Interfaith News Roundup - January 2017

Interfaith News Roundup

January 15, 2017

More from Standing Rock

Standing Rock Interfaith Prayer Ceremony (URI)

Last month TIO reported on the Standing Rock protest which, at least for the time, has delayed the final construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and Frederica Helmiere’s remarkable “Praying Our Way towards Justice at Standing Rock” was featured. There have been other stellar articles about the spiritual depth of this seminal moment in interfaith history. In particular, see “How Standing Rock Became a Site of Pilgrimage” by Rosalyn LaPier, from Harvard University; “What I Learned about Movement and Stillness at Standing Rock” by Sari Heidenreich of United Religions Initiative; and “Sioux Anti-pipeline Action Sustained by Native American Spirituality” by Emily Miller of Religious News Service. 

Good News and Bad

Except for the continuing tragedies of war and refugees spotting the globe, ‘good’ news interfaith stories prevailed over ‘bad’ ones this past month. Once again, though, Ahmadi Muslims are being persecuted by Sunni extremists in Pakistan. Two thousand Sunnis recently descended on an Ahmadi mosque throwing rocks and shooting worshipers for celebrating the birthday of Muhammad in a “blasphemous manner.”

The Ahmadi branch of Islam differs from the rest of the tradition in believing that there is an additional authentic prophet, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835–1908), after Muhammad. (It’s important for local interfaith activists to understand the emotional differences between Ahmadi communities and other Muslim communities. Be sensitive to the differences as you seek to engage both in your own setting.)

On a happier note, in Strengthening Singapore's Interreligious Ecology,” Professor Mohammad Alami Musa makes the case that “interreligious networks can transform conflicts into peace-building opportunities.” At a time when religious voices enjoy little power in most countries, the influence of interfaith organizing can be positive, though Musa doesn’t deny how difficult the challenge remains.   

President Obama has signed a strengthened International Religious Freedom Act that includes non-theists, atheists, and humanists in the language. The original 1998 bill, which established the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom, had not included them, and a long four-year campaign by humanist and atheist groups led to the strengthening. Professor Caroline Corbin, law professor at the University of Miami, said “It takes an expansive view of religious liberty, saying freedom of religion is not just about the right to practice religion. It is also about the right to have your own views about religion including being agnostic and atheistic.”

Professor Ting Wu, who teaches genetics education at Harvard Medical School, is working hard to bring religious leaders together with geneticists to learn about the huge ethical questions being generated by genetics. In particular, the ability to easily edit DNA, Wu argues, means that “a basic knowledge of genetics must surpass the walls of special summits and academic journals. Amen. 

Sad to say, after 20 years of programs and 200 journalism awards, “Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly” will be coming to an end early next year. With so little good interfaith programming on television, losing this long-term PBS project is a sad development, though their website and archives will remain available.

At the same time, new media are creating new religious and interreligious communication opportunities. Virtual reality (VR) cameras enable the viewer have the sense of actually being in the picture. Already the life of Christ has been filmed in a 360-degree camera, as we learn in “Strapping on the Sacred: When Religion Enters Virtual Reality.”   

Washington Post’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey lines up her prognostication of the big news stories coming in 2017, with most of them related to religion, one way or another. Should be a wild year for faith and interfaith leaders and organizations!

Mark Zuckerberg – Photo: Wikipedia, Flickr

Mark Zuckerberg – Photo: Wikipedia, Flickr

Let’s finally put to rest the notion that religion doesn’t receive enough media attention. Though who could have imagined what was to come? Instead of a few dozen news sources, now we have thousands, which come with unexpected consequences.

For instance, hundreds of millions of people paid attention and began global conversations when Facebook founder and philanthropist Mark Zuckerberg announced that he now believes religion is very important. Long a self-identified atheist, he sent out holiday cards saying “Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah.” Questioned about the message, he responded saying, “I was raised Jewish and then I went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important.” Julie Zauzmer’s Washington Post article discusses the implications of Zuckerberg’s conversion and goes on to explore why anger is so ubiquitous in religious social media.  

Preparing for a New American Government

Thousands of conversations among liberals and progressives have been racing through communities focused on 2017. Religion News Service gathered a high-powered group of religious journalists to get a handle on a world with Donald Trump as president. An hour-and-a-quarter video embedded here of their conversation is very much worth watching if you are concerned.

Jack Jenkins had a fascinating piece in the Washington Post last month about the many ways progressives are starting to make their influence felt in the body politic of America. Most of his many examples turn out to be interfaith or interfaith-friendly ventures. He writes that “modern progressive faith circles … typically operate as interfaith coalitions of Christians, Jews, Muslims and other groups (including atheists) who unite around broadly shared concerns like immigration, LGBTQ rights and poverty.” The past American election has lit a fire under these concerns, and new movements are growing.

Forty Chicago religious leaders spoke to a packed-out church late last year pledging their support for the immigrant communities within their city and “to denounce what they say is ‘divisive anti-immigrant rhetoric’ stemming from the 2016 presidential campaign.” The leaders came from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh traditions. They intend to oppose a registry, support immigrants and refugees, and push for accommodating religious practices in the workplace. The good news is that this corporate response at the local level is happening in hundreds of communities across the United States. They get precious little national attention; this Chicago story came from

New York Times’ Laurie Goodstein writes that “Both Feeling Threatened, American Muslims and Jews Join Hands.” A number of Jewish-Muslim coalitions are developing, many of them nurtured by the Sisterhood of Salam-Shalom. With 50 chapters in more than 20 states, the Sisterhood recently had its third annual conference in New Jersey. “Nearly 500 Muslim and Jewish women, many wearing head scarves and skullcaps, gathered … in what organizers said was the largest such meeting ever held in the United States.”

Nationally distinguished environmentalist Michael Melampy finds the silver lining in a Trump administration in the opportunity to build institutional bridges among different constituencies, all of which consider global warming a preeminent concern of our times.

Header Photo: Charter of Compassion, Sisterhood of Salam-Shalom