Interfaith

RESOURCE: "Christians, Muslims, and the Common Good"

Christians and Muslims in Nigeria are working together for peace, says Gopar Tapkida in “The Momentum of Peace” in the August 2014 issue of Sojourners. Though tensions remain between the groups in Nigeria and across Africa, many are joining together in the name of nonviolence and reconciliation.

Sojourners’ Christians, Muslims, and the Common Good: Loving Your Neighbor in the 21st Century is a study guide for engaging Muslim-Christian relations and the forces that divide and unite us. Based on articles from Sojourners magazine and the God’s Politics blog, this guide is perfect for sparking discussion in small group and church settings.

Download the guide today to learn how to stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters. As Tapkida writes, “We have to sustain the momentum of peace."

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The Momentum of Peace

Cross and Crescent, symbols of Christianity and Islam

THE VIOLENCE AND kidnappings in Nigeria are more than a religious conflict: They are a political manipulation of religion.

Before the 2011 Nigerian election, northern politicians (who are mostly Muslims) threatened to make the country ungovernable if Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south, became president. Jonathan was vice-president for Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, a Muslim from the north, who died before completing his eight-year term. Jonathan assumed power after Yar’Adua’s death, as is allowed by the constitution. However, northern Muslims claimed that since Yar’Adua did not finish his term, they should be allowed to place someone of their own choosing in power. Jonathan’s refusal angered the north.

In response, the Muslim terrorist organization Boko Haram began intensifying its attack on Jonathan’s rule in order to discredit his presidency and his pursuit of the 2015 election. If Boko Haram succeeds in pushing Jonathan out, southern militia groups are likely to commence their own violent campaign. These terrorists are trying to manipulate people by making them think that it is a religious fight, when in reality it is about political power.

People, however, are beginning to reject the violence. In April, as the world is well aware, Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls from Chibok, a community that is said to be about 90 percent Christian. The outcry of rage and pain about this incident transcended religious lines. In a May market bombing in the city of Jos, both Christians and Muslims lost their lives. After the bombings, Muslims and Christians on the streets of Jos tried to work together in finding a way through the situation. People no longer want to fight and are starting to value peacebuilding and interfaith efforts. This is a sign of hope.

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Study: Interfaith Civic Groups Bridge Diversity with Participatory Prayers

Ruth Braunstein is a co-author of the study. RNS photo courtesy Ruth Braunstein.

Just because interfaith, interracial, and varied ethnic groups share a common cause doesn’t mean a diverse coalition can hang together.

It often takes prayer. And not just a “Bless this group, Amen,” invocation.

A new study by three sociologists finds that three out of four interfaith civic coalitions turn to what the sociologists have dubbed “bridging prayer” — interactive, participatory, and often innovative prayers and rituals that highlight their shared identity as people of faith.

“Shared issues alone don’t necessarily ensure cooperation,” said Ruth Braunstein, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut. “But groups that cannot build a shared culture could find it very difficult to succeed.”

In Mixed Faith Marriages, Focus Is on 'Values,' Not 'Beliefs'

Dale McGowan’s most recent book, “In Faith and In Doubt.” Religion News Service photo courtesy of Dale McGowan.

If interfaith marriages are supposedly doomed, Dale McGowan’s should have been toe-tagged from the start.

He’s a committed atheist; his wife comes from a line of Southern Baptist preachers. Yet 23 years and three kids later, they are still happily married.

What’s their secret? McGowan, 51, has just written “In Faith and In Doubt: How Religious Believers and Nonbelievers Can Create Strong Marriages and Loving Families,” to help other couples considering what he calls a “religious/nonreligious mixed marriage” succeed.

“The key is to talk about your values,” McGowan said from his home in Atlanta. “A lot of time we mix up the words ‘values’ and ‘beliefs.’ Beliefs are what you think is true about the universe. Is there a God? Where do we go when we die? But values are what you believe are important and good. When you get couples talking about values they find out they share a tremendous amount, even if they don’t share beliefs.”

That’s what McGowan and his wife, Becca, did. While she believed in one God, she did not believe salvation could be had only through belief in Jesus. And he agreed that he could go to church with her — and did, for many years, with their children.

To a Dying Church: Either Die or Live Like You Mean It

elements from CreationSwap.com

elements from CreationSwap.com

Dear Church,

I received some distressing news today. Oh, I know you thought you’d kept it secret, but I answered the phone when the doctor’s office called to change your chemo appointment.

Chemo? Seriously? What, you thought I wouldn’t find out eventually? I know I seem preoccupied sometimes, but I’m not an idiot. I can see the signs.

I knew something was up when I saw you shrinking, little by little over time. Maybe other people couldn’t tell, but I suspected something bad was going on. You can paste on a smile, and listen to your happy music, and buy new stuff. But anyone who really knows you, realizes your body has been slowly betraying you.

Dying happens. I get that. What really makes me mad, though, is that you didn’t trust me enough to tell me. Maybe you didn’t know for awhile. I guess that’s possible. But the doctor had to have told you, right? I mean, at some point you decided to do something about it — if only to keep it a secret. And if you didn’t know, then you’re not who I thought you were.

Dangote, Okonjo-Iweala, Other Africans Make Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People List

And from Central African Republic (CAR), which is still a war zone as it battles with sectarian crisis, Imam Omar Kobine Layama, Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga and The Rev. Nicolas Guérékoyame-Gbangou, all faith leaders working assiduously to ensure peace returns to CAR, made the list. According to Jim Wallis, President and founder of Sojourners, “Imam Layama and his family have lived with the Archbishop since December when it became too dangerous in Bangui to stay in the imam’s house.”

Continuing to 'Run the Race With Perseverance'

Silhouette of young man running, KieferPix / Shutterstock.com

Silhouette of young man running, KieferPix / Shutterstock.com

I finished my first Boston Marathon in 2002, running with two parishioners to raise funds for our church. The experience was exhilarating, and I’ve run the course six times since, relishing each year the cascade of powerful moments. Speaking as a preacher, the marathon was the sermonic gift that kept giving: the challenge of Heartbreak Hill, the boost even we slow runners get from cheering multitudes, the necessity of water and salty snacks. And Hebrews 12 gives us our text: “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us …”

With last year’s Boston Marathon, however, everything changed. Our church did have a runner in the race — he crossed the finish line six minutes before the first bomb exploded — but any interest in locating metaphorical gems was overshadowed by the real-time incursion of evil. Some parishioners knew victims, others were near the scene, and everybody joined in the immediate grieving of our city.

When we learned later that the perpetrators were Muslim, we felt another round of anguish, fearing that the incident could trigger a wave of religious prejudice and bigotry. 

The Boston Marathon Bombings: Lessons from Passover

Memorial at the finish line of the Boston Marathon after the bombing, RobinJP /

Memorial at the finish line of the Boston Marathon after the bombing, RobinJP / Flickr.com

My first marathon ever — 2003 in New York City — did not go according to plan. On the positive side, I would never have guessed that P. Diddy would be running the same marathon and at the same pace for much of it, providing an entertaining entourage to distract me from my exhaustion. On the negative side, my name, which I had taped to my tank top so the crowds could give me much-needed encouragement, quickly peeled off, and I was anonymous in the crowd. My plan had been to run that last mile to the mantra “you can do anything” or “you are power,” but instead, my legs barely moving and my husband and close friend no longer by my side, I chanted dejectedly to myself: “Never again, never again.”

I didn’t know what misery associated with a marathon really was, though, until I heard about the Boston Marathon bombings, which took place one year ago today. On this day, two young brothers set off two bombs at the end of the Boston Marathon. As we waited to understand the damage, I remember thinking about the juxtaposition of the runners’ feelings of accomplishment setting in just as shrapnel began to fly. Then I received the painful — even if relieving — news that my first cousin had been right at the finish line with her husband and baby (born a year ago exactly on that marathon Monday) and had escaped the violence only because the baby needed her nap. We eventually learned that three people were dead, hundreds were injured, and the two suspected perpetrators were associated with radical Islam. I felt disgust and horror.

Moments such as this challenge each of us to live up to the “better angels of our nature,” as President Abraham Lincoln put it. As has been borne out by various terrorist attacks around the globe, terrorism breeds fear — its intended consequence. Too often this fear becomes fear of a religious group. We, as Jews, know intimately the perils of a society surrendering to this type of fear.

Three Reasons We’re Better Together

Better together concept, solarseven / Shutterstock.com

Better together concept, solarseven / Shutterstock.com

As an interfaith advocate, I find total inspiration in Dr. Martin Luther King’s multi-layered approach to peace and justice:

“Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”

The reason that I do interfaith, and the reason I signed the pledge to be Better Together, is because I believe that religion can be used as a tool for good in all three layers that King is referencing: in our world, in our country, and in ourselves.

Studying Interfaith Leadership

CAN YOU GO to school to become an interfaith leader? An increasing number of faculty, staff, and students on campuses believe the answer is “yes.”

Interfaith leadership courses are starting to crop up at colleges across the country. At New York University and Nazareth College, you can even get a minor in the area. The organization I lead, Interfaith Youth Core, recently organized a conference for university faculty interested in this area. We expected 30 people to show up, and got nearly 120. This all suggests that this may be a field whose time has come.

Academically speaking, “interfaith leadership” is part of the larger field of “interfaith studies.” Just as you might study education at a university to become a teacher, in the future you will be able to take coursework in interfaith studies in preparation for a career in interfaith leadership.

Interfaith studies looks at the myriad ways that people who orient around religion differently interact with one another and considers the implications of that interaction for everything from personal lives to global politics. It’s a field that asks questions such as: In what religious groups is the intermarriage rate growing fastest, and what are the distinctive dynamics of such relationships? What types of political arrangements seem to foster positive interaction between faith communities, and what types are associated with interreligious tension? How effective are current religious education programs in forming young people in faith traditions?

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