Unification News for September 2003

Welcome Remarks: ACLC Symposium on Harmony Amongst the Children of Abraham

Chang Shik Yang
August 26, 2003

This is an excerpt from an address given to the American Clergy Leadership Conference Symposium: Harmony and Peace in the Middle East Amongst the Children of Abraham: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Reconciliation; The Cross Reconsidered: Historical & Theological Perspectives held Tuesday, August 26, 2003 at the Islamic Center of Passaic County, Patterson, NJ.

Among all of the founders of the world’s faiths, the prophet Mohammed [Peace be upon Him] was the most successful during his own lifetime, and Islam has grown to become one of the world’s truly great faiths. Reverend Moon has taught that peace can only be realized upon the foundation of our highest ideals and the deepest values of our faith traditions. The very purpose of our meeting today is to consider the role and responsibility of religious leaders in fostering peace and harmony.

The history of the Islamic faith is a clear example of the power of religious ideals to unite people beyond the barriers of race and nationality. With its five great pillars, its strong traditions and clear teaching, Islam has gathered together Asians- from Indonesia, Malaysia and more; Africans- from the Sudan, Morocco, and elsewhere; Arabs- from throughout the Middle-East; Europeans; Americans as well, as we can see here today. Islam is alive and growing even in my home country of Korea! The black American leader Malcolm X, after a lifetime of bitterness and racial hatred, experienced the pilgrimage to Mecca, and during the Hajj found himself praying, eating and sleeping together with Muslims of every race and nationality, and found that all races were his true brothers.

Christianity has also played such a role in history, gathering people of all races, backgrounds and nationalities around a common faith, around a common ideal. Even Judaism has gathered together Africans, Europeans, and many others through a shared culture and tradition. But it seems that these religions have gone as far as they can go as unifiers, and now face each other. If we want to achieve a greater unity, a higher level of harmony, then we must lift up the higher ideals that we share in common. Judaism, Islam and Christianity share common roots, common ideals and common goals. In many places and times through the centuries, they have lived side-by-side in peace, Muslims and Jews in particular. But today we are witnessing unprecedented bloodshed, and senseless, needless killing. Sadly, we can see the truth of Gandhi’s words: "If we continue to practice an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, eventually the whole world will be blind and toothless."

A central theme of our discussions today is "The Cross Reconsidered." How odd that the very same symbol that represents the enduring love of God to Christian believers everywhere conveys intolerance, hatred and forced conversion to people of other faiths. How interesting that the cross became Christianity’s central symbol not from the time of Christ, not through the early church, but centuries later, as an assurance of military conquest. How sad that the very instrument of Christ’s atoning sacrifice was defiled in the name of crusades, inquisitions, pogroms, persecutions, and even the racial hatred of the Ku Klux Klan. How tragic that the cross which for Christians has been the gateway to salvation for all humankind, has cast a long shadow upon Jews, Muslims, and people of other faiths.

The American Clergy Leadership Conference, which is co-sponsoring today’s symposium, is challenging religious leaders not merely to reconsider our symbols, but to reflect upon with what heart we can truly embrace our brothers. Jesus, who is acknowledged in the Koran as strongly as in the Bible, said, "Let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves," while St. Paul encouraged, "…offend no one," and gave the example, "If your brother is offended by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love." Jesus taught the true symbol of the Christian faith: "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another." In this spirit we have assembled a capable and qualified panel of presenters to reconsider the cross in relation to the purpose and mission of Christianity, and the unity of the children of Abraham. How and when did the cross become a symbol of Christianity? What purpose did God have in sending Jesus to mankind? Was the cross the intended will of God? What are the fundamental barriers that divide our community of faith, and how can we tear down these walls?

As you pursue the answers to these crucial questions, I encourage you: do not hesitate to challenge tradition and conventional thinking. We serve a living God, and age to age, that living God has challenged the hearts and minds of believers to climb ever onward and upward as we pursue His will. How difficult was it for the Israelites of Moses’ era to let go of their idols and embrace the law? The scripture records that the religious leaders of Jesus’ time believed his teaching was destroying that very law, even though he came to fulfill it. St. Paul acknowledged that our knowledge is imperfect, our understanding only partial. I trust that the Holy Spirit will guide us in all our deliberations today, but it is our job, as Jesus said, to make fresh wineskins of our hearts and minds, otherwise, they will burst with the new wine.

In preparation for today’s dialogue, most of the Christian pastors who are with us have taken the crosses down from their churches, together with hundreds of Christian leaders across America. This is both a gesture of reconciliation and an acknowledgment that Jesus did not come to this world with the purpose to die on a cross. Just 3 months ago, 130 of these leaders journeyed to the Holy Land, buried the cross in a symbolic ceremony, and participated in an historic reconciliation with hundreds of Jewish and Moslem leaders, in the midst of bombs and bloodshed. Next month, 120 more such pilgrims will join a second pilgrimage to the Middle East, and march side-by-side for peace with their Moslem and Jewish brethren, from Gaza to Gethsemane.

It is a difficult and dangerous time, but Rev. Sun Myung Moon has challenged leaders of these great faiths to tear down the walls and work as one. As Christian leaders turn from the suffering of the cross to the hope of resurrection, and bury their crosses once and for all, and trade the cross for a crown, we must all proclaim an end to the era of bloodshed, suffering and pain, and look toward a new time of resurrection and hope.

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