If current trends continue, and there is nothing to suggest that they won’t, the United States will continue to grow in its religious diversity. Along with the ever-increasing diversity of Christian communities, the growth of non-Christian religions will continue. Because of its historic ability to embrace people from diverse theological backgrounds, the Episcopal Church should play a crucial role in helping our country embrace a variety of religious traditions. We should also be at the forefront of helping the Christian community think theologically about non-Christian traditions.
In his book Allah, Lutheran theologian Miroslav Volf helps us think theologically about Christianity’s relationship with Islam. Volf makes the case that based upon their sacred texts and the normative teachings of their traditions Christians and Muslims agree on six claims about God, and therefore worship the same God. These claims are the following:
1. There is only one God, the one and only divine being.
2. God created everything that is not God.
3. God is radically different from everything that is not God.
4. God is good.
5. God commands that we love God with our whole being.
6. God commands that we love our neighbors as ourselves.
Volf also argues that making similar claims about the object of worship is not enough. What validates those orthodox beliefs are right practices—orthopraxis. “To the extent the Christians and Muslims strive to love God and neighbor, they worship that same true God.” As the First Letter of John would put it, “Whoever does not love, does not know God, for God is love (4.8).”
Volf’s claims are not new. Since Vatican II, the Catholic Church has affirmed that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Pope John Paul II affirmed that Christians and Muslims worship the same God when he wrote in 1985: “We Christians joyfully recognize the religious values we have in common with Islam. Today I would like to repeat what I said to young Muslims some years ago in Casablanca: ‘We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection.’”
Does it matter whether or not Christians and Muslims acknowledge that we worship the same God? Volf believes that it does. If we worship the same God, and if this God commands us to love God and our neighbor, then we share a broad framework for what constitutes a holy life. We also acknowledge that there is a God whose generous ways, such as justice, compassion and mercy, provide a check on our selfish ways.
Of course, acknowledging that we worship the same God doesn’t mean that Christians and Muslims agree on all theological matters. However, the same could be said about the various branches of Christianity. Just because an Episcopalian doesn’t see eye to eye on every theological issue with Roman Catholics doesn’t mean we don’t worship the same God. If God really is God, an elusive presence beyond our comprehension, there will always be theological differences within and between religious traditions.
In response to the deteriorating state of Muslim/Christian relations, in 2007 Muslim leaders offered A Command Word between Us and You to the Christian community. This letter has been signed by hundreds of Muslim leaders. The letter begins by articulating what is at stake:
Muslims and Christians make up well over half of the world’s population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.
The basis for this peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and love of the neighbor. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity. The Unity of God, the necessity of love for Him, and the necessity of love of the neighbor is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity.
Just imagine what sort of world we would have if all the Christians and Muslims lived by their foundational principles.