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Joshua Stanton
Joshua Stanton
Joshua Stanton is a Jewish thinker and interfaith leader



Global Way to Coexist

Aug1

by: on August 1st, 2013 | Comments Off

This May, I had the joy of taking part in the first International Conference on Faith and Reconciliation in Peja, Kosovo. Little did I realize that in this corner of the Balkans, social media would have such an impact.

Posting on Facebook about an upcoming dinner at the conference, I quickly received a reply from a friend in Washington, D.C. telling me that her father would be present. About an hour after that, her father came and sat down with me at a table full of diplomats from around the globe. It was a wonderful evening of dialogue. The prevalence of social media made personal connections possible that I never could have dreamt of making a decade ago.

An open question remains what this new sense of global connection means for coexistence.

The Coexist Foundation just launched a new initiative that capitalizes on technology and globalization to help people around the world coexist. Though sophisticated, it’s also quite simple. It’s all about people working together. It’s called the Coexist Campaign.

Think of it this way. You can buy Coexist Coffee from your iPad in Chicago, knowing that the coffee beans were grown sustainably in Uganda in a coop that brings together Jews, Muslims, and Christians. All of the profits from the coffee go right back to help that same community build schools so that Jewish, Muslim, and Christian children can learn together. You drink coffee and a diverse community builds a better future.

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The Interfaith Triangle

Sep6

by: on September 6th, 2012 | 1 Comment »

One of my greatest joys in working with Eboo Patel is watching him think. He is the sharpest wit in most of the rooms he enters, and if you manage to catch him with a surprising or unusual question after a public talk or small-group gathering, you can see his mind whirring as he finds not only a meaningful answer, but also a more compelling framework for your question.

In Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America, Eboo gives us all the gift of seeing him think. It seems apparent that he is in the process of reframing not merely a question, but the premises of the entire interfaith movement, of which he has long been a key part.

The core of his new thinking comes out in his chapter, “The Science of Interfaith Cooperation.” Reflecting humbly on a moment when he found himself unable to respond adequately to a funder’s request for measurable outcomes, he poses a set of questions that the Interfaith Youth Core has already begun answering, and to which all members of the interfaith movement must attend: “How do we measure effectiveness in interfaith work? How do we track progress? What outcomes are we after, and how do we know we are reaching them?”

In response to this question, Eboo looks to quantitative, rather than qualitative evidence — a major shift not in his own personal research and reading, but in his description of the interfaith movement and why it counts. Therein lies a gem, which may in time spawn a transformation within the interfaith movement and how it understands itself: the interfaith triangle. Says Patel,

“The more I studied this area, the more I started to see attitudes, knowledge, and relationships as three sides of a triangle. If you know some (accurate and positive) things about a religion, and you know some people from that religion, you are far more likely to have positive attitudes toward that tradition and that community. The more favorable your attitude, the more open you will be to new relationships and additional appreciative knowledge. A couple of cycles around this triangle, and people from different faiths are starting to smile at each other on the streets instead of looking away or crossing to the other side.”


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My Jewish Voice in the Spectrum of Interfaith Narrative

Jun5

by: on June 5th, 2012 | Comments Off

The Jewish tradition has been rearticulated in response to many intellectual revolutions, from the rapid spread of Hellenistic thought by Alexander the Great 2,300 years ago to the invention of the movable-type printing press just half a millennium ago. Yet contemporary Jewish leaders are still working, and often struggling, to give voice to our belief system in the Information Age.

Even as our Rabbinical Texts are filled with pithy phrases, we struggle to revive them in 140 characters. Even as sacred parables are relatable on blogs, we seem loath to post them or add hyperlinks to related stories. Even as our prayer books are available online, we seldom (with some notable exceptions) see iPads displaying them in our synagogues. Even as many technology pioneers are Jewish, they often practice their religion offline.

I, too, as a future rabbi, am struggling to find my voice in the online din that reverberates in ways previously unseen (or unheard). Yet I am not only dealing with a new medium, but also a new and increasingly essential strand of thought: interfaith collaboration.


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Social Justice as a Unifying Issue for Dharmic Communities

Apr25

by: on April 25th, 2012 | Comments Off

Religious communities are never the same once they reach America. In my view, they often become even more remarkable.

As a third-generation American Jew, it is at times even challenging for me to think of Judaism apart from the American experience. In spite of hardships early on for our community, the search for common threads between the disparate Jewish groups that came in droves to America two (and more) generations ago forced us to reexamine and hone our religious beliefs. What actually bound us together?

Answering that question compelled leaders of the American Jewish movements to articulate key Jewish values for the contemporary world — notably equality, education and the support of Jewish communities worldwide. Yet most compelling for many American Jews was, and remains, the active engagement of social justice issues.

We emerged from disempowered (and worse) circumstances in Europe as a community that lived out its faith through action in America. From the labor movement to the feminist movement to the civil rights movement to the environmental movement, American Jews found themselves disproportionately represented and often in leadership roles. Jewish belief (whether theological, ethical, or both) guided action, and action inspired belief.

As has become quite evident in the past several years, another set of religious groups, bolstered by recent waves of immigrants to America, is also looking to social justice as a possible unifying trope. Launched by Anju Bhargava, Hindu-American visionary and founder of Hindu American Seva Charities, this effort seeks to increase long-term collaboration between Buddhist, Hindu, Jain and Sikh communities through religiously inspired volunteerism, charity and social services.

Together, these groups — several of which are comprised primarily of immigrants from South and East Asia — represent what may be described as Dharmic religious communities and a new coalition in the American religious landscape. They are seeking a unique American identity and niche for their adherents. Like other religious communities that have flourished during and after waves of immigration, they appear poised to make essential contributions to American society.


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On Living Faith: Abraham and a Jewish Theology of Protest

Feb20

by: on February 20th, 2012 | 3 Comments »

The Torah is filled with examples of prophets who protest in the name of justice. Moses protested the misdeeds of his fellow Israelites. Joshua protested falsified reports about the Holy Land. The very first proto-Jew, Abraham, even protested God when it came to a matter of justice. That God listened and acknowledged Abraham’s insights is a testament to the sacred nature of protest – and worthy of further inquiry.

The issue at hand between Abraham and God is the pending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. As expressed in Genesis 18, Abraham is shocked by God’s intentions to destroy the cities, even though they are reputed for their improprieties.

“Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty?” Abraham asks God in Genesis 18:23-24, according to the translation from the Jewish Study Bible. “What if there should be fifty innocent within the city; will You then wipe out the place and not forgive it for the sake of the innocent fifty who are in it?”

Abraham appears outraged at the notion of collective punishment and challenges his very Creator on a matter of justice.


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Chanukah’s History: Challenging but Full of Meaning

Dec20

by: on December 20th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

The history of Chanukah squeezes us between two competing narratives: one of idealization and one of consternation.

The former encourages us to view Chanukah as a holiday of liberation, when the Maccabees overthrew their Hellenistic occupiers in pursuit of faith and freedom. The Jews wanted a homeland free of outside ruler and were willing to pick up arms in self-defense.

The latter emphasizes the un-miraculous nature of the conflict and the fact that, when ‘free’ during the Hasmonean period (which followed the Maccabean conquest), Jewish leaders at times engaged in programs of forced conversion and other unsavory acts. Freedom from Hellenistic domination did not liberate Jews from internal strife and harsh rulers.

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CEO of Home Depot: Purchase Advertising on All-American Muslim to replace Lowe’s

Dec14

by: on December 14th, 2011 | 5 Comments »

Lowe’s recently pulled its advertising from the popular television show “All-American Muslim,” bowing to the pressure of Isalmophobes. It is unworthy of our business as Americans who care about the stories of all American religious communities.

We now need a new place to shop, as we approach the new year. Help us draft Home Depot to be the tolerant alternative!

We are asking Home Depot to buy the spots on “All-American Muslim” that Lowe’s used to purchase. If they do so, those who sign this petition commit to turning first to Home Depot as our home, appliance, and hardware store in 2012. We shop tolerantly — and want Home Depot to be our go-to store for religious freedom.

By signing this petition, you are showing that you want all religious communities in
American to have a free voice. You are exercising your freedom to shop at stores that further religious tolerance.

SIGN ON NOW! DRAFT HOME DEPOT AS THE STORE OF TOLERANCE IN 2012!

Online tools enriching the study of sacred text

Nov9

by: on November 9th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

This article was co-authored by Matthew L. Skinner.


Picture this: an Iraqi reporter becomes interested in the work of a Jewish student in Israel after reading an article about Jewish-Muslim relations in medieval Spain that the student published online. The reporter contacts the student and interviews him about future prospects for Jewish-Muslim coexistence.

As the student in this story and co-author of this article, Joshua Stanton knows first-hand how technology is reshaping the way people of different religions interact. To start with, he and the Iraqi reporter would never have connected without the Internet, which enabled them to bypass regional politics and borders.

Yet the Internet’s potential can yield various outcomes. Despite our increased connectivity, people of different faith traditions remain all too likely to talk past one another. Just look at the comments section of any online news article.


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“Of Mormons, Baptists, and Liberty of Conscience” By Jason A. Kerr

Oct12

by: on October 12th, 2011 | 1 Comment »

This is a guest post by Jason A. Kerr, a doctoral candidate in English at Boston College. He is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

On 7 October, Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, was speaking to reporters outside the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC, where he had just introduced Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry. Taking aim at Perry’s rival for the nomination, Mitt Romney, Jeffress said that Romney, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “is not a Christian.” Jeffress went on to say, “This idea that Mormonism is a theological cult is not news…. That has been the historical position of Christianity for a long time.”

Jeffress has a point: evangelicals have long been uncomfortable with Mormonism, and significant theological differences – most notably over Christology – exist between the two groups. I’m not going to attempt to resolve those differences here, or to defend the proposition that Mormons are in fact Christian (even though I, as a Mormon, affirm my own faith in Christ).

Rather, I wish to seize on an opportunity inadvertently opened by Jeffress’s overly broad invocation of “the historical position of Christianity” to argue that Mormons and Baptists ought to make common cause in opposing the use of such appeals as tests of religious orthodoxy, let alone as de facto religious tests of fitness for political office.

Here’s the thing: “the historical position of Christianity” hasn’t always been kind to Baptists, either. In 1640s London, for instance, Baptist congregations found themselves altogether on the margins. Adherence to the doctrine of believer’s baptism put them at odds with the longstanding practice of baptizing infants, and their belief that church membership depended on such baptism meant separation from the established Church of England. Thus, Baptist gatherings were illegal, and entire congregations occasionally found themselves in prison. With the outbreak of civil war in 1642, enforcement broke down, and some churches began to meet more openly. For instance, a congregation led by Thomas Lambe held meetings in Bell Alley, Coleman Street that were open to the public and drew huge crowds.


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Yom Kippur Reflection: Facing Our Own Mortality — Without Regrets

Oct9

by: on October 9th, 2011 | 1 Comment »

A derivative of this sermon was delivered at Temple Beth Israel in Steubenville, Ohio on Yom Kippur during Kol Nidre services, at the start of Yom Kippur.

Many of the most dramatic moments in a hospital come when something goes unexpectedly wrong. A surgery gone array, a condition gone undiagnosed, or a patient who just doesn’t seem to be pulling through. The surgeons, doctors, nurses, technicians, and specialists do all that is within their power to help their patients — but sometimes there is nothing to be done.

This was a reality I experienced firsthand last year, while serving as a chaplain intern. I was working in the Palliative Care Unit at a large hospital in New York, meeting with patients who faced serious or life-threatening illness. Medicine could do so much — but not everything. Sometimes it couldn’t do anything at all.

In some of those moments of helplessness, when the hospital could no longer keep a patient alive, I took on a truly difficult role: I, along with a team of specialists far more experienced than myself, would break the news of a patient’s death to a family. We would sit in a meeting room off to the side of a hospital corridor. We would give the worst news to people who wanted nothing but the best for their loved ones.

Reactions would vary tremendously on the part of families. Some would express relief that a loved one’s suffering had ended. Others would cry out in pain at the loss. Still others would grieve circumstances that seemed so unfair. But most family members were filled with regret — not only for themselves, but also for the loved one who had died.

Why so much regret? For some, it was because of errors, or perceived mistakes, made early in life — incidents or challenges that the patient had long known about. But for many, there were a whole host of new regrets they voiced on behalf of their loved ones. These ideas had probably not occurred to the patient while he or she was alive. The regrets only became clear after death itself.


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