AKRON, Pa. – Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is co-sponsoring a dialogue with international political and religious leaders that is intended to build peace and understanding between societies that are often divided by animosity.
The dialogue is scheduled to take place on Sept. 25 in New York and will include Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and political and religious leaders from Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions, in addition to leaders from other faiths.
The theme of the dialogue is "Has not one God created us? The significance of religious contributions to peace."
MCC is co-sponsoring this dialogue out of a commitment to follow Jesus Christ's way of peace, according to Arli Klassen, MCC's executive director.
"As Christians, we take Jesus' Sermon on the Mount very seriously and say 'Love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you,'" Klassen said. "Right now the U.S. and Iran are defining each other as enemies and so, as Christians, we are trying to promote dialogue, understanding and bridge-building, rather than leading to war."
The dialogue is co-sponsored by American Friends Service Committee, MCC, Quaker United Nations Office, Religions for Peace and World Council of Churches, Commision of the Churches on International Affairs, in consultation with the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations.
This event will be MCC's fourth encounter with the Iranian president since 2006. Previous meetings have focused on barriers to peace between Iran and the West, including mutual suspicion and hostile rhetoric.
"Many persons around the world have interpreted your public rhetoric as a threat to destroy the state of Israel," said Ron Flaming, MCC's director of international programs, in a September 2007 meeting with President Ahmadinejad.
"This does not match what some of us have heard you say privately, where you stated that there is not a military solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict," Flaming said. "If it is not your intention to destroy Israel, for the sake of understanding, for the sake of peace, for the sake of a bridge, we urge you to clearly and publicly say so."
MCC is facing some public criticism for co-sponsoring the Sept. 25 dialogue out of a misconception that it is meant to honor President Ahmadinejad. The dialogue is intended to be a respectful conversation about the need for religious involvement in peacemaking, and it is not intended to honor the president or any other individual, Klassen said.
"It doesn't mean that we agree or support everything or anything that the person does, but it does mean that we recognize their humanity, and that God has created us all, and that we need to find ways to live together," Klassen said.
MCC is an 88-year-old relief, development and peace-building agency of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches in the United States and Canada. These denominations are part of the historic peace church tradition that emphasizes nonviolent conflict resolution as an integral part of Christian faith.
More information about the dialogue will be posted here after the event.
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