Interfaith

Is Religious Freedom At Risk in U.S.?

RNS photo by Lauren Markoe
Amardeep Singh (l), Rev. Eugene Rivers, Shaykha Reima Yosif at religious freedom conference. RNS photo by Lauren Markoe

In a conference full of people who champion traditional religious values, Amardeep Singh knew that everyone might not appreciate his recounting of the “uncomfortable” cab ride he had taken the previous day.

Singh, a featured speaker at the second annual National Religious Freedom Conference in Washington on Thursday, told the several hundred attendees that his D.C. taxi driver had the radio tuned to a religiously minded commentator, who was explaining that women become lesbians because they had been abused.

His cab story — both his telling and the reaction to it — reveals fault lines in the coalition of Americans concerned that government and popular culture are eroding religious freedom and trying to banish religion from the public sphere.

On Scripture: Faith in New Places

Frontpage / Shutterstock.com
Stained glass window at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., Frontpage / Shutterstock.com

In the aftermath of violence, a deep-seated illness of broken minds and spirits, a possibility toward healing always exists. The vicious anti-Semitic attack on a northern New Jersey synagogue exemplifies this possibility. Violence – religious intolerance – was not to have the last word, nor was forgiveness to be blindly shared. A searching for truth was to be engaged. This searching began in the blurring of demarcation lines between different faiths.

Chelsea Clinton to Promote Interfaith Work at NYU

Photo courtesy Avelino Maestas via Flickr
Chelsea Clinton speaks during the National Day of Service, Inaugural Weekend 2013. Photo courtesy Avelino Maestas via Flickr

WASHINGTON — Chelsea Clinton is wearing a new professional hat, one that will take her into a religious direction.

The former first daughter is now the co-founder and co-chairwoman of New York University’s Of Many Institute, a program for “multifaith” education. Its website says the institute “supports a new generation of religious and civic leaders who, deeply rooted in their own religious and spiritual traditions, reach across faith boundaries to solve social problems together.”

Clinton’s new job was reported first by the New York Post. There was no press release or big announcement, the newspaper reported — just her bio downloaded onto the program’s website.

From Diversity to Pluralism

THE TERM “DIVERSITY” in professional and educational circles in the United States is frequently mentioned as positive on its face, needing no justification. “Diversity is our strength” or “diversity enriches us” are common statements.

But Harvard professor of comparative religion Diana Eck points out that diversity is simply a demographic fact—a situation in which people with different identities live in close quarters. The term says nothing about how those people get along with one another. Frankly, if all we knew about religious diversity in particular were the stories carried on the international news, it would be hard to conclude anything except that the close gathering of Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and others is nothing but a recipe for conflict.

Religious conflict is especially deadly because the participants believe they are fighting for cosmic reasons—where death may be welcomed as martyrdom—and religious communities are the largest repositories of social capital in many civil societies, providing endless amounts of energy, people, and resources to mobilize.

But what if the social capital among religious communities could be bridged and people who orient around religion differently could be convinced to cooperate with one another? What if the cosmic narratives of religious traditions viewed people of other faiths as partners in the quest for the kingdom on earth? This is the hope of the interfaith movement, and building this movement is the job of interfaith leaders.

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Creating Culture of Unity through Interfaith Cooperation

Interfaith religious symbols, Sana Design / Shutterstock.com
Interfaith religious symbols, Sana Design / Shutterstock.com

I agree with Rev. Wallis — focusing on the common good is a good step toward answering the question of how to be on God's side, and solving many of our nation's greatest points of division. In a country as diverse as ours, however, it can be challenging to know what the common good actually is. As individual participants in society, we all come to the table with different ideological structures for framing our understanding of what is commonly good. Those structures are often built around religion, philosophy, and our beliefs and understandings about existence, mortality, and the cosmos. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that we live in, arguably, the most religiously diverse nation of all time.

Yes, Jesus has called me to love my neighbor as myself, but what does that really mean when my neighbor is Mormon, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, secular humanist, or Hindu?

Religion is often blamed for the world's greatest conflicts, and rightfully so. One doesn't have to look far to see conflict or violence that is linked to religious motivations or sentiments in some way (think the tragedy at the Boston Marathon or the Sikh man that was murdered shortly after 9/11 because he was wearing a turban). In a country that becomes more religiously diverse every day, it is easy to allow conflict to arise between different religious and non-religious groups. It is true, difference in religious and philosophical ideology can be a cause of great division. But what if I told you it doesn't have to be that way?

The Common Good Amid Individualism

Two churches,  Silva Vikmane / Shutterstock.com
Two churches, Silva Vikmane / Shutterstock.com

As Americans, we live in a culture that is hyper-individuated, fragmented, and dehumanizing as it pushes a mantra of success based on material accumulation and power. Being in community with others is the countercultural answer to this. Doing so with others unlike ourselves is an important part of this. At the end of the day, above the polarization and partisanship, there is much we can do to promote the common good together. As Maddie put it at a meeting that brought Christians of opposing social interpretations together, "We may never agree on some issues, but that is not why we're here; we're good people, you're good people, let's do good together."

VIDEO: People of Faith Tackle Climate Change

Rose Marie Berger writes in the May 2013 Sojourners magazine cover story, “For God So Loved the World,” that people of faith are key to reversing climate change. It will take a holy power shift to compel God’s people to care for creation and “launch an irresistible force for change.”

In creative and bold ways, people of faith from various religious traditions are doing just that. Together, they are raising their voices and taking action to address climate change.

Recently, a group of 75 people gathered in front of the White House to hold an interfaith service. Prayers and speeches from various traditions were recited, including the Muslim call to prayer from the Quran, an invocation of the Four Winds in the spiritual tradition of the First Nations, and a Christian prayer and reflection by Sojourners associate editor Rose Marie Berger. They called upon the president to act justly and heal creation from the dangers of Big Oil, Big Coal, and Unnatural Gas.

Fifteen people were arrested at the interfaith service for engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience. To learn more about the event and watch Rose Marie Berger in action, view this video released by Interfaith Moral Action on Climate (IMAC).

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A Glorious Mess

ANYONE WHO LIVES in Christian community or participates in congregational life knows that it is a holy mess. A group of flawed individuals trying to do "life together" can bring out the worst in one another. But that's precisely where God calls us to be.

In our hyperindividualistic culture, it's often difficult to remember that God has created us to be in community. Christian faith and discipleship, from the beginning, have been shaped not by going at it alone but by engaging in ancient and contemporary communal experiences. The first house churches and the formation of communities among the early desert fathers and mothers, as well as today's megachurches, parachurch organizations, and new monastic groups, all point to how we long to be connected to God and with one another.

Our faith and character are refined by the miraculous gifts of grace, reconciliation, and forgiveness made available to us in community. In such a demanding and disconnected world, it is indeed a miracle when two or more gather to break bread and give of themselves in service to God and one another.

Here are some books to help us along the Way, as we seek to deepen our understanding of what it means to be in communion with Christ and with each other.

In 2009 I was co-leading a new intentional community in Washington, D.C. Our nascent group endured many struggles, including interpersonal issues, conflicting visions and goals, and the involuntary removal of a community member. How I wish The Intentional Christian Community Handbook: For Idealists, Hypocrites, and Wannabe Disciples of Jesus (Paraclete Press), by David Janzen, was available when we first began our journey.

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Canadian Prisoners Sue Over Lack of Chaplains

Interior of a prison cell with light shining through a barred window. Photo courtesy RNS/shutterstock.com

Inmates in British Columbia have filed suit to overturn a decision by the Canadian government to cut part-time prison chaplains, alleging that the policy has nearly eliminated prison ministry to minority faiths.

 

“Prisoners do not lose their right to freely express their religious and spiritual beliefs by virtue of their incarceration,” said the lawsuit, which asks the court to declare the policy a violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and to reinstate minority faith chaplains in British Columbia.

The suit was triggered by Ottawa’s announcement last October that it was canceling the contracts of all part-time prison chaplains to save an estimated $1.3 million. The non-Christian chaplains ministered to Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, and Buddhist inmates, and those who follow aboriginal spirituality.

Pope Francis Calls for Intensified Dialogue with Muslims

RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini
Pope Francis waves during his inauguration Mass at St. Peter’s Square on Tuesday. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Friday called for more intense dialogue between religious leaders, particularly Muslims, as he tries to recalibrate relations between the world’s two largest religious groups.

Speaking in the Vatican’s majestic Sala Regia, the Argentine pontiff said that part of his mission is to connect “all people, in such a way that everyone can see in the other not an enemy, not a rival, but a brother or sister.”

In a meeting with Vatican diplomats and foreign leaders, Francis also reaffirmed the church’s commitment to protect the poor and the environment, an early theme in his young pontificate.

“Fighting poverty, both material and spiritual, building peace and constructing bridges: these, as it were, are the reference points for a journey that I want to invite each of the countries here represented to take up,” the pope said.

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