The crisis between East and West can be largely framed as a conflict between Islam and Christianity – or at least that is how many Muslims and Christians perceive it. For a long time liberals on both sides have encouraged the two communities to paper over their differences in a quest for positive consensus. The passage of time and the resurgence of religious identity has demonstrated that this classic interfaith model is mostly ineffective and maybe even counterproductive.
For this reason, The Philos Project has launched a closed-door quarterly conversation series for conservative Christian and Muslim leaders to meet together in Washington DC to discuss big questions of public concern in an honest and respectful way for the purpose of advancing Muslim-Christian relations in North America. Each conversation brings together 20 participants in a three hour midday event that is focused on one particular question of public concern. Tightly focused and expertly moderated, these conversations aim to disentangle some of the most pressing issues facing the two communities: among them democracy and liberalism, refugees and minority protection, radicalization and terrorism, “policing our own,” major theological divides, the threat presented by secular society.
Attitudes of conservative Christians toward Muslims are more negative than attitudes toward almost any other religious group in the United States. Attitudes of Muslims toward conservative Christians are not much better. Although members of both communities often share a strong love of religious tradition and a commitment to conservative values, their deeply-rooted cultural and theological differences have put them at opposite ends of the American social spectrum.
The time has come for an honest and direct, albeit respectful, conversation between conservative Muslims and Christians in North America – a conversation that begins from an assumption of difference rather than similarity. Only a “no-holds-barred approach” to tough questions can begin to help the two sides speak freely, listen intently, and begin to understand each other on their own terms.