I haven’t been able to find anything about last night’s dinner between the Iranian president and various Christian types and others in the mainstream press yet, so I’ll have to go with a story from the Mennonite Central Committee:

Arli Klassen, executive director of Mennonite Central Committee, gave welcoming remarks on behalf of the sponsoring organizations. She lit an oil lamp as a symbol of faith and invited participants to reflect on peacemaking from their own faith perspectives.

“As a Christian, I believe that we are following Jesus Christ’s example and his teaching as we eat together and hold this dialogue despite our many differences,” Klassen said.

Klassen noted several areas of high tension in relations between Iran, the United States and other nations. Addressing President Ahmadinejad, Klassen raised concerns about his statements on the Holocaust and Israel, Iran’s nuclear program and religious freedom in Iran.

“We ask you to find a way within your own country to allow for religious diversity, and to allow people to make their own choices as to which religion they will follow,” Klassen said.

Ahmadinejad will no doubt respond, “you didn’t say ‘please’.” Given recent developments in Iran regarding religious freedom, or rather the lack thereof, this seems like a pretty lame request.

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, a leader in the Jewish Renewal movement, spoke about Jewish traditions of peacemaking and nonviolence and drew upon her work for reconciliation between Muslims and Jews and Palestinians and Israelis. She also spoke about the significance of mourning the deaths of all victims of war, including the millions of people killed in the Holocaust, World War II and wars in Iran and Iraq.

“Because of the Holocaust, I learned from the rabbis who ordained and guide me, to be active in preventing further suffering of all human beings as a primary religious call to action,” Gottlieb said.

Rabbi Gottlieb is making the questionable assumption that Iran’s leading anti-Semite believes that the Holocaust took place, or, if it did, that it was a bad thing. As for “preventing further suffering of all human beings,” once again, that’s a meaningless response to the tyranny of Ahmadinejad and his buddies.

Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, spoke about Islamic principles for alleviating poverty, caring for the environment and working for peace and justice. He encouraged his interreligious audience to cooperate more closely toward these goals.

“Has not God created us?” Awad said. “Yes — and he wants us to work together.”

One can always count on CAIR to try to help others understand and appreciate Islamic fundamentalist dictators.

Although Klassen, the Rev. [Kjell] Bondevik [former prime minister of Norway] and others raised concerns about religious freedoms and human rights in Iran, President Ahmadinejad did not address these issues directly.

Gee, what a surprise.

President Ahmadinejad spoke at length about theological issues, such as monotheism, justice and commonalities among religions.

“All divine prophets have spoken of one truth,” the president said. “The religion of Islam is the same as that offered by Moses.”

Which would be a big surprise to Moses, I suspect.

President Ahmadinejad spoke in broad terms about “challenges facing the human community,” including poverty, declining morality and a lack of religion in public life. He decried the humanitarian costs of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon and spoke extensively about the hardships suffered by Palestinians. He criticized nations such as the United States for maintaining nuclear weapons and did not deviate from his previous statements that Iran’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Look! Over there! A bunny!

The evening’s program ran later than scheduled, and President Ahmadinejad departed shortly after concluding his remarks without taking questions from the audience as had been planned.

Again, what a surprise. I can’t help but think that his hosts breathed a heavy sigh of relief when he left, knowing that they were spared the necessity of actually questioning any of his nonsense. I’m sure this evening will soon be trumpeted as a triumph of good-will and dialogue, even if there wasn’t actually any of the latter.

UPDATE: The Layman Online reports that in addition to the sponsors, the PCUSA sent three representatives to the dinner. Joel Hanisek of the PCUSA’s UN office, said that a primary reason for going “revolved around the arrest of an Irani minister who has close ties to the Outreach Foundation, an evangelical mission-sending agency:”

“We will raise the issue of Rev. Soodmand,” Hanisek said, adding that he did not know the minister’s first name. “Rev. Soodman is being detained and is imprisoned by the Iranian government. We are aware that the constitution of Iran grants freedom of religion.”

I hope that Hanisek was able to talk to Ahmadinejad about Pastor Soodmand and win his freedom. Given what we know about the dinner, I’m afraid it was a forlorn hope.