Amidst news of violence, kidnappings, imprisonments and much more, the world quietly celebrated International Religious Freedom Day on October 27. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement to mark this important ideal of the American consciousness with words that sounded well-intentioned and carefully thought out. He mentioned the experiences of the first pilgrims who established colonies in what was later to become the United States of America due to a desire for religious liberty and discussed the role this nation has played up till today in offering a refuge to all peoples facing persecution for their faith.
I opened my email to the news that Governor Brown had vetoed AB 1229 which would have allowed local governments to require a smidgen of affordable housing along with luxury developments. Immediately, I felt tense and angry, outraged that rent control is illegal in California, and now this further setback. I was despondent and disgusted that a liberal governor would veto one tiny step toward affordable housing.
Then I opened another email about a community college inviting for-profit education companies, at least one of whom had said public education was “broken,” to hold a conference on campus.
My stomach tensed. My forehead ached. I felt antagonistic, judgmental, enraged and ready to shout.
Once this state of mind didn’t trouble me. I may even have welcomed the adrenaline.
Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard famously said, “Once you label me you negate me.” But despite this, it seems that as human beings, we love labels. We spend much of our lives labeling not just others but ourselves as well. Skin color, race, education level, professional qualifications… you name it, we’ve got it and using it with gusto. Some labels – like doctor, author, white person – we apply on ourselves with pride, while others – black, dropout, druggie – are pasted on our psyches by others without our consent. It’s also an undeniable fact that labels, positive and negative, lead to stereotypes more frequently than they lead to motivation or greater self-esteem. Yet we continue to label ourselves and others without regard for consequences. A particularly dangerous label in the current national political and cultural situation is religion. As a culture we have started looking at people through “God glasses” – asking people what they believe in, assuming their religious preference based on their accent, color and most importantly their dress. It’s no longer a private matter, and it almost always results in discrimination.
Credit: Creative Commons
As has been widely reported, Pope Francis began his papacy with an already strong relationship with the Jewish community. Yet only time will tell if this pope will put the final nail in the coffin of Christian anti-Judaism: namely, an official end to the absurd notion that Christian faith produces more compassion and mercy in the human heart than does the Jewish faith.
It is worth noting that in addition to his expressions of solidarity with Argentina’s Jewish community, Pope Francis, while archbishop of Buenos Aires, participated in a Jewish-Catholic Tzedaka service; a charity effort where Jewish and Catholic volunteers went out – together – distributing aid to the poor and downtrodden of Buenos Aires.
Arguably, inter-faith Tzedaka-like service programs could be a template for a healthy, and I would argue very necessary, reform of Catholic religious life: specifically, the kind of reform that would help to end the utter fiction that Christians are more loving and compassionate than Jews.
The Islamic month of Ramadan is at an end, and right about now many Muslims across the world are celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr – the biggest celebration of the year – as well as expressing sadness at having bid adieu to a time full of blessings. The repetition of fasting and praying is such in this month that many events blend into each other, seemingly endlessly and with the danger of being forgotten. Here then, is a roundup of what occurred in the United States in the month of Ramadan and how it affected the millions of Muslims in this country.
by: Donna Schaper on July 30th, 2013 | Comments Off
Moral Monday March and Interfaith Social Justice Rally, July 29th, 2013. Credit: Creative Commons.
Since state legislators were taken over by the Koch brothers, many progressive clergy have spent our entire discretionary accounts on travel to our state capitals. We attend on behalf of equal marriage or the living wage or campaign finance reform or fracking or low-wage workers. We epitomize that famous word for today’s progressives, “intersectionality.” While trying to be faithful, we are also, in the great words of Joseph Sittler, “macerated” by our citizen involvements.
An experiment is occurring in North Carolina to de-macerate and reunite our spiritual souls with our political bodies. Instead of episodic lobbying, on Moral Mondays, clergy visit with their representatives as chaplains. They change the language from the pragmatics of the political to the hope of our God. They pass through the wilderness of the secular and its optimism and arrive at the land of hope. They talk about the downtrodden in meaningful ways with state legislators and by doing so, take off some of their own boot. Instead of being “rentaclergies” for statewide organizations, they name their own agenda, in their own language, at their own time. They even develop relationships with state legislators over time so that when they have to sit in at the rep’s office they know him or her by name. Nonviolent civil disobedience is so much better that way.
by: Robert Cohen on July 11th, 2013 | 17 Comments »
Christian Cross and Jewish Star of David. Credit: Creative Commons.
Right now, decades of progress on Jewish-Christian interfaith dialogue is unraveling. What had been a period of unprecedented advancement has been halted and replaced by (Christian) frustration and (Jewish) anger.
Interfaith relations now seem to exist only as part of the established hierarchy of formal Jewish and Christian communal structures. The realms of acceptable debate are securely locked down, confined to domestic issues and the sharing of religious practice. Any serious challenge by Christians or Jews to the status quo on Israel is considered firmly out of bounds.
So what’s happened and what can be done to get back on track and establish a mature, open, and honest interfaith conversation that doesn’t fall apart as soon as Israel or the Palestinians get mentioned? Here, I want to examine how distorted presentations of Christian theology and fossilized views of Judaism have become part of the new and disturbing dynamic of Jewish-Christian interaction.
by: Jacqueline J. Lewis on July 2nd, 2013 | Comments Off
New Yorkers rejoice outside of Stonewall Inn following the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality. The decision on the Voting Rights Act, however, is no cause for celebration. Creative Commons: Michael Fleshman
This week my heart experienced incredible joy and deep sadness about the Supreme Court decisions. I am so thankful to God for the historic Supreme Court decisions on DOMA and Prop 8. I stood with other activists at the Stonewall Inn on Wednesday night celebrating with colleagues and allies. What an important victory! But the Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act felt like a punch in my stomach. I am an African American pastor; my people paid a high price for the right to vote. After all of the absurdity in the last presidential election about redistricting, and as our country “browns-up,” this decision is a huge step backward, and one that needs to be addressed swiftly.
The U.S. Supreme Court rulings are a testimony to the ways time and personal stories change our understanding. The decisions are part of an ongoing narrative of change in the movement for justice. It took time, but Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat changed the story of segregation in the South. It took time, but Martin Luther King’s inspired speech helped us all to dream dreams of reconciliation. It took time, but the court ruled it is unconstitutional to deny married same-gender couples federal benefits and the court paved the way for California to allow same-gender marriages. Congregations and religious leaders who testify for marriage equality change the story. We do it because we hear the “still-speaking Word” shout into our hearts: Now is the time for justice.
When I began advocating publicly for gay rights, my parents wanted to talk to me about “What the Bible says…” They are Christians, and their faith and the Bible sustain them. Even so, they stand back from some of what it says. They know that the Bible was used to justify slavery. They know the Bible has been used to prevent women from leading congregations. They understand that texts have contexts and that God’s Word is a Living Word. “What the Bible says…” isn’t the only thing that guides their lives. Like many of us, guided by the ethic of love, they listen for the “still-speaking” Word.
by: Donna Schaper on June 26th, 2013 | 1 Comment »
The Supreme Court has done us a big favor. In supporting gay marriage, it has encouraged the larger movement for human rights for gay people to deepen and to spread.
I won’t pop the cork on the champagne or say alleluia just yet. I want to get through the night in Greenwich Village and hope that the haters will not come out in too much force. Their hate now has nowhere to go but its final destination, of destroying that which they can’t abide. Once again, I am reminded how important it is to stop hate speech the second it starts. Otherwise it has nowhere to go but violence against the thing it hates, which has to be eliminated, according to the self-imprisonment created by hate.
It is going to be a scary night in the village, as have been many of the previous ones. We are going to do something small to stop it with dozens of other village churches. The Rainbow Sanctuary sticker will go on our door, saying quietly and firmly, this place is a safe space. It is a rainbow sanctuary at a time when the rainbows do need sanctuary. We do so on behalf of our sacred texts and equally sacred conversations.
In continuation of my series on First Amendment rights as they impact religious minority groups, I address current controversy over social media posts maligning religious groups. My previous post in this series entitled Does Freedom of Speech Allow Stereotyping discussed a greeting card that stereotyped Muslims as terrorists in an unusually offensive and glaringly inaccurate way. This week I have chosen another unfortunate event, a Facebook post that ignited debate over the possible classification of certain types of content as threats instead of free speech. Tennessee County Commissioner Barry West posted a picture on his Facebook page showing a cowboy aiming a shotgun at the camera with the caption “How to Wink at a Muslim”.