Interfaith News Roundup - March 2017

Interfaith News Roundup 

April 15, 2017

The Northern lights shining over the town of Dauphen – Photo:  Warren Justice

The Northern lights shining over the town of Dauphen – Photo: Warren Justice

No, the news is not all bad. In the far reaches of rural Manitoba, Canada, the small town of Dauphen has three churches – Catholic, evangelical Christian, and progressive Christian – which have had little to do with each other. But they discovered that each of them is enough concerned about Syrian refugees to do something about it. So these three seriously different Christian communities became partners in bringing three Syrian refugee families into their community. And it’s all turning into ‘family.’

Turns out, Canada “has welcomed more than 40,000 men, women and children fleeing Syria’s civil war since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s October 2015 election.” Witnessed from Canada’s southern neighbor, which is so conflicted about immigrants and refugees, it serves as a lovely vision of what is possible.

Global Glimpses

Displaced Rohingya people in Rakhini State, Myanmar – Photo:  Foreign and Commonwealth Office, OGL 1.0

Displaced Rohingya people in Rakhini State, Myanmar – Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, OGL 1.0

Civil rights issues keep bubbling up the world over. Two examples, though many could be cited. In Israel, the ultra-Orthodox or Heredi community is waging war on secularism and particularly on women’s rights. Israel’s courts keep deciding for the women, but no one implements the laws that exist, and women suffer. The ultra-Orthodox community represents about ten percent of the population, but is growing faster than any other, so this issue will not be going away soon. In Myanmar (once known as Burma), the million Rohingya Muslims, continue to suffer from hard-line Buddhists actively resisting the call to give the Rohingha citizenship and the right to travel, in spite of the fact that most have lived there for generations.

Addressing anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are finally staples in major media. The past 18 months provide a jolting reminder of how easily bigotry can raise its ugly head. The good news – the forces of resistance are emerging. Dozens of stories have been published in recent weeks about local communities fighting back against xenophobia and racism. Still, the newly flourishing prejudice in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere makes this a David-and-Goliath situation. In the main media, we hear the stories of these tragic events, but briefly, in sound-bites – summary notes of tragic events.

In a Washington Post article titled “When a Jew Does It,” Rabbi Joshua Hammerman brings the complexity of it all home, sharing the nightmare of a community being threatened, including a powerful shout-out to the local interfaith community. The toughest part of his grief, though, comes in discovering that his synagogue was defaced by one of his own members. The article becomes an extraordinary resource for any community which suffers violence tendered with betrayal.


The Guardian recently reviewed The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao by Ian Johnson, a fascinating study of the complexity and complications for people of faith in one of the world’s dominating countries. If you don’t have time for the book, the review is eye-opening and worth the read.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi leads a party with an avowed goal of transforming the world’s largest secular democracy into a religious “Hindu” democracy. Modi has been seemingly tolerant towards other religions, but that may be changing as right-wing religious forces surface in Asia. The New York Times reports that “Emboldened by a landslide victory in recent elections in India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, Modi's party named a firebrand Hindu cleric, Yogi Adityanath, as the state’s leader. The move is a shocking rebuke to religious minorities.” Yogi Adityanath said he will not favor any caste or community, but he has a history of spewing hatred, particularly towards Muslims.

A scene from the film “Watu Wote” – Photo: Hamburg Media School

A scene from the film “Watu Wote” – Photo: Hamburg Media School

A year and a half ago a bus travelling across Kenya was stopped under gunfire from Al Shabad terrorists who demanded that Muslims identify which passengers were Christian – and they refused. A German filmmaking group, moved by the story, have made a 20-minute documentary, “Watu Wote” (Swahili for “All of Us”), which will be released this month. Christian and Muslim leaders in Kenya have praised the film and hope it will help nurture healthy interfaith relations in the country.

Since Trump’s Election

For the past 16 years a growing relationship between the U.S. State Department and interfaith leadership has developed from a recognition that diplomats need to understand the religious backgrounds of the leaders and countries where they work. The relationship eventually led to establishing the State Department’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs (RGO). The fear though is that the new Trump administration will close down the RGO as part of major cuts being prescribed for the whole Department. The RGO is a rare example of how religion can be a positive influence on government.

Baptist News Global reports that “More than 1,100 professors at Christian colleges across the country have signed a ‘Confessing Faculty’ document acknowledging sins of omission that echoes an 83-year-old statement denouncing the corruption of Protestant churches in Nazi Germany. In particular, it identifies the “national sins of racism, misogyny, nativism, and great economic disparity.” Those signing the statement are all identified, with their schools, covering a wide range of conservative and progressive Christian institutions.

A recent Reuters story titled “‘Religious left’ emerging as U.S. political force in Trump era” reports the emergence of a ‘religious left’ and early signs of political influence. At Union Theological Seminary in New York City, attendance at monthly lectures of social justice have tripled. A session on mass incarceration in January had to turn away 1,000 who wanted to attend after the 600-seat hall filled up.

In Los Angeles, the Latino and Muslim communities, the two most threatened groups by the Trump administration, are joining together in solidarity with each other’s cause. Approximately 100,000 Muslims are Latino, a small but increasingly vocal segment of the 3.3 million Muslims in the U.S.

Linda Sarsour – Photo:  Twitter

Linda Sarsour – Photo: Twitter

Muslim feminist Linda Sarsour is proving to be a difficult person to absorb into the resistance movement to the Trump administration. Sarsour helped plan the recent Women’s March in Washington, D.C. and had plenty of face-time during the speeches. A brilliant speaker and organizer, her anti-Zionist passion and rhetoric have made it difficult for Jews, particularly those who go out of their way to promote interfaith programs and relationships. In an interview, Sarsour said feminism and Zionism are incompatible because Zionists ignored the rights of Palestinian women.

An Interfaith Treat

CNN has a wonderfully interfaith, interactive project going. The network invited readers to share what they believe and how they came to realize it. So far 600 have responded, coming from every imaginable background, each speaking from the heart. You can read the article, full of short quotes, with an option to click on each person’s full response. The interfaith resonance of this project is subtle: we witness the complex weave of our culture’s diversity through short, deeply personal, moving stories, and for this reader, the net effect is to bring us all closer. Give CNN an award!

Header Photo: Charles Fettinger, Creative Commons 2.0