Interfaith News Roundup - February 2017

Interfaith News Roundup 

February 15, 2017

Responding to Donald Trump

Diane Winston, who edits Religion Dispatches, puts her finger on what is happening to religion in America in “‘Under God … It’s a Great Thing’: Trump Delivers for His Christian Base.” And it is frightening to anyone who treasures religious diversity. This should be required reading if you care about the remarkable religious heritage of the United States.

But a heartening response from religious, interreligious, and interfaith groups across the country challenging some of President Trump’s earliest decisions has been swift and strong. Even before executive documents were signed in Washington DC, the Interfaith Center of New York took the following stand:

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The Interfaith Center of New York unequivocally condemns President Trump’s impending executive order restricting immigration to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries, slashing refugee resettlement from conflict zones throughout the world, and ordering construction of a wall along the US- Mexico border.
These actions hardly come as a surprise, but we are nevertheless shocked by the boundless bigotry of the Trump administration.  A faith-based restriction on immigration stands against our proudest traditions as a nation, and our enduring commitment to build a more inclusive society for all Americans – regardless of race, faith, or national origin.  As New Yorkers, we cannot sit this one out!  We must defend the values of hospitality and inclusion that have made New York the “promised city” for immigrants from every corner of the globe and every faith tradition.

In a thousand sites outside of New York similar proclamations are being made, along with plans to actively resist the new policies. Religious leaders, progressive and evangelical, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and more are joining the protest. Theologian Diane Butler Bass quoted Leviticus 19: 34 in a Tweet: “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself.”

Since Donald Trump’s election, sanctuary congregations have doubled to approximately 800, according to the Pico National Network, which follows such matters. These are congregations which have made a decision to offer refuge to people under the threat of being deported. Synagogues are participating, and Muslim sources report that local mosques are joining the movement.

Shifts in Religious Influence

In a fascinating subtext to this new political scenario, the Barna Group, a leading Christian research enterprise, released a study of 14,000 clergy and found that Americans don’t want to hear from pastors on social and political issues. “Only 8 percent of adults are interested in hearing pastoral teaching on issues such as same-sex marriage/LGBT rights, abortion, gun rights, tax policy, climate change, drug policy, or religious freedom. Pastors’ influence in broader culture has diminished in general; most U.S. adults express ambivalence about pastors …” And we wonder why political leaders don’t pay more attention to religious leaders?

Rather than bemoaning this loss of influence, it will be interesting to see if resisting the Trump administration, as thousands of religious leaders are doing, will bring back some respect. First signs are appearing. The Charlotte Observer reports that research suggests liberal congregations actually have become more politically active in recent years, while conservative evangelical congregations appear to have become less so. 

Pope Francis, whose popularity and influence is enduring, refuses to stay silent about what is happening, though he does so diplomatically and without naming names. Reuters reports that “Pope Francis said on Wednesday (Feb. 8) that society should not create ‘walls but bridges’ to encourage good relations among people, adding it was wrong to be spiteful and say ‘I’ll make you pay for that.’ … A Christian can never say ‘I’ll make you pay for that.’ Never! That is not a Christian gesture. An offense is overcome with forgiveness, by living in peace with everyone.”

Meanwhile, Trump is giving special privileges to CBN (Christian Broadcast Network), founded by Pat Robertson of the 700 Club.

Continuing Good News

It is rare to see the leadership of major religious traditions sitting down together to get better acquainted and find common cause around certain issues. Just such a dialogue has begun between Buddhists and a variety of Christian traditions, particularly Anglicans and Lutherans. A large international Buddhist-Christian conference held last month in Myanmar (also known as Burma) was a great success, and work is going forward to continue and enlarge the discussion. A Statement was released indicating their plans and values.

Last month CAIR and the UCC made media history.  The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S., is joining with the United Church of Christ (UCC) in the release of a video promoting interfaith understanding. In a time when interfaith collaboration is needed as never before, this kind of Christian-Muslim institutional cooperation is rare and long overdue, if, some have said, a bit overdone in this case. In the video clergy from the three faiths exchange vestments and head to each other’s sanctuaries, which comes a bit too close to syncretism for some interfaith activists. You can see and share the embedded video on the right. 

Secretary General William Vendley of Religions for Peace International shares a fascinating set of international interfaith stories in a video message titled “Visions of Peace 2017.” Vendley assumed leadership of RfP 23 years ago, oversees activities in 93 national RfP councils around the world, and has been a major figure in advancing a thriving interfaith world for all.

A street gangster, a rapper, a convert, a Koranic scholar, a white man fighting white privilege, a ‘thought leader’ followed by more than 100,000 Muslim millennials in America … all in one young man’s life! Quite remarkable, yes, and Imam Suhaib Webb is worth listening to. Meet him in this Washington Post profile.

Header Photo: Interfaith Center of New York