Interfaith News Roundup
September 15, 2019
The Big Picture
Last month a distinguished international team working on behalf of the United Nations came to these conclusions regarding the freedom of religion: “States have an important role to play in promoting religious tolerance and cultural diversity by promoting and protecting human rights, including freedom of religion or belief.” The group of UN independent experts urged nations “to step up their efforts to combat intolerance, discrimination and violence against people based on religion or belief, including against members of religious minorities and people who are not religious.” Their comments come in a statement on August 22, marking the first International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.
Ewelina Ochab’s recent article in Forbes, “Five Reasons the World Needs a Wake-Up Call on Religious Persecution,” though brief, is another powerful call to action to end violence against believers of all faiths. Major media’s daily patter makes it easy to think we’re on top of what’s important to know. Ochab’s article, in a business magazine yet, reminds us of the harsh realities most of have missed.
Sri Lanka has suffered considerable sectarian war in recent years. The Muslim World League (MWL) sponsored an interfaith peace conference in Colombo last month. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisesena joined 2,000 Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim religious leaders, politicians, scholars, and media professionals. In addition, the MWL has given Sri Lanka $5 million to support victims of terrorist attacks in recent months. Islam is a minority religion (9.7%) in the country.
Religion, Politics, and the Law
For those still mystified at how “Christians” of any kind could adore and glorify Donald Trump, Anthea Butler’s essay “Why Trump — and some of his followers — believe he is the Chosen One” is new grist for the mill. Along with exploring Trumpian self-glorification, Butler probes the dark, frightening recesses of militant Christianity.
Meanwhile, “The Rev. William Barber II, a progressive activist and pastor, addressed the executive committee of the Democratic National Committee on Friday (Aug. 23), calling on party leaders to host a presidential debate focused on poverty and to do more to address the concerns of poor and low-income Americans.” Jack Jenkins story of the encounter should warm the hearts of social justice activists everywhere. “Barber insisted that poverty touches all people and regions of the United States and overlaps with related concerns such as racism, voter suppression, healthcare, ‘ecological justice,’ militarism, and religious nationalism.”
The ever-travelling Pope Francis spent a week earlier this month visiting three African countries, Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius, countries gripped by poverty and conflict and subject to terrible natural and ecological disasters. He delivered 15 speeches in Portuguese and Italian, focusing on three themes: peace, caring for creation, and encountering the other.
Julian Castro and Bernie Sanders were the two US presidential candidates who showed up at the Islamic Society of North America’s annual gathering, at the risk that Islamophobia would lose them votes for doing so. Sanders told the 6,000 attending the conference, “I am here today because I believe in the concept of solidarity, and the need for all of us, no matter where we come from or what our background is, to stand together in the struggle for justice and human rights.”
The most spiritually engaged candidate for the presidency of the US is Marianne Williamson, a proponent of the Course in Miracles and a spiritually oriented social justice activist. Her feisty comments in the presidential debates have helped put her ahead of more than half of the 23 candidates. Bailey Pickens has an excellent profile of Williamson, noting that the big confusion about her is that she is so very religious.
We heard about it in France, a year or two ago, but now comes notice that Muslim women wearing modest swimming suits, called burkinis, are being harassed in the US. For wearing too much swimming attire, in modest accordance with their religious convictions! It’s a shameful indictment of people utterly out of touch with the essential freedoms on which this nation was founded and which are required of anyone who wants to live in a safe, friendly world.
Interfaith Digs Deeper
The big takeaway in Goldie Blumenstyk’s folksy but highly informative essay on Eboo Patel and the Interfaith Youth Core? IFYC is creating an online extension of its work on college and university campuses. It’s on-campus activities have been highly successful. For instance, last month’s annual Leadership Institute drew together 600 students and educators from 170 colleges. The agency has been disciplined in keeping its scope focused on interfaith leadership training on campuses, resisting tempting partnerships that might take the organization off-purpose. Moving forward with online activities makes the IFYC canvas vastly larger. It will be fascinating the see it develop.
Professor C. Pierce Salguero has spent years studying Buddhist communities in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area. He points out that meditation has been the tradition’s calling-card in the West, key to attracting Americans to Buddhism. He approach, by contrast, is to study the lived lives and activities of Buddhists in America, providing a new layer of meaning to Westerners attracted to the tradition. The Jivaka Project is an online presentation of what is being learned.
The Times of Israel published a review of a variety of new interfaith books about family life titled “Ten books that capture what it’s like to grow up in an interfaith family.” In each case, one of the parents is Jewish. But the depths of interfaith marriage emerge as Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others are also central players in these stories.
Another religion article in BBC’s fascinating series on the future is must reading for interfaith, interspiritual activists. Sumit Paul-Choudhury’s article is titled “Tomorrow’s God: What is the Future of Religion.” Besides providing a brief, clear, and informed history of religion, he surveys the most interesting but largely unnoticed new religious formations going on now. Guaranteed to stretch your thinking.
“The Interfaith Influences of the Blues Meet Religion in Space” is a lovely story about how Muslim influences show up in the history of American blues, and how one of the most successful interfaith blues song ended up being sent into space. Interfaith everywhere!
New Role for an Interfaith Veteran
Tarunjit Singh Butalia’s day job is Research Associate Professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering at the University of Ohio. Earlier this year he won a teaching award (voted by students), and he has a history of creating award-making projects for sustainably reclaiming land that has been mined.
Thousands of us outside the academy, however, particularly those involved with interfaith activism, know Tarunjit Butalia by what he has achieved, the quick friendships that sprout up whenever people meet him, and the interfaith voice he has provided for American Sikhs. He has had leadership roles in the North American Interfaith Network, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and Religions for Peace-USA. He has served on the board of the National Religious Coalition Against Torture as well as the World Sikh Council-America Region. And he was a founding trustee of the Sikh Council for Interfaith Relations.
Tarunjit is also part of the TIO family, starting early this year to contribute an article every month. This issue on hospitality includes his wonderful essay on Langar, the sacred, nutritious, free meals that Sikhs give away to hundreds of thousands each year.
Last month Tarunjit Singh Butalia was named Executive Director of Religions for Peace-USA. At a time when the interfaith world is waking up to the need for us to collaborate in making a better world, it is hard to imagine a person better prepared than Professor Butalia for the task at hand.