Building Hope Conference
Editor’s Note: The Reconciliation Program of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture hosted a 10-day conference in June that brought together Christians, Jews, and Muslims for a period of dialogue, reflection, and informal engagement. The following article was written by Allysa De Wolf ’13 M.Div., who was on the conference logistical, administrative team. Director of Communications and Publications Gustav Spohn also contributed to the article.
They came from around the word—places such as Jordan, Israel, Turkey, Indonesia, and the United Arab Emirates, in addition to the U.S. From June 13-23, an international group of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faith leaders gathered together in New Haven at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture’s Building Hope Conference to meet each other, establish friendships, learn about each others’ faith traditions, and take on a wide range of difficult contemporary topics, including issues such as religiously sustained violence.
Approximately ten leaders from each faith community—men and women viewed as having a record of leadership and clear future potential— were chosen to attend this international gathering focused on seeking the common good. Participants were selected by senior leaders in each faith community as representing mid-career leaders most likely to be exercising the widest influence in their communities 10-15 years from now. Funding for the conference came primarily from the United Arab Emirates, with some limited assistance, mostly in-kind, from internal Yale sources, a church, and a Jewish businessman.
One of the unique aims of the conference—formally entitled Building Hope: Muslims, Christians and Jews Seeking the Common Good —was to gather participants who, while representing the full spectrum of their respective communities, are identified as forward-looking leaders in the traditionalist or conservative wings of their communities. In the past, many interfaith dialogues have reached out only to the most progressive wing of each community, leaving millions of more traditionalist religious believers feeling no sense of ownership in the process.
The 10 days of dialogue produced not only provocative and constructive conversations but potentially lasting bonds. A final statement issued at the end of the conference said, “We feel that God has guided us to this place, where we formed friendships that we hope will last for the rest of our lives, and we built partnerships which had a substantial impact on our religious and spiritual worlds. The time spent learning about different religions allowed deep respect for other voices to emerge. The time spent reflecting on topics of joint concern was enriched by our new-found ability to truly listen to each other with respect and interest.”
Regarding topical issues, the statement said, “On some of these issues we found much common ground. On other issues we were able to learn and to understand each other’s convictions and to respect one another even if we did not fully agree. On issues that are deeply controversial and emotional we found that it is possible to have constructive, honest discussion. In order to have meaningful dialogue, we needed first to come to know each other as human beings and friends and to listen sympathetically to each other’s personal stories of hope and of pain.”
Primary conference organizers included the Rev. Joseph Cumming, director of the Center for Faith and Culture’s Reconciliation Program, and Dr. Hamdan Almazrouei, chairman of the UAE General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments. Serving as a project consultant was the Rev. Rick Love, a member of the executive team of the World Evangelical Alliance Peace and Reconciliation Initiative.
Among attendees at the conference were Sheikh Taleb AlShehhi, director of the Preaching Department of the United Arab Emirates; Sheikh Yasir Qadhi, a prominent conservative Sunni leader featured recently on the cover of the New York Times Magazine; Imam Hassan Qazwini, a Shi’i cleric who is imam of the largest mosque in North America; Prof. Dr. Syafiq Mughni, chair of the Central Board of Muhammadiyah, a 30-million-member movement in Indonesia; Fr. James Channan, O.P., prior vice-provincial of the Dominican Order in Pakistan; Fr. Hanna Kildani, general secretary of the Council of Church Leaders in Jordan; Rev. Dharius Daniels, pastor of a large African-American congregation and board member of the National Association of Evangelicals; Dr. Jennifer Bryson of the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, NJ; Rabbi Naftali Haleva, son of the chief rabbi of Turkey, and a prominent leader in his own right in the Turkish rabbinate; Dr. Raquel Ukeles, curator of the Islam and Middle East Collection at the National Library of Israel; Rabbi Dr. Yossi Slotnik, a prominent Israeli Talmudic scholar; and Rabbi Douglas Krantz, a Reform Jewish pioneer in interfaith dialogue.
The conference began with sessions aimed at learning about the rich culture, doctrine, and theology of each Abrahamic faith, then progressed to tackling some of the most controversial issues in the world today, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “terrorism” and freedom of religion. Other topics included peacemaking and tolerance according to the sacred texts, concern for the poor, and stewardship of creation and the environment, and the ethics of da’wa (Islamic outreach) and evangelism.
Bonds were established among participants not only in conversation and lectures but outside the classroom as well. Friendships were nourished during a tour of the Thimble Islands in Stony Creek, CT; during visits to Jewish, Christian and Muslim worship services; on a trip to New York City to participate in a religious peace-making conference at the United Nations; and during a visit to the Edmund Safra Synagogue to hear a lecture by the key organizer of the well-known project to build a Muslim community center near Ground Zero.
The conference statement concludes, “We want to continue in the future the relationships and the sense of community which we experienced this week. We want to work together to break down the walls between our faith communities by challenging our own faith community to obey its own Scripture regarding respect and love for the other. We expressed to each other a desire to pursue ongoing relationships with one another, and with members of the other faith communities.”