Warmth Over Warming
Global warming makes strange bedfellows.
That’s the basic explanation of why Rich Cizik, a prominent evangelical pastor, could be found for two days last month closeted at the World Bank and on Capitol Hill with a group of other evangelicals and a delegation of Moroccan Muslims, led by their ambassador to the U.S., Aziz Mekouar.
Cizik is propelled by his conviction that no issue is more urgent and carries a stronger moral imperative than global warming. He casts a wide net in his effort to make common cause and galvanize effective partnerships to persuade and mobilize. The Moroccans were willing to sign on to a dialogue because for them, also, climate change is not an abstraction; it means drought, hunger and acute water shortages.
Why Morocco? Among Muslim countries, Morocco has deep historic ties to the U.S. (it was the first country to recognize the fledgling American republic in 1776) and is proud of its openness to different faiths and new ideas.
As to the World Bank, Cizik’s group wanted both a true global perspective and credible technical grounding. The World Bank is heavily involved in vetting new strategies on climate change and in the financial architecture that goes into financing action. And the Bank also knows full well that without public understanding and support, the kinds of change that are needed simply will not happen. So the Bank readily agreed to host the group. (I was involved in the planning process and as moderator.)
But the combination of Islam and evangelism: how would that play out? Extreme statements by a few American evangelical leaders about Islam have been broadcast and rebroadcast throughout the Muslim world, inciting anger and fueling mistrust. The core evangelical message, which is to spread the “good news” about Jesus Christ, when it is understood to mean conversion of Muslims, does not go down well in the Islamic world. If, Cizik and his colleagues reasoned, these two groups could agree on what to do about climate change, that might spur wider rethinking of positions and tensions. And at the same time it might even contribute to world peace by bridging some divides.
The dialogue that unfolded in late June was both predictable – following an implicit script – and full of surprises.
As hoped and expected, the group found much common ground in deep worries about the threat of global warming. And they found resonating echoes in Christian and Muslim scriptures enjoining mankind to care for the earth. The word responsibility came up again and again.
And, as hoped, friendship was a resounding theme – the importance of people-to-people contact, of getting to know others.
The surprises? The willingness to engage about proselytizing and conversion was reassuring, though plainly the discussions just scratched the surface of some very sensitive issues. The readiness of pretty much the whole group to acknowledge how little they knew of each other opened the way to future exchange. There was a candid admission that Moroccan images of evangelicals and American images of Muslims bordered on caricatures.
The boldest dream involves the great renewable resource of the Sahara: sunshine. A tiny square of Saharan desert, with the right technology, could power the entire world if the power of the sun could be truly harnessed, an expert suggested. And the sunshine of honest dialogue could power a new dynamic of pluralism and allow different groups to respect one another, celebrate their differences, and live not in tolerance but in friendship.
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