Abraham's Tent

Bishop Christopher Epting relates the story of three faiths in search of common ground - real ground. A Synagogue, a Mosque and an Episcopal Church work together to share land and build common space.

From Epting's blog That We All May Be One

They are now looking for property on which to build three worship sites and a “middle building” tentatively called “Abraham’s tent” which can be a gathering space, coffee shop, educational and outreach center for the larger community. They are clear that each community needs to tend to its own internal needs of formation, nurture, “life cycle” issues like births and marriages and funerals and more.

Read more »

ABC's Building Bridges Conference Cancelled

The Archbishop of Canterbury's important Building Bridges conference has been cancelled at the last minute by the Malaysian government. Abp. Williams has called together several previous conferences to promote Muslim-Christian dialogue. The Malaysian Council of Churches is asking the government for reconsideration of the decision.

Ruth Gledhill, religious correspondent for the The Times, UK. reports:

Christian and Muslim scholars from around the world had bought air tickets, written papers and begun to pack their bags for the Building Bridges conference, the sixth in a series intended to foster dialogue between the two religions. It was cancelled with just two weeks notice.

The three-day conference was set up in the wake of September 11 and meant to be an annual get-together of Christian and Muslim academics in an attempt to find theological understandings that might help prevent future terrorist attacks.

At the first conference, at Lambeth Palace in London six years ago, Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, fêted Tony Blair. In return, the Prime Minister invited the Muslim and Christian scholars to a high-profile reception at Downing Street.

Since then the scholars have met in New York, Qatar and Sarajevo. This year’s seminar in Malaysia was to signal a breakthrough in Muslim-Christian relations in a region where they are particularly delicate.


Read the article HERE. Gledhill has more at her blog.

Ecumenical News International is reporting:

The Council of Churches of Malaysia has appealed to the country's government to reconsider a decision to withdraw support for a Christian-Muslim seminar that was to have been chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

More from Episcopal News Service

UPDATE, 15 May: Malaysian churches ask government to reschedule conference.

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The Oslo Conference

Bishop John Bryson Chane of the Diocese of Washington is on his way home from the two-day Oslo Conference on Religion, Democracy and Extremism. (He's in favor of the first two and against the third.)

The Conference was convened on Tuesday by The Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights (OC) and The Foundation for Dialogue among Civilizations (FDC) in collaboration with the Club de Madrid (CdM) and sponsored by the Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway.

The Norway Post has a preliminary report. Former president of Iran Mohammad Khatami, co-chair of the conference, spoke to the press on Tuesday.

Poll: Muslims, Evangelicals have similar views

Despite having a faith tradition different to the predominant Christian traditions in the United States, Muslim Americans share much in common with other US religious groups, including white evangelical Protestants, a new study has found.

"Although Muslims constitute a small minority in the United States, and their holy book and many of their religious rituals are distinctly their own, Muslim Americans are by no means 'the other' when it comes to religious life or politics in the United States," said the study's authors, Robert Ruby and Greg Smith of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

"In many ways", say the two researchers, "[Muslim Americans] stand out not so much for their differences as for their similarities with other religious groups."

The Pew study - "How Muslims Compare With Other Religious Americans" - found that though Muslim Americans generally tend to be more politically liberal than white evangelical Christians, the two groups share similar conservative positions on a number of social issues, including that of homosexuality.

Some 61 percent of Muslims and 63 percent of white evangelicals agreed that "homosexuality is a way of life that should be discouraged by society". By contrast, only 36 percent of white "mainline" Protestants and 31 percent of Roman Catholics agreed with this statement.

Read it all.

Listening to Muslims

The Washington Post/Newsweek "On Faith" blog devoted last week to hearing from twenty-two Muslim scholars and leaders from around the world to answer three questions on violence, religious freedom and women’s issues. The editors of the blog, Sally Quinn and Jon Meacham, summarize the resulting dialogue:

Several months ago “On Faith “(jointly published by the Washington Post and Newsweek) held a symposium at Georgetown University on "What it Means to be Muslim in America." During the discussion, panelists were asked why Muslim religious leaders around the world didn’t speak out against violence.

The Imam on the panel replied that they did. The problem was that nobody listened to them, that the press didn’t report about it because it wasn’t sensational.

So we decided to devote a week on our site to give Muslim leaders a chance to speak out. We posed three questions -- on violence, religious freedom and women’s issues -- and invited more than 50 Muslim leaders throughout the world to respond. Twenty-two people from 13 countries chose to reply to the questions. . . .

It was an unprecedented and ambitious undertaking, and we learned a lot. Overall we have received thousands of comments, some positive, some negative. Many of the comments affirmed that different cultures have a long way to go before reaching common ground. But many others suggested that if you reach out, others will reach back. A couple of examples: Ali Gomaa of Egypt and Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah of Lebanon, two controversial Muslim leaders often seen as radical, spoke out strongly against suicide bombings and killing women, children and non-combatants. Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, and others rejected the idea that apostasy is a punishable offense. In some Muslim countries, it is punishable by death.

. . .

The most surprising thing we learned is how many Muslim organizations already are trying to combat violence and views that Islam is a violent religion. King Abdullah and Prince Ghazi of Jordan conducted a panel on “True Islam” in 2005 on this very subject and issued a report now referred to as the “Amman Message.” It became very clear that there is power in numbers. The more who speak out, the more others will do so, too.

We are pleased with the results of our “Muslims Speak Out” venture, but we realize that it is just one small step. There is so much to be done in interfaith dialogue, not just on Islam but among all faiths and nonbelievers as well. This is just a beginning for “On Faith.” We want our audience and our contributors to know that their thoughts and their comments will always be welcome.

As it says in the Qu’ran, “God made us different nations and tribes so that we may know one another."

One question that bothered the editors was why less than half of those invited to participate chose to do so. The answers were varied:

Some felt that the questions were too negative, that they had a “When did you stop beating your wife?” tone to them. Others who were invited, we were told, were suspicious of an American owned media company and didn’t know whether they could trust us to print what they said accurately without being edited, or they feared that their remarks would be misused, opening themselves up to hostile comments. As it turned out, they were right about that second concern. There were a number of unacceptable and abusive comments.

Others of more moderate beliefs were afraid to speak out, either for political reasons or safety reasons. And interestingly, some who were known as moderates did not want to go on the record with their more controversial points of view. One of them said he writes his defenses of Islam under a false name. Two women accepted being on the panel and then dropped out with no explanation.

Some who have spoken out often against the violence said they were tired of explaining themselves.

We were told by our Muslim colleagues that even though most of the respondents were names that the average American or European may not have heard of, many of these people are hugely important in their own countries. They are constantly in demand and called upon to participate in so many things that they simply were too busy.

Read it all here.

Hindu prayer in the Senate

The opening prayer at the U.S. Senate usually doesn't generate a lot of controversy. But on July 12, 2007, when chaplain Rajan Zed of Reno, Nev., became the first Hindu to deliver an opening prayer in the U.S. Senate, he was interrupted by Christian protesters. There's a video clip here that, when it surfaced on the blogosphere, generated an outpouring of commentary.

Zed has responded in the Newsweek/WashingtonPost blogzine On Faith. He writes:

Many of us won’t accept it, but religion is a complex component of our lives and it encompasses much more than our own particular tradition or personal experience. We all must take religion very seriously as it is the most powerful force. The challenge today is to seek unity that celebrates diversity.

Bhagavad-Gita, one of the ancient Hindu scriptures, says: “In whatever way and path, humans worship Me, in that same path do I (meet) and fulfill their aspirations and grace them. It is always My Path that humans follow in all their different paths and journeys, on all sides.” It further says, “Whatever form (of the Divine) any devotee with faith wishes to worship, I make that faith of his steady.”

All of us are looking for the truth. Dialogue brings us mutual enrichment. We may learn from each other as we are headed in the same direction. We should at least cooperate in the common causes of peace, human development, love, and respect for others.

There is a hymn in Guru Granth Sahib, sacred Sikh scripture:

"The world is burning in the fire of passion
Save it, O Lord, by Thy grace;
Save it the way Thou consider best."

Read the whole thing here.

Ethical conversion and freedom of religion

Evangelical and Pentecostal representatives will join an August 8-12 consultation on conversion with the World Council of Churches and the Vatican in Toulouse, France. The joint Vatican-WCC study process on religious conversion is moving closer to its goal of a common code of conduct in seeking converts to Christianity, according to Ekklesia.

Kicked off in May last year at a meeting that affirmed freedom of religion as a "non-negotiable" human right valid for everyone everywhere and at the same time stressed that the "obsession of converting others" needs to be cured, the three-year joint study process moves now into its second phase.

Intended as an intra-Christian discussion - whereas the first encounter featured participants from different faiths - the project's second phase will consist of a high-level theological consultation entitled "Towards an ethical approach to conversion: Christian witness in a multi-religious world".

At the consultation, some 30 Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal and Evangelical theologians and church representatives will aim to articulate what a common code of conduct on religious conversion should look like from a Christian viewpoint.

"Conversion is a controversial issue not only in interreligious relations, but in intra-Christian relations as well", says Rev. Dr Hans Ucko, WCC's programme executive for inter-religious dialogue and cooperation. "In Latin America it is a source of tension between the Roman Catholic Church and the Pentecostal movement, while in other regions Orthodox churches often feel 'targeted' by some Protestant missionary groups.

Read it all here

Jesus in the Talmud

Scholars for years have focused on what Christians have thought and said about Jews throughout history. It is not a pleasant story. Very few scholars have asked an equally interesting question: what do classical Jewish texts say about Chritianity? Peter Schäfer has published a new book, Jesus in the Talmud, that examines this question.

David Novak, professor of Jewish studies at the University of Toronto, offers a favorable and illuminating book revew in the New Republic:

This process of rereading the texts of one's own tradition that talk about a close neighbor, an other, demands the very best scholarship. Peter Schäfer is certainly one of the most prominent and most formidable Christian scholars engaged in the new enterprise of looking at Judaism in relation to Christianity. He may well be the most distinguished non-Jewish scholar of classical Jewish sources in the world today. Which is to say, he may be the individual most qualified to deal with a very delicate question that inevitably arises out of the inquiry into what Christians say about Jews and Judaism in their classical sources: what do Jews say about Christians and Christianity in their classical sources? The question becomes more focused when it is directed to what the Jewish sources say about Jesus.


. . .

Schäfer's book tells a fascinating story. We need to appreciate how subtle that story is before we can properly ponder its larger implications for the new Jewish-Christian discussion, implications that are more than academic. What Schäfer calls "the Talmud" is the whole corpus of rabbinic literature that was written between the first and the seventh centuries of the Christian Era. Some of that vast literature was written in the land of Israel (then called "Palestine")--first under pagan Roman rule, then under Christian rule after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century--and is known as the Palestinian Talmud. Even more of that vast literature was written in Babylonia, then part of the Persian Empire. When most Jews say "the Talmud," they mean the Babylonian Talmud, called the Bavli.

There were far fewer Christians in Babylonia than there were in Palestine, and those Christians did not pose the political threat to the Jews that the Christians in Palestine did, and so all scholars interested in Jewish views of Christians and Christianity have regarded the Babylonian treatments of the subject to be historically worthless. They have preferred to concentrate their efforts on discussions and allusions in the Palestinian sources. Those sources alone seem to be talking about a real historical phenomenon, which, when we decode it, tells us much about how the Jews saw the Christian community in Palestine, with whom they had real conflicts.

. . .

Schäfer builds his argument about Jesus in the Babylonian Talmud on a largely overlooked fact: that "whereas the Palestinian rabbis' (few) statements reveal a relative closeness to the emerging Christian sect ... the Bavli's attention is focused on the person of Jesus." But how can what the Talmud says about Jesus be of any significance if the Babylonian rabbis were even further removed from the historical Jesus than the Palestinian rabbis before them? Schäfer's answer is that the Babylonian rabbinical texts are dealing not with the historical Jesus, but with the character of Jesus as it was presented in the New Testament, especially in the Gospel of John, which seems to present the most anti-Jewish Jesus of the four Gospels. These treatments are what Schäfer calls "a literary answer to a literary text."

Whereas the Palestinian anti-Christian texts are responding to a threatening social reality, the Babylonian texts are talking about the basic document (the New Testament) of a Christian community that is no longer a threat to the Jews of Baby- lonia, the Babylonian Christians being as much (if not more) of a marginalized minority as the Jews. Thus, in Schäfer's view, Babylonian Jewish statements about Jesus could be more direct than the Palestinian statements, and they could be nastier. Schäfer shows all this with dazzling erudition and critical insight. He also shows how these Babylonian sources condemned and ridiculed the New Testament accounts of Jesus's birth, powers, and supposed innocence at his trial. Since the local Christians in Baby- lonia were as far removed from the historical Jesus as the local Jews, having only the Jesus of the New Testament, the Jewish criticism of Jesus in Babylonia could attack Christians at their most vulnerable point. In the end, the political power of Christians over Jews made a huge difference in the ways Jews could conduct their anti-Christian polemic.

. . .

But why did the Babylonian Jews go to the trouble of denying the veracity of a text that mattered only to a small Christian community that had no power over Jews (no power of the sort that Palestinian Christians came to enjoy once Christians became members of the official religion of the Roman Empire)? Schäfer gives two answers to this question. Unlike his analysis of the literary evidence, where he has some important data at his disposal, the causal explanation involves much more speculation on his part. Yet Schäfer is not a hasty or arrogant historian; he says only what he believes the evidence entitles him to say. Would that more historians were as modest.

Schäfer's first answer to the question is psychological and political; more precisely, it concerns the influence of the political environment upon psychological motivation. In his view, the Jews of Babylonia could say about Christianity, in the person of Jesus, what their Palestinian brethren could not say because of the dangers involved. Schäfer calls the Babylonian declaration "a proud and self- confident message," one quite different from the "defense mechanisms" that the Palestinian rabbis had to employ in their political prudence. It was a "proud proclamation" of "a new and self-confident Diaspora community."

Schäfer's second answer to this question is more concretely political. Here he notes that in the Persian Empire, both Judaism and Christianity were minority religions--islands of monotheism in a sea of Zoroastrian dualism (which affirmed a good god in conflict with a bad god, as opposed to the one good God affirmed by Judaism and Christianity). The two monotheistic religions were highly suspect in the eyes of the polytheistic Zoroastrian Persian or Sasanian rulers. Indeed, older polemics of Roman pagans against Jews and Christians castigated them both for their monotheism. From these political facts, Schäfer speculates that the anti-Christian polemics of the Jews might be part of "a very vivid and fierce conflict between two competing religions' under the suspicious eye of the Sasanian authorities."

Read the entire review here.

What can such a close review of what the classical Jewish texts said about Jesus tell us about our own faith today? And what can it tell us about the history of the relationship of Jews and Christians?

Muslim-Christian declaration on freedom to convert

The signing of a declaration between a group representing Muslims and a leading Christian body in Norway, which supports the mutual right to convert between faiths without harassment, is the first pact of its type in the world, the two bodies have announced. Ekklesia reports:

The Islamic Council of Norway and the (Lutheran) Church of Norway Council on Ecumenical and International Relations jointly declared that everyone is free to adopt the religious faith of their choice, at a gathering on 22 August 2007.

"As far as we know, this is the first time that a church and representative national Muslim organization have jointly acknowledged the right to convert," said Olav Fykse Tveit, secretary general of the church council.

He continued: "By issuing this declaration we hope to contribute to the international process on this important matter."

After signing their agreement, the two groups said in a statement: "We denounce and are committed to counteracting all violence, discrimination and harassment inflicted in reaction to a person’s conversion, or desire to convert, from one religion to another, be it in Norway or abroad."

Read it all here.

When you are in jail, watch what you can't read

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has directed the departments chaplains to purge their libraries of all religious books which are not on list approved developed by the Bureau. According to a New York Times report by Laurie Goodstein, the move is supposed to prevent inmates from getting relgiously-based terrorist ideas.

Traci Billingsley, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons, said the agency was acting in response to a 2004 report by the Office of the Inspector General in the Justice Department. The report recommended steps that prisons should take, in light of the Sept. 11 attacks, to avoid becoming recruiting grounds for militant Islamic and other religious groups. The bureau, an agency of the Justice Department, defended its effort, which it calls the Standardized Chapel Library Project, as a way of barring access to materials that could, in its words, “discriminate, disparage, advocate violence or radicalize.”

The list, which has reduced religious libraries to a list of 150 approved books and 150 multi-media for each of 20 religions or religious categories, does not ban liturgical texts, prayer books or scriptures.

The lists are broad, but reveal eccentricities and omissions. There are nine titles by C. S. Lewis, for example, and none from the theologians Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Barth and Cardinal Avery Dulles, and the influential pastor Robert H. Schuller.

Chaplains already watch out for materials that promote violence or disparage groups or classes of people, so, they say, the effort is unnecessary. The department has not provided funds for Chaplains to purchase the approved materials. This means that many prison library have simply been cleared of materials.

This effort has managed to displease nearly everyone: evangelical Christian groups have found their materials banned as well as Jewish and Muslim groups. Already some prisoners have filed suit.

If bureaucrats are concerned about radical ideas that are infectious, they may want to have another look at those Gospels.

Read the rest here including a multi-media description of the banned materials.

Building interfaith relationships through charity

Ramadan began yesterday at sundown, and the Washington Post reports that "U.S. Muslims are stepping up holiday charity toward non-Muslims to counter anti-Islamic sentiment since the Sept. 11 attacks."

Key edicts of Ramadan, which began yesterday at sunset, are to fast and promote good conduct. The devil is said to be shackled, making it easier than during the rest of the year to perform good deeds and give charity.

Although some Muslims have always had a broad interpretation of these tenets, there has been a shift in recent years to look beyond the Muslim community for where one gives. This is the result both of a more mature Muslim American social service infrastructure and of a drive to counter anti-Muslim rhetoric since 2001, experts say.

"For decades, Muslims were internally focused, and I think September 11th accelerated the natural process of becoming more externally focused," said Ihsan Bagby, author of several studies of Muslim worship trends in the United States. "It's not like the impulse to do good is some new idea in Islam; concern for the poor, the weak is throughout the Koran. It's just that Muslims in this country hadn't implemented it very well. Now a wave is starting to form."

Community service events planned in the region during Ramadan include feeding day laborers, fundraising for city shelters and helping to organize nonviolence and interfaith projects.

Discussion about the shift also reflects the enduring question at the heart of Ramadan: How can one best do good? The impact of good deeds is said to be multiplied during Ramadan, which marks the period when the Koran began to be revealed to the prophet Muhammad.

Read the whole thing here.

Other items of note in the media about Ramadan:

It is a particular quirk of Ramadan that while the Muslim holiday revolves around fasting, it is also a celebration of food — Bosnian cevapi, Indonesian babi guling, Bangladeshi boti kababs, Malaysian kuih, Tunisian chakchouka.

For the next month, Muslims will fast from dawn to sunset each day. Fasting, or sawm, is one of the five pillars of Islam. Each evening during Ramadan Muslims, will break their 13- to 14-hour fast with a frequently festive communal meal called the iftar. The end of Ramadan is celebrated with a feast called Eid ul-Fitr.

That story is in St. Louis Today, here.( John Chilton who sent along this story, and who lives in the United Arab Emirates observes that Ramadan "is like Lent all day and Easter all night.")

And from the "Let Freedom Ring" department, various media outlets are reporting that the U.S. government is releasing between 50 and 80 Iraqi detainees during the holy month. Found here.

About.com has information about the nightly Taraweeh Prayers, including a link to the broadcast of the nightly prayers at Mecca (coverage begins at 5 pm GMT), here.

Finally, check out Hungry for Ramadan - My American Ramadan Blog by Shahed Amanullah, a frequent Beliefnet contributor. It is at once touching and informative. Don't miss it if you are at all curious about the significance of Ramadan, or the lives of American Muslims.

Writing the book of one's life

Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement—began at sundown yesterday. Jews today are fasting and praying as God decides each person's fate in the coming year. One of the metaphors that comes out of this is that of "writing the book of one's life." Those of us that contribute to blogs regularly have come to know many of the virtues and pratfalls of perpetually and compulsively scribbling.

Jim Solllish, writing in the Washington Post, notes how his writing career does indeed help him understand this highest of holy days in the Jewish faith:

On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, each of us is asked to reread our manuscript of the past year and make revisions. We are tasked with asking such questions as "What could I have done differently?" and "What were the effects of my choices on others?" When I realized these were the questions novelists ask of their characters, it became easier to ask them of myself.

Writing is a process of making choices. Thousands of them. The act of writing an opening sentence is the result of more choices than I can count. Every word a character speaks or swallows is a choice. Every action or inaction, more choices. It's so easy to get them wrong. Or at least to see that another choice would have made more sense.

Read the whole thing here:

The monks of Myanmar

The Christian Science Monitor puts an ongoing conflict in Myanmar (Burma) into a global and historical perspective.

Revered for self-sacrifice, Buddhist monks in Burma are standing up to the guns of a selfish regime. But these holy men in saffron robes are serving more than a people's desire for freedom. The protests also serve as a reminder of religion's historic role in shaping the kind of moral concern for others that is the root of democracy.

Democracy, after all, is simply the best way to bestow legitimacy on the few to rule the many for the care of all. In Burma (also known as Myanmar), any legitimacy of the military to govern ended long ago. Decades of repression, rather than caring, have left poverty and fear.

Last month, when the junta was forced by its bungling to double fuel prices, the people's economic suffering was intimately observed by the monks, who daily interact with the faithful in acts of humility and kindness. Their natural legitimacy has propelled them to lead nonviolent demonstrations aimed at withdrawing support from the regime and to demand democracy. Worldwide, religious leaders from the Dalai Lama to South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu have offered moral support.

Events in Burma are a model, repeated throughout history, of religious movements helping overthrow colonial powers and dictators. Protestant clergy helped spark the American Revolution, with one British commander complaining that "sedition flows copiously from the pulpits." The Vatican II changes of the Roman Catholic Church in the 1960s helped followers in many countries stand up to tyranny. Catholic nuns and priests were on the front line of a "people power" revolution in the Philippines that overthrew a dictator in 1986. Pope John Paul II helped his native Poland lead the way to free Eastern Europe of communism. Soviet dissidents were spiritually nurtured by a few Russian Orthodox priests, helping bring about the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. In Indonesia, a 30-million-strong Islamic group called Nahdlatul Ulama gave moral support for the 1998 overthrow of dictator Suharto.

The whole thing is here.

The Times UK notes that this is not the first time the estimated 500,000 monks have stood up for their homeland in this piece.

Read more about the conflict, and in particular Monday's protests, here.

American Muslims

It is almost 1 p.m., time for noon prayers, and Abdul Malik Mujahid, 55, is in his office on the second floor of Chicago's Downtown Islamic Center, preparing for his sermon. On his desk are a Koran, a pad of paper and a Blackberry. A telephone rings in the next room as people hurry through the corridors.

Soon Mujahid takes the elevator to the fourth floor, carrying the text of his sermon under his arm. The 200 men waiting for him in the prayer room are dressed in jeans and in suits. They have slipped away from their offices for lunch, removed their shoes and staked out their spots on the carpet. Now they want to hear Mujahid's Friday sermon.

He nods to the congregation. Mujahid is a short, elegant man. His gray beard is carefully trimmed and he has a smooth voice. He turns toward Mecca and recites the Fatiha, the opening Sura in the Koran. Then he quickly gets to his point: "My brothers, we can all contribute to reducing our energy consumption," he says. "That must be your very own jihad, your fight against global warming."

When he speaks he sounds like Al Gore, the former vice president of the United States and the man who is now leading America in the battle against climate change. "This wonderful country," says Mujahid, "depends on its immigrants. Show that you are good Americans and good Muslims."

Read it all. Hat tip: Arts and Letters Daily.

Conservatives working across faith lines

Matthew Weiner, the director of programs at the Interfaith Center of New York, had some interesting observations about the growing interest of conservative religious leaders in ecumenical activities:

There is an assumption by commentators on the right and the left that as far as religion goes, it is liberals who work--and care to work--across faith lines. Interfaith activity is understood as a politically and theologically liberal enterprise. This stems in part from the fact that the most widely recognized examples of interfaith cooperation have occurred on the left. Martin Luther King Jr.'s partnership with Abraham Joshua Heschel (the prominent Jewish theologian and civil-rights leader) is probably the most famous. Other figures who have reached across religious lines include The Very Reverend James Parks Morton (former dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine) and international icons like Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu.

But during my years at the Interfaith Center of New York, a nonprofit organization devoted to fostering interreligious civic relationships, I found that the stereotypes about who is willing to form partnerships were wrong. When the center first opened, we received enthusiastic support from liberals and were ignored by conservatives. Our programs looked diverse, and they were, religiously speaking. But participants were homogeneously liberal.

The more conservative religious folks were not interested in talking about spirituality, peace-building and social justice. So we refocused our programs to include seminars and information sessions on issues such as domestic violence, health-care access and immigration rights. Suddenly, every kind of religious leader came, including conservatives. Their religious perspectives did not change, but our assumptions did.

Sheikh Musa Drammeh, an African lay leader who runs an Islamic school in the Bronx, first came to a retreat we held on immigration issues. Sheikh Drammeh believes that Islam is the one true path, that premarital sex is not moral and neither is homosexual behavior. He runs a school that teaches Muslim children these values. In preparation for opening the school in 2001 he introduced himself to local pastors and rabbis, inviting them to come observe his classrooms. He attended a week-long program on religious diversity to better understand the other religious groups in his community. He also works with a Latino Pentecostal minister on the Bronx District Attorney's clergy task force. For him, interfaith partnership is critical for good citizenship and safe neighborhoods. "The more friends we make," he says, "the less likely we are to shed blood."

Rabbi Emmanuel Weizer is another one of our regular participants now. An ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Rabbi from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, he is the vice president of Congregation Beth Yitzthock. Rabbi Weizer strongly believes Orthodoxy is the right path (for Jews) and strongly disagrees with the theology of nonmonotheistic faiths. He will not participate in interfaith prayer services, nor will he enter another religion's worship space. But he has worked across religious lines for years, for example, on our interfaith mediation team, a program of the New York State court system that includes Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Sikhs.

Interestingly, it was the liberal leaders who had problems with our new conservative participants. Some wondered aloud "who let them in." Others wanted us to advocate for positions that would keep some conservatives out, like opposition to the war in Iraq and tolerance for homosexual behavior.

Instead of excluding conservatives, though, we adopted a different understanding of interfaith activity. It is not an understanding based on the idea that with a little conversation we can iron out all our theological differences. Rather, it is one based on the idea that religious beliefs are distinct, deep-set and deserve to be taken seriously. On that point, it turns out that Rabbi Weizer and Sheikh Drammeh understand each other well.

Read it all here.

A call for peace between Muslims and Christians

Reuters is reporting on an "unprecedented" letter, signed by 138 Muslim scholars, sent to Pope Benedict, leaders of Orthodox Christian churches, Anglican leader Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the heads of the world alliances of the Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist and Reformed churches. The letter's authors represent the Sunni, Shi'ite and Sufi schools of Islam, and state their belief that they represent the vast majority of Muslims.

... [The] scholars said finding common ground between the world's biggest faiths was not simply a matter for polite dialogue between religious leaders.

"If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace. With the terrible weaponry of the modern world; with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world's inhabitants," the scholars wrote.

"Our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake," they wrote, adding that Islam and Christianity already agreed that love of God and neighbor were the two most important commandments of their faiths.

Relations between Muslims and Christians have been strained as al Qaeda has struck around the world and as the United States and other Western countries intervened in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The article runs with a London dateline, and as such includes comments from Archbishop Williams:

Williams said he welcomed it as "indicative of the kind of relationship for which we yearn in all parts of the world."

"The call to respect, peace and goodwill should now be taken up by Christians and Muslims at all levels and in all countries," he said.

A Vatican official in Rome said the Roman Catholic Church would not comment until it had time to read the letter.

You can read the story here.

The open letter is available here at Islamica Magazine.

The full response of the Archbishop of Canterbury is here.

Vie only in righteousness and justice

The Archbishop of Canterbury has responded quickly and positively to an open letter from moderate Muslim leaders saying that it is a call to righteousness and mutual respect under the One God.

An open letter from 138 Muslim leaders to Christian churches warns that "the future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians." The moderate imams, ayatollahs, grand muftis, sheikhs, and scholars calls for Muslims and Christians to find common ground in the teachings and principles of the two faiths, and seeks to be a alternative voice for the radical Islam that dominates the western media.

The two faiths account for more than half the world's population, the letter notes, and with "the terrible weaponry of the modern world; with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict.... Our common future is at stake."

The 29 page document, "A Common Word Between Us and You," was immediately received by the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and other Christian leaders in Great Britain.

Williams said,

“The theological basis of the letter and and its call to “vie with each other only in righteousness and good works; to respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill”, are indicative of the kind of relationship for which we yearn in all parts of the world, and especially where Christians and Muslims live together. It is particularly important in underlining the need for respect towards minorities in contexts where either Islam or Christianity is the majority presence."

The Archbishop said that the letter’s emphasis on the fundamental importance of belief in the unity of God and love of neighbour is welcome. He said ”the letter rightly makes it clear that these are scriptural foundations equally for Jews, Christians, and for Muslims, and are the basis for justice and peace in the world.

Dr Williams continued:

“There is much here to study and to build on. The letter’s understanding of the unity of God provides an opportunity for Christians and Muslims to explore together their distinctive understandings and the ways in which these mould and shape our lives. The call to respect, peace and goodwill should now be taken up by Christians and Muslims at all levels and in all countries and I shall endeavour in this country and internationally, to do my part in working for the righteousness which this letter proclaims as our common goal."

The Rev Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and president of the Lutheran World Federation, Geneva, has responded positively to letter sent to him and several global Christian leaders by 138 Muslim world leaders, according to Ekklesia.

Hanson wrote:

"The letter attests to both the love of God and our shared heritage of true hospitality to one's neighbor. These commandments convey prophetic witness for mutual and vital co-existence that Christians and Muslims must embrace in one another. The letter further references how the commands to love God and neighbor are linked "between the Qur'an, the Torah and the New Testament." I encourage everyone everywhere to read the beauty of these passages found in the sacred texts of the Abrahamic faiths, which signify God's vision for how and whom we love in a broken world. This common vision for Jews, Muslims, and Christians signifies fidelity and fellowship in a world where conflict offends our common heritage as children of God.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that while the document is a message to Christians everywhere, it's also a message to Muslims. The letter states that "justice and freedom of religion are a crucial part of love of the neighbor." To those who "relish conflict and destruction," it warns that "our very eternal souls are at stake if we fail to sincerely make every effort to make peace...."

Read: The Christian Science Monitor: Moderate Muslims Speak--To Christians

Also read: Ekklesia: Archbishop of Canterbury responds to "A Common Word."

And: Ekklesia: Lutheran world chielf welcomes Muslim peace letter.

What do Christians believe about Judaism?

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter has stirred up the debate on what Christians believe regarding the place of Judaism. In an October 8 appearance on CNBC’s “The Big Idea” Coulter said that what Christians ultimately want is for Jews to be “perfected” into Christians.

Gabriel Sanders in The Jewish Daily Forward writes:

The notion that God’s covenant with Christians came to replace his covenant with Jews — a concept known as supersessionism, or replacement theology — informed centuries of Christian thought. It was a central idea for both the early church fathers and the leaders of the Reformation. It was also embraced, and expanded upon, by the German Idealist philosophers of the late-18th and early-19th centuries.

In the decades after the Holocaust, however, as Christian denominations were forced to rethink the nature of Christian-Jewish ties, many reconsidered, and ultimately repudiated, the concept. In 1988, the Episcopal Church endorsed a new set of guidelines governing Christian-Jewish relations. Supersessionism’s repercussions, the guidelines read, had been “fateful.” Rather than being a “fossilized religion of legalism,” as the Judaism of Jesus’ time was long thought to be, the church’s revised position held that “Judaism in the time of Jesus was in but an early stage of its long life.”

But not all Christian denominations have followed the Episcopal Church’s lead.

Read it all here.

Thanks to epiScope.

Palestinian rights conference controversy

The Boston Globe reports on the Sabeel Conference on Palestinian rights held at Old South Church in Boston. Both Israeli and Palestinian supporters pledge to work together locally but protestors denounced the comparison of apartheid with the treatment of Palestinians.

Hundreds of advocates for Palestinian rights gathered inside a Back Bay church yesterday as pro-Israel demonstrators denounced them from across Boylston Street in Copley Square, in an illustration of how the Mideast conflict has roiled relations between leaders of the Jewish and mainline Protestant communities in Boston.

Inside Old South Church, about 700 advocates of Palestinian rights launched a two-day conference, provocatively titled, "The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel." The meeting will feature a keynote speech today by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

The pro-Israel demonstrators, who numbered about 200, furiously denounced the use of the word apartheid to describe Israel, as well as what the Jewish community said were anti-Israel views espoused by Sabeel, the Palestinian Christian organization that put together the conference.

But both sides also said they are determined to work together locally.

The president of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ and the senior minister of Old South Church both issued statements expressing support for Israel and opposition to terrorism, even as they defended the decision to rent the Old South building to Sabeel. And the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council defended the free speech rights of Sabeel and concern for Palestinian rights, even as she denounced the conference as "an effort to demonize the state of Israel."

The three officials gathered on a sidewalk in front of the church to talk between the protest and the conference and said they have planned a meeting of Jewish and United Church of Christ leaders next week..

Old South has, over its three-plus centuries in existence, repeatedly hosted gatherings by groups championing controversial points of view, including abolition and women's suffrage and gay rights. Its senior minister, the Rev. Nancy S. Taylor, said the decision to rent the sanctuary to Sabeel represents an idea that is "at the heart of a free and vital democratic nation."

Read is all here

They're coming back!

Earlier this week the Pope met with the King of Saudi Arabia. Their conversation included discussion about the treatment and tolerance of Christian people living in Saudia Arabia. The issue is one of increasing importance because it is thought that Christians will soon become the majority in at least one arabian state, and are increasingly present in Saudi Arabia as well.

The site Chiesa online has a series of articles about the effect this is having:

"Three months ago to the day, on May 31, the Holy See established diplomatic relations and exchanged ambassadors with the United Arab Emirates.

Few noted the fact that the United Arab Emirates has the greatest Christian presence of any Islamic country.

And it is a new and growing presence. Exactly the opposite of what is happening in other regions in the Middle East like Iraq, Lebanon, the Holy Land, where Christian communities of very ancient origin actually face extinction.

The United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven emirates – Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain – situated along the middle of the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. The capital is Abu Dhabi. Almost all of the citizens belong to the official religion, Islam.

But there are many more immigrants than citizens. Foreigners now make up more than 70 percent of the more than 4 million inhabitants, coming from other Arab countries, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, the Philippines.

More than half of these foreign workers are Christians. Adding up the figures, Christians account for more than 35 percent of the population of the United Arab Emirates. Around a million of them are Catholic. And it's not only in the UAE – in Saudi Arabia, too, it is estimated that there are already about a million Catholics from the Philippines. "

Read the rest here.

Loving God and neighbor together

Christian scholars, religious leaders and laity are reaching to Muslims to create a dialog based on what the two faiths share in the hope of overcoming misunderstanding, mistrust and violence that arises out of an unfamiliarity with the two faiths and the two cultures, publishing a full page ad in yesterdays New York Times and issuing a statement of confession, reflection and vision about the future of Muslim-Christian relationships.

The Yale Center for Faith and Culture has organized a response to a letter last October from 138 Muslim scholars called "A Common Word Between Us and You." The document called Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to 'A Common Word Between Us and You.' says, in part:

As members of the worldwide Christian community, we were deeply encouraged and challenged by the recent historic open letter signed by 138 leading Muslim scholars, clerics, and intellectuals from around the world. A Common Word Between Us and You identifies some core common ground between Christianity and Islam which lies at the heart of our respective faiths as well as at the heart of the most ancient Abrahamic faith, Judaism. Jesus Christ’s call to love God and neighbor was rooted in the divine revelation to the people of Israel embodied in the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18). We receive the open letter as a Muslim hand of conviviality and cooperation extended to Christians world-wide. In this response we extend our own Christian hand in return, so that together with all other human beings we may live in peace and justice as we seek to love God and our neighbors.

The statement begins with an honest word of confession:

Muslims and Christians have not always shaken hands in friendship; their relations have sometimes been tense, even characterized by outright hostility. Since Jesus Christ says, “First take the log out your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye” (Matthew 7:5), we want to begin by acknowledging that in the past (e.g. in the Crusades) and in the present (e.g. in excesses of the “war on terror”) many Christians have been guilty of sinning against our Muslim neighbors. Before we “shake your hand” in responding to your letter, we ask forgiveness of the All-Merciful One and of the Muslim community around the world.

The stakes are high. Together Christians and Muslims make up over half the world's population, the statement says. Without peace between the two religions, peace in the world is jeopardized.

Recognizing that the two religions share the fundamental command to love God and to love neighbor, the writers of the Christian response propose that

...our next step should be for our leaders at every level to meet together and begin the earnest work of determining how God would have us fulfill the requirement that we love God and one another.

Some of the signatures in the New York Times full page ad included The Very Rev. Sam Candler of the Diocese of Atlanta (a contributer at Episcopal Cafe), Episcopal bishops Lee and Johnson of Virginia, Beisner of Northern California and Gulick of Kentucky as well as Richard Mouw of Fuller Seminary and others from Fuller Seminary and Wheaton College also signed.

You can read about "A Common Word Between Us and You" here.
You can find "A Christian Response to 'A Common Word Between Us and You" here.
Read more about "A Common Word" in the Cafe here and recall the Archbishop of Canterbury's response here .

Christian/Islamic dialog continues

Several weeks ago, 138 Muslim scholars, sent a lengthy letter entitled 'A Common Word Between Us and You,' to Pope Benedict and other Christian leaders. Last week, numerous American Christian scholars responded positively with a letter of their own. In these clips from Voice of America and National Public Radio, Episcopal Bishop John Bryson Chane and his friend Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, take the converstion further.

Meanwhile, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has criticzed American imperialism in an interview with Emel, a magazine for Muslims. The Sunday Times reports here.

Letter by Christians noted in Muslim world

Several weeks ago, 138 Muslim scholars, sent a lengthy letter entitled 'A Common Word Between Us and You,' to Pope Benedict and other Christian leaders. As was noted in these pages last week, numerous American Christian scholars responded positively with a letter of their own.

That Christian response is receiving an appreciative response in the Muslim world. The Gulf News (United Arab Emirates):

Dr Habib Ali Al Jafri, Muslim propagator, said: "I am happy with this letter, which is considered as an unprecedented step to bring the Islamic and Christian faiths and civilisations closer."

Speaking at a press conference held yesterday at the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation, Al Jafri said Muslims and Christians make up 55 per cent of the world's population, and this new closeness serves as the first firm step towards returning to peace, brotherhood and harmony between people.

He added that more steps would follow in response to the apology to enhance interfaith dialogue. The letter from Muslim scholars was sent to 27 Christian heads of churches around the world, including the Vatican.

Twenty-five of them replied, but no reply has been received yet from the Vatican and an Orthodox church, Al Jafri said.
... The clerics who signed the letter are from all over the world, mostly from the US....


The Gulf News also published the letter in full with the list of signatories which included several bishops of The Episcopal Church. And here is the paper's editorial comment.

Jewish-Muslim interfaith dialogue curriculum

Two major Jewish and Muslim organizations unveiled an interfaith dialogue curriculum yesterday and are urging their hundreds of thousands of members to use it. Both sides say it is the broadest Jewish-Muslim interfaith effort in the continent's history.

As reported in the Washington Post:

The manual and video are built around five sessions that touch on topics including the place of Jerusalem in Jewish and Muslim tradition and history. The toughest potential sticking points will probably be related to Israel and to stereotypes both groups carry about the other, Mark Pelavin, director of interreligious affairs for the Jewish group, said in an interview. "Jews want to know how Muslims feel about terrorism in the name of Islam, and Muslims want to know how Jews feel about Palestinian suffering.

According to Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, North America's largest Jewish movement, "As a once-persecuted minority in countries where anti-Semitism is still a force, we understand the plight of Muslims in North America today," Yoffie said yesterday. "We live in a world in which religion is manipulated to justify the most horrific acts, a world in which -- make no mistake -- Islamic extremists constitute a profound threat. For some, this is a reason to flee from dialogue, but in fact the opposite is true. When we are killing each other in the name of God, sensible religious people have an obligation to do something about it."

Read it all here.

Heschel Centennial

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Rabbi Abraham Heschel. There is a new biography which tries to present him in the context of the times in which he lived. The New York Times has an article that reports on the biography and some of the other observances surrounding the celebration of his life.

From the article:

"Admittedly there are times when Heschel can seem sentimental or, as in his early book ‘The Earth Is the Lord’s,’ can romanticize the past. He turns the lost world of his fathers — the communities of Eastern European Hasidim and their rabbis — into an almost utopian realm. The scholarly skepticism of his colleagues at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, where close textual analysis was more eagerly embraced than Heschel’s inspirational philosophy, does not always seem unmerited.

But no modern Jewish thinker has had as profound an effect on other faiths as Heschel has; the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said he was ‘an authoritative voice not only in the Jewish community but in the religious life of America.’ Nor has any Jewish theologian since Heschel succeeded in speaking to such a wide range of readers while rigorously attending to the nuances of Judaism.

Some of this uniqueness can be felt in the way Heschel approached the woman in the airport. Her mockery is defused, the interaction shifted to the mundane. It is as if Heschel were saying: ‘I understand I’m not what you’re used to. But I’m prepared to meet you casually, accepting your comparison to a make-believe figure. But surely you can see that your anger is not justified?’"

Read the rest here.

Worshipping together?

The LA Times ran a story that's created some drama in the blogosphere about a service in which Hindus and Christians worshiped together at an Episcopal service. The story ran on Jan. 20, claiming that "All were invited to Holy Communion, after the Episcopal celebrant elevated a tray of consecrated Indian bread, and deacons raised wine-filled chalices."

Today, a correction:

FOR THE RECORD:
Hindu-Episcopal service: An article in Sunday's California section about a joint religious service involving Hindus and Episcopalians said that all those attending the service at St. John's Cathedral in Los Angeles were invited to Holy Communion. Although attendees walked toward the Communion table, only Christians were encouraged to partake of Communion. Out of respect for Hindu beliefs, the Hindus were invited to take a flower. Also, the article described Hindus consuming bread during Communion, but some of those worshipers were Christians wearing traditional Indian dress. —

The original article includes a description of the significance of the service:


During the service, the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, issued a statement of apology to the Hindu religious community for centuries-old acts of religious discrimination by Christians, including attempts to convert them.

"I believe that the world cannot afford for us to repeat the errors of our past, in which we sought to dominate rather than to serve," Bruno said in a statement read by the Rt. Rev. Chester Talton. "In this spirit, and in order to take another step in building trust between our two great religious traditions, I offer a sincere apology to the Hindu religious community."

The bishop also said he was committed to renouncing "proselytizing" of Hindus. Bruno had been scheduled to read the statement himself, but a death of a close family friend prevented him from attending the service.

Swami Sarvadevananda, of Vedanta Society of Southern California, was among about a dozen Hindu leaders honored during the service. He called Bruno's stance "a great and courageous step" that binds the two communities.

"By declaring that there will be no more proselytizing, the bishop has opened a new door of understanding," Sarvadevananda said. "The modern religious man must expand his understanding and love of religions and their practices."

The story, with correction inserted, is here.

Holocaust remembrance

Holocaust survivors and religious leaders including the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams and Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks took part in a ceremony consisting of poems, music and speeches as well as personal stories from survivors in observance of Holocaust memorial day in Liverpool on Sunday.

Faith leaders called for the end of genocide throughout the world as they gathered in Liverpool to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, signed a Pledge Against Genocide in the form of a large mural artwork.

The mural on the ground outside the city's Philharmonic Hall was dedicated to encouraging individuals to add their support for an end to the systematic destruction of others in the 21st century.

More than 1,600 people, including survivors of the Holocaust, attended the emotional national commemoration service at the Philharmonic which featured personal testimony from survivors and relatives, poetry, music and speeches.

The event in the European Capital of Culture fell on the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

Among the speakers were Kay Fyne who came on the Kindertransport before the outbreak of the Second World War and now lives in Liverpool, and the Rev Leslie Hardman, who participated in the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration and led the first Jewish service there.

Read: The Press Association: Call for an end of genocide

Read: Christian Today: Archbishop of Canterbury joins Liverpool Holocaust memorial

Also read: inthenews.co.uk: Holocaust memorial day observed in Liverpool today

Sand Mandala at the Philadelphia Cathedral

For the past two weeks, the Philadelphia Cathedral has been hosting Losang Samten, a Buddhist monk from Tibet, who spent his days there creating a Mandala--an 8'-diameter sand painting/sculpture. Mandalas are a form of iconography in which millions of grains of sand are laid down into patterns that represent the cosmos and everything in it; but they are, being nonpermanent installations (except as photographed), ephemeral. Now that the Mandala is complete, it will be available for public viewing through February 2. After the 10 a.m. service on Sunday, the congregation will sweep the sands back to the river, handful by handful.

The Philadelphia Bulletin reported on the Mandala construction:

For two weeks, Losang Samten, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, has been rasping fine lines of sand out of a metal tube to create careful images that portray the frailty of the human condition and the consequences of giving in to the "poisons" of ignorance, greed and anger. Every image carries symbolism, from the trio of animals at the center (pig, pigeon and snake, corresponding to the three poisons) to the six surrounding landscapes to the evolving love story around the perimeter. The images cycle from infancy through death, tying together pain and joy, yin and yang, and showing the consequences of giving in to the three poisons. According to Buddhist beliefs, in order to cure suffering, one must train the mind to notice and eliminate the poisons, and so the "Wheel of Life" provides a tool for meditation and contemplation on this life-long journey.

The detailed workmanship is astounding. Using varying finenesses of sand, Mr. Samten outlines bricks, miniscule arrows and the decorative trim of a woman's dress and sculpts buildings, mountains and rivers. He blends colors, so a band of yellow fades to green to meet the dominant blue of the largest circle. Although the overall effect is two-dimensional, Mr. Samten periodically turns off the overhead lights and uses a side-light to highlight the sand's relief, and suddenly ocean waves and fruit trees come to life with depth and shadows.

The Evening Bulletin story is here.

More from the Philadelphia Cathedral site, including pictures, is here. The Philadelphia Inquirer has several photos in this gallery, as well as a story here.

Interfaith dialogue resource announced

The Anglican Communion Network for Inter Faith Concerns NIFCON has released its treatise on interfaith relations, Generous Love: the truth of the Gospel and the call to dialogue. It is a culmination of four years work on developing an distinctively Anglican theology of interfaith relations.

Generous Love is being sent to every Anglican diocesan bishop and to all NIFCON contacts. It is intended both for those already engaged inter faith relations and those who are considering how and whether they might begin such engagement Recipients are being asked to disseminate the document as widely as possible

The entire press release follows:

Read more »

Reactions to Rowan on Sharia Law

There have been many articles and posts over the evening on Rowan Williams' suggestion that some form of British accomadation for Muslim Sharia law was inevitable. We've tried to collect a number of those here.

The New York Times article summarizes the responses of various government voices:

The 57-year-old archbishop, an Oxford-educated theologian, was met with immediate repudiation from political and legal leaders.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown, speaking anonymously in the tradition of Downing Street, told reporters that Mr. Brown did not “welcome or support” the proposals, and added that Mr. Brown “believes that British laws should be based on British values.”

Spokesmen for the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Parties, the main opposition groups, issued similar responses.

Baroness Sayeeda Hussain Warsi, a 36-year-old lawyer who is a rising star in the Conservative Party and one of its most influential Muslim figures, issued a statement calling the archbishop’s remarks “unhelpful.”

“Of course the important principle is one of equality, and we must ensure that people of all backgrounds and religions are treated equally before the law,” she said. “But let’s be absolutely clear: All British citizens must be subject to British laws developed through Parliament and the courts.”

The folks over at the Telegraph think that these remarks may very well end the Archbishop's ability to serve:

What will the Archbishop of Canterbury's fatuous remarks about Sharia do to his authority as head of the Anglican Communion? Pretty well finish it off, I should think.

[...]Anglicans in parts of Nigeria live under what is, in effect, totalitarian Sharia. It goes without saying Williams does not defend the stoning of adulterous women and other charming Islamic practices. But, in his interview with the BBC, his condemnation of "bad" Sharia is deeply buried in acres of Vichyite waffle about the need to see Sharia "case by case within an overall framework of the principles laid down in the Koran and the Hadith".

For the Archbishop of Canterbury to propose an extension of British Sharia in the same week that we learned of the extent to which the Sharia authorities cover up "honour crimes" reveals a degree of ineptitude that even George Carey never managed.

And, talking of George, watch this space. Lord Carey of Clifton is no fan of his successor, but a very big fan of African Anglicans persecuted by Sharia. I would be very surprised if he can resist intervening in this dispute.

Thinking Anglicans of course has their typically exhaustive coverage of British reactions.

Paul Vallely, in particular, makes an interesting point:

Rowan Williams bridles when anyone suggests that he is the Anglican church’s equivalent of the Pope. But he has made the same mistake in discussing sharia law that Pope Benedict XVI made in his ill-fated foray on the subject of Islam at the University of Regensburg two years ago, which sparked protests around the world, the murder of a nun and much else.

The error is assuming that the leader of a major church has the same intellectual freedom that he had when he was merely an eminent theologian. The cold fact is that the semiotics are entirely different. An academic may call for a nuanced renegotiation of society’s attitudes to the internal laws of religious communities. But when the Archbishop of Canterbury does that the headline follows, as night follows day: “Sharia law in UK is unavoidable, says Archbishop.”

This is not what he was saying, and yet it is. News has little room for the subtleties of academic gavottes around delicate subjects. A canny religious leader – or at any rate his press office – ought to know that.

(hat tip to Jody Howard for drawing attention to this)

We'll be updating this post throughout the day. You can find more links (like this one to Dave Walker's blog) below.

Read more »

Praying for the "lost"

Rabbi Jacob Nuesner says that Catholics and other Christians have a right to pray for the conversion of the Jews, as much as Jews have a right to pray for the righteousness of Christians and Muslims.

Writing an op-ed piece in Forward: The Jewish Daily, he writes:

Israel prays for gentiles, so the other monotheists, the Catholic Church included, have the right to do the same — and no one should feel offended, as many have by Pope Benedict XVI’s recent revision of the Tridentine Mass.

Any other policy toward gentiles would deny their access to the one God whom Israel knows in the Torah. And the Catholic prayer expresses the same generous spirit that characterizes Judaism at worship.

God’s kingdom opens its gates to all humanity and when at worship, the Israelites ask for the speedy advent of God’s kingdom. They express the same liberality of spirit that characterizes the pope’s text for the prayer for the Jews on Good Friday.

Martin Marty, in his e-newsletter "Sightings" provides some background as to why this his view is so surprising:

A week from Friday is Good Friday, a most solemn day for Christians. It is also a problem day for Jews, and for the evident Christian majority which is (or wants to be) sensitive to the sensibilities of Jews. For centuries the most painful element in the Roman Catholic liturgy came from the Good Friday litany in the Latin Rite, which began: "Let us pray for the perfidious Jews: That Almighty God may remove the veil from their hearts so that they too may acknowledge Jesus Christ our Lord..." There was also reference to "Jewish faithlessness" and "blindness." In 1960 an offended and thoughtful Pope John XXIII deleted "faithless" (perfidis); in 1970 the prayer was radically altered. So far, so good.

Last summer Pope Benedict XVI allowed for reversion to the world and words of pre-1970, to a 1962 Missal version of the liturgy. This act was received ambiguously by American Jewish leadership. The American Jewish Committee expressed "appreciation" for some of the papal steps forward, but the Anti-Defamation League called the pope's action "a theological setback" and a "body blow" to Catholic-Jewish relations. On February 6 the Vatican announced an emendation of the 1962 Missal. Tradition-hungry Catholics will now pray this revision: "Let us also pray for the Jews: That our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men…grant that even as the fullness of the peoples enters Thy Church, all Israel be saved…"

Neusner believes that...

The proselytizing prayers of Judaism and Christianity share an eschatological focus and mean to keep the door to salvation open for all peoples. Holy Israel should object to the Catholic prayer no more than Christianity and Islam should take umbrage at the Israelite one. Both “It is our duty” and “Let us also pray for the Jews” realize the logic of monotheism and its eschatological hope.

Read: Forward-The Jewish Daily: Catholics Have a Right to Pray for Us.

See also: The Martin Marty Center of the University of Chicago "Sightings" (This web-site usually posts the e-newsletter a few days after it has been sent to subscribers.)

Interfaith Dry Cleaning

The blogger Aaron Orear has posted a lovely story of interfaith religious cooperation at his local cleaners. It's a reminder that while there are certainly tensions between christians and muslims, there are still plenty of hopeful signs all around us that we can live and work in harmony with each other.

"I took one of my copes to the dry cleaners today. It was a bit on the dingy side...fine for the Great Vigil, seen by candlelight, but not quite up to the full light of a Sunday morning. (Mind you, I wore it anyhow.) So it was off to the cleaners to see if they could brighten it up.

The fellow behind the counter took a look, noted a couple stains and areas of particular wear and griminess. Then he asked, 'This is for church?' I said it was, happy not to have been asked, 'So, it's a dress?' What sort of dresses do dry cleaners see, anyhow? 'No charge for this,' he said.

When I protested that it was going to be a pricey item (I was figuring $50 would be on the cheap end) and that I ought to pay something he said, 'We like to do this. We're sister religions. I'm Muslim. You're using this in God's name and God's service? No fee.'

Considering how much bad press Muslim-Christian relations have gotten lately, I thought that deserved a mention. It was a small gesture, but then relationships are made up of small gestures. It was just the sort of act that reminds me that religious caricatures are just that."

Read the rest of his story here.

Water projects reconcile Christians and Muslims in Rwanda

Ecumenical News International (ENI) reports on efforts by the Anglican Church of Rwanda to provide clean water to Muslim communities:

An interfaith project to provide clean piped water in eastern Rwanda is a practical way to make amends to Muslims in the east African country who have been marginalised in the past by Christians, says Anglican Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini.

"We Christians see it is one way of saying, 'We are sorry'," said Kolini, referring to the water project in the Gatore sector of Rwanda's eastern district of Kirehe. The scheme was inaugurated on 19 March by the Rev. Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation and president of Inter-Faith Action for Peace in Africa.

"This project signifies more than bringing water to those who lacked it before," said Sheikh Yussuf Bizuru, the grand imam of Rwanda's Eastern Province. "It offers to the rest of Africa and the world a model of harmonious interfaith cooperation for development."


Read the rest here.

Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama

The Seattle Times has a report on last night's event that featured a conversation between the Desmond Tutu, the retired Anglican Archbishop of Capetown and the exiled leader of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama.

According to the report:

"Thousands attended the discussion at the University of Washington's Edmundson Pavilion, where young people asked questions and, along with the religious leaders, talked about ways to overcome anger and remain loving when faced with destruction.

Tutu said anger was not necessarily a bad thing. 'It'd be awful if we didn't' get angry when you see someone, for instance, violating a child. That would be awful. So it's something to be thankful for when you lose your cool.'

He said he gets angry with God sometimes. 'I mean — mmmmgh,' he said, shaking his fists. 'How can you? How can you let this, that and the other thing happen?'

But God is incredible, he said, and has given people freedom so they can choose their own way. And God 'has all of eternity to work' on humankind, which is a 'work in progress.'

When people mess up, God 'picks you up, dusts you off and says: try again,' Tutu said."

Read the rest here.

Bringing a bell home

Diana Eck organized the return of bells to a Russian Orthodox monastery bringing together a decidedly diverse collection of people and resources.

Who would have imagined that Diana Eck, a preeminent American scholar of religion and also an outspoken supporter of gay rights—and herself married to a female minister in this church—who would have imagined that such a figure would mastermind the return of these bells to the great monastery of the Russian Orthodox patriarch, who has publicly denounced gay marriage and whose church does not ordain women? And who would have imagined that the same patriarch would share public stages…before massive television audiences with Diana Eck? Furthermore, who would have imagined that when the patriarch called publicly for a philanthropist to finance the repatriation of the bells, his call would be answered by Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian Jew, whose foundation is run by a Russian Muslim?”

Harvard Magazine: A Peal before Leaving

Interfaith comedy

The Jewish comedian began with a routine about raising adolescents. “There was a reason Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac at 12 and not 13,” he said. “At 13, it wouldn’t have been a sacrifice.”

A half hour later, the Muslim comedian took the stage, raising his hands so the Jew could pat him down for weapons. He then urged the Muslims and Jews in the theater, adversaries on the world stage, to cheer their commonalities: “C’mon,” he exhorted, “let’s give it up for lunar calendaring.”

The evangelical Christian comedian also did a half-hour set, observing that though his children’s school teaches abstinence, it also gives out condoms. “That,” he said, “is like a department store saying ‘No shoplifting, but just in case, here’s a trench coat.’ ”

A very funny story from The New York Times.

Blair gets into interfaith relief and development game

The New York Times reports:

Tony Blair, the former prime minister of Britain, formally unveiled plans in New York City on Friday for an ambitious new charity that he hopes will enlist religion as a force for economic development and conflict resolution, rather than violence and strife....

Mr. Blair said one of his main goals was to support religious leaders who were working to counter extremism within their faiths.

“Though there is much focus, understandably, on extremism associated with the perversion of the proper faith of Islam,” Mr. Blair said, “there are elements of extremism in every major faith.”

Jewish leaders endorse Saudi king's call for interfaith dialogue

Leaders of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) have endorsed a call by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia for more dialogue between Jews, Christians and Muslims worldwide to reinforce common values among the Abrahamic faiths. Ecumenical News International reports:

"It is the duty of all religions to restore respect for humanity," the WJC said in a statement on 27 May. "Such an initiative demonstrates optimism that dialogue involving representatives of different faiths can help the peoples of the world during difficult times. Discussion can help in finding ways to approach the crisis of ethical values facing our societies."

In March, while speaking at a conference in Riyadh on culture and religion, King Abdullah said, "The idea is to ask representatives of all monotheistic religions to sit together with their brothers in faith and sincerity to all religions as we all believe in the same God."

The king was referring to three Abrahamic or monotheistic faiths - Christianity, Islam and Judaism - which are said to account for more than half of the world's population.


Read it all here.

In other interfaith news Ekklesia reports:

An interfaith television game show, believed to be the first in Britain, in which Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh contestants compete against one another for cash prizes is to be broadcast weekly from the London studios of the Islam Channel from mid-June 2008 - writes Martin Revis.

The producer of the show says that two teams of four will answer rapid and multiple choice questions testing both general and religious knowledge, posed by the Muslim comedian Jeff Mirza. There will also be a home-or-away round in which contestants can answer questions on their own faith or the opposing team's for further points.

Abrir Hussain, who is producing the show called "Faith Off", told Ecumenical News International, "I wanted to do something to promote good relations and bring a new approach to the interfaith debate other than that of the usual consultative round table format."


Read the rest here.

Archbishop convenes ecumenical group to discuss Christian-Muslim dialogue

Archbishop of Canterbury, News:

During the discussions church representatives from around the globe, including Iraq, Lebanon, Nigeria, Malaysia – alongside those from Western countries where Christianity is the majority religion - shared their experience of engagement.
...
A great emphasis was placed on the need to ensure that the results of these encounters were more widely disseminated and influenced the education and formation of young people. The Archbishop agreed to take forward further work, particularly in response to A Common Word.

The Consultation began with a meeting of the consultant scholars on 1 June and continued, with church representatives and under the chairmanship of the Archbishop, for a full day on 2 June. The Consultation took place at Church House, Westminster and concluded with the participants being welcomed at Evensong in Westminster Abbey followed by a reception and dinner at Lambeth Palace.

The Consultation was resourced by a group of more than 20 scholars from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, UK and USA. The church representatives represented the full denominational spread of Christianity with the majority of the leaders addressed in A Common Word sending representatives and including a large number representing churches in countries where Christians are in a minority.

In the midst of the Consultation, The Telegraph reports a controversy simmered in the Church of England:
Paul Eddy, a lay member of the General Synod, said his Private Members' Motion [on the missionary role of clergy] should have been on the agenda at next month's meeting in York as more than 100 other members had supported it including three bishops.

He believes it has been shelved because it would have shown up wide divisions in the Church over its attitude to converting believers in other faiths, at the same time as it faces schisms over the appointment of women bishops and homosexuality.

The debate would have taken place just 12 days before the once-a-decade summit of Anglican bishops, the Lambeth Conference. It would have piled more pressure on the embattled Archbishop of Canterbury, who earlier this year sparked a storm by claiming some parts of Islamic law would be adopted in Britain.
...
A spokesman for the Church of England insisted the debate on the missionary role of clergy had only been dropped because the other Private Member's Motion had more signatures.

He said: "Owing to time constraints, the Business Committee has been able to schedule only one such motion for July, on the subject of Church Tourism, which heads the list in terms of the number of signatures from members."

Muslim-Christian dialogue

Over the last couple of days there's been a series of statements issued by groups in London, Rome and Mecca from representatives of Christian churches and denominations and representatives of the Muslim World League.

The primary emphasis of the statements is to lay the groundwork for a future formal interfaith dialogue between Christianity and Islam.

The Anglican contribution to this process, according to "FaithWorld":

"In London, Lambeth Palace issued a statement on Tuesday about an ecumenical meeting that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams convened on June 1-2 to discuss ways to deepen Christian-Muslim dialogue. More than 40 participants discussed the ‘Common Word’ initiative and ‘what degree of consensus might be possible as we look forward,’ he said. The list of participants shows most of the Christian churches addressed by the ‘Common Word’ letter were present. The statement said: ‘Delegates at the Consultation were heartened by the great variety of initiatives, some by Muslims and some by Christians, that were taking place at many different levels - many with a well-established track record. A great emphasis was placed on the need to ensure that the results of these encounters were more widely disseminated and influenced the education and formation of young people. The Archbishop agreed to take forward further work, particularly in response to A Common Word.’"

Read the full article at FaithWorld here.

Bishop Chane on interfaith diplomacy

There's a long interview in the Asian Times today with Bishop John Chane where he discusses his work in trying to create religious dialogue with Islamic leaders.

When asked what he's learned as a result of his efforts, Bishop Chane responds:

"I have learned about a significant level of fellowship and respect among scholars and clerics of different faiths, sharing broad-based values that intersect between Christianity and Islam, especially Shi'ism. In many ways, Shi'ism is more liturgical than Sunnism. But I have also learned that while we share a lot in common, there are also a lot of differences, and we need to study both more seriously rather than to give in to stereotypes. And we can achieve this through on-going dialogue. Then we can demonstrate by this behavior what diplomats ought to be doing from their perspectives. "

On the issue of religion as a place to find mutual understanding he suggests that we need to step away from using religion as a tool of demonization of the other and recover a mission of using it to bring peace:

A look at the Abrahamic religions, for instance at Islam where salam means peace, and then we realize that religion plays a huge role in peace-making and yet, unfortunately, has been used and abused by just anyone to support their particular point of view. We can eliminate that by becoming far more aware, more literate, about scriptural texts, since illiteracy in texts is a weapon of ignorance, and bigotry, that is utilized to demean and even demonize other communities of faith.

The interview goes on to discuss politics in America and how we are viewed in the world and what the coming American election might bring.

Read the full article here.

Priest studying Islam remains under suspension

Scott Gunn updates the status of The Rev. Ann Holmes Redding, the Episcopal priest who seeks to follow both Chrisitanity and Islam. At Gunn's blog Seven Whole Days, he publishes a recent letter to the House of Bishops from The Rt. Rev. Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island where Redding is canonically resident.

June 20, 2008

To: Members of the House of Bishops
From: The Rt. Rev’d Geralyn Wolf
Re: The Rev’d Dr. Ann Holmes Redding

In June of 2007, I issued a Pastoral Direction to The Rev’d Dr. Ann Holmes Redding, a priest canonically resident in the Diocese of Rhode Island but living in Seattle. She claimed to be both a Muslim and a Christian. Among other things, she was suspended from all priestly duties for one year, at which time I would review the situation. If it became necessary to take further action the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Rhode Island would be engaged in early July, 2008.

I met with The Rev’d Dr. Ann Holmes Redding on May 22, 2008, and believe that she remains committed to her profession of both Christianity and Islam. As I am leaving for pre-Lambeth engagements on June 28, prior to the end of her suspension, I have extended the Pastoral Direction until September 15, 2008. I do not think that it is fair to make a decision of this nature from afar; without ready access to either Dr. Redding or the Standing Committee.

The decision for extension was not requested by Dr. Redding, nor does it indicate a change in my understanding of the theological conflicts inherent in professing both traditions.

Dr. Redding is a woman of utmost integrity and our conversations remain open and mutually gratifying. I have great respect for her and the process of exploration to which she is committed. I also remain devoted to our Christian faith and the ordination vows taken by those who have entered the sacred priesthood.

The media is requesting an update from me. Recalling the attention this attracted a year ago, I share this communiqué with you.

Looking forward to seeing you at Lambeth.

GW:ec

Stone tablet revives debate on Messiah and Resurrection

A three-foot-tall tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew that scholars believe dates from the decades just before the birth of Jesus is causing a quiet stir in biblical and archaeological circles, especially because it may speak of a messiah who will rise from the dead after three days.

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Saudi Arabia holds interfaith conference

As the Lambeth Conference continues in Canterbury, England, the King of Saudi Arabia sponsored an interfaith conference in Madrid, Spain. In a report from the Washington Post:

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Muslims host common ground meeting

While Anglican bishops were meeting in Canterbury, senior Christian and Muslim scholars and leaders were meeting in the United States seeking common ground in their different faiths to foster better understanding between Islam and the West according to Reuters.

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Progressive and religious

Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist leaders are moving beyond the culture wars and attempting to bring a progressive religious voice from their traditions to political and public life. According to the web site:

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Christians studying the ways of Muslims in Nigeria

At the end of this item on the Church of Nigeria's opposition to same-sex marriage come these refreshing words from Bishop Josiah Fearon, who used to be an archbishop before Archbishop Peter Akinola, the Primate of Nigeria, busted him over his desire to remain part of the Anglican Communion:

"For us in Kaduna State, we realised that to live peacefully, we need to understand the religion of each other and so, we are convinced that the best way to promote peace and encourage it, is to know the well-being of your neighbour and the well-being of your neighbour is dictated by what he or she believes in.

The well-being of the Muslim is dictated by Islam and so, we are concentrating on the Christians learning about Islam".

Hats off to Bishop Fearon, and while we are on the subject, the Kaduna state includes the town of Yelwa, site of intense religious violence in 2004--violence that culminated in the iincreasingly well-known massacre. It's worth noting that despite highly suggestive evidence, neither Rowan Williams, nor any of the GAFCON primates has evinced any interest in finding out what Akinola knew about the massacre, or what his involvement might have been.

As our moral values are regularly called into question by these folks--It seems we are captives of our decadent culture and can no longer distinguish the evil inherent in the Bishop of New Hampshire's sleeping with a man.--we'd be interested in knowing how many dead bodies it takes to merit their attention.

Interfaith group pleads for help after Ike and Gustav

The Dallas Morning News reports that a high profile interfaith group is calling for a stepped up federal effort to help the hurricane-battered Gulf Coast. The group writes:

We have learned that acts of faith and mercy alone, no matter how profound, cannot provide everything needed for a sustainable recovery. Gulf Coast families deserve a federal government that recognizes their needs by rebuilding their communities, supporting basic human rights of all communities, addressing poverty and displacement, and confronting coastal erosion. The government must empower local communities to take the lead in rebuilding their neighborhoods, renewing their lives, and restoring God's creation. We believe it is a moral obligation for the federal government to fulfill its promises for Gulf Coast recovery: empowering residents to return and participate in equitably rebuilding their communities.

Now we are joining community and faith leaders across Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas and calling on people of faith to form a new partnership for a renewed and just federal Gulf Coast recovery policy to put all Gulf Coast communities, regardless of race, ethnicity or income, on the path to an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable recovery.

We ask national leaders of both parties, Democrats and Republicans, as they discuss the future of our nation, to honor the third anniversary of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the survivors of Hurricanes Ike and Gustav by pledging to fulfill these obligations in the next Administration and Congress, including:

• Passing policy based on the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act for a resident-led partnership to rebuild vital public infrastructure, restore the environment, and create good jobs and economic opportunities for residents and returning displaced families to help create stronger, safer, and more equitable communities;

• Increasing funding for federal, state, and local partnerships in the Gulf Coast to create more affordable housing and promote home-ownership for returning families, workers, and residents moving out of unsafe FEMA trailers; and

• Supporting federal funding to restore the coastal wetlands and barrier islands that form the Gulf Coast's natural barriers to flooding and to build improved levee systems to create a comprehensive flood control system which could protect all Gulf Coast communities from another Category 5 storm.

Read the letter and which groups signed on to it here.

According to Episcopal Life Online:

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and other Episcopalians are among 105 ecumenical and interfaith leaders who have signed on to a statement declaring that "the slow pace of recovery and the new needs caused by Ike and Gustav's destruction have created a moral crisis along the Gulf Coast that demands a powerful response from people of faith."

In other stories:

The American Red Cross, which is plunging into debt to provide relief after back-to-back Gulf Coast hurricanes, said yesterday that it has asked Congress for $150 million in emergency funding to replenish its disaster relief reserves. Read here

From the Miami Herald:

Authorities said Sunday [volunteers] had rescued nearly 2,000 people in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike's strike on the Texas and Louisiana coasts. Though crews planned to keep combing flooded streets Sunday night with boats and dump trucks, they were encouraged that time and time again, they knocked on doors and found life.

From Episcopal Relief and Development:

Episcopal Relief & Development is communicating with affected dioceses in Western Louisiana, Texas, West Texas and Arkansas and is providing critical assistance as the needs arise,” said Don Cimato of Episcopal Relief & Development. “We are working in coordination with voluntary organizations at state and national levels with the goal of preventing the duplication of services.

Read more here.

Donate here.

As Ramadan ends, Williams sends greetings

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, has sent his greetings to Muslim communities for the festival of Eid ul Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan.

To Muslim friends and co workers in the Common Good

It is a great pleasure once again to be able to send my warm greetings to friends and colleagues of the Muslim communities on the occasion of Eid ul Fitr and to wish you the joy of celebrating the breaking of the fast.

The celebration of Eid provides opportunities for putting the past behind and for opening doors into a renewed future which is a constant task for all people of faith. There are aspects of our society's attitude to religious faith and practice which need to be addressed; and there are matters relating to religious freedom in some countries of Islamic governance that need to be challenged. Christianity and Islam can do much, together with other religions, to encourage an openness to a better future for all in these and many other respects.

See Episcopal Life Online: Archbishop sends greeting to Muslims for Eid ul Fitr, end of Ramadan

"Christian-Muslim" priest to be defrocked

From the Seattle Times:

There are moments these days when the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding sits outside a church or a Muslim gathering, wondering if she will be welcome at either.

It didn't use to be this way. But now, six months away from what is almost certain to be her defrocking, the Episcopal priest who announced last year that she had also become a Muslim remains steadfast in her belief that she was called to both faiths but says her decision to follow that call has been exceedingly painful at times.

In a letter mailed last week to national and local church leaders, Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island, who has disciplinary authority over the Seattle priest, said a church committee had determined that Redding "abandoned the Communion of the Episcopal Church by formal admission into a religious body not in communion with the Episcopal Church."

Saudis promote culture of peace

How odd is it that a country that represses religious diversity at home, is promoting religious tolerance abroad? Today is the opening day of the Culture of Peace meeting at the United Nations, sponsored by Saudi Arabia.

IHT:

The United Nations avoids religious discussions, so the two-day session of the General Assembly is officially being labeled as a meeting about the "culture of peace." Most of those attending are political rather than religious figures.
...
ged Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. But Western states considered that wording a knock against freedom of speech.

"We are arguing human rights, they are arguing values," said Jean-Maurice Ripert, France's ambassador to the United Nations. "The reconciliation of those two differences is very complicated."

The compromise formula is that there will be no formal resolution, but an oral statement that condemns disparaging other religions.

Saudi Arabia bars its citizens and its sprawling expatriate community, including tens of thousands of Christians, from any public worship outside Islam. The more than two million Saudi Shiites face widespread discrimination in worship, education and employment.
...
Diplomats around the [UN] building noted that because the Saudi government recently donated $500 million to the World Food Program, no one was likely to confront it openly about domestic issues of religious freedom.

Human Rights Watch issued a statement which says, in part: "There is no religious freedom in Saudi Arabia, yet the kingdom asks the world to listen to its message of religious tolerance...The dialogue should be about where religious intolerance runs deepest, and that includes Saudi Arabia."

Saudi sponsored UN interfaith conference

There have a been a number of news reports over the past day or so about the ongoing conference at the United Nations where leaders of the worlds religions are meeting. What's particularly interesting to many is that this conference has the King of Saudi Arabia as a full participant, a first for this sort of conference since the rise of the House of Saud in holy land of Islam.

But while much of the coverage about the King's participation has been laudatory, there are those who see this event as possibly having an alarming consequence.

In an Op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor two members of the United States Human Rights Commission point out:

"The UN session is designed to endorse a meeting of religious leaders in Spain last summer that was the brainchild of King Abdullah and organized by the Muslim World League. That meeting resulted in a final statement counseling promotion of 'respect for religions, their places of worship, and their symbols ... therefore preventing the derision of what people consider sacred.'

The lofty-sounding principle is, in fact, a cleverly coded way of granting religious leaders the right to criminalize speech and activities that they deem to insult religion. Instead of promoting harmony, however, this effort will exacerbate divisions and intensify religious repression.

Such prohibitions have already been used in some countries to restrict discussion of individuals' freedom vis-à-vis the state, to prevent criticism of political figures or parties, to curb dissent from prevailing views and beliefs, and even to incite and to justify violence.

They undermine the standards codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the keystone of the United Nations, by granting greater rights to religions than to individuals, including those who choose to hold no faith – or who would seek to convert."

Read the full essay here.

Interfaith Reflections on Auschwitz - Birkenau

Earlier this month the Archbishop of Canterbury traveled with the Chief Rabbi to two of most notorious concentration camps of World War II. Both the Archbishop and the Chief Rabbi's reflections on that trip have been published on the Archbishop's website. Both call for a renewed recognition of the fundamental humanity of those with whom we disagree.

From the Archbishops speech:

"In a world where it's possible for people to take monstrosity for granted as normal, as ordinary; you and I have to decide to be human - to decide that we're not going to take inhumanity for granted.  To decide to look at one another in a radically different way, to look at one another with gratitude, with a sense of mystery, with a sense of humility."

And from the Chief Rabbi:

Please friends I hope you will take away from today what I take away – an extraordinary signal of hope. This is the first time in Britain certainly that we have come together not one faith, but the leaders of all nine faiths in Britain; Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Zoroastrian and Bahá'í. Because the tragedy of Auschwitz transcends this people or that. It simply touches on what is human in all of us. Therefore may the fact that we have come together in this moment of grief remembered lead us to come together in the future for the sake of hope, friendship, tolerance and life. And may each of us ask just one question from today: "How, having seen what I have seen can I become in my life, an agent of hope".

Read them both in full here.

Lighting candles for Hanukkah

Leaders of different faiths, including The Rev. Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church, from throughout Los Angeles talk about what they wish for as they light the Hanukkah candles:

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Jewish volunteers serve on Christmas Day

For 15 years members of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation have served food at Our Daily Bread feeding program on Christmas Day so Christians can celebrate their holy day reports the Baltimore Sun:

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Conversations with a theocracy

Bishop John Bryson Chane of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington recently spoke with Sister Maureen Fiedler of Interfaith Voices about his trip to Iran in October and his meeting with the country's leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (20 minutes)

Holocaust Remembrance Day

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks and Rabbi Dr Tony Bayfield, Head of the Movement for Reform Judaism unite to reflect on their recent visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau and give their message for Holocaust Memorial Day 27 January 2009:

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Robert Wright and the Gospel of Mark

In his new book The Evolution of God, Robert Wright leans on the first gospel--that of Mark--to suggest that later gospels present a Jesus who is less historically authentic, but more palatable to modern tastes, especially on interfaith issues:

For many Christians, the life of Jesus signifies the birth of a new kind of God, a God of universal love. The Hebrew Bible—the “Old Testament”—chronicled a God who was sometimes belligerent (espousing the slaughter of infidels), unabashedly nationalist (pro-Israel, you might say), and often harsh toward even his most favored nation. Then Jesus came along and set a different tone. As depicted in the Gospels, Jesus exhorted followers to extend charity across ethnic bounds, as in the parable of the good Samaritan, and even to love their enemies. He told them to turn the other cheek, said the meek would inherit the Earth, and warned against self-righteousness (“let he who is without sin cast the first stone”). Even while on the cross, he found compassion for his persecutors: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

But there’s a funny thing about these admirable utterances: none of them appears in the book of Mark, which was written before the other Gospels and which most New Testament scholars now consider the most reliable (or, as some would put it, the least unreliable) Gospel guide to Jesus’ life. The Jesus in Mark, far from calmly forgiving his killers, seems surprised by the Crucifixion and hardly sanguine about it (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). In Mark, there is no Sermon on the Mount, and so no Beatitudes, and there is no good Samaritan; Jesus’ most salient comment on ethnic relations is to compare a woman to a dog because she isn’t from Israel.

He also argues that globalization will eventually promote interfaith understanding.

Abraham's Tent: Muslims, Jews and Christians dream of peace

In Omaha, Nebraska, the three Abrahamic faiths gathered for dinner and conversations.

“Conversation on Peace” was held with Rabbi Peter Knobel, immediate past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Primate of the Episcopal Church, and Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America, moderated by Mark Pelavin of the Religious Action Center.

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Holmes Redding deposed

From The Seattle Times:

The Episcopal Church has defrocked Ann Holmes Redding, the Seattle Episcopal priest who announced in 2007 that she is both Christian and Muslim.

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8 faith Initiatives for global security

Ruth Gledhill, writing in The Times, UK features initiatives that make progress in healing tensions across faith divides.

The initiatives showcased at this month's Alliance of Civilizations Forum in Istanbul showed that progress is better than can sometimes seem the case. Religious leaders, NGOs, hoards of heads of state and other heavyweights gathered by the Bosphorous for the United Nations flagship intercultural and interfaith event.

Read more here and see the 8 initiatives below:

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Bishop Chane on the shooting at the Holocaust Museum

Bishop John Bryson Chane of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington released the following statement on the fatal shooting yesterday at the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum:

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Religion and blood

Ruth Gledhill has a guest blogger, Anna-Marie Julyan, for her Articles of Faith column who explores the symbolism and use of blood in religious traditions:

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Religious leaders offering input to G-20

Religious leaders told their input is valued
By Ann Rodgers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Standing in the lobby of a Downtown hotel, a key adviser to the U.S. delegation to the G-20 Summit promised an array of religious leaders that he would carry their concern for the poor into the economic conclave.

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Charter for Compassion

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Karen Armstrong ask "How can we respond creatively to the pain that we see everywhere in our world?" Their solution is to creatively bring together people of every religion to work for a compassionate response to the needs of people everywhere. This effort is called the "Charter for Compassion."

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Charter for Compassion

More and more people around the world from many faith traditions are joining the Charter for Compassion set forth by Karen Armstrong and Desmond Tutu.

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Muslim to head Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions

In advance of its fourth modern meeting next month in Melbourne, The Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions has selected Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid to be its next chair starting January 1, 2010.

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Let no mom put asunder

Veteran church communications hand, and prison ministry stalwart Val Hymes graces us with a lovely article for the Washington Post's Web site on her 55-year interfaith marriage:

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The New Statesman on
The Muslim Jesus

Mehdi Hasan, The New Statesman’s Senior Editor for politics, reviews The Muslim Jesus, by Cambridge professor Tarif Khalidi:

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Air Force Academy will honor Earth-centered religions

The U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs reports that it has set aside space for the followers of "Earth-centered" religions such as Wicca and Druidism to have worship.

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Obama to meet with Dalai Lama

Despite protests from China, President Obama will meet with the Dalai Lama:

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Believe out loud makes it debut

Peter Laarman writes at Religion Dispatches:

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Bringing peace to Newark's streets

Bishop Mark Beckwith of Newark collaborated with a rabbi and an imam on a column in today's Newark Star-Ledger. They represent the executive team of the Newark Interfaith Coalition for Hope and Peace, which, for three years has worked to reduce violence and bring peace to the streets of Newark:

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Reconciliation work at Ground Zero

UPDATE: letter from Bishop Mark Sisk of the Diocese of New York - see below.

The Rev. Anne Mallonee, vicar of Trinity Wall Street in New York City writes at Episcopal Life Online on the work of reconciliation at "Ground Zero"

As we approach next year's 10th anniversary of 9/11, we are asking how the holy work of reconciliation is to be played out through this parish, at this site, in the years to come.

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NYC cab ride as a test of faith

It can't have come as any great comfort this week when it was learned that a student filmmaker had stabbed a New York City cab driver after learning he was Muslim. But for one subsequent rider, a disaster turned out to be an interfaith opportunity.

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Remembering Raimon Panikkar

Raimon Panikkar, 'apostle of inter-faith dialogue,' dies
'Overcoming tribal Christology,' he said, is task of third Christian millennium
From National Catholic Reporter

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Will anyone show up with a fire hose?

A pastor in Florida is threatening to burn copies of the Qur'an on 9/11. General Petraeus and others are pleading with him not to do it. USA Today suggests showing up with fire hoses. What is your church doing to help your Muslim neighbors?

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A basket of links for this moment in religious tolerance

Rev. Janet Vincent, rector of St. Columba's, Washington, D.C., this week told PBS Newshour's Jeffrey Brown that the Christian-Muslim religious tension in this country is all about 9/11, it's not going away, and not building the proposed mosque isn't going to help.

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Circumstance creates occasion for tolerance

What do you do when you're a thriving resort town with plenty of faithful people and no place to build all the churches you need? You build together, of course, in one spot, offering one model of architectural and communal integrity. That's what Vail, Colo., based Vail Interfaith Chapel has done as it has sought to serve the spiritual needs of its residents.

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Rowan Williams weighs in lightly on legalism and zeal

In the midst of a 16-day visit to India, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is thinking a bit about religious controversy and legalism.

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Interfaith forum with Presiding Bishop, Dalai Lama & others

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will join the Dalai Lama, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and other world religious leaders in an "Interfaith Summit on Happiness: Understanding and Promoting Happiness in Today's Society," at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University in Atlanta this coming Sunday and Monday.

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Presiding Bishop among interfaith leaders gathered to ponder happiness

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori today joined His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, and George Washington University Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr at Emory University for an interfaith summit, "Understanding and Promoting Happiness in Today's Society."

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ABC says women priests are not stumbling blocks

Archbishop Rowan Williams is in Rome and said today that women priests should not be a stumbling block for the building of ties between the Roman Catholic church and the Anglican Communion. One wonders if he thinks that the Roman Catholic leadership agrees with his assertion. Stay tuned.

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Nevada's 25th interfaith thanksgiving worship

Trinity Episcopal Church in Reno, Nevada hosted the 25th Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Eve Service on November 24.

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The plight of Christians in the Muslim World

The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington (DC), the Right Rev. John Bryson Chane, and Ambassador Akbar Ahmed is Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University have co-written an article posted at CNN on Christians senselessly persecuted by extremists in the Muslim world:

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Bomb attack on church in Egypt leaves 17 dead

Following a New Year's Eve service at a Coptic Church in Alexandria Egypt an bomb (apparently a car bomb) exploded outside the church. Latest reports list 21 people as killed in the attack.

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Omaha, an interfaith mecca (you should pardon the pun)

Don't look now, but Omaha, Nebraska is blazing a trail in interfaith relationships. The Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska, Temple Israel and the American Institute of Islamic Studies and Culture, have launched the Tri-Faith Initiative, and are planning to build a religious neighborhood which will house a mosque, a temple and a church plus a shared facility on adjacent properties.

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Muslim prepare to shield Christians in Egypt

Egyptian muslims have been using social media late this week to organize an effort to protect their Christian neighbors this weekend during their Easter celebrations. It's the second time this has happened since the church bombing on New Year's Day. Christians returned the favor during the Tahir Square protests.

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Engaging people of other faiths

The Anglican Communion Network for Inter Faith Concerns has released a study guide designed to help Christians understand the basis for dialogue and interaction with people of other religions.

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A celebration of faith shared

Christian clergy at churches across the country will host readings from the Qur’an and other sacred religious texts as they welcome their Muslim and Jewish colleagues on Sunday, June 26, 2011 for Faith Shared.

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'Abrahamic' event shares texts, prayers, music

UPDATED: The 'Faith Shared' event is a big one, with many locations. Learn more about the event itself, with more information about site events at Washington National Cathedral and All Saints, Pasadena.

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A church, a shul and a mosque

In Omaha, Nebraska, a synagogue, a mosque and an Episcopal Church are being built on land the three communities purchased together. The Tri-Faith Initiative is an experiment in intentional religious co-existence.

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A bishop, a rabbi and an imam walk into a cathedral

Sifting through the coverage of yesterday's 9/11 memorial services, we found this excellent video shot by NJ.com in the Episcopal Diocese of Newark.

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Defending the right to heckle

Episcopal Church leaders in California have voiced strong support for 10 Muslim students who were convicted on Friday of heckling the Israeli ambassador to the United States during a speech at the University of California's Irvine campus last year.

Pat McCaughan writes:

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Nebraskans will have interfaith model in Omaha

Omaha's Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities are going to get a lot closer. From the World Herald:

Omaha Jewish, Muslim and Christian organizations have purchased land for neighboring houses of worship, and at least one, Temple Israel, plans to begin construction in the spring of 2012, leaders of the Tri-Faith Initiative said Tuesday.

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National Cathedral convenes Christian-Muslim summit in Beirut

From Episcopal News Service:

The Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, a former Episcopal bishop of Washington and four Iranian Shi’ite Muslims, two holding the rank of ayatollah, are among the religious leaders who’ve traveled to Beirut, Lebanon, for the second Christian-Muslim peace summit organized by Washington National Cathedral.

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Christian-Muslim summit issues appeal for human rights

Episcopal News Service reports:

A landmark three-day Christian-Muslim peace conference concluded on a hopeful note here by issuing an appeal to religious leaders and institutions to collaborate on promoting human rights, self-determination, peaceful co-existence, and non-violence, particularly in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

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Joplin, Mo., mosque razed by second fire within a month

The Associated Press has the story:

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Joplin rallies to support Muslims in wake of suspected mosque arson

Reuters has some good news:

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Meeting violence with tolerance

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton not to be discouraged by the hatred and violence that exists, but instead resolve to do something tangible to promote religious tolerance in their own communities.

She spoke at an an Eid ul-Fitr reception, marking the end of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. The speech was in response to the attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions in the Middle East, and the deaths of four diplomats in Libya.

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Churches in Joplin rally around Muslims after fire

Just as the people of Joplin, Missouri, came together after a 2010 tornado ripped through their community, the town's congregrations have rallied around the Islamic Society of Joplin after their mosque was burned to the ground by an arsonist.

The Washington Post tells the story:

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Grace Church in Nyack NY provides space to synagogue

Grace Episcopal Church in Nyack NY open their doors to Congregation Sons of Israel and Temple Beth Torah whom were displaced because of no power caused by Superstorm Sandy.

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Kristallnact remembered

Trinity Episcopal Church, Easton, PA remembers Kristallnact:

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Joy in the midst of our wintry days

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) posts photos every day of the wonders of space. On this day they offered us a dancing world:

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Hope and peace in a violent world

Rabbi Matthew Gevirtz, Bishop Mark Beckwith and Imam Deen Shareet appear on a "Faith on Fridays" segment on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." They talk about the aftermath of the Newtown shootings, the times when God transcends the limits of our faith, and how working together the Newark Interfaith Coalition for Hope and Peace has reached out in the wake of the violent gun deaths of young people in their city.

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Reaching out to the "nones."

In his first ecumenical and interfaith gathering as Pope, Francis spoke to the fastest growing religious demographic: the "nones" and atheists. He said that atheists and the "spiritual but not religious" can be allies with the faithful for good.

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Video: Bishop Budde appears of Face the Nation's Easter panel

Bishop Mariann Budde, Imam Suhaib Webb, Rabbi David Wolpe and Bishop Harry Jackson appeared in a pre-recorded segment of Face the Nation this morning, offering their perspective on the state of religion in modern America.

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Judaism, Christianity and "The Bible"

As the History Channel mini-series "The Bible" winds up, Rabbi Michael Bernstein thinks about how Judaism and Christianity seem like two faith separated by a common scripture.

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Godmother of punk meets pontiff: The broad appeal of Pope Francis

Rocker Patti Smith met Pope Francis yesterday, and "liked him a lot." She's not Catholic. She doesn't even go to church. This guy seems to be cultivating the kind of hands-across-the-water appeal that draws throngs of non-Buddhists to hear the Dalai Lamai whenever he's in town. Jonathan Merritt at Religion News Service posits that Francis may actually be the "first Protestant Pope:"

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Temple Israel welcomes Trinity Church, Boston

A letter to members from Temple Israel tells of welcoming Christians from Trinity Episcopal Church, Boston, to hold their Sunday services at the Temple:

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Pew survey finds most Muslims deeply committed to their faith

The Pew Research Center today released an extensive survey on attitudes and beliefs of the world's Muslims. Religion News Service reports:

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Eboo Patel on the essence of interfaith cooperation

Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core writing for Religion Dispatches says:

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The power of interfaith's embrace

In the aftermath of a vicious anti-semitic attack on a northern New Jersey synagogue, the local interfaith community rallied around Rabbi Nosson Schuman and his congregation. Rabbi Schuman's synagogue, Congregation Beth-El, which also serves as his home, was firebombed as he and his family slept.

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Building bridges with art

The Rev. Paul Gordon-Chandler tells of an interfaith effort to bring people together using art. From Episcopal News Service:

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Muslim students fill an Episcopal food pantry

The Richmond Times-Dispatch has the story: Nameera Perwez picked up on her lesson fast, and she was eager to put it in action.

This is the season for sacrifice in the Muslim community, and the fifth-grader from the Iqra Academy of Virginia had something in mind she wanted to share: food.

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Being both: raising an interfaith family

Susan Katz Miller, a former neighbor of mine, writes as clearly as anyone I know about raising an interfaith family. In a recent piece for The New York Times she wrote:

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What the Presbyterians got wrong on Israel

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, writes in detail on Jewish and Christian relations alongside considering Israel. An excerpt from his Religion News Service commentary:

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The trouble with 'Christian Seders'

Episcopal Cafe blogger Ann Fontaine is not alone in questioning whether it is appropriate for Christian congregations to hold Seders during Holy Week. J. Mary Luti, a retired seminary professor and pastor in the United Church of Christ, is troubled by the idea also. She writes:

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Episcopal Church hosts interfaith vigil

St Thomas Episcopal Church in Overland Park, KS hosted an interfaith vigil of peace and remembrance last night, in honor of the shooting victims at the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom.

Their rector, the Rev. Gar Demo, was joined by Rabbi Jacques Cukiekorn of Temple Israel, and their cantor, Adirah Leibshutz.

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