D.C. MULDER [*]
Nobody will deny that in the Middle East the relation between Christians and Muslims has been a most important issue for a long time. In the second part of the last century the relation between Christians and Jews became a hot issue because of the establishment of the state of Israel and the severe tensions between the Israeli Jews and the Palestinians, and the Arab world in general. In Western Europe it is the other way round. There, relations between Christians and Jews have a long history full of tension, whereas the relations between Christians and Muslims are a new phenomenon ever since the 1860s, when hundreds of thousands of Muslims, mainly from Middle Eastern countries, migrated as so-called guest-workers to countries like Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. After some time it became clear that most of them had come to stay. These developments make it worthwhile to exchange experiences and insights in an ecumenical-theological conversation between Christians from the Middle East and from Western Eur ope about their relations with Jews and Muslims.
It so happened that in 1990 an official delegation of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) visited the Netherlands at the invitation of the Council of Churches in the Netherlands (CCN). During that visit some theological discussions took place between the guests and the hosts, more especially about their respective views on the relation of the church and the Jewish people. Time was too short on that occasion for serious deliberations and that is why both the MECC and CCN thought it valuable to create an opportunity for a more thorough consultation about this issue of the relation between Christians and Jews, a subject of vital importance for the churches, in both the Middle East and the Netherlands, and in Western Europe in general.
In May 1993 this idea was implemented for the first time by way of a consultation held at Limassol, Cyprus. That consultation was followed by a second conference which took place at Oegstgeest, the Netherlands, August 31-September 2, 1995. Both conferences concentrated on the relation of Christians and Jews. The third encounter was held recently, at Amman, Jordan, September 2-5, 1999. This time it was decided not only to deal with relations between Christians and Jews, but also between Christians and Muslims. In this article I will try to describe the process of the three conferences. I begin with a short exposition of the difference of contexts in the Netherlands and in the Middle East. It is obvious that this difference had a thorough impact on all our deliberations during the three encounters.
Everybody will agree that the context of the Middle East is totally different from the context of the Netherlands (and Western Europe in general). To start with the Dutch context, I limit myself to the relation between Christians and Jews and between Christians and Muslims. A lecture was given in Amman about the context of Dutch society in general. In Cyprus we had started with an exposition of the special features of the relation of Christians and Jews in the Netherlands. Especially in Calvinist circles (the majority of Dutch Protestants are of Calvinistic background) there has always been a keen interest in the Old Testament and the Jewish people. In earlier times this led to a "mission amongst the Jews," an effort to convince Jews that they should accept Jesus as Messiah and Saviour. It also led to a situation where Jews found a safe haven in Dutch society. There have been no pogroms in Dutch society for a long time and since the early nineteenth century -- since Napoleon! -- Jews have been fully accepted.
Then came the Nazi occupation and the Shoah (the holocaust). In 1940 there were about 140,000 Jews in the Netherlands, by the end of Nazi occupation only 30,000 had survived. As a result there is a strong sense of guilt among Dutch Christians. …