Interfaith News Roundup
November 15, 2016
Standing Rock, Evangelical Divide, and Pope Francis
United Religions Initiative’s Global Council has taken a stand with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe regarding the contested Dakota Pipeline. On October 1, 2016, URI Global Trustees and Elders Audri Scott Williams and Phil Lane Jr. presented a declaration to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. It said in part, “The United Religions Initiative will pray and stand beside Standing Rock as long as it takes for all Members of our Human Family to fully understand that your struggle is not only for the way of life of the Great Sioux Nation, but for the health, safety and well-being of all current and future generations of the Human Family and Life everywhere on Mother Earth!” Read the full statement here. Early this month a gathering of clergy from all traditions met at the site of the protest to stand with the Sioux.
In a related but underreported story, The Atlantic has a fascinating report about the religious revival going on among the tribes of First Nations in America being fueled by the confrontation at Standing Rock.
David Gushee of Religion News Service pegged it as the “biggest religion news story of the 2016 election is erupting before our eyes” – that is, the fracturing of the Evangelical Christian world over differences about Donald J. Trump. Gushee is a progressive Evangelical himself. A couple of days later Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times detailed the fracturing in an article titled, “Donald Trump Reveals Evangelical Rifts that Could Shape Politics for Years.” (This prognosis must be tempered by the fact that more than 80 percent of Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump.)
Pope Francis’ agenda continues to boggle the mind. Earlier this month, he traveled to Sweden to initiate a yearlong healing process between Protestants and Catholics who parted ways 500 years ago. This concerted move to heal the division between Catholicism and Protestantism may be the most important “intrafaith” Christian project in centuries. It is consonant with Francis’ pastoral, healing activities. It has drawn considerable criticism from Catholic conservatives, as well as deep appreciation from progressive believers.
In more papal news, Francis celebrated mass for 1,100 inmates invited from 12 countries, mostly held in Italian jails, using the occasion to decry the mistreatment of prisoners and the death penalty. And he also hosted a conference on how rare, neglected diseases can decimate the poor.
News-notes from Around the World
The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, a small nation in Africa’s Western Sahara, recently held its eleventh major interfaith dialogue, attended by government officials, academics, religious leaders, and interreligious activists. Their subject: refugees in divine books. Is anyone listening?
A startling find from a recent poll indicated that nearly a quarter of all parents in the UK are reluctant to share their faith with their children for fear the kids will be ostracized at school. The figure rose to 36 percent for Christians, and up to 69 for other religions. They also reported being afraid to have to face questions they couldn’t answer, and more than a third suspected that social media would have a stronger influence of the offspring than their parents. Another sign that religion in the English-speaking world and most of Europe is going through hard times.
By contrast, though, interfaith activity seems to be alive and well in the UK, especially among the young. National Interfaith Week is being celebrated this month, including a youth-focused Interfaith Summit being held in London. On the agenda: “post-Brexit community relations, responses to the refugee crisis, and mental health, identity, and discrimination.”
Pew Research reports that one-quarter of marriages in the United States are interreligious, and one in five adults reports growing up in religious mixed families. That’s but the tip of the iceberg of findings in this extensive study of religion in American families.
The most disheartening story this past month was an escalation of violence against Hindus in Bangladesh. Fifteen temples have been vandalized, more than 100 Hindu homes have been looted, and the Hindu community has been terrorized. The extremist Muslim movement called Jamaat-e-Islamihas has been blamed for the violence. It parallels violence against Buddhists four years ago. Both outbreaks were blamed on Facebook pages which allegedly were blasphemous. In this month’s attacks the government has moved swiftly, and dozens have been arrested, many connected to fundamentalist Muslim schools known as madrassas. Pakistan is also going after terrorists and the schools that train them.
Cyprus is taking a tangible step towards interfaith harmony between Muslims and Orthodox Christians through the renovation of the ancient, highly revered monastery of Apostolos Andreas. One of the Muslim planners noted that “while monuments in nearby war-torn Syria are being destroyed as an attack on a people's identity, work being done in Cyprus illustrates that a common cultural heritage can unite people of different faiths.”
The Smithsonian Association in Washington DC has selected its first permanent curator of religion, Peter Manseau, author of One Nation, Many Gods (2011). A major exhibit of religion in early America is scheduled for 2017.
On October 18, Sir Sigmund Sternberg, an internationally renowned interfaith champion, died at the age of 95. Sir Sigmund was known for his legislative career in England, philanthropy, and as a major voice in the Jewish community. He is particularly known for bringing reconciliation and friendly relationships between Roman Catholicism and Judaism.
And how is this for some startling good news, especially for the faithful. “If one could conceive of a single elixir to improve the physical and mental health of millions of Americans — at no personal cost — what value would our society place on it?” So begins an intriguing article that religious practitioners (and anyone wishing to live longer) deserve to read!