Interfaith News Roundup - June 2014

Fossil Fuel Divestiture Gaining Momentum

First Church in UK Divests from Fossil Fuels

Eden Keeper, May 24, 2014

This week, Brighthelm Church and Community Center in Brighton became the first church in the United Kingdom to divest from fossil fuel. “We don’t want our money to support an industry that is killing the planet,” said Brighthelm’s minister, Rev. Alex Mabbs. “Instead, we want to contribute to a world in which all life can flourish.”

Divestment has been a major issue for educational institutions like Stanford and Harvard, as well as religious groups across the world. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and United Nations climate change secretariat Christian Figueres have linked the moral imperative to divest from fossil fuels to the historical anti-apartheid and slavery boycotts. “Dear friends, for the first time in history we human beings now have the power to alter the physical foundations of life on this planet,” said Figueres. “But as ever throughout history we also have the responsibility to set the ethical foundation of our global society. We have done this with slavery and with apartheid. It’s time to do it with climate change.” Many religious groups have answered the call…

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Go here for the New York Times story about Union Theological Seminary’s divestiture of fossil fuel investments, the first seminary to make such a decision.

Celebrities and Religious Leaders Join Hands

At Angelina Jolie-Chaired Summit, Faith Leaders Work to End Sexual Violence

Brian Pellot, Religion News Service, June 11, 2014

LONDON – Religious leaders from across Africa and England came together Wednesday to discuss the role clergy should play in preventing and responding to sexual violence.

The panel was part of the three-day Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict co-chaired by Angelina Jolie, the special envoy for the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague. Jolie and Hague made an unannounced appearance before the event, causing attendance to surge and preventing several dozen participants from entering the crowded conference room.

In a pre-recorded video message, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby started the session by describing some of the positive developments he observed firsthand on a recent trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Historically there has been a culture of impunity,” he said. “Faith leaders are challenging that culture fiercely and saying that rape and sexual violence in war is absolutely unacceptable and will result in consequences.” …

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Vatican Uses Prayer to Initiate Middle East Reconciliation

Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres Pray with Pope Francis for Mideast Peace

Steve Almasy, CNN, June 9, 2014

Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas greet each other as Francis looks on. – Photo: Haaretz

Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas greet each other as Francis looks on. – Photo: Haaretz

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres committed themselves to the quest for peace Sunday during a meeting of key figures in the Middle East peace process.

But unlike previous attempts to achieve a resolution to the region’s turmoil through traditional means, there would be no negotiating nor any political talks at Sunday’s summit. This appeal would be made to a higher calling: Abbas and Peres prayed for peace together Sunday at the Vatican home of Pope Francis.

The meeting comes two weeks after the Pope invited the two leaders to do so during his visit to the Holy Land.

“In this, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace” the Pope said in Bethlehem’s Manger Square following a May 25 Mass, “ I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, together with President Shimon Peres, to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace.”

Sunday’s meeting was a first for the Vatican, which had never hosted a prayer gathering of two leaders engaged in conflict...

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Homelessness Shows Up at the Vatican

Squatters Bed Down in Vatican Church

Tom Kington, The Guardian, June 12, 2014

Luca Bonucci, left, holding child, and some of the homeless people who have moved into the church of Saint Mary Major, Rome. – Photograph: Chris Warde-Jones

Luca Bonucci, left, holding child, and some of the homeless people who have moved into the church of Saint Mary Major, Rome. – Photograph: Chris Warde-Jones

Rome homeless group has lived for nine days at Saint Mary Major, a papal basilica where Pope Francis regularly prays.

Pope Francis’s avowed commitment to the poor and the homeless is being put to the test by a group of out-of-work, homeless people who have bedded down amid the gold leaf and opulent marble of one of Rome’s most stunning and sacred churches.

A band of 110 squatters – including around 20 children – have been camped out for nine days at the fifth-century church of Saint Mary Major – one of Rome’s four papal basilicas.

If Francis was not aware of Rome’s growing number of squatters – 5,800 crisis-struck families have illegally occupied buildings, according to activists – he will be soon: the pope often stops by the church to pray to the 1,000-year-old icon of the Madonna that is hung one niche down a side aisle from where the squatters have parked prams and suitcases.

“We are an alarm call, a heads-up that the housing system in Rome is collapsing,” said Luca Bonucci, 38, a former security guard who lost his home when his employer failed to pay him for a year…

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Ultra-Conservative European Braintrust Targeting “Satanic Gay Lobby”

Secret ‘Anti-Gay’ Meeting Held by Russian Oligarch with Top Politicians in Vienna

Austrian Independent, June 3, 2014

Konstantin V. Malofeev – Photo: Wikipedia

Konstantin V. Malofeev – Photo: Wikipedia

Konstantin V. Malofeev – Photo: WikipediaA secret meeting discussing ways to rid Europe of the ‘satanic gay lobby’ was hosted by a Russian oligarch and attended by a host of far-right MPs and ultra-conservative Eurasian ideologists in Vienna at the weekend – just across the road from where the Life Ball was taking place the very same night.

The meeting was hosted by Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev and his Saint Basil the Great Charitable Foundation and was attended by nationalists and Christian fundamentalists from Russia and the West. These were thought to include the chief Russian ideologist of the Eurasian movement Alexander Dugin, the nationalist painter Ilja Glasunow, and MPs from far right parties including the Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache.

According to Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger, who say they managed to confirm the event took place from two independent sources, the meeting was hosted at Vienna’s Palais Liechtenstein under conditions of extreme secrecy.

As well as discussing the ‘gay lobby’ it is thought the topic of fighting liberalism in Europe was also discussed. …

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Waging Religious War through Advertising

Muslim and Anti-Muslim Groups go to War in Bus, Print Ads

Cathy Lynn Grossman, The Washington Post, May 21, 2014

In the midst of bigoted ads, the Gap has gone the other way, breaking down barriers in ads like this.WASHINGTON – A public opinion war on Middle East politics is playing out this spring in new advertising campaigns on public buses and in newspapers.

It began when the American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) launched bus ads during the April Cherry Blossom Festival condemning U.S. aid to Israel because of that country’s continuing occupation of Palestinian territories.

Then on Monday (May 19), Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative countered by deploying 15-foot-long ads on 20 buses in the Washington, D.C. system that equate opposition to Israel’s policies with Nazism. One ad shows the grand mufti of Jerusalem meeting Hitler during World War II.

“The bus system is considered public space, so speech has First Amendment protections,” said Caroline Laurin, a spokeswoman for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. “We have no grounds to refuse ads due to their content.”

AMP board member Osama Abu Irshaid, who lives in northern Virginia, has seen the Hitler-mufti ad and finds it offensive and off point. “We don’t condone what was inflicted on the Jews by Hitler,” Irshaid said. “We condemn it as a crime against humanity. We denounce any crime against any human for their religion or ideology.” …

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Sikh Intrafaith Violence in Amritsar

Sword Fights Break Out in a Clash at India’s Golden Temple

Bill Chappell, NPR, June 6, 2014

Members of a hardline Sikh group clash with guards of the Sikh’s holiest shrine, the Golden Temple, in Amritsar, India. At least 10 people were reportedly wounded in the clash. – Photo: Prabhjot Gill, APA commemoration of a military raid on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, went awry Friday, as rival groups of Sikhs clashed at the shrine. Ceremonial swords and staffs were swung in anger, resulting in injuries and panic.

The violence broke out after a group of “radical Sikh activists” wanted to brandish their swords and chant slogans calling for a separate Sikh homeland, or Khalistan, according to the Times of India. The newspaper says at least 12 people were injured.

Other news outlets say the clash followed an argument over who would be allowed to speak at the event, and in what order…

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Horrifying Statistics on ‘Honor’ Killing in Pakistan

Four-in-Ten Pakistanis Say Honor Killing of Women Can be at Least Sometimes Justified

Neha Sahgal and Tim Townsend, Pew Research FastTank, May 30, 2014

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for “immediate action” Thursday over the stoning death of a pregnant 25-year-old woman in Lahore earlier this week. Farzana Parveen’s murder, carried out by her family members because she married a man without their consent, has shined a light on so-called “honor killing,” a practice in which relatives end the lives of women and men who are said to bring shame to the family.

Sharif called Parveen’s death “totally unacceptable,” but a Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2011 found that the Prime Minister’s position is unlikely to resonate with all Pakistanis.

Honor killings claim the lives of more than 1,000 Pakistani women every year, according to a Washington Post story citing a Pakistani organization that advocates against honor killings.  In the last few years, honor killings in Pakistan have gained international attention, with cases ranging from women refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, seeking a divorce or having a pre- or extra-marital affair.

In the Lahore case, Parveen’s father told police that he sought his daughter’s killing because her marriage to the man without his permission “had insulted all of our family.” …

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Interfaith Marriage Comes Under Attack

Interfaith Couple Tests Limits of Buddhist Tolerance in Myanmar

Carlos Sardiña Galache, Christian Science Monitor, May 13, 2014

Buddhist pagodas and temples dot the landscape of the Pangan Kingdom of ancient Burma. – Photo: Wikipedia

Buddhist pagodas and temples dot the landscape of the Pangan Kingdom of ancient Burma. – Photo: Wikipedia

Five years ago, a Buddhist converted to marry a Muslim in Myanmar’s conflict-torn Rakhine State. He now hides his prior identity due to the threat of retribution by majority Buddhists.

On one side of a checkpoint, he is a Muslim living in a wretched refugee camp. On the other side, he belongs to the majority Buddhist community in northwestern Myanmar’s Rakhine State. The checkpoint separates Buddhists and Muslims in a region that erupted in sectarian violence in June 2012, forcing more than 70,000 internally displaced Rohingya Muslims into camps. 

When Mr. Saed passes the checkpoint and goes to the market to buy food and goods for his family and his Muslim neighbors, he goes by the name on his Myanmar ID card: Aung Lay Tun. He risks being beaten and possibly killed if Rakhine extremists discover that he is a Buddhist who converted to Islam…

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Sudanese Woman Condemned to Death for ‘Apostasy’

Sudan: EU Presidents Urge Sudan to Revoke Death Sentence

All Africa-Radio Dabanga, June 10, 2014

Meriam Ibrahim, condemned to death for her faith, with her husband, Daniel Wani – Photo:

Meriam Ibrahim, condemned to death for her faith, with her husband, Daniel Wani – Photo:

KHARTOUM — The presidents of European Union bodies have expressed their deepest dismay and concern with the fate of Meriam Yahya Ibrahim, facing death for ‘apostasy’ in Sudan. She has been imprisoned for months, together with her newborn girl and her 20-month-old son.

The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, and the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, have underlined Sudan’s international obligation to protect the freedom of religion and belief. They released a press statement today (Tuesday) under the auspices of the EU Delegation to theRepublic of Sudan.

The three presidents, together with religious leaders representing Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, unanimously called upon the responsible Sudanese authorities ‘to revoke this inhumane verdict and release Ibrahim with the utmost urgency’. …

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As TIO goes to post, unconfirmed reports suggest that Meriam Ibrahim will be released.