A reader writes: As long as we put our religion before our humanity we will never have peace

A reader writes:

Last Christmas, my boyfriend’s 15 year old daughter gave me your book as a gift because she said she thought of me when she saw it in the bookstore. You see, I am a Christian that happened to live and work in the Middle East [for many years.] I just wanted to tell you how much I truly enjoyed and appreciated this book.
Several years before I went to the Middle East I did some research on cultural sensitivity and I came across some articles and research conducted by Hammar (seehttp://mdbgroup.com/idi-background.html for more on this) and one of the statements that he made was (paraphrasing) “…you cannot understand your own culture if you are part of the dominant culture; it is only when you are part of the non-dominant culture can you truly understand”. This is what happened to me when I went to the Middle East. Ironically, I didn’t understand my own faith, my true Christian beliefs, until I lived in a culture where the dominant religion was Islam. So in a way, I became a better Christian because of the faith I saw in my friends that were Muslim. When I came home to the US I found myself defending a religion, I didn’t even agree with. I share this with you because your book was the first book I have read by a Christian that not only believes in reaching out to other religions but you have friends, true friends, that are from other religions. I can certainly relate when you wrote about being accused of “picking and choosing” because I have friends that are well meaning Christians that seem to want to accuse me of being “lukewarm” whenever I speak up for my friends that are Muslim, or Hindu, or Jewish or gay, or even atheist.
There are so many statements I want to quote from your book but perhaps that one that really resonated with me was on page 204, where you indicate that “the Bible is not a constitution” and on page 205 where you state “Interpretation is also and always a matter of ethics, a matter of the heart and the conscience”. I am always deeply troubled by the hateful acts that are done in the name of God when Jesus taught us to be people of peace. Which leads to my favorite part of your book on pages 135 -136 where you talk about how Jesus has been used as a weapon and challenge your reader to think about what would Jesus do if he encountered Mohammed or Buddha. I also want to thank you for writing about the history of our faith and the dark history that we so often don’t want to remember and how we must “….face this deep-running current of imperial hostility in our Christian history”.
My guess is that to some fundamentalist your writing are controversial but I am glad that you are writing these types of books to speak out to the thinking Christian. I am currently reading your book “A New Kind of Christianity” and I also find it inspiring. So thank you again for putting into words what my heart needed to hear.
A few years ago, a Lebanese friend of mine (who is what you might call an agnostic –Muslim) was discussing the conflict in the Middle East between the Shia and Sunni Muslims and she said “As long as we put our religion before our humanity we will never have peace”. I’d like to think that if Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed did ever cross the road this is one statement that would all agree with.

Thanks for your encouraging words. Your friend’s statement about putting humanity before religion reminds me of Jesus’ words … that humanity wasn’t made for the Sabbath (i.e. religion), but the Sabbath (i.e. religion) was made for humanity. I think Paul does something similar in Romans. He is trying to bring Jews and Gentiles together in the gospel, but the Law of Moses seems to separate them. So he goes before Moses to Abraham, who offers a way of connecting with God (faith) more primal than law. And then he goes back before Abraham to Adam, where all are brought together in our common humanity.