Interfaith News Roundup - May 2019

Interfaith News Roundup

May 15, 2019

It’s a Tough World Out There

Nonprofit status for NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in the US is the primary tool for all good causes that need a corporate structure. But the freedom and flexibility of nonprofit corporations can come back to bite you. A report by the Council for American-Islamic Relations tells a grim story about nonprofits that peddle hate.

Religion News Service coverage begins this way: “Nearly 1,100 philanthropic organizations have funneled almost $125 million into dozens of anti-Muslim groups from 2014 to 2016, helping once-fringe ideas shape public opinion and government policy.” The report, “‘Hijacked by Hate: American Philanthropy and the Islamophobia Network,’ traces the flow of money from mainstream charities and foundations to 39 identified anti-Muslim special interest groups through anonymous donations. In all, the report identifies some $1.5 billion in private donations and other funds that have been made available to anti-Muslim organizations.”

Photo:    Wikimedia

Photo: Wikimedia

The tragedies associated with ISIS are not over, and current refugee solutions for multitudes go from bad to worse. More than 30,000 ISIS-associated Iraqi refugees currently held in Syria by Kurdish and American forces are in the process of being repatriated in Iraq. Iraq, laboring under the endemic enmity between Shi’a and Sunni communities, is struggling with what to do with them. Directing them all to one massive refugee camp, many point out, sounds convenient but would serve like a graduate education in terrorism. Send them back to their homes? For most that would be a death sentence. Any other suggestions!? Iraq’s interreligious complex of seemingly intractable problems is a textbook example of how ‘war’ can continue for years after the war is ‘over.’

A new Gallup poll finds that only 50 % of Americans indicate that they are members of a religious community, down from 70% just 20 years ago. The considerable growth of those who indicate that they have no religious affiliation has driven the development. Congregational membership among Democrats fell from 71% to 48% compared to a dip from 77% to 69% for Republicans.

Across the pond, Germany’s Catholic and Protestant communities are expected to lose half their memberships by 2060, due to adults leaving their congregations, fewer baptisms, and an aging population. Since ecclesiastical income depends on taxes the government collects from members of religious communities, membership losses will generate considerable financial pain. Not a member? Then no government funding for you. Both Catholic and Protestant congregations are seeking ways to bolster membership and bring new life to their congregations.

The US Internal Revenue Service has certified that the Satanic Temple (as opposed to the Church of Satan) is a certified religion, and therefore eligible for all the privileges that are afforded religious communities, reports Religion News Service. The report includes a survey of the difficulties in defining what a legitimate religion is, especially since ‘belief,’ which is so central to Christianity, is not necessarily the defining element in many other religions. You can be sure this isn’t the conclusion to the story.

Sri Lanka’s terrible church and hotel bombings last month are only part of the story. As detailed by the New York Times, sectarian violence has been rife for years between Buddhists and Hindus, Muslims and Christians, and Buddhists and Christians. Religious conflict is the antithesis of the healthy interfaith culture TIO promotes, and it is high time for peace-loving people from all religions and races to do something more than condemn the violence.

Funding, Fasting, and Interfaith Protocols

On May 6, Pope Francis led an interfaith prayer service in Sofia, Bulgaria which included members from the Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Armenian, and Protestant communities. That may not seem so impressive in today’s growing interfaith culture, but it was unprecedented in a country that has been riven and wounded by religious differences for centuries. At the service, Francis laid out an interfaith protocol necessary, he suggested, if we are ever to achieve peace. Peace, he said, “requires and demands that we adopt dialogue as our path, mutual understanding as our code of conduct, and reciprocal understanding as our method and standard.”

Photo:    Wikimedia

Photo: Wikimedia

Tech billionaire Marc Benioff is giving a $30 million donation to start a new research mini-institute at University of California San Francisco that will study homelessness and effective responses. The institute will be led by Dr. Margot Kushel, who led a ground-breaking study released this year showing a growing crisis of people over 50 becoming homeless. Kushel says her goal will be coming up with more effective ways to create housing for homeless people and connect them with the right services. The institute will also compile a digital library of local and national research aimed at policy leaders and the public. Benioff, one of the country’s most generous philanthropists, has been criticized for simply ‘studying’ the problem – but San Francisco is a case-study for throwing huge funds at homelessness which fail to solve the problem, so some serious examination may make a difference.

A $4.9 million grant from the Lilly Foundation is funding a major new collaborative effort to do better at reporting religion in the US and globally, great good news for religion journalism, which usually is not treated seriously by major media. The collaborative is made up of Religion News Foundation (RNF), Religion News Service (RNS), The Associated Press (AP), and The Conversation. The grant will fund a joint global religion news desk aimed at “providing balanced, nuanced coverage of major world religions, with an emphasis on explaining religious practices and principles behind current events and cultural movements.”

A Fast From China campaign has been organized to boycott Chinese goods in response to China’s punishing Uighar Muslims as they fast during Ramadan. This is on top of the large “indoctrination camps” for detained Uighars in Xinjiang province, where they are forced to eat pork and drink alcohol in spite of their religious considerations. Campaign organizers acknowledge the difficulty in boycotting Chinese products, since they dominate so many American stores.

As the May TIO is posted, we are a third of the way through this year’s Ramadan observance, the annual month-long fasting in Muslim communities. The Conversation has just published an excellent backgrounder titled “What Ramadan Means to Muslims: 4 Essential Reads,” guaranteed to give most non-Muslims a better understanding of Ramadan. It includes the story of Thomas Jefferson purchasing a copy of the Qur’an and scholar Denise Spellberg’s observation that “The purchase is symbolic of a longer historical connection between American and Islamic worlds, and a more inclusive view of the nation’s early, robust view of religious pluralism.”

Header Photo: Pxhere