Interfaith News Roundup - March 2017

Interfaith News Roundup 

March 15, 2017


Pew Research reports that Muslims are the fastest growing religion in the world. “In 2010 there were 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and 2.17 billion Christians. By 2050, there will be 2.76 billion Muslims and 2.92 billion Christians – and if both religions continue at that rate of growth, Islam will have a larger number of followers than Christianity by 2070.” Meanwhile, forty percent of the world’s 560 million Protestant Christians live in Africa, and that percentage could reach 50 by mid-century. Ghana has the most Protestants – approximately 70 percent of its 26 million population.

To the surprise of the pollsters at Pew Research, their recent study of how people feel about various religions suggests that across the board, except for Evangelical Christians, people feel more accepting and ‘warm’ towards all religious traditions. Compared to three years ago, Muslims went from 40 to 48 percent and atheists from 41 to 50 percent.

The religious groups that ranked highest in appreciation, as they did three years ago, were Jews (67 percent) and Catholics (66 percent). Mainline Protestants, including Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians, who were measured for the first time, came in at 65 percent. Buddhists rose on the scale to 60 percent from 53, Hindus to 58 from 50, and Mormons to 54 from 48. Turns out we enjoy much more interfaith friendliness than many have assumed.

The real take-away from the study: “… in every case, people felt more warmly toward religious groups when they personally knew someone in that group.”

American eating habits are trending towards multicultural (read multi-religious) diets. Yahoo Finance reports that “the multicultural consumer covers a broad spectrum, from multi-generational families to millennials, to Asian American, African American, and Hispanic subgroups that have been influenced by distinct global culinary traditions.” And they’ve discovered that multicultural consumers buy more fresh foods than anyone else, and the big vendors are starting to pay attention.

Underreported Interfaith Stories

Rev. Raymond Koh – Photo:

Rev. Raymond Koh – Photo:

In dozens of countries, being an interfaith activist can be dangerous business. Malaysian Rev. Raymond Koh was abducted last month when masked men in SUVS surrounded his car and kidnapped him. Koh is the founder of Harapan Komuniti, a nonprofit service organization for the poor and disinherited from all religious traditions. The non-Muslim interfaith organization, “the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) said it is deeply concerned that Koh remains missing more than two weeks after a group of masked men snatched him from his car,” the Malay Mail online reported.

In response to the growth of religious bigotry in the United States in recent months, the interfaith community of Atlanta has issued an Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto – A Statement Denouncing Religious Bigotry and calling for Interfaith Cooperation. Hundreds have signed it, and you can too, here, where you’ll find the whole statement. This is another instance of the growing sense that the aggregate religious communities in this nation and the world need to do much better at relating to each other. The Statement concludes with the words, “We pledge our willingness to speak out and stand against acts of hate and intolerance that threaten the very foundation on which our society was founded.”

In the same vein, the post-election jitters of religious and ethnic minorities across America led the Pluralism Project at Harvard earlier this month to launch a new initiative entitled “Response and Resilience in Multi-religious Boston.” Funded by the Open Societies Foundation, the grant was made to “support projects responding to and fighting against acts of hate while supporting collaboration, cooperation, and bridge-building among vulnerable communities and their allies.”

Religious leaders in the United States are taking the ‘sanctuary movement’ a further step. Some congregations are soliciting their members to provide safe refuge in their homes for undocumented immigrants. Representatives from a host of different traditions are participating. The home movement is small but growing, and more than 800 congregations have committed themselves to the movement.

Pope Francis has taken the Catholic response to sexual abuse to a very personal level, formally asking forgiveness of the victims of the “monstrosity” of abuse. He has been in dialogue with a number of victims of childhood abuse and clearly understands the depths of the problem. “How can a priest in the service of Christ and his church cause so much evil?” the pope asked. “This is an absolute monstrosity, a horrendous sin, completely opposed to what Christ teaches us.” At the same time, Francis’ commission to address sexual abuse in the Church, created four years ago, has run into problems.

Marie Collins – Photo:  The Marie Collins Foundation

Marie Collins – Photo: The Marie Collins Foundation

Abuse survivor Marie Collins quit the commission out of frustration. “I find it impossible to listen to public statements about the deep concern in the church for the care of those whose lives have been blighted by abuse, yet to watch privately as a congregation in the Vatican refuses to even acknowledge their letters.”  She said the commission is underfunded, understaffed, and  faces “intense cultural resistance within the church despite having had the backing of the pope.” A year ago Peter Saunders, the only other abuse survivor on the commission, “was forced to take a leave of absence after he complained the commission was doing far too little to tackle abuse.”

More trouble for Pope Francis – Patricia Miller in Religion Dispatches last month detailed a troubling relationship between Cardinal Raymond Burke, an arch-conservative opponent of Pope Francis, and Steve Bannon, the alt-right leader at the top of President Trump’s ‘think-tank.’ The dire fruit that might grow from such a relationship, though the possibilities may seem fantastic, are no more fantastic, Miller suggests, than what has happened in American politics this past year.

Imam Adeel Zeb – Photo: Courtesy of Adeel Zeb

Imam Adeel Zeb – Photo: Courtesy of Adeel Zeb

Last week the National Association of College and University Chaplains elected its first Muslim president, Imam Adeel Zeb, in a move that could influence college diversity for years. Imam Zeb serves as the Muslim chaplain at the Claremont University Consortium in Southern California and will assume the one-year, volunteer position at NACUC this summer. He succeeds Rabbi Dena Bodian. Most college and university chaplains are Christian, but they address an increasingly diverse constitutency. Two-thirds of college students self-identify as secular or spiritual-but-not-religious.

From the Heart

For Valentine’s Day last month, World Religion News posted an article titled “What Is the Importance of Love?” Well worth the read, it offers a instructive summary of what the world’s different religions teach about love. Unhappily, the wisdom here is a far, far cry from how, collectively, we live our lives these days. But it makes a great spiritual Valentine.

Laughter, singing, and religion?! Oxford professor of evolutionary psychology, Robin Dunbar, who has documented and analyzed the power of laughter and singing in creating community, suggests that religion has played an equally critical role in the evolution of intelligent, socializing creatures, that is, human beings. He says this relationship does nothing to prove or disprove anyone’s faith –science and faith can live comfortably together, he argues. Dunbar has embarked on a three-year study of the matter.

A Vietnamese refugee Catholic priest, now an American citizen, petitioned President Trump to exchange his citizenship with any refugee barred from the administration’s Muslim travel ban. Rev. Chuong Hoai Nguyen works with the Vietnamese community in Los Angeles and runs a Catholic youth center there. He wrote, saying, “I am an American and I have made America great in my own way for the 42 years since I was granted asylum in this great country. But now, I would like to relinquish my U.S. citizenship and ask that you grant it to a Syrian refugee.”

Great Bear Lake –  Photo: Great Bear Lake Outdoors

Reading “Guardians of a Vast Lake, and a Refuge for Humanity” by Peter Jukawilnski in the New York Times is a magical experience. He tells the story of the Sahtuto’ine people, Indigenous protectors of Great Bear Lake, the eighth largest lake in the world. Twelve thousand square miles, the Lake straddles the Artic Circle, and the people who live on its banks have been given self-governing status by the Canadian government. The photographs are stunning!

Header Photo: nebojsa mladjenovic, Creative Commons 2.0 nc nd