Monday, February 01, 2016

Principles for Peacemaking: The Marrakesh Declaration

Last week, many of the top Islamic leaders in the middle east met in Morocco for the purpose of drafting a declaration on human rights and religious freedom throughout the Muslim-majority world. While you may not see much coverage of this in American news media, this accord marks a significant step of progress in that part of the world.  Christian leaders in the west--indeed all Christians--should pray for the safety and continued success of the brave leaders who signed this document, many of whom have now returned to contexts hostile to their aspirations.

You can find the full text of the Marrakesh Declaration here.

Such monumental progress doesn't happen overnight.  It was the product of years of friendship, frank discussion, and slowly progressing trust.  But such is the task of peacemaking in our global, 21st century context.

To "make peace" implies that peace doesn't yet exist, meaning that peacemaking by default involves intentionally wading into conflict.  Over the years, I've become proud to know many brave people, both Christian and Muslim, who have been willing to face such conflict head on.  From these people I have learned some valuable principles for building peace.

1. Transparency is paramount.  My first trip to a Muslim-majority country was many years ago and, I am ashamed to say, was anything but transparent.  Though my heart was sincere in my desire for the world to know Jesus as I know Him, I was convinced that the only way this could happen was to play "secret agent."  During my time in that country, I did not have a single, substantive conversation with a Muslim.  And the whole reason for my subterfuge was I had equated obedience to the Great Commission with adherence to a modern missions delivery system that the host country found offensive and colonial.  I just didn't know any better.

Since that trip, I have come to learn that with very few exceptions, the world is far more open to the Gospel than we believe it is.  But the spread of that message, like our Savior who wrapped Himself in human flesh, requires incarnation as well as communication.  And you simply can't do that without honest, transparent relationships.  That approach takes longer, but over time, its a far more effective way to talk about your faith with others.

2. What Happens On One Side of the World Doesn't Stay on One Side of the World.  When uninformed western leaders make condemning, generalized pronouncements about Islam, such pronouncements find their way to the Muslim world, and they don't help build peace.  They help tear peace down.  Conversely, when our siblings in humanity in the middle east see us respecting religious freedom, befriending others regardless of religious faith, and living out the principled pluralism that is at the heart of our Republic, those things affect relationships in the Muslim-majority world in very positive ways.

 I have relationships with many faithful Christians who work on the ground in that part of the world.  Ask them if they are helped more by our declaration at the Spreading Peace Convocation, or by the xenophobic pronouncements of Franklin Graham.  If we want to move the global conversation between Christians and Muslims forward in a way that is respectful, productive, and from the Christian perspective, in a way that is faithful to Jesus method and message, we will understand that the nature of our global discourse is important.  What happened in Marrakesh last week didn't happen in a vacuum.  To a large extent, it happened in reaction to, and in cooperation with, western leaders who understand this principle, and who took the lead in other contexts to say the same things. 

3. Conservatives Must Take the Lead.  One of my dear friends is a former senior adviser to President Bush, and he once told me; "I am so tired of being called a 'moderate Muslim!'  Nothing about me is moderate!  My politics are conservative, and my religious beliefs are no different!"

He is right.  Moderation isn't the answer.  In fact, moderates who believe there is more than one way to God are generally, not the problem.  The problem often lies with conservatives on both sides of this conversation who believe their conservatism is threatened by recognizing the religious rights of others.

Some months ago I shared a table in a meeting with Muslim and Jewish religious leaders from Israel, Pakistan, India, Iraq, and the United States.  All of us were "orthodox" when it came to our respective beliefs.  There wasn't a single Jew or Muslim at that table who didn't believe I was going to hell because I worship Jesus as God.  Conversely, I don't believe any of those men will escape hell unless they recognize and worship Jesus as God.  Yet each of us recognized God's common grace informing our respective faiths in a way that brought about human flourishing in this world, even if we believed those faiths deficient to get our friends to the next world.  So there we were--committed together to never bind the conscience of the other.

If what I believe is really true, then I don't need to force it on anyone.  Free minds are the path that leads to genuine conversion, and "forced conversion" is no conversion at all!  If those like me, convinced of the exclusivity of their faith, can champion global religious freedom, then that freedom's existence around the world becomes a foregone conclusion.

4. In Every Context, the Majority Must Stand for the Rights of the Minority.  In December, I was honored to be part of a diverse coalition calling on political leaders in an election year to tone down their rhetoric when it came to Muslim Americans.  I didn't allow my signature on this document because I think Islam is a good thing.  I did it because you either believe in religious freedom or you don't.  And I did it because I firmly believe that in any context, those in the religious majority have a responsibility to protect the rights of the minority.

And yes, what holds true for Christians in the west should hold true for Muslims in the middle-east, which is why I was so proud to see what transpired last week in Marrakesh.

Making peace is a tough enterprise, and the faint of heart need not aspire to the task.  In the end, only the brave and bold succeed, and even then often at great personal cost.  But more than ever, our world needs those brave men and women.  I'm thankful that many showed up in Marrakesh, and pray more from both Christian and Muslim backgrounds will follow in their footsteps.

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