Tolerance in the Theology and Thought of A. J. Conyers and Fethullah Gülen

In his book The Long Truce (Spence Publishing, 2001) the late A. J. Conyers argues that tolerance, as practiced in western democracies, is not a public virtue; it is a political strategy employed to establish power and guarantee profits. Tolerance, of course, seemed to be a reasonable response to the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but tolerance based upon indifference to all values except political power and materialism relegated ultimate questions of meaning to private life. Conyers offers another model for tolerance based upon values and resources already resident in pre-Reformation Christianity. In this paper, we consider Conyer’s case against the modern, secular form of tolerance and its current practice. We examine his attempt to reclaim the practice of Christian tolerance based upon humility, hospitality and the “powerful fact” of the incarnation. Furthermore, we bring the late Conyers into dialog with Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim scholar, prolifi c writer and the source of inspiration for a transnational civil society movement. We explore how both Conyers and Gülen interpret their scriptures in order to fashion a theology and political ideology conducive to peaceful co-existence. Finally, because Gülen’s identity has been formed within the Sufi tradition, we reflect on the spiritual resources within Sufispirituality that make dialog and toleration key values for him.

by Dr. Ali Ünsal