July 2017 - Interfaith News Roundup

Interfaith News Roundup

July 15, 2017

Coping with Religious Oppression

As TIO has often reported, religious oppression is a world-wide phenomenon. Combine interfaith and intrafaith conflicts with governments that have access to bombs and bullets, and you have a nasty brew, condemning billions of our brothers and sisters around the world, from every faith, to torment and suffering. The following examples are the tip of the iceberg.

Christians are the most harassed tradition in the world, Pew Research reports, in part because the 2.5 billion faith group can be found in almost all countries. This makes the chance of being persecuted bigger than for traditions with tiny or no representation in many countries. However, most oppression of Christians comes from within Christian countries themselves, where different parts of the Christian community are in conflict, as in Ireland, or where one tradition dominates all the others, like the Russian Orthodox tradition.

While Pew research surveys how widespread oppression is, it doesn’t evaluate the severity of oppression or the number of victims. Digging deeper, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), a research and education center at the University of Maryland, suggests that Muslims are in fact “the most likely victims of terrorism worldwide.” This may be counterintuitive to those exposed primarily to American and European news sources which consistently ‘overreport’ terror in their own communities and ‘underreport’ terror in the rest of the world.

Bishop Maximino – Photo: You Tube

Bishop Maximino – Photo: You Tube

Mexico, though mostly Catholic, turns out to be the most dangerous country in the world for Catholic priests for the eighth year in a row. Fifteen have been killed in the past three years, and bishops are having to pay ‘protection’ money to drug cartels if they don’t want their churches and cathedrals disturbed. Recently Bishop Maximino Martínez Miranda from Guerrero, was stopped by an armed group which took his vehicle. Death threats have been made, and some bishops are reaching out to the cartels to talk peace.

The Pasa Lord movement in the Philippines is a national interfaith prayer effort to bring an end to the war that has plagued the country for so long. More than a thousand Muslims and Christians joined in prayer in Manila earlier this month to invoke peace in their country. Leaders have called for prayer every day at noon, including the words “Protect us from foreign invasion and destructive influences, and defend us from acts of lawlessness, terrorism and war.”

Iran’s imams, the clergy whose rules govern people’s behavior, have banned Zumba, a rhythmic aerobics practice, or rhythmic dancing. It is favored by women throughout the country as a way to enjoy life and lose weight at the same time. But the government in a letter to the provinces, wrote: “Considering that activities such as Zumba, performance of rhythmic movements and dancing in any form and under any title lacks legal credibility, I request that you issue an order to ban such movements.” The report is that, despite the ruling, sponsors are changing the name and continuing the practice.

Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum in Taiwan – Photo: Wikimedia

Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum in Taiwan – Photo: Wikimedia

The Chinese government has been rigorously atheistic and unsupportive of anything religious that it doesn’t control. A Buddhist sect, Fo Guang Shan may have cracked through the spiritual resistance and is receiving support from the Communist Party. Founded by the Venerable Master Hsing Yun, the denomination does not oppose the government, choosing instead to promote ancient Chinese values of such as “honesty, thrift, righteousness” and care and concern for others. A fascinating read.

In a contrast to the ongoing tragedy in Myanmar (Burma) between the dominant Buddhists and Muslim minority, Sri Lanka authorities recently arrested five accused of fomenting religiously motivated violence. Four were Buddhists, including a member of a hard-line Buddhist group, and one was Muslim, accused of disrespecting Buddhism. By going after the dark edges of both traditions, Sri Lanka’s government has stepped into the role of peacemaker.

Progressive Religion Making Progress

Church historian Martin Marty reflects on the decision of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., to take a strong stand against altl-right racism and white supremacy.

Rabbi David Sandmel of the Anti-Defamation League was one of the first to publicly congratulate the denomination. 

Seyran Ateş - Photo: Wikimedia,    Müjgan Arpat, Cc.3.0

Seyran Ateş - Photo: Wikimedia, Müjgan Arpat, Cc.3.0

In a first of its kind in Germany, a liberal mosque has been established, a congregation which welcomes all Muslims to pray together – Sunni and Shia, Ahmadiyya and Alawite, women and men, straight and gay. Women as well as men will be invited to pray and preach. Feminist lawyer Seyran Ateş is the lead organizer and will be studying Arabic and theology herself in a quest to become an imam. Though Ates has received a condemning fatwah from Egypt and thousands of hate letters, there are hundreds who have written her appreciatively, and she has no plans to back off the effort.

It has not been an easy month for Pope Francis, but he keeps pushing forward on many fronts. Cardinal Pell, in charge of reforming the Vatican’s financial reform, was accused of a sexual assault in Australia, where he has returned to face charges. A few power Conservative cardinals are pushing back against Francis’ easing up on strict marriage and divorce law.

But while the pontiff is known for his compassionate gentleness, he can also be a formidable adversary. He gave a stinging rebuke to priests in Africa who refused to honor an ordained bishop because he was from the wrong clan, ordering serious apologies. Failing that, they would be suspended from the priesthood. And theologian Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the powerful head of the Vatican’s doctrine office, was fired for resisting Francis’ reforms.

Francis had to scrap his trip to South Sudan, a nation wounded and traumatized by civil war and famine, over security concerns. But in addition to his prayers each day for the country, Francis has committed $500,000 to the country for education, health care, and agriculture, to be administered by on-the-ground religious service groups.

The Roman Catholic Sant’ Egidio peace group has been the moving force behind a peace treaty in the Central African Republic between the government and 13 or 14 armed militias that have been at war for the past four years. Skeptics wonder whether it will hold, but those at the signing were confident that they finally have a map for peace.

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey held a welcoming Mass at their cathedral for LGBT Catholics, including those married to same sex partners. “I am Joseph, your brother,” he told the group, “I am your brother, as a disciple of Jesus. I am your brother, as a sinner who finds mercy with the Lord.” Tobin’s predecessor made a point of calling gay and lesbian people immoral. While Tobin’s welcoming words generated considerable flack from conservative Catholics, the event, one of several around the country, “brought Francis to us,” said one of the participants in Newark.”

Rev. William Barber, following protests in North Carolina’s capital, has been banned from entering NC’s Legislative Building. Barber, who founded the Moral Monday project which has spread around the country, is fast becoming progressive Protestantism’s leading voice for peace and justice. He recently stepped down from the state presidency of the NAACP in order to initiate a Poor People’s Campaign.

Faith Communities Concerned about the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons issued a joint statement in support of the historic adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at UN Headquarters. The interfaith group has been a significant contributor in the quest to make the world free from nuclear weapons. The bad news: the nine countries with nuclear weapons boycotted the vote on the treaty, which passed with 122 countries in favor, and one opposed.

More News You May Have Missed

Fasting is an important component of many religious traditions. Many hundreds of millions of Muslims finished their month of fasting, Ramadan, on June 24. With numbers that large, what happens when a diabetic fasts, risking his or her life. Turns out, fasting for Muslims is only prescribed for the healthy. But most doctors are ignorant of religious fasting practices, to the detriment of their patients. Aamir Hussain makes a strong case that religious literacy can save lives.

Speaking of the importance of knowing about religion, Nicholas Kristov delivers a blistering indictment of religious illiteracy in the New York Times. It comes with a quiz that’s full of laughs. How much do you know about religion?

Reading from the Quran is a typical practice on Laylat-al-qadr. – Photo:  Wikimedia, Cc.3.0

Reading from the Quran is a typical practice on Laylat-al-qadr. – Photo: Wikimedia, Cc.3.0

Laylat-al-qadr, two-thirds of the way through Ramadan, is the holiest day of the year for Muslims, the day when their destiny for the coming year is decided by Allah. Known at the ‘Night of Destiny’ or ‘Night of Power,’ it is said to be the night when Mohammed received the first verses of the Qur’an, which means ‘Recitation.’

Tragically, this year DAESH, also knowns as ISIS, destroyed the historic Grand al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, Iraq on Laylat-al-qadr, the same sanctuary where they had declared their ‘caliphate’ three years ago. Many in the Muslim community around the world cited the destruction as the beginning of the end of the apostate sect.

Twenty-thousand Africans become Christians every day, adding to the 400 million of their pan-African neighbors who are also Christian. The new African Study Bible has been published and is being celebrated at major cities across Africa. More than 350 contributors provide extensive footnotes, relevant articles, African proverbs and stories that relate the text to pan-African histories and cultures.

Not often do you hear as influential a celebrity as Mark Zuckerberg preaching the values of religion and the church, but he is. “Studies have proven the more connected we are, the happier we feel and the healthier we are. People who go to church are more likely to volunteer and give to charity — not just because they’re religious, but because they’re part of a community.” Tongues are wagging, trying to unpack what this really means. Maybe it just means what it says.

The Elijah Interfaith Institute in Jerusalem has created a video, “Making Friends” (embedded on the right), with leaders from the world’s religions championing friendship between and among the various traditions. The signers include the Grand Mufti Shawki Allam (Sunni, Egypt), Amma Amritanandamayi (India), Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (Orthodox, Turkey), Ven. Chan Khong (Buddhist, Vietnam/France), Swami Chidananda (India), H.H. the Dalai Lama (India), Pope Francis (Vatican), Dharma Master Hsin Tao (Buddhist, Taiwan), Archbishop Antje Jackelen (Church of Sweden), Ven. Khandro Rinpoche, (Buddhist, India), Chief Rabbi David Lau (Israel), Ayatollah Sayyid Fadhel Milani (Shia, UK), Imam Dr. Adamou Ndman Njoya (Sunni, Cameroon), Ayatollah Sayed Hassan Al Qazwini (Shia, United States), Swami Ramdev (India), Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (UK), Sri Sri Ravi Sankar (India), Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh (Sikh, UK), Rabbi Avraham Skorka (Argentina), Swami Suhitananda (Ramakrishna Order, India), Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury (UK), and Sheikh Hamza Yusuf (Sunni, USA).

Header Photo: Filipinos praying during the Pasa Lord Movement Photo: aranzazushrine.ph