Interfaith News Roundup - December 2017

Interfaith News Roundup

December 15, 2017

New Interfaith Activism

Chloe Breyer, executive director of the Interfaith Center of New York, wrote the following in the ICNY December newsletter: “Dear Friends ~ According to Twitter’s Hateful Conduct policy, users 'may not . . . attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease.' So earlier this week, when President Donald Trump re-tweeted violent and misleadingly-identified Islamophobic videos (winning the praise of former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke!), Twitter should simply have deleted them. By using his presidential pulpit to insinuate that millions of our Muslim neighbors – whose workplaces, schools, and voting booths we share – pose the same threat as an extremist Syrian ISIS follower, Trump abused his power and violated Twitter policy.

Clergy in Charlottesville counter the alt-right white supremensists. – Photo: CBS News Video

Clergy in Charlottesville counter the alt-right white supremensists. – Photo: CBS News Video

“If you agree that Trump’s hateful re-tweets should be removed, you can write to: Jack Dorsey, Chief Executive Officer, Twitter, 1355 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103. Or if you’re on Twitter, tweet directly at Jack Dorsey and his colleagues, and tell them to stop Trump from spreading hate speech. Or you can also sign the M-Power on-line petition.”

CBS television in the U.S. deserves kudos for seriously covering religion (occasionally). The network’s December 3 half-hour “Faith on the Frontlines,” covering the recent riots in Charlottesville, is illuminating. Anyone who depended on written rather than televised reporting about Charlottesville would be stunned to see the severity and intensity of the violent encounters between the alt-right and counter-demonstrators. The courageous cohort of clergy from different traditions who stood up against the violence was deeply moving.

Biswadeb Chokraborty (l.) and a Muslim leader signing the pledge to support interfaith harmony. – Photo: URI

Biswadeb Chokraborty (l.) and a Muslim leader signing the pledge to support interfaith harmony. – Photo: URI

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize five days ago. One of the first responses came from the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) Buddhist association, congratulating ICAN and making a plea that humankind “realize the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons embodied in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which the UN adopted last July.” A Washington Post story explains how the Treaty works and why the U.S. and a number of its allies oppose the Treaty.

India has been going through its own interfaith traumas, most recently regarding interfaith marriages (mostly Hindu-Muslim). Prime Minister Modi seems to be promoting Hindu exceptionalism in a constitutionally secular nation, despite claiming to stand for interreligious tolerance. So it is heartening to hear, above the hubbub, about strong grassroots interfaith activity in India. URI (United Religions Initiative) East India, Biswadeb Chokroborty reports, regularly celebrates the leaders of the world’s religions, and earlier this month held up Mohammed’s birth at an event with the theme “Creating Circles of Hope – Connecting to the Oneness.” The day included signing a pledge to support interfaith harmony. More than 1,000 signed it, until they ran out of paper! Next year they plan to bring more.

Back at School

Students in the pilot interfaith writing program for eighth graders – Photo: Andrea Cantor, Philadelphia Weekly.

Students in the pilot interfaith writing program for eighth graders – Photo: Andrea Cantor, Philadelphia Weekly.

Witnessing the failure through the decades to create peace in the Middle East, more and more people of faith are creating projects that demonstrate how interfaith peace is actually possible. LaSalle College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has organized a year-long intensive interfaith writing program for 50 13-year-old eighth graders. The students are drawn from three schools, one Christian, one Jewish, and one Muslim. Sharing each other’s stories in an interactive learning environment and writing about it is the goal.

Discussions about Donald Trump preoccupied the thousands attending last month’s annual American Academy of Religion meetings. Trump’s name showed up 27 times in workshop titles, and religious scholars who pride themselves on being observers were challenged time and again to become activists. David Gushee, incoming president of the AAR, said the academics were “shocked” by the  “white American Christian tribalism” of the current administration. He said, “Publishing and teaching are no longer enough to combat forces that distort religious teachings, omit the social justice message of religion, and instead support a racist, sexist and Islamophobic vision of America.”

A distinguished group of Catholic clerics and laypeople have petitioned Pope Francis to remove the “monitum” warning Catholics that the writings of Father Teilhard de Chardin are dangerous and not to be trusted. The official warning was issued in 1962 by the Holy Office. But the four popes since then have all had good things to say about Chardin, who continues to have a strong influence on Catholic theology. (See TIO’s article last September by Marcus Braybrooke on Teilhard’s vision.)

Living at Risk

Orang Rimba children in Indonesia – Photo: Suku Anak Dalam,

Orang Rimba children in Indonesia – Photo: Suku Anak Dalam,

The most poignant story to cross this desk in the past month comes from the BBC. It begins this way: “The Sumatran rainforests of Indonesia are home to the Orang Rimba – the people of the jungle. Their faith and nomadic way of life are not recognised by the state and, as their forests are destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations, many are being forced to convert to Islam to survive.” Three months ago 58 families in one tribe coverted en masse to Islam to survive. Trees are sacred to the indigenous peoples, and they are being cut down to make way for millions of Palm trees.

But lest you think that oppression always comes from the dominant tradition, the theme of the third International Conference on Religious Freedom earlier this month was “Persecution of Christians in the Holy Lands and the Middle East: Consequences and Solutions.” In part it was a response to the Pew Research Center’s discovery that Christians are persecuted in 60 countries, more than any other faith.  

Katy Watson, BBC South America correspondent, begins a Brazilian theater review this way:

“Jesus is standing at the altar in a sparkly gold dress and heels. Her wavy brown hair falls mid-way down her back. She breaks bread and passes it around the congregation in the pews, some of whom are sipping communion wine too. Confused? Actress Renata Carvalho is playing the role of Jesus, a transgender Christ who is telling Bible stories with a modern take.    …    ‘We were attacked by evangelical churches mostly,’ says the play’s director, Natalia Mallo. ‘With Jesus embodied in a trans woman, it addresses all the oppression and violence suffered by this population.’” (More than 170 transgender people have been killed this year in Brazil.)

Many Christians would consider “The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven” blasphemous. At the same time, many Christians will see in this drama the hard truths about the lives of people we collectively oppress, people that Jesus seemed attracted to. The play has Brazil aroil. It was banned but the ban was overturned.

** ** **

Interfaith Department of Scarboro Missions Is Closing

 After a 20-year run, the Interfaith Department of Scarboro Missions in Toronto is closing its doors at the end of December. Under the leadership of Paul McKenna, Scarboro’s interfaith achievements have been historic, beginning with the Golden Rule poster project. Now published in nine languages, and inspiring a pan-African version which is distributing 750,000 copies, the effort has become the largest discrete interfaith project in the world. It inspires students, families, and congregations everywhere and from most traditions to be kind to each other. And all delivered on a miniscule budget, a tiny staff, and an abundance of passionate commitment to a better world.

Representatives of the 13 religions represented on the Golden Rule poster – Photo: Scarboro Missions

Representatives of the 13 religions represented on the Golden Rule poster – Photo: Scarboro Missions

Scarboro’s interfaith’s work has gone far beyond the posters. Golden Rule background material is offered in depth on the web. Thousands of public school students have been to Scarboro’s day-long interfaith dialogue program, which students love. Scarboro has digitally published several dozen curated interfaith dialogue curricula, providing excellent guidance amidst the confounding library of resources available. It’s all free for the downloading. The interfaith office is closing because Scarboro Missions itself, a Catholic institution, is undergoing significant downsizing.  

The many Scarboro website resources will not be lost. In the spring of 2018, Scarboro’s interfaith web resources will be transferred to Regis College, a Jesuit theological college, part of the University of Toronto. All existing links to the Scarboro web resources will remain valid and will be redirected to Regis College. If you visit the Scarboro site after the transfer of resources, you will be redirected to the Regis site.

Meanwhile, hats off toPaul McKenna and his interfaith crew, a dynamic team that has helped transform the planet through resources for learning to live well together.


Header Photo: Freeppt