My brothers and sisters, I want to make sure you are aware of an event in our Wisconsin Conference that fills my heart with joy and my soul with hope. On Wednesday, March 21 at Central United Methodist Church in Milwaukee, starting at 6 p.m., I and leaders from the Niagara Foundation will be in dialogue about the ways Muslims and Christians can peacefully and faithfully engage in our modern world, so often torn apart by prejudice, hatred, and misunderstanding. I will be presenting a talk, Beyond the Walls and Divisions: Interfaith Dialogue Leading to New Possibilities, which I hope will explain my vision for interfaith, ecumenical engagement. Hilmi Okur from University of Chicago Divinity School will also share his expertise from the Muslim perspective.

My excitement about this opportunity is the building of bridges, and the opportunity to confront some serious misunderstanding and misinterpretation so prevalent in our Church and world today. Too often, different spiritualties are cast in opposition and conflict with each other. There is much biblical precedent cited for such animosity, but it is taken out of cultural, temporal, and social context. What we share in common is generally ignored in favor of our theological and foundational differences. What is bred is a hostility born of ignorance, intolerance, and fear. Interfaith dialogue is a crucial step in correcting age-old misconceptions.

There is no more pressing or important need than in Christian-Muslim relations. So much biased, incomplete, or just plain wrong information has been shared in recent years concerning Islam and Muslim practices that it has been nearly impossible for faithful Christians to make informed opinions, and just responses to events happening in our world today. Too many generalizations, stereotypes, and caricatures have been allowed to be assumed to be fact. There is a deep and abiding truth in the concept that a rich and complex system of belief may never be reduced to a few assumptions and generalities. We Christians do not want to be dismissed because of the words, actions and beliefs of a violent and ignorant fringe element; we should not be quick to judge a whole system of belief based on the actions of a few disturbed factions.

Islam, the Koran, Muslim spiritual practice, and faith formation are deeply tied to the same roots as Judaism and Christianity. We may never be bound together in a meaningful way based on our differences, but when we celebrate that which we hold in common, when we cease trying to dishonor the beliefs and practices of the other, and when we share faithfully, honestly, and compassionately what we hold sacred and true, there is amazing possibility for our future. I encourage you to attend this important event in our Wisconsin United Methodist life together; and if you are not able to attend, I ask that you pray God’s divine light and peace prevail over this time of dialogue together.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung