(From The Episcopal Church, Office of Public Affairs)
Following Morning Prayer and Bible study, the session was opened by Emcee for the Day Bishop Julio Holguin of Dominican Republic.
The topic for the day was: Who is my neighbor? Islam and Christianity. Bishop Skip Adams of Central New York set the tone for the day and spoke about the realities of Muslims living in our society. He referred to practical, theological and religious aspects.
Presenters for the day were:
The Rev. William L. Sachs, Ph.D, Executive Director of the Center for Interfaith Reconciliation in Richmond, VA, author and parish priest.
Author and leading authority on Islam in America, Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University in Washington DC.
Eliza Griswold, author of the book The Tenth Parallel, an examination of Christianity and Islam in Africa and Asia.
Sachs talked about the global clash of religions and way of life, referring to the “Clash of Civilizations” that has occurred since 9-11-01. He noted that the day’s goal was to examine the complexities between Islam and Christianity occurring throughout the world, and to see who is our neighbor today
Among the points that Ahmed cited was that most converts to Islam are women. In talking about Islam, he said, “We share Jesus. We look at him differently but we share Jesus.” He presented an overview of stats and info about Muslims in the USA and the rest of the world.
Griswold has travelled to areas “where Christianity and Islam meet.” She said much of the divide of the “Christian south and Muslim north” is based on weather patterns, land, and trade routes, noting that “Islam spread through trade and marriage.” She noted that faith and foreign policy are often intertwined in other countries. Local identity and global identity are interlinked.
The noon Spanish Eucharist, in commemoration of Bishop James Theodore Holley, the first bishop of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, was celebrated by Bishop David Alvarez of Puerto Rico. Preacher was the Rev. Simone Bautista of the diocese of Washington and chaplain for HOB.
In the afternoon, the conversation about Islam and Christianity continued with Bishops Joe Burnett of Nebraska and Tom Shaw of Massachusetts telling of activities in their dioceses.
Burnett presented a film and spoke about the Tri-Faith Initiative in Omaha, NE, a five-year initiative calling for the sharing of a campus for an Episcopal Church, a Muslim mosque, a Jewish synagogue and a shared, multi-service educational building. The project is “on the verge of taking giant steps forward.”
Shaw talked about the Boston cathedral opening its basement to allow space for Muslims to adhere to their prayer order. He shared that he met a Muslim man who has prayed at the Cathedral since before September 11, 2001, and how the community felt protected in the aftermath.
The bishops discussed three questions:
– The last two promises of the baptismal covenant ask us to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves; and to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. How might these promises be fulfilled in efforts to deepen relationships with members of other faith traditions, particularly Islam?
– Given the fact that polls show a sharp increase in prejudice toward Islam and persons of Islamic faith in this country, what specific steps might you take in your diocese to combat this prejudice, and also to support, affirm and partner with other faith traditions, especially Islam, in a way that would further God’s mission in the world?
– How can we “seek and serve Christ in all persons” in such ways that would lead us to understand increasing religious diversity as a gift and a promise, rather than as a threat or a challenge?
Various bishops shared experiences from their own dioceses.