Interfaith News Roundup - October 2015

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

Religion Includes What?!

Pastor Rich Wilkerson, Jr. – Photo: Wikipedia, jasonkennedyfan

Pastor Rich Wilkerson, Jr. – Photo: Wikipedia, jasonkennedyfan

People magazine notes that Kim Kardashian’s pastor, Rev. Rich Wilkerson Jr., is taking the next step into “cool” Christianity and celebrity-based ministry by starring in a new reality TV show titled “Rich in Faith.” Laura Turner, a welcome new voice in religious journalism, ruminates on the American need for superstars and religion on TV.

A conservative religious and political undertow in India has been growing under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It broke out tragically in Udaipur, Rajasthan, where a street-mob took a man from his bed and beat him to death for having eaten beef. His family afterwards said it was lamb. According to the Washington Post, India, a country that historically has provided a place where Hindus and Muslims live next to each other in friendly peace, may slowly be giving up this remarkable achievement.

Antonia Blumberg’s “There's A Revolution Going On In Religion. Faith Groups Better Listen Up.” in Huffington Post Religion earlier this month includes an interview with Kaya Oakes. Author of the new book The Nones Are Alright, Oakes has gotten to know the “not affiliated” community in depth, and her conclusions are provocative and illuminating. Faith and interfaith leaders ignore Blumberg's headline at their own risk. 

Interfaith conflict in the Middle East has become our daily fare. Finally pundits are paying attention to the intrafaith issues at the heart of much of the conflict in the Middle East and Africa, specifically the struggle between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Akbar Shahid Ahmed and Ryan Grim review that conflict and make a strong case for the notion that until there is reconciliation between these two warring communities, ISIS will not be defeated. To skeptics, that peace may seem impossible. But tragedy can transform the heart. Last June, when a bomb took 29 lives in a mosque in Kuwait, thousands of Sunnis and Shiites gathered together for a mass funeral.

Set the four stories above next to each other, and no wonder James Calvin Schall is asking “Who’s Going to Teach Religion?” in Christian Century. He suggests that you can’t read understand American politics nor the news coming from around the world if you don’t have some grasp of world religions. Schaap confesses that teaching religion is a very tough assignment but insists that “Somebody’s got to do it.” Amen. (See last month’s TIO on “interfaith education.”)

Count-Down to Paris

The United Nations will convene for a climate-change conference in Paris, November 30 through December 11, and there are high hopes that a global strategy will surface to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are heating up the planet. The good news so far is that 146 countries, representing almost 87 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, have submitted their intended national climate action plans to the United Nations. Go here to review sample plans.

This means that so far over 75 percent of all member countries to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have responded. This includes all developed countries under the Convention and 104 developing countries, or almost 70 percent of UNFCCC developing member states. Over 80 percent of the plans include quantifiable objectives as well as intended actions to adapt to climate change. For details about how the conference is developing, go here.

Anyone wondering whether climate is an interfaith issue should remember that humankind today is a completely interfaith community. (The difference today is that unlike our forebears we’re fully conscious of this incredible diversity.) The social justice issues involved with climate involve not a particular race, class, caste, nationality, or gender but rather all of us. All of us are at risk. Any solution to the challenges we face perforce must be interfaith solutions.

By the way, we cannot ignore the other mega-social justice issue on the horizon: 60 million refugees. In particular, the issue of refugees and climate change is a frightening spectre. A New York Times article provides some inkling of what could happen.

TIO Correspondent Ruth Broyde Sharone will be in Paris to cover the climate summit.

An Interfaith Pope

TIO was founded four years ago to give a platform to religious and interreligious news and features that were otherwise unavailable to most of us and typically unnoticed by major media. Pope Francis’ trip to Cuba and the United States, you may have noticed, was not missed by the media. Nonetheless, as the most influential religious leader in the world today, particularly since his interfaith enthusiasm is so authentic and clear, TIO cannot ignore the Pope.

Hidden among the stories was Francis’ abiding commitment to interfaith dialogue, including interfaith worship. Before saying Mass for the 20,000 gathered in Madison Square Garden, he joined a prayer service at the 9/11 memorial which included not only Jew and Muslim but Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and others. “It is a source of great hope that in this place of sorrow and remembrance I can join with leaders representing the many religious traditions which enrich the life of this great city.”

“Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time” by sculptor Joshua Koffman. A bronze cast version of this image was blessed by Pope Francis at St Joseph University in September 2015. – Photo: Wikipedia, Joshua Koffman

“Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time” by sculptor Joshua Koffman. A bronze cast version of this image was blessed by Pope Francis at St Joseph University in September 2015. – Photo: Wikipedia, Joshua Koffman

At Independence Hall he shaped praise of religious liberty into an “imperative that the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others.”  And he made an unscheduled stop at St. Joseph’s University with his friend and compatriot Rabbi Abraham Skorka to bless a new sculpture,“Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time,” showing figures representing synagogue and church communing with each other.

To Congress, Pope Francis said: In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.”  You can find his full text here.

This is not going down well with conservative Catholics. Nor with ISIS. It has taken so long for progressive, liberal Muslims to get any serious media traction that it’s bracing to hear they’ve succeeded in catching the enemy’s attention. Apparently ISIS propagandists are going ballistic over Muslim leaders participating in an interfaith prayer service at the 9/11 memorial with Pope Francis. Now if only mainstream media in this country would get the message.

Why so much attention for this pope? Tom Toles in the Washington Post observed that “The pope has brought religion back into the public debate in an unexpected way by making Christianity sound like Christ for a change.”