Global Interfaith Stories
Heroes keep emerging. A Japanese diplomat in Lithuania as World War II began, Chiune Sugihara, saved more than 6,000 Jews from the Nazis, despite having to break orders not to and suffering severe consequences. Persona Non Grata, a movie recognizing this Japanese “Oskar Schindler” and telling his story, had its American premier in Atlanta on January 31.
In 2001 in Buenos Aires a priest, an imam, and a rabbi established the Institute for Interfaith Dialogue with the strong support of Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio. This past November, the same trio visited the Vatican to visit their old friend, now Pope Francis, with a proposal for a project called America in Dialogue. The project is based on Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, and again his support is enthusiastic. Generating this dialogue in both North and South America, they attest, will help solve global problems.
Pope Francis also made news recently by visiting Rome’s Great Synagogue, across the river Tiber from the Vatican. The visit was deeply appreciated by Rome’s Jewish community. Late last year, TIO readers will remember, Francis visited and spoke at a mosque in war-torn Central African Republic. And President Obama visited a mosque in Washington, DC earlier this month, affirming the congregation as “all American” and making a strong case for religious tolerance and friendship in the United States.
On January 11, speaking in Jakarta, Indonesia, the secretary general of Religions for Peace International, William Vendley, called on world governments to use humanitarian aid to impede the growth of violent extremism. “Governments have to engage more in development assistance to break down the wall between sustainable development and counter extremism.”
As if to prove Vendley’s challenge, three days later, on January 14, terrorist bombs went off in the city and seven people died. Then on January 18, again in Jakarta, more than 10,000 protestors representing Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, and Taoist traditions protested the violence that has infected their country. Indonesia’s Defense Minister said “Every religion teaches the fundamental principle of love,” while “Every act of terror goes against the true values f every faith, and for this reason we reject them.”
Andrew Brown, writing about England in The Guardian last month declared that “No religion is the new religion,” focused on the growth of the “no religion” contingent which now outnumbers white Christians in the country. Brown also unpacks the sometimes weak membership habits of self-identifying Anglicans.
Crux, the Sunday religion magazine of the Boston Globe, has published a series of articles on Christians being persecuted around the world, and they are horrifying. This is not about bakers being forced to sell wedding cakes to gay and lesbian couples: it is about the fierce oppression and violence suffered by people of Christian faith and practice. In some countries they are attacked and killed by both the left and right, not over theological issues but for championing peace and justice in violent times, and too often they are incredibly violent themselves. These are stories that major media tend to ignore, and Crux must be commended for telling some of the toughest stories you’ll read anywhere about religion and the need for peace.
“Religious leaders and scholars from across the Muslim world met in Marrakesh, Morocco from 25-27 January 2016, to endorse the responsibility of Muslims living in Muslim-majority countries to protect the religious minorities livingin their midst. The scholars were responding to a crisis: in recent years, several predominantly Muslim countries have witnessed brutal atrocities inflicted upon longstanding religious minorities.” This comes from a KAICIID report about a meeting which issued a “Declaration on Protection of Religious Minorities.”
Interfaith Strategies in Civic Engagement
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is reaching out to religious groups from all traditions to partner in ways that help reduce food waste, with a goal of reducing it by 50 percent by 2030. Government figures suggest that currently 1200 calories of food per American is lost every day at every level of the food chain from the farm to the family kitchen. At the same time, 48 million citizens struggle to get adequate food each day.
As public schools become more interreligious from simple demographics, various religious communities are asking that school holidays be held to honor their special holy days, just as Christmas and Good Friday are honored. This is happening across the U.S. and brings up difficult issues. How do you decide which traditions are honored and which ignored? Should all religious holidays be ignored? – a suggestion which brought a roar of disapproval in one school system. Charles Haynes, First Amendment expert, has weighed in on the question but has no easy answers.
A new Duke University study on the relationship between police and local Muslim communities suggested that trust needs to be established if the public is to be safer. The principle distinction Muslims are asking in this process is that all potential terrorists instead of just Muslims be targeted for special attention by the police. The study also points out that all the communities within a community to need to work at building healthy, friendly multicultural relationships, not just the police. Montgomery County, Maryland, has taken the advice seriously with excellent results.
Christians, Nones, Muslims, and More
Religion Dispatches, one of the best regular reads about religion on the Web, has published a series of articles about a “third Reconstruction” in America and American religion’s relationship to race (the first being post-Civil War, the second being the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s). The third is all about dismantling the system of racism and taking on economic injustice. Rev. William Barber, who launched North Carolina’s Moral Monday program that has now gone national, is inspiring this new movement. Included in the series is Peter Laarman’s profile and interview with Barber.
(Barber’s Third Reconstruction should not be confused with “Christian Reconstructionism,” a fringe group who believe the bible should literally govern every aspect of life, including a justification of slavery and stoning of homosexuals, and who have had an out-sized influence on right-wing Christianity in America.)
The race to win the Republican presidential nomination in the United States has led to a kind of religious pandering, suggestions that America implicitly is a Christian nation, demeaning the faith and the nation’s political heritage. Helping to clarify this mess, life-long Baptist Richard Conville gently but convincingly draws important distinctions between the state, religion, and politics in the U.S. His clarifying essay should be required reading for voters. John Povlavich, a pastor from North Carolina is even more provocative in a remarkable piece in Huffington Post titled “President Obama’s Tenure Has Been More ‘Christian’ Than His Critics Will Ever Admit.”
It wasn’t a religious or interfaith gathering, but you might call it an interspiritual happening. At last month’s full moon in Los Angeles, 1,000 women calling themselves the Urban Coven used their flashlights to walk up the hills of Griffith Park where they shared rituals “to connect with one another and honor the cycles of the moon.” The gathering echoed celebrations that women from different religious and cultural traditions around the globe have carried on for centuries.
Gwynne Dyer, writing in the Zimbabwe Independent, draws a provocative intrafaith comparison between the Sunni-Shia conflicts going on around the world today and the prolonged wars between Catholics and Protestants when the Reformation erupted in Europe five centuries ago. Lots to be learned here.
Beth Broadway, an interfaith activist in Syracuse, New York, reports that “Syracuse held its 6th annual World InterFaith Harmony Assembly at the newest mosque in town, the Mosque of Jesus, Son of Mary. This mosque is transformed from a turn of the century Catholic Church, built in the Gothic style to serve the then-immigrating German population.
A local non-profit, made up of mostly Muslim leaders, wanted to buy the school for its Learning Center that teaches English and other subjects to adults and after-school to children who are refugees and immigrants. But they had to buy the whole campus, including the church, and with much love and hard work, turned it into a mosque to also serve the faith needs of newly settled refugees. Our agency, InterFaith Works, mobilized to help with the public discussions about this change.