intense debate as well as laughter. Conversation veered from economics to the nature of citizenship to London politics.

One might think this was a meeting of a neighborhood council or Chamber of Commerce, except for one thing: in front of each participant were selections from the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Qur’an.

After finishing its discussion of a passage from the Hebrew Bible, the group began focusing on a passage from Matthew’s Gospel in which Jesus instructs his questioners to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

“I thought most Christians read this as justification for supporting their government’s policies,” said a Muslim participant, looking up from his text. “I was taught that in my church growing up, actually,” said one woman, a bit sheepishly.

“I wonder if Jesus isn’t saying something a bit more subversive than ‘be a good citizen,”’ suggested a Jewish participant. “Perhaps Jesus is actually making a larger point about an alternative economic system.”

This looks like a Bible study. But St. Ethelburga’s is a public space, not a church or temple, and the participants are Jewish, Christian and Muslim. Profound religious differences emerge over the course of conversation.

But the participants share one important conviction: they believe that the resolution of religiously rooted political tensions will be attained not by avoiding religion in public, but by initiating more and better religious conversations in public.

Participants in this practice, known as scriptural reasoning, are part of a movement that wants to protect religiously plural societies while simultaneously encouraging religious people to enter more deeply into public discourse. Such aims might appear paradoxical to those who were taught that the emergence in the 17th century of secular liberalism, with its privatization of faith, rescued the West from “wars of religion.” Voices on all sides of the religious and political spectrum have begun to recognize — not least because of the increased presence of Islam in Western societies — that a purely secular, liberal approach to public discourse is not sustainable in a world increasingly shaped by religions.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION ONLINE 

 

 

“OF KINGS AND PROPHETS” PRODUCERS—A CHRISTIAN, A MUSLIM AND A JEW—REFUSE TO SANITIZE THE BIBLE

FDE_ABC_kings_and_Prophets_blog_968by504In 1984, President Ronald Reagan stated: “Religion and politics are necessarily related. We need religion as a guide. We need it because we are imperfect, and our government needs the church because only those humble enough to admit they’re sinners can bring to democracy the tolerance it requires in order to survive.”

Thirty years later, President Reagan’s words still ring loudly in our collective consciousness. But these words could just as easily have been applied to the world of the Bible 3,000 years ago.

It is precisely this historic and often unavoidable connection between religion and politics that led the three of us—a Christian, a Muslim, and a Jew—to join together to do what many in Hollywood deemed impossible: launch a Biblically-themed network television show about the collision of politics and religion that would appeal to both faith-based and secular audiences.

The show, called Of Kings And Prophets, debuted on ABC on Tuesday, March 8 at 10PM. It tells the story of one of the most complex and beloved characters in the Bible: King David. The biblical David is revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike—nearly half the population of the entire planet—as the model of pious kingship.

Yet, although David has been lionized as pious, God-fearing, loving, and just, he was also deeply flawed. He was vain. He was vengeful. He was lustful. He killed his friends and he betrayed his wives (and he had a lot of wives). This is to say, the Biblical David was human, just like we all are. And as such, he was imperfect. Just as we all are.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION DISPATCHES

Reading the Quran with Muslims and Christians

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by Doug Baker

The story being told us by a large segment of our political and religious leaders is that Islam is inherently violent and that the reason is because Muslims obey the Quran.

Representative Mo Brooks (Alabama) recently said, “You look at the Quran, and I encourage people to read it on their own so they can get a first-hand view of whether these terrorists who are killing non-Muslims are doing what the Quran instructs them to do.” These words are meant to strike fear and hatred into our hearts.

Brooks is right insofar as if we approach the Quran looking for reasons to be offended we will find them. There are passages that talk about killing and about warfare. Most of the Muslims I know are quick to point out that within their context these passages are not talking about being the aggressors in war or forcing people to convert to Islam. They are passages about defending the city in which they lived from people who attacked them.

And we know that there are passages in the Bible that also frighten us with their bloodthirstiness. The conquest of Canaan was, by all biblical accounts, a very bloody affair.

And just as bloodthirsty people use passages in the Quran to legitimize their own violence, so too have Christians appealed to the Bible as authorization to commit every violent and evil sort of action. We have found it easy to “justify conquest by appealing to the example of Israel’s conquest of Canaan,” as theologian Kevin Vanhoozer writes. In the case of the conquest of the American continents, that conquest amounted to genocide. And many Christian leaders at the time praised it as being just like Israel’s conquest of Canaan.

FULL ARTICLE FROM EVANGELICALS FOR SOCIAL ACTION 

Why the Qur’an might not be what you thought, and why it matters

quranOn the face of it, it’s a little unlikely. But not long ago, what may be the oldest copy of part of the Qur’an was discovered in the Cadbury Library at Birmingham University.

The two parchment leaves had been bound together with leaves of a similar Qur’an manuscript, which is datable to the late seventh century. These, however, are earlier. Radiocarbon analysis has dated the parchment – prepared animal skin – on which the text is written to the period between AD 568 and 645. Mohammad himself is generally thought to have lived between AD 570 and 632, raising the intriguing possibility that it could have been written in his own lifetime.

The fragment contains parts of suras (chapters) 18-20, written with ink in an early form of Arabic script known as Hijazi. So far, so fascinating: it’s like finding a copy of one of Paul’s letters from 40 AD, or a Matthew’s Gospel from 80AD. From a historical point of view, it sends goose-bumps up the spine – and for a Muslim, even more so. The chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque is reported to have said: “When I saw these pages I was very moved. There were tears of joy and emotion in my eyes. And I’m sure people from all over the UK will come to Birmingham to have a glimpse of these pages.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIAN TODAY

The Diversity of Islam by Nicholas Kristof

Muslim-children-from-around-the-worldA few days ago, I was on a panel on Bill Maher’s television show on HBO that became a religious war.

Whether or not Islam itself inspires conflict, debates about it certainly do. Our conversation degenerated into something close to a shouting match and went viral on the web. Maher and a guest, Sam Harris, argued that Islam is dangerous yet gets a pass from politically correct liberals, while the actor Ben Affleck denounced their comments as “gross” and “racist.” I sided with Affleck.

After the show ended, we panelists continued to wrangle on the topic for another hour with the cameras off. Maher ignited a debate that is rippling onward, so let me offer three points of nuance.

Likewise, it is true that the Quran has passages hailing violence, but so does the Bible, which recounts God ordering genocides, such as the one against the Amalekites.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES