Interfaith News Roundup - October 2018

Interfaith News Roundup

October 15, 2018

Interfaith in National Settings

French President Emmanuel Macron is bent on doing what his predecessors have tried but failed to do – establish a ‘French Islam’ to limit the influence of foreign agents wishing harm to France. A 617-page report titled The Fabric of Islam lays out the plan. It aims to discourage insular Muslim communities in the country and to overcome extremist elements bent on violence.  

Hasnain Baqai, an advocate against triple talaq-e-biddat in India – Photo:    Wikipedia

Hasnain Baqai, an advocate against triple talaq-e-biddat in India – Photo: Wikipedia

The Indian government has banned “triple talaq-e-biddat,” known as the instant divorce, when a husband utters “I divorce you three times.” Men convicted of attempting this kind of divorce can now be subject to three years in jail and serious fines. The practice is embedded in many Muslim communities, though it has no basis in the Qur’an, and the struggle to end it in India has been protracted. A number of Muslim countries, including Turkey, Qatar, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, have made the practice illegal.

Since the year 2000, 2,000 victims, mostly women, have died violently in rural India after being accused of witchcraft and sorcery. After years of activism, legislation – the “Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Bill” – originating in Assam, was signed by Ram Nath Kovind, the president of India. The Act makes it illegal to accuse anyone of witchcraft, prescribing extended penalties to guilty parties.

Nigeria is fairly evenly split between Christians and Muslims. These frequent opponents, though, share in demonizing a small minority in this highly religious country; that is, atheists. Aljazeera features a poignant article about what atheists have to suffer in Nigeria.

Photo:    Wikimedia

Photo: Wikimedia

Israel’s increasingly right-wing government, closely allied with the Trump administration, is causing a huge rift between American Jews and Jews in Israel. A headline in the Washington Post suggests “America’s Jews are watching Israel in horror.”  American Jews have been an economic pillar for Israel for decades, and this rift threatens bonds that have been built over those years.

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s newsletter profiled the 13th conference of the World Congress of Families in Moldova last month. The startling headline: “The strange alliance between Russian Orthodox monarchists, American Christian Evangelicals, and European fascists.” The glue that binds them together – their hatred of LGBTQ people. It’s a bizarre and troubling story, more an anomaly than a trend, one hopes.

For gay, lesbian, and transgendered people, it can depend on where you live and who comes out to vote. Earlier this month Romania failed to pass a referendum which would have made it one of the few European states to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage. The constitutional amendment failed to pass when only 21 percent showed up to vote, rather than the 30 percent required for passage. Meanwhile, Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel, appointed by Raul Castro last April, is overseeing a revision of Cuba’s constitution, which will recognize “marriage between people without any restrictions.” This represents a significant evolution in how sexuality is viewed in Cuba, though there has been opposition to the change.


“The Trump Prophecy” is a new film produced by a retired firefighter named Mark Taylor, who claims he knows God chose Trump to be America’s president because God told him so. Though several far-right evangelical leaders (including Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffress) agree that God chose Trump to win, there is considerable evangelical criticism of Taylor’s “prophetic” vision and its bizarre, horrific details. The film was screened at 1,200 theaters on October 2 and 4.

Tales of woe regarding millennials not caring about faith and practice in the UK may have been exaggerated. About 1.2 million Brits pray online each month, using Church of England guides. This didn’t happen by itself. For two years the Church has been developing a strong online presence aimed, in particular, at those who rarely go to church. It uses various platforms – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and its own website.

Roman Catholic Travails

“A Gallup poll released Tuesday found that 53 percent of Americans said they had a favorable opinion of the pontiff, down from 66 percent in August, when respondents were questioned just before the release of a sweeping Pennsylvania grand jury report listing hundreds of Catholic clergy accused of sexual abuse and misconduct over 70 years in the state. Francis’s popularity has fallen 23 percentage points from a 2014 high of 76 percent in Gallup polls.” He is still popular, but less so than before.

Cardinal McCarrick – Photo:    Wikimedia

Cardinal McCarrick – Photo: Wikimedia

Especially troubling has been Francis’ failure to respond (as of this writing) to accusations by arch-conservative Archbishop Vigano, accusing the pontiff of covering for his friend Cardinal McCarrick, the powerful American leader who has since been removed from ministry for his predatory sexual habits. Meanwhile, last week the pope accepted the resignation of Cardinal Wuerl, McCarrick’s successor as the Archbishop of Washington, DC, for how he handled sexual abuse claims in the past.

German Catholic bishops commissioned a report on sexual abuse in their country. Three universities participated in the study, reporting that 3,600 victims abused by 1,670 German Catholic priests in the 68 years leading up to 2014. Some have suggested these figures significantly undercount the abuse. Twenty percent of the victims have attempted suicide and many more than that have suffered emotionally.

On a lighter but still serious note, an accord to heal the breach of nearly 70 years between the Vatican and China has been announced. The compromise centered around the Vatican and the Communist Party sharing the responsibility for appointing bishops. The issue remains fraught, however, and is being unrolled in the context of China’s increasing repression of Tibetan Buddhists, Uigar Muslims, and Christians. Earlier proposed compromises have failed.

Venerable Xuecheng – Photo:    Wikimedia

Venerable Xuecheng – Photo: Wikimedia

Roman Catholicism has had more sexual abuse stories than other traditions. But proponents of the #MeToo movement have accused China’s most prominent Buddhist monk, the Venerable Xuecheng, of sexual abuse of nuns and financial misconduct. The priest has led a burgeoning reform movement across China that has won the rare approval of the Communist government. Now he has been stripped of his authority and is working quietly in a small temple in Fujian Province while his case is being adjudicated.

Seeds of Hope

Two attempts have succeeded in insisting that gun manufacturers do more to mitigate gun violence. Resolutions were brought by stockholders organized by a coalition of nuns. American Outdoor Brands (formerly Smith & Wesson) and Sturm Rudiger are both major gun manufacturers. The resolutions’ requirements, include mandating that the companies help reduce gun violence, are modest but represent a first successful blow to the gun lobby in America.


World Faith is an international nonprofit working largely under the radar and dedicated to ending religious violence. Starting in some of the toughest countries in the world, countries savaged by poverty, violence, and religious conflict, they now work their magic in sites all over the world. Their strategy is to “engage religiously diverse youth to lead development projects locally in their community.” Beside the good work that gets done, the hidden value in all this activity derives from the thoroughly interfaith teams that assemble to do the projects. Working with common goals, teammates from different religions learn to trust and enjoy each other, becoming living seeds of peace for their multifaith, frequently conflicted communities. In the process, “World Faith has mobilized 5, 000 volunteers in 300,000 hours of service, directly impacting the lives of 500,000 people.”

The Community Voice” is the newsletter of URI CCs (Cooperation Circles) in the Great Lakes Region of East Central Africa. Six countries are included in the Great Lakes Region ( Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the CongoKenyaRwandaTanzania and Uganda). To give you a sense of interfaith activities in East Central Africa, here are some of the newsletter’s headlines: Kenyan CC  in an International Day of Peace Bang, Undugu Family Kibera CC in a Community Co-Existence Drive, Heart to Heart with Women in Conflict in South Sudan, Grassroots Women Activists Appreciated in South Sudan, Burundi’s Demonstration of Environmental Conservation, Cacopa CC in Ebola Fight in Congo, Youth Entrepreneurial Skilling with the US Embassy at URI Offices, Men and Faith Leaders become the Advocates of Women’s Economic Empowerment, and International Peace Award Ceremony in Kampala.    

Religion News Foundation, a major player in religion news in America, announced a $500,000 collaboration with Fetzer Institute, underwritten by the Institute. The project will support “news and resources related to the changing religious and spiritual landscape in the United States and around the world.”

The California Interfaith Association is committed to building an interfaith network dedicated to the notion that “We honor and respect all faiths, cultures, creeds, and races and seek to learn from those who believe equal spiritual opportunity and human rights belong to every person.” Their network now includes 60 California groups, 57 non-California groups in the US, and 33 groups outside the US. Together they are promoting setting aside the second week of August each year as “Interfaith Awareness Week.” And, being expansive, they’ve identified a number of other days (some of them listed below) to celebrate common causes, admonishing activists to be sure to promote their events in the press and on social media. Here is a sampler:

  • January 20 – World Religion Day (Bahá’í )

  • February 1-8 – World Interfaith Harmony Week (UN)

  • February 20 – World Day of Social Justice (UN)

  • March 21 – International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UN)

  • April 5 – International Golden Rule Day (Int’l.)

  • May 2 – National Day of Prayer (US)

  • August 11-18 – Interfaith Awareness Week (CA, USA, Int’l.)

  • September 21 – International Day of Peace (UN)

  • October 2 – International Day of Non-Violence (UN)

  • October 14 – Thanksgiving (Canada)

  • November 22 – Thanksgiving (USA)

  • December 10 – Human Rights Day (UN)

In other words, in spite of all our woe, celebrate what is good for us all!

Header Photo: Good Free Photos