Interfaith News Roundup - April 2019

Interfaith News Roundup

April 15, 2019

Apologies for the conquest of the Americas 500 years ago  have been requested by Mexico’s new president, Andes Manuel Lopez Obrador, writing to King Felipe VI of Spain and Pope Francis. In particular, he asked for an apology to “the original peoples for the violations of what are now known to be human rights.” He said, “The so-called conquest was carried out with the sword and the cross.” The Spanish government denied the request saying that historic circumstances cannot be evaluated by contemporary standards. By contrast, in 2015 Pope Francis asked for forgiveness from the indigenous people of Bolivia for oppression by the Church during the historical conquest of the Americas.

West African indigenous religions such as Vodou, Santeria, Ifa, and Sango Baptism are gaining followings among African Americans, providing them with religious traditions that emerge out of their African heritage. Many of these followers meet in private, so it is difficult to estimate the numbers, though overall they seem to be growing. Professor Albert Wuaku of Florida International University, a specialist in Caribbean and African religions, says “They have a strong appeal to groups of African-Americans who have been struggling with questions of identity, who don’t feel they fit so well within the American system. They’re especially appealing to women, who tend to hold more powerful positions within the African traditions than in Western cultures.”

Now in his 84th year, the Dalai Lama envisions what will happen when he dies, saying the Chinese government is intent on choosing his reincarnation as the 15th Dalai Lama. In an interview with Reuters, he said “China considers Dalai Lama’s reincarnation as something very important. They have more concern about the next Dalai Lama than me,” he said, swathed in his traditional red robes and yellow scarf. “In future, in case you see two Dalai Lamas come, one from here, in free country, one chosen by Chinese, then nobody will trust, nobody will respect (the one chosen by China).”

In yet another step against religious activities that don’t have state sanction and oversight, China is now offering rewards up to $15,000 (USD) to those who report secret, illegal religious  activities and identify the leaders. We hear much about the struggle between the US and China regarding trade and who will be the biggest superpower in the future. Less noticed is the comparison between a country that stoutly defends religious freedom and one that forbids it.

Two missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints have been jailed in Russia, accused of unlawfully teaching English in a church where they were speaking. Since proselytizing is forbidden in Russia, they are called “volunteers.” The two report that they are being treated well in detention. There is no word as to when they will be released and, perhaps, deported.

Photo:    Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

Ironically, this is happening just as Mormon same-sex practice is being liberalized. In 2015 the hierarchy of the Church declared, based on “revelation,” that same-sex relationships were banned for church members. The children of same-sex couples were not allowed to participate in the life of the Church, including baptism and being missionaries, and their parents were condemned as “apostates.” Four years later now, Mormon theology of homosexuality has been modified. The denomination’s president, Russell Nelson, declared that it is the “Lord’s will” to reverse that policy, again discerned on “revelation.” Same-sex couples are still not approved. But they are no longer condemned as apostates, and their children can be baptized and become missionaries.

Pew Research has interesting new statistics showing the ten countries in the world with the most Muslims, along with projections of the number in 2060. These figures are compared with the ten countries with the most Christians, now and in 2060. Christians, 45 percent of whom live in the ten countries, are more widely dispersed throughout the world than Muslims, where 65 percent live within their ten countries. In terms of global populations, Christians currently claim 2.3 billion followers, compared with 1.8 billion Muslims. Projections for 2060: 3.1 billion Christians and 3 billion Muslims.

New research suggests that in the US, “Nones,” those unaffiliated with any religious tradition, account for 23.1% of Americans, up 1.5% since 2016. That puts them at approximately the same size as Catholics, at 23%, and Evangelicals, 22.5%, who are down 1.5% for the same period. Long declining Mainline Protestants may have turned a corner, with a slight increase, up to 10.8% from 10.1%.

Bad News!

Murali Balaji makes a strong case for the notion that Islamophobia is fueled by white Christian nationalists, not only in the US but throughout the numerous countries that are experiencing a resurgence in right-wing ‘nationalism.’ Their enemies: secularism and pluralism.  The Trump administration, according to Sojourners, is hand-in-glove with Christian nationalists.

Premier François Legault , one of the proponents of the legislation to ban religious articles and attire  –  Photo:    Wikimedia

Premier François Legault , one of the proponents of the legislation to ban religious articles and attire Photo: Wikimedia

Legislation is being proposed in Quebec to ban wearing any religiously symbolic articles or attire by all state-connected individuals, including teachers. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was one of the first to speak out against the new provincial law, saying such a ban is not a part of a “free and just society.”

The April 3 New York Times horror story on Brunei starts with these words: “A harsh new criminal law in Brunei – which includes death by stoning for sex between men or for adultery, and amputation of limbs for theft – went into effect on Wednesday, despite an international outcry from other countries, rights groups, celebrities and students.” Sultan Hassanal Bolkia, who governs the tiny oil-rich nation of 460,000 on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia, defended the new laws as a strict reading of Sharia. Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch characterized the code as “barbaric to the core, imposing archaic punishments for acts that shouldn’t even be crimes.” George Clooney, Ellen DeGeneres and Elton John are leading a boycott against nine luxury-hotels Brunei owns, including the Beverly Hills Hotel in Hollywood and the Dorchester in London.

Stories about Catholic nuns being raped by clergy are emerging from around the world, in rich countries and poor. Finally, with Pope Francis’ encouragement, the tide is turning on a culture of repression and violence against women religious. Historically nuns have consistently been blamed when sexual shenanigans were discovered, and those who became pregnant were expelled without assistance or support. In the middle of these kinds of travail, Pope Francis has issued new legislation for the Vatican City State and all its diplomats requiring them to report all alleged sex crimes to police or face fines and potential incarceration. It is seen as a first step in developing a comprehensive reform that will reach out from the Vatican to the rest of the global Church.

Interfaith Friendly News

Hundreds of memorials and vigils in the wake of the New Zealand shooting tragedy have been held across the US and around the world. A video posted to Twitter showing a stranger walking towards a New York mosque carrying a bouquet of roses has been “liked” more than 84,000 times. The man hands the flowers to a worshiper, saying the roses were his expression of sympathy after the loss of 50 lives in Christchurch.

Citing help they received from Muslim communities when subject to prejudice and violence,  Jewish communities are making a point in reaching out with condolences and support to Muslims neighbors following the recent tragedy in Christchurch, New Zealand. Those in both traditions are discovering that their disagreements with each other are minor compared with being terrorized, shared experiences that are bonding them.


An interreligious delegation of climate activists from various religious communities joined 5,000 scientists, politicians, and civil servants gathered last month in Nairobi for the United Nations fourth UN Environmental Assembly. This year religious leaders attended the Assembly for the first time. One of the programs at the gathering was titled “Faith for Earth Dialogue” and explored the ways faith communities can support the efforts to mitigate climate change, a concern leaders said is growing in all religious traditions. And they beseeched all attending to pay more attention to the human side of climate change.

A coalition of interreligious faith leaders in Denver are actively working to change the political climate in Colorado. “Their message: Eradicate racism. Seek equality. Push for a moral economy.” Under the banner of Faithful Tuesdays, the group includes African Methodist Episcopalians, Episcopalians,  Jews, Lutherans, Methodists, Muslims, Roman Catholics, Sikhs, Unitarian Universalists, and a variety of interfaith and ecumenical organizations.

The tragic sexual-abuse stories plaguing the Vatican have done nothing to stop  Pope Francis from his interfaith activism. Following his recent journey to Abu Dhabi, late last month Francis visited Morocco, a visit United Nations representatives called extremely symbolic at a time when religious extremism is a threat in North Africa. Miguel Angel Moratinos of the UN Alliance of Civilizations said that the trip was historic. “This visit is also part of the will of two great personalities, His Holiness Pope Francis and His Majesty King Mohammed VI [of Morocco], who both have a roadmap to show that belonging to a religion and to a culture should not be an obstacle, but on the contrary, an element of mutual understanding and respect for each other’s part.”

It’s a rare thing to see Catholics bestow a high award on a Muslim regent, but it happened last month. Jordan’s King Abdullah II urged greater cooperation to take on serious challenges worldwide as he was awarded a top Catholic peace prize by the Conventual Franciscans of the Sacred Convent of Assisi in central Italy. The annual award, known as the Lamp of Peace, recognizes King Abdullah II’s tireless promotion of peace in the troubled Middle East, support of interreligious dialogue, welcome of refugees, and educational reforms. Among those who govern in the Middle East, Abdullah is the leading interfaith activist.

Shrine of Madho Lal Hussain in Lahore – Photo:    Wikipedia

Shrine of Madho Lal Hussain in Lahore – Photo: Wikipedia

Topping the stunning-stories-you-haven’t-read-yet list comes festival news from Pakistan. In a suburb of Lahore, the country’s second largest city, Muslims were joined early this month by Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs to celebrate the 451st three-day Festival of Lights, called Mela Chiraghan. A estimated half a million devotees gather around a blazing bonfire commemorating the death of a famous Sufi poet, Shah Hussain (1538-1599) and his relationship with a young Hindu named Madho, who went on to become a saint. Their love was enduring, and they are buried next to each other at the poet’s shrine. The interfaith festival there, full of dancing and poetry, draws people in search of healing and resolving difficult problems.

If you are confused about how a festival focused on an historical gay interfaith relationship can draw 500,000 in Pakistan, you’re not the first. Umar Waqas tries to explain.(The story comes from Euronews. Wikipedia, by contrast, along with other press releases, say that Mela Chiraghan commemorates Shah Hussain’s death and make no mention of Madho.)

Header Photo: Bernard Spragg. NZ, C.c. 2.0