Interfaith News Roundup - January 2014

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

HuffPost Religion on Last Year in Religion

The Top 10 Religion Stories of 2013

Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, Huffington Post, December 16, 2016

2013 was a huge year for religion news. The transition of power in the Vatican, church state issues in the United States, and religious tension in the Middle East were just a few of the reasons that religion was so often propelled onto the front page. The HuffPost Religion editorial team identified these top ten religion stories of the year. What do you think? What have we left off? Which is the most important? Let us know in the comments or tweet us @huffpostrelig.

10. Pope Benedict Resigns

On February 11, Pope Benedict announced to a shocked world that he would be resigning as pope on February 28, the first Pope to do so for 600 years. The 85-year-old Benedict gave diminishing health and strength as the reasons for his stepping down. The bombshell announcement ushered in a time of rumors, handwringing over the future of the Catholic Church and fevered speculation over who might be elected the next pope. All that ended on March 13 when the super secret papal conclave elected Benedict’s successor.

9. Gays Gain Ground

While LGBT people have a long way to go before attaining full equality within most religious communities, 2013 had a lot of stories that indicate that the tide is turning towards greater inclusion. The Boy Scouts lifted the ban on gay members, Pope Francis said his famous ‘who am I to judge‘ line, Rev. Guy Erwin of the Southwest California Synod became the first openly gay ELCA bishop, many religious groups filed amicus briefs with Edie Windsor on the DOMA trial, and 50 ministers performed a gay marriage in support of the Methodist Rev. Frank Schaefer who was on trial for officiating the marriage of his gay son. Polls in 2013 indicate an accelerating acceptance within congregations as well, as more congregations welcome LGBT people as full members of the worshipping community…

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Report: U.N.’s Commitment to Religious Freedom a Sham

U.N. Human Rights Council Fails to Protect Religious Freedom

Brian Pellot, December 30, 2013, Religion News Service

Human Rights Without Frontiers International, a non-profit advocacy organization based in Brussels, released a report on Monday highlighting what we’ve long known to be true: The U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is a joke.

Eight of the UNHRC’s 47 member states, including newly elected Morocco, China and Saudi Arabia (their three-year terms begin Wednesday), imprisoned people in 2013 for breaking laws that restrict religious freedom. The five current member states to do the same were India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Libya and South Korea.

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the U.N. General Assembly adopted in 1948, clearly states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

The UNHRC replaced the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in 2006, in part “to redress [the Commission’s] shortcoming,” which included granting membership to countries with terrible human rights records. The resolution establishing the UNHRC declares that member states “shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.”

Yet at least eight member states are failing, epically, to do so…

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Faith-Based Organizations Active at the U.N.

Q&A: Faith Groups as Partners in Development

Thalif Deen, Inter Press Service, September 20, 2013

The United Nations is considered one of the world’s most secular institutions, with 193 member states representing peoples of different faiths and cultures and professing religious and agnostic beliefs.

Still, faith-based organizations (FBOs) continue to play a vital role in a wide range of issues on the U.N.’s political, social and economic agenda, including human rights, population, food, health, education, children, peacekeeping, disarmament and refugees.

Azza Karam, Senior Advisor on Culture at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). – Photo: Paulo Filgueiras

Azza Karam, Senior Advisor on Culture at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). – Photo: Paulo Filgueiras

The U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) is perhaps the only U.N. agency that has invested – heavily and systematically since 2002 – in setting up a Global Interfaith Network of over 500 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) reaching out to disenfranchised communities worldwide.

These NGOs include World Vision, Islamic Relief, Caritas, the World Council of Churches, the Young Women’s Christian Association and CAFOD, the official Catholic aid agency for England and Wales.

In an interview with IPS, Dr. Azza Karam, senior advisor on culture at UNFPA, said the reality is that FBOs are among the oldest social and economic service providers.

They are not newcomers into development services – since this has been among the most traditional modus operandi of any religious institution, she said…

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Barriers between Religious and Non-Religious Coming Down

Nearly 1 in 4 Alums of Leading U.S. Interfaith Organization are Nonreligious

Chris Stedman, December 30, 2013, Religion News Service

Self-identification results from polling IFYC alums. – Graphic: IFYC

Self-identification results from polling IFYC alums. – Graphic: IFYC

Earlier this month, Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) – a leading interfaith organization in the United States that works with college and university campuses to equip young people for cooperative service and dialogue around shared values – released intriguing numbers about the alumni of their programs.

According to their survey results, nearly 1 in 4 IFYC alums identify as atheist (4.7 percent), agnostic (7.1 percent), secular humanist (5.3 percent), or spiritual but not religious (6.5 percent).

“The number of IFYC alums that identify as atheist, agnostic, or secular humanist is about as much as our Roman Catholic, Hindu, and Buddhist alumni combined,” said IFYC Director of Alumni Relations Amber Hacker in a recent interview.

The large number of nontheist or nonreligious IFYC alums may come as a surprise to some – perhaps especially those wondering whether nonreligious people are actually welcome in interfaith work…

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Japanese Monks Reach Out to Take on the Big Issues

Japan Buddhists Launch Monks Without Borders

Danielle Demetriou, The Telegraph, December 16, 2013

A Japanese Buddhist monk, ca. 1897 – Photo: Wikipedia

A Japanese Buddhist monk, ca. 1897 – Photo: Wikipedia

A group of Buddhists in Japan have formed an organisation called Monks Without Borders which aims to unite religious sects in tackling global issues such as poverty.

The new organisation, which echoes similarly-named establishments famously created by doctors and reporters, recently held their inaugural meeting in the city of Kyoto.

The non-profit project is the brainchild of Hiroaki Nakajima, 43, chief priest at Jokoji Temple in Kyoto city, and Eryo Sugiwaka, 53, chief priest at Hokkeji Temple in Kameoka, Kyoto Prefecture.

It aims to transcend the many different schools of Buddhism and unite practitioners around the world with the goal of addressing international problems such as the eradication of poverty, discrimination and other social issues…

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Germany Adds Islam to its School Curriculum

Germany Adds Lessons in Islam to Better Blend Its Melting Pot

Alison Smale, New York Times, January 6, 2014

Timur Kumlu, left, with his first graders. “We must educate so that they develop a personality with common roots,” he said. Photo: Gordon Welters, The New York Times

Timur Kumlu, left, with his first graders. “We must educate so that they develop a personality with common roots,” he said. Photo: Gordon Welters, The New York Times

FRANKFURT — For the first time, German public schools are offering classes in Islam to primary school students using state-trained teachers and specially written textbooks, as officials try to better integrate the nation’s large Muslim minority and counter the growing influence of radical religious thinking.

The classes offered in Hesse State are part of a growing consensus that Germany, after decades of neglect, should do more to acknowledge and serve its Muslim population if it is to foster social harmony, overcome its aging demographics and head off a potential security threat.

The need, many here say, is ever more urgent…

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Interfaith Scouting Emerges, Championing Diversity

In Missouri, Oak Scouts Offers an Alternative to the Boy Scouts

Heather Adams, December 30, 2013, Religion News Service



As the Boy Scouts of America gets ready to admit gay youth, one Missouri organization has already broken away, but not because it favors tradition.

Oak Scouts is designed to be a safe space for everyone, regardless of faith or sexual orientation.

It all started when Kerry Kasten began guiding children’s meetings at a nature preserve and nondenominational Shamanic Wiccan church in Boonville. The more Kasten met with the children, the more she realized the need for a new type of scout troop.

“I realized there are all these parents out there who were not wanting to go into the mainstream scouting program due to disagreements in faith and sexual orientation,” Kasten said. “They wanted to go somewhere they felt safe being gay or pagan or not mainstream and express how they felt.” …

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Increasing Christian Persecution Globally

Persecuted Christians Suffer for Their Faith

Stefan Dega, Deutsche Welle (DW), January 2, 2014

Human rights scholar Theodor Rathgeber researched and wrote the report.

Human rights scholar Theodor Rathgeber researched and wrote the report.

Christianity is the world’s largest religion, yet being a believer can be dangerous: A report finds that Christians are discriminated against in 130 countries - and the situation is only getting worse.

Three years ago, Asaia Bibi was a farm worker in Pakistan when she became subject of a dangerous accusation: “You insulted the Prophet!” In no time, the mother of five had been shepherded to the district court in the town of Nankana Sahib in Punjab province. The judges found Bibi, a Christian, guilty of blasphemy and imposed the death sentence.

It turned out Bibi was the victim of character assassination. Nonetheless, she remains in prison, and execution still looms. Blasphemy legislation in Pakistan makes it easy to put unpopular people behind bars, be they Christian, Muslim or atheist…

There is a growing number of similar stories, according to the “Ecumenical Report on the Religious Freedom of Christians Worldwide” which was published recently as joint research by Germany’s leading denominations. The report found that violations of the right to religious freedom had steadily increased since 2007,..

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