Lisa Sharon Harper 08-16-2012
Book of Revelation photo, Stephen Orsillo /

Book of Revelation photo, Stephen Orsillo /

It was the summer of 1994 and about 10 friends and I sat huddled around Bibles in my friend’s living room. It was a “scripture party.” The lights were dim and the air was full of anticipation and mystery. We did not know what God might reveal as we opened the book of Revelation and read it out loud, in community, in one night. 

This bears resemblance to the way the early church would have read the scripture. They were an oral culture, not a written one. The Hebrew Bible was written on scrolls that were read aloud to congregations. Most of the New Testament was written as letters to the worshiping bodies of whole cities (i.e. the saints in Ephesus, the church in Philippi, the body in Corinth, etc.). When received, the letters would be read out loud to the whole church community and received as God’s instruction revealed through the apostles for the edification of their communities.

Imagine being one of the very first followers of the Jesus “Way” (Acts 9:2). 

Imagine being a persecuted religious group. You have to use code — the sign of the ichthys — to identify yourself to other believers for fear of religious persecution. Only when you are gathered together in secret can you speak openly about your faith. Only then can you be fully known and appreciated for the whole image of God that lives inside of you.

Imagine huddling in a secret meeting place and reading the Apostle John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ for your nascent faith community in Ephesus or Smyrna, or Pergamum, or Thyatira, or Sardis, or Philadelphia, or Laodicea (Revelation 2-3). Imagine living in Ephesus and reading Paul’s prayer for your church to understand its hope and inheritance (Ephesians 1:17-2:22). 

And imagine being rich in the early church and hearing James’ letter warning: “Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your field, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.”

Imagine hearing it all for the first time. It all feels so real. The call to holiness feels so urgent because God feels so present. 

Chris Lisee 08-14-2012
RNS photo by Faith Cathcart/The Oregonian

Portland's largest mosque, the Islamic Center of Portland, draws diverse Muslims. RNS photo by Faith Cathcart/The Oregonian

Nearly all Muslims can agree on the basic beliefs of Islam: There is one God, Muhammad is God’s prophet, Muslims should fast during the holy month of Ramadan, and give alms to the poor.

Yet beyond these central pillars of the faith, Muslims worldwide vastly differ as religious convictions are shaped by cultural and social contexts, according to a new report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity” draws on 38,000 face-to-face interviews in 39 countries, and finds that Muslims differ sharply over questions of faith like who counts as a Muslim and what spiritual practices are acceptable.

With 1.6 billion adherents, Islam is the world’s second-largest religion, behind Christianity, and accounts for one-quarter of the world’s population.

Neighbor illustration, Picsfive /

Neighbor illustration, Picsfive /

The first violence happened on May 22, 2011 when a tornado killed 158 people, injured 1,000 more, and wiped out more than 25 percent of  your  town. That was nature's violence.

A human form of violence began 14 months later, with two attempts in 2012 to burn down the mosque of the Islamic Society of Joplin. The first attempt, which  took place on America's 236th Birthday, July 4th, only burned part of the roof. The second attempt on Hiroshima Day, August 6th, was successful in totally destroying the mosque.  

You are not alone. Around the country, other forms of violence have occurred this year — daily, weekly, monthly:

  • Chicago's daily shootings have led to more than 300 gunshot homicides so far this year.  (1/3  happened this summer.)
  • The July mass shooting in a movie theatre in Aurora, Colo., killed  or wounded 70 people.
  • The August shooting in a Sikh Temple by a neo-Nazi in Oak Creek, Wis., killed or wounded 10 people.  

What can I say to the good folks of Joplin?

Photo by Rose Marie Berger / Sojourners

Prayer vigil near the White House for the Sikh community. Photo by Rose Marie Berger / Sojourners

A group of faith leaders Thursday exhorted Americans to do more than pray for better times.

Representing seven different faith traditions, many advocated a period of public mourning after a week that saw a shooting rampage at a Sikh temple and a suspicious fire at a Missouri mosque.

"It is my hope that this is more than a time to express personal sorrows," said Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

"Our most concrete rejection of violence occurs when we engage the neighbor, the neighbor who is new in our community, the neighbor who worships differently than we," he said.

QR Blog Editor 08-08-2012

Conor Friedersdorf writes for The Atlantic:

Since 9/11, many Americans have conflated terrorism with Muslims; and having done so, they've tolerated or supported counterterrorism policies safe in the presumption that people unlike them would bear their brunt. (If Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD sent officers beyond the boundaries of New York City to secretly spy on evangelical Christian students or Israeli students or students who own handguns the national backlash would be swift, brutal, and decisive. The revelation of secret spying on Muslim American students was mostly defended or ignored.)     

In the name of counterterrorism, many Americans have given their assent to indefinite detention, the criminalization of gifts to certain charities, the extrajudicial assassination of American citizens, and a sprawling, opaque homeland security bureaucracy; many have also advocated policies like torture or racial profiling that are not presently part of official anti-terror policy.

What if white Americans were as likely as Muslims to be victimized by those policies? What if the sprawling national security bureaucracy we've created starts directing attention not just to Muslims and their schools and charities, but to right-wing militias and left-wing environmental groups (or folks falsely accused of being in those groups because they seem like the sort who would be)?

Read more here

Bob Smietana 07-31-2012
Photo by Mark Abraham

Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Photo by Mark Abraham

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national Muslim civil rights group that has frequently drawn fire from conservatives, has regained its tax-exempt status.

The Washington, D.C.-based CAIR and its related foundation were two of about 275,000 nonprofits that lost tax exempt status last year for not filing tax returns for three years in a row. Last month, the Internal Revenue Service sent a letter to the CAIR-Foundation Inc., saying the nonprofit had regained its tax-exempt status.

"We are obviously pleased that all the paperwork issues have been resolved and our tax-exempt status has been restored," said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for CAIR. Hooper did not know the details of what paperwork, including tax returns, had been filed.

Omar Sacirbey 07-20-2012
Suleiman Nyambui (center), who ran at UTEP between 1978-1982 and won the silver

Suleiman Nyambui (center), who ran at UTEP between 1978-1982 and won the silver medal at the 1980 Olympics. Photo courtesy RNS.

This year, more than 3,000 Muslim athletes will compete in the Olympics, but many will not fast, a decision that has been sanctioned by religious authorities. While Muslims are increasingly common on Western teams -- for example British rower Mohamed Sbihi and French boxer Rachid Azzedine -- no Muslims made the U.S. team this year.

Nyambui said the hard part about track is training. Competing is easy. Had Ramadan occurred before the Olympics, when athletes prepare their bodies for competition, then his performance would have suffered, he said. He acknowledged that fasting can present difficulties for athletes, but usually only during the first or second weeks of Ramadan when the body is still adjusting to the rigors of fasting.

“After that people are used to it,” said Nyambui, speaking from his office in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's largest city. “People play soccer, they can go jogging, they can go swimming.”

The atheist community has embraced the cause of an Indonesian man, Alexander Aan, who was beaten and jailed after denying God’s existence on Facebook and posting cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Center for Inquiry, a Washington-based humanist organization, launched a petition Tuesday (July 17) on behalf of Alexander Aan, a 30-year-old Indonesian civil servant currently serving a 30-month jail sentence for “deliberately spreading information inciting religious hatred and animosity,” according to the judge who sentenced him.

The petition asks the Obama administration to pressure the Indonesian government for Aan’s release and for better protection of religious freedom in that country, the most populous Muslim nation in the world.

Beau Underwood 07-19-2012

Independence Day in Joplin, Mo. saw fireworks of a different kind. On July 4, the Islamic Society of Joplin’s mosque was set on fire. While the mosque has only been open since 2007, it has already been targeted twice by arsonists. These hateful attacks must stop.

The biblical call to love our neighbors as ourselves requires Christians to speak out against these attacks. By protecting the rights of American Muslims to worship in the United States, we provide a powerful witness to those countries where Christian minorities face attack and persecution, such as Nigeria, Egypt, Somalia, and Kenya. If we expect others to take our advocacy for global religious freedom seriously, then our efforts must begin in our own backyard.

While the FBI is investigating the incident, the fact that a religious community was targeted means the attack should be investigated as a potential hate crime. Christians around the country are speaking out to ensure the Department of Justice gives this the necessary attention it deserves. Add your voice to the petition calling for a hate crimes investigation and show a little love to your Muslim neighbors in Joplin, Mo.

Geoff Tunnicliffe 07-18-2012
Muslim and Christian women, Anna Jurkovska /

Muslim and Christian women, Anna Jurkovska /

The view from my office in New York City overlooks Ground Zero. Every day I’m in the office, I have the opportunity to observe the massive construction project as well as the thousands of visitors to the 9/11 Memorial pools. It is all a stark reminder of how a person’s faith can be radicalized and politicalized.  

Unfortunately, violence perpetrated by those who have hijacked their faith continues to occur on almost a daily basis. 

The Islamist terror group Boko Haram has killed hundreds of Christians in northern Nigeria since 2009. The killings have escalated in recent months, and security forces have clearly failed to protect lives, forcing hundreds to flee for safety.

Earlier this month, al-Shabaab from Somalia attacked two churches in Kenya leaving 17 people dead and scores of people injured, including women and children.

However, attacks are taking place against Muslims as well. Last week an Islamic Center in Missouri was torched. Earlier this year a mosque in Queens was firebombed.

Whether deaths occurred or not, all these acts of violence need to be condemned by all faith leaders. 

As a Christian leader, let me specifically address the Muslim-Christian conflict.

Connie Jakab 06-19-2012
Muslim woman praying, wong yu liang  /

Muslim woman praying, wong yu liang /

I have been discovering more each day how much I love Muslim people. They are beautiful, warm people, yet we are afraid of them because of misconceptions based on our stereotypes of their race.

I have friends who were living in the Middle East for four years and were sharing about how amazing they find Muslim people. Through my own encounters and my friend’s experiences, here’s what muslim people have taught me.

Photo by wong yu liang /shuttestock.

Photo by wong yu liang / shutterstock.

WASHINGTON A former staffer of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has filed suit against the watchdog agency, saying that it rescinded a job offer because she is Muslim and had worked for a Muslim advocacy group.

In the suit filed Thursday (June 7) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Safiya Ghori-Ahmad charges that USCIRF staffers recommended her to be a South Asia policy analyst in 2009, but some commissioners pushed to retract the job offer after learning she worked for the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

According to the suit, Ghori-Ahmad was told after her initial hire that she could “limit the negative impression her beliefs and her background would create with members of the Commission’’ by calling in sick on days commissioners were expected to be in the office and by downplaying her religious affiliation.

Kevin Eckstrom 05-01-2012
Photo by Jerilee Bennett.

Michael Patrick and Eduardo Martins observe Temple Square from observation deck in Salt Lake City, Photo by Jerilee Bennett.

Mitt Romney may or may not become the first Mormon to move into the White House next year, but a new study shows that Mormonism is moving into more parts of the country than any other religious group, making it the fastest-growing faith in more than half of U.S. states.

The 2012 Religious Congregations and Membership Study, released here Tuesday (May 1), shows that the mainline Protestants and Catholics who dominated the 20th century are literally losing ground to the rapid rise of Mormons and, increasingly, Muslims.

Anne Marie Roderick 04-18-2012

Anders Behring Breivik places a clenched fist on his heart as he arrives in central court in Oslo. ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images

I opened up the NY Times homepage yesterday to find this headline: On Witness Stand, Norwegian Says He Would Kill AgainRemember this guy?  The Times says authorities have described Anders Behring Breivik as a “fundamentalist Christian…obsessed with what he saw as the threat of multiculturalism and Muslim immigration to the cultural and patriotic values of his country.” 

He killed 77 people, including 68 teenagers, in Norway last summer. 

Although Breivik admits to the murders, he doesn’t believe he should be held criminally accountable—he believes his actions were preventive measures, or, “self-defense.”

Omar Sacirbey 03-22-2012

At this point in 2011, 22 state legislatures had either passed or were considering bills to prohibit judges from considering either Islamic law, known as Shariah, or foreign law in their decisions.

What a difference a year can make.

The wave of anti-Shariah legislation has broken in recent weeks, as bills in several states have either died or been withdrawn, raising questions about whether the anti-Shariah movement has lost its momentum.

Jack Palmer 12-20-2011

New Law Aims To Shine Light on Conflict Metals; Immigration Effort Mistakenly Holds U.S. Citizens; North Korea’s Persecution of Christians Expected to Continue After Kim Jon Il’s Death; Muslims push Lowe’s boycott over reality series; Two Muslim religious leaders sue airlines for discrimination; Christianity goes global as world’s largest religion; (Opinion) Obama’s simplistic view of income inequality.

Cathleen Falsani 12-14-2011

Last night on "The Daily Show," host Jon Stewart and "senior Muslim correspondent" Aasif Mandvi took a few clever swings at the Florida Family Association and Lowe's for their opposition to the new TLC series "All-American Muslim," which depicts Muslim-American families living in Dearborn, Mich.

Jack Palmer 12-06-2011

Religion Powerful Force In 2012 Race; Groups Prepare To Bring Occupy Protests To Congress; Occupied Washington; South Carolina's Christian Conservatives Focus More On Economy, Less On Social Issues; GOP Candidates' Promises To Secure The Border Could Prove Impossible; Shias Targeted In Deadly Afghan Shrine Blasts.

Aaron Taylor 11-16-2011
Lou Engel (center with mic) at the Call Nashville event in 2007. Image via Wiki

Lou Engel (center with mic) at the Call Nashville event in 2007. Image via Wiki Commons.

Though I treasure my Pentecostal heritage, these days I feel like an outsider looking in, because though it started out as a pacifist movement in the early 20th century, today Pentecostalism (at least in America) is largely known as a religion that spawns extremist movements that trumpet militarism and bigotry.

Chief exhibit: The Call

Founded by Lou Engle, The Call is a movement that regularly holds massive prayer events in stadiums across the country. Engle is part of a network called the New Apostolic Reformation, which believes that God is raising up an end-times army of apostles and prophets to take over earthly governments before Jesus comes back.

A few of its prominent leaders are Peter Wagner, Cindy Jacobs, Rick Joyner, and Mike Bickle. Though the end-times theology of these individuals may vary, the underlying principle that binds them together is the idea that Christians are called to dominate earthly governments and civil society, and that apostles and prophets are supposed to pave the way to make that happen.

Carrie Adams 09-09-2011


For every American student, September starts a new year. September was a time to put away the suntan lotion and refocus on studies -- on more serious pursuits. Gone were the carefree days of summer, and in came the weather that lives perfectly in my memory -- those almost orange leaves, crisp blue skies, and the faint smell of autumn in upstate New York.

I remember it like this 10 years ago. Fourteen and gearing up for a Varsity volleyball season, I had it all. I had only one worry -- that my dad would forget to pick me up from practice, which he never did.

My class had just finished homeroom -- it was my friend's 15th birthday. I don't remember singing, but I'm sure we did. I moved into my world history class, I think we were on the Greeks. And then, it changed. My choir teacher rushed in and frantically told us to turn on the television. We saw the hallways fill with teachers.