Interfaith News Roundup

Intrafaith Turmoil

In defiance of the Federal Government, a militia of self-identified armed Mormons occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Salem, Oregon to protest the jailing of two friends. They justified the crime by claiming it was based on “scriptural principles.”  What makes the story particularly interested in intrafaith dynamics was how quickly and completely the Mormon leadership in Salt Lake City responded.  Their press release said they “strongly condemn the armed seizure of the facility and are deeply troubled by the reports that those who have seized the facility suggest that they are doing so based on scriptural principles." J.M. Berger offers a fascinating profile of far-right wing groups in the U.S. and “a window into the varied landscape of domestic extremism in the United States.

Professor Larycia Hawkins – Photo: Facebook

Wheaton College has put on leave and threatened to fire Dr. Larycia Hawkins for saying that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Wheaton alumnus Tobin Grant suggests that the college, the “Harvard of evangelicalism,” has made a serious misstep in charging the professor of political science this way. More than three weeks after Grant’s first report, he details how the school seems to be making a host of errors in how it it is treating Professor Hawkins, an African-American Christian.

Professor Hawkins did more than make a theological truth claim. She also spent a week dressing with the Muslim  ‘hijab,’ commonly known as a headscarf for Muslim women. She did so out of solidarity for Muslim women, and she wan’t the only one. On special occasions last month, women clergy in Utah from Christian, Jewish, and Unitarian traditions wore the hijab, as did students in a Salt Lake City high school. But now progressive Muslim women are objecting, decrying the hijab (“never a headscarf” and its popularity).

The upside to the Larycia Hawkins story may be a new serious dialogue about the hijab and whether non-Muslims or even Muslims should wear it. Wheaton College was not particularly troubled about the piece of clothing. But Hawkins' symbolic act released a digital torrent of response about the hijab, who wears it, and why – including articles by progressive Muslim women who decry the hijab (“never a headscarf”) and its popularity. Go here for more than two dozen related stories, most of them by Muslim women.

While these intrafaith quarrels attract major media, it is easy to miss the continuing interfaith oppression in so many countries. For instance, in spite of Pakistani leaders promoting good interfaith relations, the pressure against minority religions seems inexorable. Aljezeera reports that “Islamabad’s Christian Slums Face Demolition.”

Public Sector Encouraging a Healthy Interfaith Culture

Dr. Tiffany Anderson – Photo:

Most cities around the world today, demographically, are multicultural and interreligious. When non-religious agencies, such as schools, local government, or secular nonprofits, do good work, interreligious acquaintances can become interfaith friends. Strangers who discover shared values and concerns can become collaborators.

For instance, cities in the U.S. are taking on what has seemed an intractable problem for decades – that is, homelessness. Despite cynics who counter that the poor will always be with us, appreciable progress is being made. A Christian Science Monitor article claims that “Several cities – including New Orleans, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, and Houston – have eradicated the problem altogether,” which may be an exaggeration given the poverty Parliament of the World’s Religions participants confronted in Salt Lake City two months ago. But there is much to be learned.

Check out the amazing story in the Washington Post titled “This superintendent has figured out how to make school work for poor kids.” And how to do it without a lot of new funding. Tiffany Anderson, the wizard driving this work, thinks outside the box, knows how to make a budget lean and powerful, and is attracting philanthropists to the work.

The United Nations is a perfect example of a global interreligious agency that stays away from religious language of sectarian causes but nevertheless is an incredible partner to people of any faith who are working to make the planet a better place. Last month the UN Security Council passed a resolution devoted entirely to the role of youth regarding peace and security in the world. This precedent-making resolution should open the door to young people everywhere to participate in creating a peaceful world.


Good News Interfaith Stories

The House of One is a sanctuary being planned that will be home to Christian, Jewish, and Muslim congregants in Berlin, Germany. More than a million Euro pounds have been given to the new project – a high vision for the 21st century.

The Central African Republic, starting with Bangui, its capital, is one of the most dangerous places in the world, caught in a ghastly civil war between Christians and Muslims who lived together peacefully for generations until the current conflict, inflicted by religious extremists on both sides. But in the heart of this nightmare, a hospital that admits both Christians and Muslims offers an miraculous alternative to the conflict.

Pope Francis has inaugurated a monthly video about prayer, including his prayer request. That request this month is that people from different faiths gather in sincere dialogue “may produce the fruits of peace and justice.”