Interfaith News Roundup - December 2016

Interfaith News Roundup

December 15, 2016

Global Warming, Pilgrims and Progress

No one has had a tougher time living with the results of the recent U.S. presidential election than climate activists. Their cause is linked to an inexorable time-line threatening humankind. So delay, just as global momentum for change seems to be swelling, is disastrous, and Donald Trump has championed fossil fuels. In “Global Warming: Where the Arc of the Moral Universe Stops” Mark Silk makes a strong case that the ignored issue of the past election is the most important of all: “Global warming – let’s stop calling it ‘climate change’ is more important than immigration, manufacturing jobs, Obamacare, ISIS, financial regulation, religious liberty, Medicare, abortion, black lives matter, and the white working class. It will destroy the moral universe itself, so far as it exists on this planet.” Agree or disagree, the stakes have never been higher. Mark Silk makes a strong case that the ignored issue of the past election is the most important of all

So, no surprise, faith and interfaith climate-change leaders are girding themselves for a government whose goals fly in the face of much of what has been achieved in recent years. Lauren Markoe’s report surveys the magnitude of this change but also conveys hope and perseverance from the nation’s leading environmental voices. And a bit of good news about global warming: at Donald Trump’s sit-down with the New York Times, he is reported to have said “I have an open mind” about the Paris climate accords. And in the believe it or not category, The Hill and Politico reported in early December that Ivanka Trump, the president-elect’s daughter, wants to champion fighting climate change as a ‘signature’ role in her faither’s administration. Wow!

Millions work their way towards the     Imam Husayn Shrine  in  Karbala . – Wikimedia,  Denny Cantrell

Millions work their way towards the  Imam Husayn Shrine in Karbala. – Wikimedia, Denny Cantrell

Approximately 20 million Shiite Muslims gathered last month for the annual pilgrimage to Karbala, Iraq, the largest march in the world. They came in spite of the inherent risks – 80 returning pilgrims were reported killed by ISIS forces, who consider Shia Islam heretical. The pilgrimage, or Arbaeen, commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussein bin Ali, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, who fell in battle in 680 CE.  Visiting his shrine marks the conclusion of a 40-day period of Shiite mourning for Ali. The Washington Post did a remarkable opinion poll at last year’s Arbaeen, providing important leaven given our habit of thinking of religious groups as monolithic.

A third of the goals of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships have been achieved, detailed in a 72-page report. The achievements have been considerable. Rev. Jennifer Butler, who chaired the Council, says a Donald Trump presidency does not necessarily consign the report and its recommendations to the dustbin of history. “We want to work with the future administration on the recommendations that we made. We’ll make a good-faith effort to do that,” she said.

Muslim chaplains at 40 private universities and colleges are serving as critical spiritual ombudsmen, reports the New York Times. They serve Muslim students by helping them relate to a multicultural environment, and they serve non-Muslims through developing friendships and collaborative relationships with their Muslim members.

Standing Rock and Global Indigenous Rights

Chief Sitting Bull (c. 1831-1890), was a  Hunkpapa   Lakota  chief and  holy man . The Hunkpapa were part of the Great Sioux Nation, and Standing Rock was one of their homes. Sitting Bull is buried in the currently occupied land. – Photo: Wikipedia, public domain.

Chief Sitting Bull (c. 1831-1890), was a Hunkpapa Lakota chief and holy man. The Hunkpapa were part of the Great Sioux Nation, and Standing Rock was one of their homes. Sitting Bull is buried in the currently occupied land. – Photo: Wikipedia, public domain.

Months ago a little noticed protest was raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the completion of a 1,172 mile oil pipeline running from upper North Dakota, through South Dakota, across Iowa and into southern Illinois. The pipeline would transport 500,000 barrels of crude oil a day. The Sioux complaint is based on endangering their source of water by sinking the pipe under Lake Oahe, near their reservation, in violation of an 1851 treaty. They protested, as well, about the desecration of sacred land, including burial grounds.

The story would not go away. Hundreds of U.S. Native American tribes sent representatives to the protest, an unparalleled collaborative gesture among Indigenous traditions. A group of 100 clergy from different faiths visited to stand in solidarity, and the United Religions Initiative Global Council passed a Statement of Support and sent representatives to North Dakota to support the protest.

Collectively they have been resisted by representatives of the pipeline owner, Energy Transfer Partners, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, militarized police, and the local sheriff’s staff (which has made over 500 arrests). They have been asked to disperse with tear gas, rubber bullets, water hoses (used during freezing conditions), aggressive dogs, and supposedly non-lethal weapons. The video embedded here shows how tough the struggle has been.

The story keeps growing as members of Indigenous traditions from around the world join them in solidarity to champion indigenous rights. Sami representatives from Norway, indigenous representatives from Malaysia to Columbia, among many other countries, have showed up. The Sioux have also taken the issue to the United Nations which, in the past, has officially supported such rights in its Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The UN received the delegation with a sympathetic ear but took no action.

Pray With Standing Rock is organizing prayer and meditation groups around the world through social media. Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s “The Dakota Access Pipeline isn’t just about the environment. It’s about religion” in the Washington Post is one of the best interfaith stories of 2016. She takes on the remarkable and complex world of Native American religion and spirituality for readers who haven’t a clue. 

The Obama administration’s U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision ten days ago to seek an alternative route for the pipeline is a huge win for the Standing Rock protestors and an historic symbol that human values can still trump economic values. The huge interfaith response in North Dakota – historic.  Clearly though, we’ve not heard the end to this story. 

TIO has a long record of articles about Indigenous traditions and their relationship to dominant religions and land rights in the countries they’ve always called home. See especially the February 2015 issue (which looks a bit awkward since it has not been reformatted in TIO’s new platform yet).

Mark Trayhant, a professor of journalism at the University of North Dakota, widens the discussion by observing that Standing Rock is a ‘rubber meets the road’ moment for American willingness to back off from global warming. 


Stop the Hate Movement Accelerates

The sad decline in the quality of community relations in Brexit UK invaded the United States in the week following last month’s election. In a USA Today story, Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in Montgomery, Ala., reports that “Since the election, we've seen a big uptick in incidents of vandalism, threats, intimidation spurred by the rhetoric surrounding Mr. Trump's election. The white supremacists out there are celebrating his victory and many are feeling their oats,” Cohen said. Two weeks following the election, as the hate numbers continued to spiral up, SPLC, The American Federation of Teachers, and The Huffington Post joined to circulate a petition – Tell Trump to #StopTheHate – calling on the president elect to make stopping racial and religiously motivated violence one of his highest priorities.

Want to get involved in your own community? SPLC has published Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide. Also see the Albert Einstein Institution’s 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action, all summarized on two pages! The Institution’s other resources fill in the details.

How should interfaith activists respond to bigotry on the web, to anonymous, vicious participants bent on promoting hate? Indonesia social media activists have come up with some remarkably creative ways to deal with digital nastiness, and having a laugh or two along the way.

California has passed a law protecting Muslim and Sikh students from bullying. The new law – the Safe Place to Learn Act, or AB 2845 – came following a study finding that 55 percent of Muslim and 50 percent of Sikh students have suffered some kind of discrimination at school.

With the sad news of accelerating hate-crime, it was heartening to hear about a different kind of vandalism at the Mubarak Mosque in Chantilly, Virginia. The graffiti that showed up one morning was done in chalk, not paint, and it contained warm, welcoming messages, including “You are loved,” quite a contrast to the $60,000 of arson damage the Mosque suffered four years ago when it was being constructed. Member Hebbi Iqbal said, welcoming the change, said “At the end of the day these are the bonds that will unite us against any forces seeking to destroy.”

And moving from the local to the global, Religions for Peace, partnering with the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and the University of Notre Dame, is launching a new initiative to develop a moral consensus around the great challenges related to sustainable and integral development, and to convert this consensus into concrete action. Called Ethics in Action for Sustainable and Integral Development, the initiative is a major international, collaborative effort to take on some of humankind’s toughest problems. A huge step in the right direction. Inaugurated on October 30 at the Vatican, its first session focused on poverty and social exclusion. 

Sending love, prayers, condolences

Paul and Sybil Eppinger at a dinner high over Toronto at the conclusion of the North American Interfaith Network ’ s 2013 NAINConnect – Photo: Paul Chaffee

Paul and Sybil Eppinger at a dinner high over Toronto at the conclusion of the North American Interfaith Networks 2013 NAINConnect – Photo: Paul Chaffee

Last November 10 the interfaith community around the world lost Paul Eppinger, 83, a dear friend and champion of diversity, justice, and civility. An American Baptist clergyman, Paul served four pastorates and became deeply involved ecumenically, eventually becoming executive director of the Arizona Ecumenical Council.

Dr. Eppinger went on to found the Arizona Interfaith Movement, one of the strongest, best-funded regional interfaith projects in the country. And he was happy to share the cause wide and far. He could be found lecturing at the Australia Parliament of the World’s Religions and serving on the North American Interfaith Network board of directors. AIM was a United Religions Initiative cooperation circle. Through it all, Paul had a down-home friendliness, an entrepreneur’s organizational genius, and a deeply rooted passion for an interfaith world that works. He will be missed.

Since the November presidential election, faith and interfaith groups have been collectively scratching their heads and sending out posts about how to continue their work. One of most powerful rejoinders came from Victor Kazanjian, executive director of United Religions Initiative. He sent a post to URI’s 800+ Cooperation Circles and asked that they share it with their interfaith neighbors. The document is filled with magnificent photos and an inspiring challenge. Designed for the URI community, it speaks to all who yearn for a healthy, vital interfaith culture. Full disclosure: TIO has been a Cooperation Circle of URI since it began publishing.

Header Photo: Climate Change March Vista – Photo: Stanley Zimney, Cc.2.0