Yale Reconciliation Program: Building Hope Conference

Building Hope Conference-1199small.jpg

by Rick Love

This conference included influential, mid-career Muslim, Christian and Jewish religious leaders with a proven record of leadership and clear future potential. Approximately ten leaders from each faith community were chosen to attend this international gathering focused on seeking the common good. Participants have been carefully chosen by senior leaders in each faith community as representing those mid-career leaders most likely to be exercising the widest influence in their communities in the coming 10-15 years.

Here is a final statement and report from the conference: 

Yale Reconciliation Program  |  Building Hope Conference  |  June 13-22, 2011

“In the Name of God, the Lord of Mercy, Love and Justice”

We wish to begin by expressing our thanks to the Yale University Center for Faith and Culture and to HRH the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and the government and people of the United Arab Emirates for the opportunity to take part in this conference. We feel that God has guided us to this place, where we formed friendships that we hope will last for the rest of our lives, and we built partnerships which had a substantial impact on our religious and spiritual worlds. The time spent learning about different religions allowed deep respect for other voices to emerge. The time spent reflecting on topics of joint concern was enriched by our new-found ability to truly listen to each other with respect and interest. We would like particularly to express our appreciation for the hard work done by Rev. Joseph Cumming, Director of the Yale Reconciliation Program, and his team, and by Dr. Hamdan Almazrouei, Chairman of the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments, and for all that they did to ensure that this conference was organized in a way that contributed to its noble goals. We express our thanks for the gracious hospitality which we received.

As Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders seeking God’s pleasure and the common good we learned many things from our time together:

  1. Personal relationships with those who are different from us provide a foundation for seeking the common good. We need to meet face-to-face in order to put a face on ‘the other.’ This involves listening carefully to the other, respecting each other’s faith, reading each other’s Holy Scripture and visiting each other’s places of worship, in a genuine effort to understand others as they understand themselves. It includes spending quality time together to cultivate new, lasting friendships. Experiencing such relationships first-hand in this conference changed the dynamics and allowed us to deal with difficult issues in a more constructive manner.
  2. In the opening days of our conference each faith community explained to the others what they believe and how they practice their faith. We learned much and broke down many stereotypes as we listened to each other.
  3. In the succeeding days we discussed many important issues in the relations among our faith communities. These included both the “easy” issues (on which our communities have much common ground) and the “difficult” issues which are often a source of controversy in our world today. We discussed such issues as peacemaking and tolerance; love of neighbor; God and the poor; stewardship of creation/environment; family values; gender issues; revolutions in the Arab world; religiously sanctioned violence, “terrorism” and the “war on terror;” the Israeli-Palestinian issue; the ethics of da‘wa and evangelism; and freedom of religion and respect for what is sacred to others.
  4. On some of these issues we found much common ground. On other issues we were able to learn and to understand each others’ convictions and to respect one another even if we did not fully agree. On issues that are deeply controversial and emotional we found that it is possible to have constructive, honest discussion. In order to have meaningful dialogue, we needed first to come to know each other as human beings and friends and to listen sympathetically to each other’s personal stories of hope and of pain. Then, as we listened respectfully to how each community understands what its sacred texts say about these difficult issues, we watched our new friendships enable us to better understand each other, and even to look at our own texts in new ways.
  5. At the heart of our experience together was an opportunity to visit a Muslim prayer service at a mosque on Friday, and to visit a Jewish prayer service in a synagogue on Saturday, and to visit a Christian prayer service in a church on Sunday. We were deeply moved by this experience as we learned from one another about how we seek to honor and worship God.
  6. Our program also included excursions – one just to have fun together and build friendships, and one to New York City, where we had opportunity to speak at a one-day conference at the headquarters of the United Nations, and where we had opportunity to visit a prominent Jewish synagogue and to hear a lecture by the key organizer of the well-known project to build a Muslim community center in New York.
  7. Our commitment to the building of personal relationships does not mean we dissolve our distinctive, historic beliefs into an imaginary “One World Religion.” Rather, it means each community seeks to be authentically faithful to its historic beliefs and finds within those beliefs the resources to reach out to one another in love and to work together around common concerns.
  8. We believe that our different religious beliefs do not negate the profound ethical teachings of our Holy Texts about respect and love for each other. We acknowledge, for example, that many sincere, devout believers view 'the other' as being outside of God’s salvation in the life to come. Yet our different views of salvation and our serious theological differences do not preclude peaceful co-existence or constructive cooperation in this life.
  9. We want to continue in the future the relationships and the sense of community which we experienced this week. We want to work together to break down the walls between our faith communities by challenging our own faith community to obey its own Scripture regarding respect and love for the other. We expressed to each other a desire to pursue ongoing relationships with one another, and with members of the other faith communities.

Many other wonderful things took place here which this document cannot contain, but we rejoice to affirm what we have described here and things that remain indescribable.