Interfaith

Sri Srinivasan. Image via Reuters/RNS

Hindus around the world are wondering whether Sri Srinivasan — the name atop many a list of potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees — will be the first Hindu to serve on the high court. The India-born Srinivasan put his hand on the Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad Gita, held by his mother, when he was sworn in to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2013. The Senate had confirmed him to the court — often a launching pad to the Supreme Court — by a 97-0 vote.

Screenshot via the White House

In times of rising Islamophobia, President Obama made a plea for religious tolerance at the first visit to an American mosque of his presidency. A lot of Americans have never been to a mosque, the president said as he began his speech, shoeless per Muslim tradition, in the Islamic Center of Baltimore’s prayer hall on Jan. 3.

Eboo Patel 01-28-2016
Zurijeta / Shutterstock

Zurigeta / Shutterstock

IT IS A SAD truth that presidential election seasons widen our divisions. The candidates seem to view veering toward the extremes as a mark of “patriotism.” That ethic gets reflected in our broader political discourse.

This is dangerous stuff in a diverse democracy. The heart of the American idea is that different groups can advance divergent interests and still collectively see themselves as one people. Princeton philosopher Jeffrey Stout puts it this way: “[Democracy] takes for granted that reasonable people will differ in their conceptions of piety, in their grounds for hope, in their ultimate concerns, and in their speculations about salvation. Yet it holds that people who differ on such matters can still exchange reasons with one another intelligibly, cooperate in crafting political arrangements that promote justice and decency in their relations with one another, and do both of these things without compromising their integrity.”

He calls this process of relating across differences building a “civic nation.” In the pursuit of that high value, here is a personal story of building relationships across deep religious differences.

MY WIFE’S PARENTS are moderately observant Muslims. For many years, they lived in a Chicago suburb next to an evangelical Christian family who homeschooled their three girls. At first, the two families were pleasant to each other but had little contact. Things changed when, one year when my wife and I were visiting for Eid prayers, the girls next door poked their heads over the wooden fence and invited our boys to come over and play. Our boys whooped happily and went.

This of course meant all of us adults trooped across the driveway and properly introduced ourselves to the neighbors. We collectively overheard a fascinating interfaith conversation in the backyard, our oldest son Zayd explaining that he got out of school today to celebrate Eid, a holiday that Muslims believe in because we believe in the Prophet Muhammad and the Quran. The neighbor’s oldest daughter responded that they go to school at home so they can follow a Christian curriculum because they believe in Jesus and the Bible. We adults shifted uncomfortably as we listened, knowing full well the doctrinal issues at stake. “Looks like someone learned something in religion class this week,” somebody commented, allowing nervous laughter to break out.

Image via REUTERS/Noor Khamis/RNS

A Muslim man who shielded Christians after a passenger bus was ambushed by suspected al-Shabab militants is being saluted as a symbol of unity. Salah Farah, a schoolteacher, died Jan.18 in Nairobi, where he was airlifted after being shot in the arm and hip when he resisted militant demands that he identify Christians on the bus during the December attack.

Image via REUTERS/Rebecca Cook/RNS

Catholic Charities is giving out water and food. The Flint Jewish Federation is collecting water and water filters. And the Michigan Muslim Community Council has distributed more than 120,000 bottles of clean water for Flint, Mich. But these faith organizations are also focused on a longer-term goal: to make sure the impoverished city, where President Obama last weekend declared a state of emergency over its poisoned water, is never so neglected again.

Linda K. Wertheimer 01-14-2016

Image via Linda K. Wertheimer/RNS

Opponents of lessons on Islam often claim that Christianity takes a back seat in public schools’ religious instruction. That’s what an Augusta County, Va., mother argued recently when she opposed a teacher’s use of the Muslim statement of belief in a calligraphy exercise. She held a forum at a local church to protest how her religion wasn’t allowed in schools, but Islam was.

Image via REUTERS / Goran Tomasevic / RNS

Christian leaders have hailed as an act of bravery and selflessness the shielding of some Christians by Muslims after suspected al-Shabab gunmen in Mandera County ambushed a passenger bus.

Image via REUTERS / James Akena / RNS

Francis marked the start of the jubilee on Dec. 8, when he opened the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The yearlong celebration calls on Catholics to reflect on the theme of mercy and forgiveness and showcase a more inviting faith. That theme resonates in Africa, home to about 200 million Catholics. A sizable part of this population is tormented by war, violence from Muslim extremists, HIV/AIDS, and poverty.

Wheaton College in Illinois announced on Tuesday that they had put Hawkins on administrative leave for her “same God” comments. In an official statement, college administrators expressed concern over the “theological implications” of her statements and promising a full review.

Founded in 1860, Wheaton has long been considered a fairly open-minded institution within evangelicalism. Science professors can teach evolution, government professors need not support conservative political theories, and students don’t have to worry about strict dress codes or stringent curfews like students at more fundamentalist colleges. In 2003, it eased bans on alcohol consumption and dancing.

But a string of politically charged events, culminating in Hawkins’ suspension, place Wheaton at an important crossroads. The school must now decide what kind of evangelical college they wish to be.

Lilly Fowler 12-17-2015

Image via Lilly Fowler / RNS

Vice President Joe Biden stood with clerics from different religions at Georgetown University on Dec. 16 and condemned the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has followed the recent shootings in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.

“Look around. This is America,” Biden said, as he spoke on a stage with clergy wearing garb that varied from a priestly collar to a turban, and acknowledged the discomfort felt by many.

The vice president referred to the civil war in Syria and the millions of struggling refugees that some have said should be turned away.

the Web Editors 12-16-2015

Larycia Hawkins, a tenured professor at Wheaton College, pledged on Dec. 10 to wear hijab during Advent as a show of support to her Muslim neighbors.

"I don't love my Muslim neighbor because s/he is American," Hawkins wrote in a Facebook post.

"I love my Muslim neighbor because s/he deserves love by virtue of her/his human dignity."

"I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God."

Image via REUTERS / Rebecca Cook

Following a surge of attacks on mosques and Muslims — a backlash against recent extremist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino — Islamic leaders have been installing more security cameras and hiring more security guards. But as they worry about the physical safety of their flocks, they are also paying attention to the spiritual damage Islamophobia can inflict.

Hate crimes penetrate Muslims deeply and widely, said Kameelah Rashad, Muslim chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania.

“It erodes their sense of identity and their sense of their spiritual selves,” she said.

Image via REUTERS / Andrew Medichini / Pool / RNS

The Vatican has said that Catholics should witness to their faith but not undertake organized efforts to convert Jews, a significant step forward in the once tense relations between the two faiths.

The document released on Dec. 10 by the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews also pushed for greater efforts to fight anti-Semitism.

In its most explicit commentary on evangelization regarding Jews, the document said Catholics should take a different approach to Judaism than to other religions.

The Rev. Jacques Mourad. Image via RNS

A Syrian priest held hostage for months by the ISIS terrorist group is certain his life was saved due to his interfaith work, despite being threatened with beheading by jihadists if he did not renounce Christianity.

The Rev. Jacques Mourad, a Syriac Catholic priest, was taken hostage in May from the Mar Moussa monastery, situated between the capital Damascus and the city of Homs. He and a volunteer from the monastery were forced into a car and driven for four days, during which time Mourad said he thought he would be killed.

“We could only perceive the sense of the desert. In that moment … I thought it was over,” he told members of Rome’s Foreign Press Association on Dec. 10, the first time he has spoken in detail about his odyssey since he escaped.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Cardinal Augustine Bea, who was instrumental to "Nostra Aetate." Image via American Jewish Committee / RNS

A statement by a group of Orthodox rabbis calls Christianity part of a divine plan in which God would have Jews and Christians work together to redeem the world.

Although signed so far by 28 rabbis mostly from the more liberal wing of the most traditional branch of Judaism, the statement marks a turning point for Orthodox Jews, who until now have limited interfaith cooperation to working on social, economic and political causes. But this statement puts Christianity in a distinct Jewish theological perspective — and an extremely positive one.

“(W)e acknowledge that Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations,” the seven-paragraph statement, issued on Dec. 3, asserts.

Caroline Barnett 11-24-2015

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.

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.

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.

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.

Phil Haslanger 10-30-2015

Image via  / Shutterstock.com

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.

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