Interfaith News Roundup - December 2018

Interfaith News Roundup

December 15, 2018

Photo:    Wikimedia

Photo: Wikimedia

In an unprecedented global interfaith effort, The Charter for Compassion, The Parliament of the World’s Religions, and United Religions Initiative have issued a statement calling for an “Immediate Ceasefire and Administration of Aid in Yemen.” It begins by stating why they have taken this stand: “Yemen is a nation in crisis. The impoverished country is facing a humanitarian crisis of mammoth proportions, including a devastating famine, in an ongoing civil war that is exacerbated by a scourge of religious violence. There is no time to spare in working to assist more than 3 million Yemenis who are displaced within the country, and over 280,000 who have sought refuge in other countries.” It goes on to detail what needs to be done to mitigate the ongoing horror of violence and famine Yemen is suffering.

The statement clearly calls people of faith and practice to account: “Faith communities and interfaith movements across the globe hold a special responsibility to uphold the teachings of each and all traditions, and should seek the support of governments to demand that immediate actions be taken. Starvation, sectarian violence, and religious persecution will no longer flourish in a world that ensures compassion – the universal teaching of each cultural and faith-based moral tradition – forms the basis of all global policy.”

Politics and Religion

Women made great strides in the recent elections in the US, a tide of new leaders that means the Democratic Party is now in control of the House of Representatives. Even more remarkably, and much less noticed, is that 55 Muslims won office in these elections. For all the dour feelings about the times we live in, this new development is a powerful reminder that the United States is a resilient culture with intestinal fortitude that can bounce back from difficulties and find new solutions in the most aggravating situations.

Ihan Omar and Rashida Tlaib – Photos:    Wikimedia    and    Rashida: Democracy for Congress

Ihan Omar and Rashida Tlaib – Photos: Wikimedia and Rashida: Democracy for Congress

lhan Omar, a Somali American from Minnesota, and Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian American from Michigan, both Democrats, were elected to the US House of Representatives in last month’s election. They are the first Muslim women to be so elected. Both have “affirmed their support of ‘BDS’ (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions), an international boycott campaign that seeks to push back against Israeli oppression of Palestinians.”

Mark Harris, a popular Southern Baptist pastor turned Republican politician, seemed assured of a congressional seat representing North Carolina. The numbers on election night showed him winning by 905 votes. But considerable evidence of voter fraud regarding absentee ballots has surfaced, and the state board of elections has refused to certify Harris’ win until an investigation concludes. Donald Trump has complained vociferously about suffering from voter fraud; ironically, a Republican who opposes LGBTQ rights and has said from the pulpit that wives should be subject to their husbands and stay at home, is being investigated for fraud.

President-elect Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil is making good on his promise to take a sharp right turn for the country, including cutting forests and taking away indigenous rights. A deeply conservative man, Bolsonaro has said, “God above everything. There is no such thing as a secular state.” He has appointed Damares Alves, a lawyer and evangelical preacher, known as an anti-abortion activist, to head the new ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights. The ministry will have the authority to govern Brazil’s 850,000 indigenous people. New indigenous land claims will be rejected and the Amazon, already suffering it greatest reduction in recent years, will increasingly be given over to commercial mining and farming. The new president is also hoping to turn back sex education in schools and LGBTQ rights, and he has cancelled an international gathering in Brazil to consider climate.

The Consequences of Bad Behavior

The struggle between law enforcement in the US and the Roman Catholic church regarding clergy abuse continues to escalate. Late last month the New York Times reported that “The church is under a barrage of investigations around the country. Attorneys general in at least a dozen states have opened inquiries, and the Justice Department has told bishops everywhere not to destroy any documents that could relate to sex abuse cases. Last month, the attorney general in Michigan executed search warrants on all seven Catholic dioceses in that state.” Meanwhile, in October American bishops hammered out a package of policies designed to hold bishops accountable, only to be instructed by the Vatican, to their great frustration, to defer any decision-making until a global gathering of bishops next February addresses the issue.

Fundamental Baptist Church in Maryland – Photo:    Wikimedia

Fundamental Baptist Church in Maryland – Photo: Wikimedia

The Fort Worth Star Telegram newspaper has published a series of stories of clergy sexual abuse within the “fundamental Baptist” community, approximately 6,000 loosely affiliated, extremely conservative congregations, largely in the US. With no centralized institutionalized authority, abusive clergy have had little to worry about. It turns out that hundreds, probably thousands of young people, mostly girls, have been sexually abused, often for years on end.

SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) has high praise for new requirements that Roman Catholic dioceses release documentation about abuse to the state. The organization, noting its tenth anniversary, is calling for the same kind of record documentation for sexual abuse by clergy be mandated for all religious communities.

Last month was the 40th anniversary of Jonestown, the horrendous end of a progressive, denominationally affiliated Protestant congregation, a decent into madness that claimed the death of 918 members of Peoples Temple in Jonestown. Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a young congressional aide at the time visiting Jonestown, took five bullets but survived. She tells the remarkable, painful story of how a congregation can be successfully manipulated for evil ends.

News of the Day…

Photo:    Wikimedia

Photo: Wikimedia

Last month Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a moving apology for turning away more than 900 Jewish refugees fleeing Europe on the ship M.S. St. Lewis in 1939. He began by saying “Today, I rise in this House of Commons to issue a long overdue apology to the Jewish refugees Canada turned away. We used our laws to mask our anti-Semitism, our antipathy, our resentment. We are sorry for the callousness of Canada’s response. And we are sorry for not apologizing sooner.” The lengthy apology is worth reading for the depth of feeling and honesty as well as its acknowledgement of rising anti-Semitism today. Once again Canada takes first place in North America for confronting its own shadow and seeking reconciliation in the long run.

There is a silver lining to the tragic shootings that took the lives of 11 Jews worshiping at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October. Hundreds of thousands have gathered at sites around the world to mourn the tragedy. Writing in the Atlantic, Haley Weiss says, “The week that began with a sickening display of anti-Semitic violence ended resonantly with what the AJC (American Jewish Congress) says was the largest-ever showing of solidarity in prayer with the Jewish people

Hansjörg Wyss, a Swiss businessman, is taking it upon himself to ensure the planet’s survival by contributing $1 billion to an astonishing international conservation effort. The project is designed to help save 30 percent of the planet from climate devastation. Wyss said, “This money will support locally led conservation efforts around the world, push for increased global targets for land and ocean protection, seek to raise public awareness about the importance of this effort, and fund scientific studies to identify the best strategies to reach out target.” Now, if we can discover two more similarly inclined donors…


Love Commandos is an organization that supports interfaith and inter-caste marriages, maintaining 500 safe-house shelters in India. Marrying outside of your religion and caste puts couples at great risk, primarily from your own family. Love Commandos provides anonymity and a place where violent relatives will not find a couple. Legally, only a marriage certificate can save captured women from being abducted back to families that then make life a nightmare. A free app is available from a service that also advises inter-caste couples needing help.

A bit of good news from Rome. The Vatican is going out of its way to promote and support small businesses, especially those serving refugees. The entrepreneurial support takes many forms, but the shared goal in each case is to provide refugees themselves ways to support themselves and to strengthen other small ventures that serve them.

An interfaith team planting trees last month – Photo:    ReForest London

An interfaith team planting trees last month – Photo: ReForest London

The city of London has made a commitment to plant a million new trees, and interfaith groups are helping to meet that goal. Last month a group of 180 volunteers, congregants from a variety of faith traditions, gathered at McCormick Park and planted 650 native trees and shrubs. ReForest London organized the effort with 12 congregations. Rabbi Catharine Clark of Congregation Or Shalom said at the event, “In the rabbinic elaboration on the Book of Genesis, Bereishit Rabbah, we learn that ‘There is no plant without an angel in Heaven tending it and telling it Grow! Today, there are over 180 ‘angels’ from many faith groups telling these trees to grow. May their work be successful!”

And more good news from London: The Islington Faith Forum, working with local faith and business leaders in Islington, a densely populated district in north central London, has organized an interfaith, 12-team soccer youth league. This year, during the community’s Peace Month, the Finsbury Park Mosque B Team won. Cheers for games not gangs!

Pew Research suggests that while young people in Western Europe (as in the United States) do not think that being Christian, being native to your country, or having ancestry there is as important as older people do. Curiously, however, that generational divide does not apply in Central and Eastern Europe, where young and old tend to agree on the importance of faith, nationality, and heritage in their lives.

When describing what makes life meaningful, another new Pew report finds two-thirds of Americans put family first. The four arenas that most people find meaningful are spouse/partner/family, health, career, and friends. Twenty percent identified religion as their primary source of meaning, but for many others being outdoors and friendship were more important.

Photo:    Max Pixel

Photo: Max Pixel

Those who are not science fiction aficionados may not know of the relationship sci-fi has with religion and theology. The relationship has a considerable history and remains a vital, small corner in the many mansions of world literature. If you are interested, be sure to read “Close encounters of the God kind: Scalzi, others mix religion in science fiction” by Emily Miller.

Finally, the following five items are not science fiction but something we should all know about 73 years after nuclear bombs took 130,000 lives and sentenced tens of thousands more to debilitating disease:

1) The taboo against using nuclear weapons in warfare has held since 1945 — contrary to expectations.

2) Nuclear weapons are becoming too provocative to test.

3) Unfortunately, the nuclear taboo might be weakening.

4) Traditional instruments of nuclear arms control are either weakened or have been set aside.

5) International division about nuclear weapons is growing.

 Go here for the details and what needs to happen to reduce the threat. More to come from TIO on this issue.

Header Photo: Pxhere