Interfaith News Roundup - July 2018

Interfaith News Roundup

July 15, 2018

The criteria for being included in this roundup is ‘being important religion and spirituality news that is underreported.’ That, of course, leaves us wide open to some pretty dour news about the world in general and religion in particular. The bleaker stories this month are mostly about ‘the numbers.’ The rest of this month’s items tell stories from around the world where people are making a difference for the good of us all.

By the Numbers

Restrictions on religious freedom around the world are increasing, particularly against Christians and Muslims. Recently released research suggests that Christians suffered harassment in 144 countries in 2016, up from 108 in 2015. Harassing Muslims went from 100 countries in 2014 to 142 in 2016. Harassment, according to Pew Research, includes “discrimination, verbal assault, physical attacks, arrests, and the destruction of religious sites.” Four in ten of the 198 countries studiied “had high or very high levels of overall religious restrictions in 2016.”

More sobering Pew research. The disaffection from religion in the under-40 population is a global phenomenon, growing not only in affluent, relatively secular countries like Canada and Japan, but in relatively religious, less affluent countries like Iran, Poland, and Nigeria. “In 46 of the 106 countries studied, adults ages 18 to 39 saw religion as less important than those 40 and over.” 

A Washington Post/ABC News Poll indicates that the number of Protestants in the U.S. went from 50% in 2013 to 36% four years later in 2017. Catholics remained the same – at 22%. The other significant shift came under the category of “no religion.” It went from 12% in 2013 to 21% in 2017. White evangelical Christians, representing Donald Trump’s political base, have lost 8% over the same four-year period.

Bigotry is alive and well even in that massive congregation called New York City. A study released last month suggested that wearing religious garb there can be dangerous for Muslims, Arabs, South Asians, Jews, and Sikhs. Among the findings:

  • Over 1 in 10 indicated that they had experienced property damage or vandalism.
  • Nearly 1 in 7 experienced being unfairly denied services at a business because of race, ethnicity, or religion.
  • Nearly 1 in 6 experienced some form of racial, religious, or ethnic discrimination-related problem in their employment, either in a current job or while seeking a job.

The final item here isn’t about the numbers but rather how those numbers can come to terrorize innocent individuals. “Explaining the travel ban to my scared kids — while vacationing in Pakistan” by Saadia Faruqi brings home the fear and trembling of being an American citizen today if you are a Muslim immigrant.

Good News in Spite of it All

The Moral Monday movement instigated by Rev. William J. Barber II, developed into the Poor People’s Campaign, reviving a “40-day civil disobedience movement founded 50 years ago by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.” For 40 days (May 15-June 23) the campaign was active in 30 cities across the country. A Sponsoring Alliance includes “Christians, Jews, Muslims, nonbelievers, and a broad cross section of African-Americans, Hispanics, LGBT people feminists, environmentalists and others.”

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has been removing imams from smaller mosques that promote the Muslim Brotherhood and a traditionally conservative faith. Now new rules have been established in Egypt allowing women to preach, to share in mosque governance, and to join the liturgical choirs in a mosque. In short, a much more progressive approach to religion is being enforced in some of the same ways we are witnessing in Saudi Arabia, where women are now driving cars. Said one new driver, “I feel free like a bird!”

Opposition to same-sex marriage has declined among conservative religious groups. Since 2013, opposition has dropped 13% among white evangelical Protestants and 15% among Mormons.

Native American tribes are fighting back against the glorification of those who were involved in massacres of tribal peoples. The Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, an organization of tribal chairmen of 16 Sioux tribes from Nebraska and the Dakotas, is advocating to change the name of Yellowstone’s Hayden Valley – named after the geologist Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden who supported the killing of tribal people – to Buffalo Nations Valley. Initiatives are also being taken up by tribes in other areas of the U.S., including North Dakota and Arizona.

After discovering a lack of educational content about indigenous culture and history, local school principals in Victoria, Canada collaborated with the Aboriginal community to create Kaiela-Dhungala First People’s Curriculum. The interactive program includes lessons for students in Prep to Year 10 and almost half the schools in the region are implementing it. “Our hope,” the program’s project leader Tim Warwick said, “is that the students are not just learning about the Stolen Generation or our ancient past, which is still really important, but also about the living, strong cultures that exist in our community.”

Pilgrimages have become increasingly popular in recent years. In Europe, Muslims and Christians often visit each other’s pilgrimage sites. Ingvild Flaskerud, a researcher at the Faculty of Theology, University of Oslo and co-editor of a book on Muslim Pilgrimage in Europe, says this is not unusual: “The sites are regarded as sacred and everyone can share in the holy power. This has roots all the way back to antiquity. People didn’t care who owned a holy site.”

Photo:  Pxhere

Photo: Pxhere

Jews and Muslims gathered in Berlin on June 24 to ride bikes together as a show of solidarity in the face of increasing anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in Germany. The tour started at Berlin’s Holocaust memorial, ending at Bebelplatz, the city where Nazis ordered the burning of around 20,000 books in an effort to rid their universities of what they deemed inferior “Jewish intellectualism.”

As noted above, the danger of deportation and family separation now looms large for immigrants in the United States. Many faith leaders have spoken out against Trump’s strict zero tolerance policy, and some are doing something about it. In the Sonoran Desert, which covers a large portion of the Arizona-Mexico border, temperatures typically soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. Death from heat stroke and lack of water is not uncommon. Groups such as the Tucson Samaritans, made of volunteers from various faith traditions, are working to address this issue by daily carrying water, food, emergency medical supplies, communication equipment, and maps out to the desert.

You’ve heard a lot about the kids in a Thai cave, though probably not about the role religious practice played. Families of the 12 boys and their coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, who were stuck in Thailand’s Tham Luang caves rejoice as all have been returned safely. During the eighteen-day wait, footage of the boys showed them to be remarkably calm. Leading to this was meditation Ekapol led to help them preserve their energy. Having lived in a monastery for ten years starting at age 12, after being orphaned, Ekapol knows well the power of mediation to reduce anxiety and distress.

Header Photo: Pixabay