Interfaith New Roundup - July 2015

Each month TIO shares a few of the more interesting interfaith stories from recent news.

Global Response to Laudato Si’ – On Care for Our Common Home

On the eve of Pope Francis’ encyclical about climate and creation, the Lausanne Movement, a global coalition of Christian Evangelicals, expressed its approval and appreciation. One of its leaders said, “almost all major global evangelical bodies including the Lausanne Movement have declared their commitment to care for God’s creation and to serve the poor affected by climate change impacts.” Also inspired by the Pope, 360 (and counting) rabbis have signed “A Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis,” reports The Shalom Center.

William Vendley, Secretary General of Religions for Peace, circulated a public letter highlighting the growing global interfaith cooperation focused on protecting the Earth and its climate. Clearly Pope Francis has a lot of agreement about climate and our responsibility.

The encyclical itself is an unprecedented entry into public policy and politics by a major religious leader and comes with all sorts of risks, detailed by David Gibson in a piece titled Game-Changer or Dead Letter? Climate-related poverty is a major theme in the encyclical; considering Jesus’ attitude towards the poor, it’s startling to hear conservative politicians accuse Francis of playing politics. By acting faithfully?

At least as interesting is Naomi Klein's New Yorker article A Radical Vatican? which notes that “By asserting that nature has a value in and of itself, Francis is overturning centuries of theological interpretation that regarded the natural world with outright hostility – as a misery to be transcended and an 'allurement' to be resisted.” (If she’s right, and she makes a very strong case, this could mean a milestone in becoming a more interfaith-friendly world, but that’s another story.)

Interfaith Power and Light (IPL), one of the strongest interfaith activist groups on the planet, is positioned particularly well to lead us from being inspired by the Pope to making a difference ourselves. IPL is 15 years old and has a national membership of 18,000 congregations. They are beautifully primed to show the rest of us how to make a serious impact. 

The Dalai Lama, who turned 80 last month, offered a strong endorsement of Laudato Si at Glastonbury, a massive 5-day festival in England. Huffington Post’s Antonia Blumberg’s collection of six millennials from different religious traditions who are doing remarkable work on the ecological crisis we face. Gives you hope! And in this issue of TIO, don’t miss the French economist Edouard Tétreau’s response, as he readies a book on “Pope Francis economics.”

Here is a copy of the entire encyclical, Laudato Si’ – On the Care of our Common Home, in English.

The creation was not the only thing on the Pope’s mind this past month. He also ratified an agreement recognizing the state of Palestine and promoting a two-state solution with Israel, much to the distress of the Israeli government. He also created a new high-level Secretariat of Communications, consolidating the work that nine agencies has been doing.

Being a person of faith in a land which manufactures and purveys unprecedented amounts of weapons is perpetually disturbing, particularly since most of us say so little about it. So it was startling, sobering to hear Pope Francis say “People who manufacture weapons or invest in weapons industries are hypocrites if they call themselves Christian.”

Stories from Around the World

It’s disconcerting to acknowledge that a movie star and celebrity has become, next to Pope Francis perhaps, the leading voice today calling the world to account for the suffering of refugees. Angela Jolie, in her role as a UN Special Envoy for refugees, visited Turkey’s refugee camps last month, where 1.59 million Syrians are housed. And Jolie elaborated, “Never before have so many people been dispossessed or stripped of their human rights.” Simultaneously, countries are scrambling to put up borders and restrictions on welcoming refugees.

This infographic was published by the Center for American Progress on June 25, 2015.

This infographic was published by the Center for American Progress on June 25, 2015.

French Rabbi Michel Serfaty deserves an interfaith hero’s badge. He walks the Muslim neighborhoods of Paris by himself, handing out fliers and engaging in serious conversation with any who are interested. He works collaboratively with an imam, and they have a friendship bus. Talk about the power of one person, and then more, who fearlessly goes after the good!

And more good news from France. As reported in TIO a year ago, an interfaith team of French teenagers made a global pilgrimage sponsored by Coexister. They met with interfaith groups in 50 countries in 300 days, doing video interviews along the way. Then they went back to France, arguably the most secular culture in the West, and started visiting schools to share religious information and undercut all sorts of prejudice. Interreligious/secular violence in France has grown in recent months. Requests for Coexister students to visit schools has gone from two a week to two every day. The schools live with French laws forbidding any and all religious expression at school. Think of Coexister students as front-line interfaith activists.

An article in the China Digital Times questions the methodology of Gallup polling that suggests more than 50 percent of Chinese self-identify as atheists. The Chinese word for religion used by Gallup is problematic, it points out, and the predominance of online responses in the Gallup poll means respondents might have felt the need to tow the official Communist line. The distinction is important as pundits extrapolate from the polls to predict what religion will look like at the end of this century.       

Iftar, the Muslim meal after the sun sets to break the day’s fast during Ramadan, has become an interfaith celebration in hundreds of cities across America and elsewhere. Invitations from mosques have been met with engagement in small towns and large. In Detroit, Michigan earlier this month hundreds packed a Dearborn mosque to pray and eat together and to hear the religious leaders of various traditions speak of the value on an interfaith iftar. Religions for Peace USA is deeply involved in promoting iftar as a response to Islamophobia, first in Nashville, and now beyond.

Baba Ramdev helped draw over 35,000 yoga practitioners to New Delhi last month for the first International Yoga Day, an event promoted by India’s Prime Minister Modi, endorsed by the UN, and being celebrated in 179 countries. Ramdev is said to have trained half a million yoga teachers in a Hindu-grounded approach to the ancient discipline. Through television he claims to have a billion followers, and his operation has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Now that is outreach!

In response to a Labor Party leader’s proposal that religion be stripped from all publicly funded schools in the UK, Sophie Heawood writes an illuminating essay in The Guardian titled, “I may be an atheist, but faith schools made me who I am.

George Mitrovitch delivers a stinging rebuke to journalists who write about religion while knowing so little about it, and the damage it does. He notes, for instance, how the press regularly conflates “evangelicals” and “fundamentalists,” groups which sometimes overlap but have distinctly different tendencies. (Point made, though religious journalism has come a long way in the past two decades.) Mitrovitch’s essay goes on to briefly and dramatically survey the amazing, mostly unnoticed diversity within American Christianity. The majority of the world’s 38,000 Christian denominations are found in the U.S. Chew on that when you’re thinking of the many and the one!

“How can we stop violence in the name of religion” was the theme of an international conference of religious leaders in Kazakhstan, attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who promised a global action proposal to deal with the problem later in the year, asking the religious leaders to support him in the effort.

Yehuda Stolov and Salah Alladin in Jerusalem

Yehuda Stolov and Salah Alladin in Jerusalem

As reported in the Jerusalem Post last month, Yehuda Stolov and Salah Alladin were awarded the $10,000 Goldberg Prize for Peace in the Middle East. Given each year to an Arab and a Jew working for coexistence, the prize recognizes the extraordinary achievements of the Interfaith Encounter Association. IEA has sponsored 1,900 interfaith programs in the past 13 years, involving 71 interfaith communities. Congratulations, gentlemen! (Yehuda’s story in TIO about developing the IEA can be found here.)

President Obama Preaches about Race in America

Nearly 100 African American churches in the U.S. have been firebombed in the past 65 years, a terrible stain on the condition of race and religion in America. Last month's tragic shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina though was so heinous, so clearly racist, that it has sent religious and political jolt to conservative Americans that change has to happen. Abandoning the Confederate flag, with its storied history in this country since the Civil War, is something many of us thought would not happen in our life-times. A silver lining for a tragic history.

President Obama’s eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of Emanuel AME, will go down as a foundational document about religion, public policy, race, the role of the church, and violence in America. And it is framed within a sermon on the power of grace, “the free and benevolent love of God.” A video of the presentation can be found on the right. If you would prefer to read it, or have a copy in your hand as you listen, the text is here.

Go here for a remarkable comparison of Obama’s eulogy and Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. (Seminarians will use the eulogy as an exemplar of homiletic mastery.) Obama has been criticized for not paying enough attention to African Americans, a notion this address should help silence. The following description of Emanuel AME is but a taste of Obama’s reflections on race and religion in the United States.

When there were laws banning all-black church gatherings, services happened here anyway, in defiance of unjust laws. When there was a righteous movement to dismantle Jim Crow, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached from its pulpit, and marches began from its steps. A sacred place, this church. Not just for blacks, not just for Christians, but for every American who cares about the steady expansion of human rights and human dignity in this country; a foundation stone for liberty and justice for all. That's what the church meant.