Assembly calls for tolerance in relations with Jews, Muslims

SAN JOSE — The 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved with amendments a resolution “On Calling for Tolerance and Peaceful Relations Between the Christian and Muslim Communities.” The vote was 547-149.

The Assembly found common ground with interfaith groups in the concept that Christians, Jews, and Muslims may hold different understandings of how God has been revealed to humankind, but all three groups are called to love God and neighbor and care for the poor. That means Presbyterians
ought to be in conversation with Jews and Muslims, celebrate religious holidays together and even set aside days to worship together — all to promote understanding, respect, and goodwill.

Commissioners in the action on June 25 voted to strike language in the original overture that would have the PC(USA) affirm “that Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship a common God, although each understands that God differently” and a section that acknowledges Abraham “as an expression of our common commitment to one God.”

Instead, commissioners inserted language that acknowledges that the three religions hold “differing understandings of how God has been revealed to humankind.”

Commissioners debated into the evening whether the overture, from Newton Presbytery, meant that all three groups worship the same God. The Rev. Jay Rock, the denomination’s coordinator for Interfaith Relations [], told commissioners that “we understand the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ himself to be present as we enter into dialogue with people of other faiths.”

Rather than saying that all worship the same God, the overture “points to our understanding that how God is revealed in those three faiths is quite different.”

Joe Martinoni, elder commissioner from First Church of Rockaway, N.Y., whose session initiated the overture, said his church began an interfaith dialogue with Muslims in the days following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

That act “opened our eyes to what their faith is really about,” he said. “The best way to come together with members of other faiths is to sit down at the table and beginning with what we have in common. That’s what Jesus commanded us to do. He sat down with members of the community relatively unpopular with the religious leaders at the time.” Commissioners approved 13 other overtures brought to the Assembly by the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee, including:
-An invitation to dialogue and cooperation from 138 Muslims called “A Common Word Between Us and You.”
-An ecumenical policy statement, the denomination’s first in more than 25 years.