A Holy Thanksgiving

As October quickly turned to November, jack-o-lanterns and costumes were replaced by Christmas carols and Internet outrage over holiday cups. Every year we go from Halloween to Christmas with little space carved out for Thanksgiving.

There is no question that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Many times I have remarked that Thanksgiving is one of the greatest days of the year, that I cannot wait to go home, that Christmas needs to wait until December. Come every November, I begin my internal countdown, growing more excited each day closer to this holy holiday.

We often reserve the word “holy” for holidays such as Christmas and Easter, but for a multi-faith family such as my own, a holiday grounded in something more substantial than – let’s say trees for Arbor Day – while still allowing everyone to come with their own religious identity is not only a privilege, but a gift.

Muslim-Majority City Council May Be First in U.S.

Image via Sally Morrow / RNS

Hamtramck, Mich. residents have elected a Muslim majority to its city council, symbolizing the demographic changes that have transformed the city once known for being a Polish-Catholic enclave.

In Tuesday’s election — with six candidates running for three seats — the top three vote-getters were Muslim, while the bottom three were non-Muslim. Two of the Muslim candidates, Anam Miah and Abu Musa, are incumbent city councilmen, while newcomer Saad Almasmari, the top vote-getter, was also elected. Incumbent City Councilman Robert Zwolak came in fifth place.

Some believe the city is the first in the U.S. with a Muslim majority on its city council.

Evangelical Pastor to Peers: 'Don't Kill a Muslim'

Image via Cascade Books / Wipf and Stock Publishers / RNS

When a half-dozen activists and community leaders sat down to address interfaith relations in the increasingly diverse heartland city of Nashville, Tenn., one paused before his turn to speak, took a breath and said:

“As a white, male, evangelical pastor on this panel, I guess I represent everything that is wrong.”

The speaker, Joshua Graves, the 36-year-old senior pastor of Otter Creek Church, an 1,800-member suburban megachurch, had a point. Evangelicals like him have had a rocky relationship with American Muslims.

But then again, he may also represent everything that could be right in Christian-Muslim understanding.

'Chaplains' Documentary Follows Nontraditional Faith Companions to Battlefield, Prison

Image via Journey Films / RNS 

They can be found on the battlefield, at a chicken-processing plant, and behind the locked gates of a prison.

They are chaplains, and as a two-hour, two-part documentary airing on PBS stations beginning Nov. 3 points out, they minister to people of all religions and none in places where they work and live.

“Their ministry really does bring them into some of the most extraordinary places where people are in crisis and need,” said Journey Films producer/director Martin Doblmeier in an interview.

Preaching About Domestic Violence Is Hard — But We Must

Image via  /

It’s hard to stand in front of a congregation and talk about domestic violence.

It’s hard, because you never really know the stories of the people sitting there.

Who might have experienced domestic violence in their lives, in their home growing up, in a relationship during high school, on a college campus, in the home where they now reside?

Who might have experienced it last night? Who might have been told by their mother or religious leader that they cannot leave an abusive marriage because they would be breaking their vows? Who might have struck out at a partner? Who might have let their needs for control overwhelm their sense of self-restraint? Who might want to mask their violence with a smile or generous donations?

It's hard to stand in front of a congregation and talk about domestic violence. But it’s essential.

It’s essential because too often in the past, religious traditions have been used to defend an abusive patriarchy, to bind victims to marriage commitments that are undermined by intimate violence, to encourage people to “offer up” suffering rather than change the conditions that cause it.

It’s essential because shining a light of the reality of domestic violence is a critical step in creating pathways to safety for those who are victims. It’s essential because speaking out about domestic violence as a violation of God’s love can give victims strength to seek a better way. It’s essential because naming domestic violence as evil can help call perpetrators to account – and perhaps to repentance and treatment.

How the Catholic Church Transformed Its Relationship With Jews

Image via /

My rabbinic colleague, David Saperstein, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, issued a “glass half full” report earlier this month, noting that “… over the last several years there’s been a steady increase in the percentage of people who live in countries that … have serious restrictions on religious freedom.”

At the same time, he noted, “we’ve seen enormous expansion of interfaith efforts on almost every continent to try and address the challenges.”

Much of that “enormous expansion of interfaith efforts” can be traced to the historic Nostra Aetate (Latin for “In Our Time”) Declaration that the world’s Catholic bishops adopted 50 years ago at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council.

Fighting Perceptions, Evangelicals and Muslims Commit to Oppose Religious Bigotry

Pastor Bob Roberts at the National Cathedral. Image via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

A majority of evangelical pastors consider Islam to be “spiritually evil,” according to one just-released poll, but on Oct. 23 an evangelical pastor and an imam took turns talking about their friendship and mutual respect.

Texas Pastor Bob Roberts and Virginia Imam Mohamed Magid joined dozens of other religious leaders in prayer at the Washington National Cathedral before signing a pledge to denounce religious bigotry and asking elected officials and presidential candidates to join them.

“I love Muslims as much as I love Christians,” said Pastor Bob Roberts, of Northwood Church in Keller, Texas, before leading a prayer at the “Beyond Tolerance” event.

“Jesus, when you get hold of us, there’s nobody we don’t love.”

Inequality as a Religious Test

Image via /

A commitment to interfaith dialogue is important, but not simply for its own sake or to admire each other’s diversity. Interfaith dialogue should be in service of these three goals, especially for the sake of those who are the most vulnerable in our society and around the world — exactly who our faith traditions agree we should be most concerned about.

This will be the true test of a moral global economy. We convene our religions to celebrate diversity. Can we also convene our religions to help end extreme poverty by 2030 — and end shameful poverty in the United States? That would certainly be a goal worthy of a Parliament of World Religions.

Parliament of World's Religions Convenes in Mormon Country — At Last

Image via Jim Urquhart / REUTERS / RNS

When the World’s Parliament of Religions first met in Chicago in 1893, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and even Spiritualists prayed together.

But Mormons were kept out.

What a difference 122 years make. On Oct. 15, when the Parliament of the World’s Religions — a slight adjustment of the name was made a century after the first meeting — convenes in Salt Lake City, it will not only feature a slate of Mormon voices, it will sit in the proverbial lap of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its global headquarters only a five-minute walk away.

U.S., Canadian Denominations to Sign Mutual Recognition Pact

Image via United Church of Canada / RNS

Two of North America’s most liberal Protestant church groups have teamed up and agreed to recognize each other’s members, ministers, and sacraments.

The United Church of Christ and the United Church of Canada will celebrate their full communion agreement on Oct. 17 at a church in Niagara Falls. Leaders from the two denominations will sign the agreement during the service.

Full communion means the two denominations will recognize each other’s members, ordained ministers, and sacraments.