Do Not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbor: The Surfer Boy and the Receptionist

The ninth commandment illustration, Siarhei Tolak /

The ninth commandment illustration, Siarhei Tolak /

"And God spoke all of these words…You shall not give false witness against your neighbor." Exodus 20:1, 16

Several months back I overheard a conversation in an office waiting room. A young, 20-something guy entered the waiting room with his board shorts on and his windblown hair haphazardly tucked beneath his backwards baseball cap as though he’d just come in from surfing – not uncommon in the beach community of Jacksonville, Fla. He strolled confidently to the receptionist and asked her a question about the availability of a person he wanted to see, made an appointment, and it seemed his business was done and he’d be on his way. Instead he asked the receptionist where she was from, if she liked her job, and then talked about the weather. He then began to tell her about a Bible study he was leading and a little about his faith journey – for the longest time he felt lost, was starting to get in trouble, then he found Jesus, was born again, and began to set his life straight.

After sharing his testimony he asked the receptionist, “What religion are you?" 

Ramadan, a Shared Table, and Following Jesus

Breaking bread, Shaiith /

Breaking bread, Shaiith /

 Last night, my wife Janny and I had the honor of sharing a table with a gathering of local Muslims for an Iftar meal. It is currently Ramadan, which means the Muslim community around the globe fasts everyday day from sunrise to sunset. No food. No water. No tobacco. No sex. Each night they have a celebration feast to break their daily fast called the Iftar meal. It is sacred, joyous, and a time to sit with those they love to worship the One they love, Allah (which is simply the Arabic translation of God).  

It was into that sacred gathering that they expanded the table and pulled up a seat for us and a few other Christian and political leaders throughout San Diego. Their hope was simply to create space in their daily practice for their neighbors to experience life with them. They were both acknowledging city leaders who have been proactive in creating an environment of dignity and mutual relationship, and creating a space for new/renewed understanding of one another. Acknowledging our core faith differences, they made clear that it should in no way detract from our ability to share a common vision for the good of our city. We are neighbors who live, work, and play on the same streets with a common desire to see deep, charitable relationships, sustainable economy, and mutual understanding and a celebration of diversity.

As I often say, as followers of Jesus, we have no choice but to move toward relationships with those who are marginalized, dehumanized, and in need of love. We don’t compromise our faith by hanging out with people we may or may not agree with. No, in fact, we reflect the very best of our faith.

Shariah 101: What Is It and Why Do States Want to Ban It?

Photo courtesy RNS.

Anti-Shariah demonstrators rally against a proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York. Photo courtesy RNS.

North Carolina lawmakers on Wednesday approved a bill to prohibit judges from considering “foreign laws” in their decisions, but nearly everyone agrees that “foreign laws” really means Shariah, or Islamic law.

North Carolina now joins six other states — Oklahoma, Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, South Dakota, and Tennessee — to pass a “foreign laws” bill. A similar bill passed in Missouri, but Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed it, citing threats to international adoptions.

The bills all cite “foreign laws” because two federal courts have ruled that singling out Shariah — as Oklahoma voters originally did in 2010 — is unconstitutional.

Heat Poses Challenge to Muslims Fasting During Ramadan

Photo by Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune

Sharifa Al-Qaaydeh and her kids walk around their home Wednesday May 4, 2011. Photo by Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune

SALT LAKE CITY — Every day. For a month. From sunup to sundown. No food. No water.

No sweat?

No, plenty of sweat, especially this year.

With Utahns baking under energy-sapping, forehead-dripping, water-chugging temperatures, the state’s Muslims are swearing off that liquid life force during the heat of the day — and the morning, and the evening.

The annual 30-day fast known as Ramadan, one of Islam’s five pillars, began Tuesday and requires that believers forgo food and drink. At this time of year, that means 15 hours of parched throats and unquenched thirst.

The LGBT Gap, By Religion

Photo courtesy Pan Xunbin/

Freedom and peace abstract concept background. Photo courtesy Pan Xunbin/

We all know that when it comes to the acceptance of LGBT folks, religions differ. But what the religions communicate, and how the people in the pews actually feel, are not the same.

In a word, the rank and file tend to be more accepting than the leadership. What’s striking is how much this LGBT Gap varies from religion to religion, and we can get some idea of the variance from Pew’s new survey of LGBT Americans.

As the measure of institutional messaging, we will use the percentages of LGBT people who say a given religion is unfriendly to them. These range from 84, 83, 79, and 73 percent for Islam, Mormonism, Catholicism, and Evangelicalism to 47 and 44 percent for Judaism and Mainline Protestantism. Then there is the proportion of members of each religion who believe that “homosexuality should be discouraged by society.” That’s 45, 65, 20, and 59 percent for the first four groups; 15 and 26 percent for the last two.

Online Muslim Forums Foster Tolerance and Fuel Vitriol

Keyboard with an image of a mosque. Photo courtesy Lasse Kristensen/

Amid calls to get more Muslims using the Internet, experts who have studied Muslims online caution that the virtual Islamic community can be a “double-edged sword.”

While the proliferation of Muslim websites provides a platform for a multitude of voices, Sahar Khamis, communication professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, said there is a shortage in the amount of rational, critical deliberation, and debate taking place online.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life recently released a report suggesting that Muslims who use the Internet tend to have a more favorable view of Western movies, music, and television than their offline counterparts.

Citing Risk to Adoptions, Missouri Gov. Vetoes Anti-Shariah Bill

Photo courtesy RNS/Gov. Jay Nixon’s office.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has vetoed a bill that would have made his state the seventh in the nation to prohibit judges from considering Shariah, or Islamic law, and other “foreign laws” in their decisions.

But rather than citing the usual arguments about anti-Muslim discrimination and the freedom of religion, Nixon introduced a new argument against such legislation, asserting it would make it harder for Missouri families to adopt children from overseas.

Nixon said if state judges would not be able to consider foreign decrees that are sometimes required to finalize adoptions, adoptive families and children would be left stranded.

Poll: U.S. Muslims More Moderate Than Muslims Worldwide

RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Muhhamad Shafiq and Hazem Hassan pray at the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Muslims in America are much less inclined to support suicide bombing than other Muslims abroad, and are more likely to believe that people of other faiths can attain eternal life in heaven, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

“The World’s Muslims” report looks at Muslim views across seven categories: Islamic law; religion and politics; morality; women; relations among Muslims; interfaith relations; and religion, science, and pop culture. There is also a special section on U.S. Muslims.

Of the countries surveyed, only a majority of Muslims in America — 56 percent — believe people of other faiths can go to heaven; by contrast, that figure among U.S. Christians is about 64 percent. U.S. Muslims are also less likely than Muslims abroad to believe in evolution, sharing views that are closer to those of U.S. Christians.

On suicide bombing, 81 percent of U.S. Muslims said it was never justified, 7 percent said it was justified to “defend Islam,” and 1 percent said it was “sometimes justified.”

Post-Boston Bombings, Female Converts to Islam Face Growing Scrutiny

When Karen Hunt Ahmed and her Muslim husband divorced four years ago, many friends asked her, “Now you can stop this Islam stuff, right?”

Some friends, she thought.

“Like it was a hobby I took up when I got married and now I’m supposed to drop it,” said Hunt Ahmed, president of the Chicago Islamic Microfinance Project, which she founded with two colleagues in 2009.

Hunt Ahmed, 45, is part of a growing sorority of female American converts to Islam, especially those who are or were married to Muslim men, who must deal with the perception that they converted to Islam because of domineering boyfriends or husbands.

The stereotype was revived in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, when news emerged that the wife of bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Katherine Russell, converted to Islam after meeting Tsarnaev in 2009 or 2010 when she was about 21.

Atheists Rally Around Jailed Bangladeshi Bloggers

An international consortium of nonbelievers is planning rallies Thursday outside Bangladeshi embassies and consulates to demand the release of several Bangladeshi bloggers who were arrested on charges of blasphemy.

The rallies are in support of four Bangladeshi men arrested earlier this month for “hurting religious sentiments,” a crime tied to an 1860 law that can carry up to 10 years in jail.

The four men — all bloggers — staged a sit-in at a public square demanding a ban on the country’s largest Islamic political party; Islam is the official state religion in Bangladesh.