I'm a visiting scholar at Yale Divinity School, not a student, and as a Quaker I can't be ordained, so I delete most of the institutional email notices unread. Vestments and books on preaching and counseling can change hands at astonishingly low prices, the Reverend Mister Manners can strike again and again with sessions to prepare for interviews with parishes, and the Thou Shalt Kill volleyball team can massacre its rivals from other Yale professional schools, all without concerning me. But I eagerly read the announcement that came in July of this year about the first conference to follow from the document called "A Common Word Between Us and You." That public expression by Muslim leaders of their solidarity with Christians had received a warm response from Western churches and universities, and now the conference was warmly entitled "Loving God and Neighbor in Word and Deed: Implications for Christians and Muslims."I recalled my excitement about the many luminaries' denial that there was any need for Christians and Muslims to be at each other's throats; I had been proud of the role played by Yale religious scholars. I now wanted to attend the conference and help to assure the guests of Christian goodwill ...
But as I learned to my anger, neither I nor any other ordinary members of the Divinity School community could attend any panels of "Loving God and Neighbor." All of them were closed—extremely unusual for this institution. The purpose of Dean Harold Attridge's email was not invitation but warning: "I am writing today to let you know how these events might impact life on the [Yale Divinity School] Quad" (his emphasis).
He continued in normal font. "Firstly, some of you have been asking about any adjustments regarding dress or behavior that might make both you and our guests feel more comfortable during their visit here. I have attached for your information a document prepared by the Reconciliation Program at YCFC [Yale Center for Faith and Culture] to guide all staff directly associated with the upcoming workshop and conference in regard to dress and behavior."
My anger grew as I read the attachment, with its tips that would make me almost legal on the streets of Tehran, but quite uncomfortable running errands in the Quad, among my friends and in the middle of the summer:Because we seek to have a ministry of reconciliation, it is our aim to defer to our guests' [author's emphasis] sense of propriety whenever possible, by behaving and dressing in a manner that reflects the honor and dignity we wish to bestow upon our guests. In this specific context, Muslims and Christians are working together to organize this conference, but Christians are the primary hosts, meaning that during this conference we deferentially choose to define "decency," "honor" and "modesty" by what our Muslim guests consider "decent," "honorable" and "modest" (rather than by our own culture's definitions), giving new cultural expression to the dignity and respectability with which we normally conduct ourselves.
When last I checked, the world-wide norm of hospitality was that the guest accepts the way things are done where he is visiting (not that he himself should have to do anything forbidden to him at home) or stays away. But here we were being asked to "defer" in all "definitions"—not just in our actions, that is, but in our thoughts. (This, I guess, would make Yemeni "honor killings" of young women, on the suspicion of sexual impropriety or merely to cover up their rape by their brothers, honorable in our minds.) We were to do this merely to allow meetings between some of our associates and people who would not, for fear of defilement, enter the same building we entered in our usual clothes and with our usual manners.
Are there any moderate Muslim political organizations, academic institutions, media outlets, or governments, anywhere in the world, of any demonstrable size and authority, who are moderate?
I don't think so.
And, if that is true, then who is our partner for peace?