Category Archives: In the News

ISIS & the War on Islam

Today’s Guest Post on Faithline Protestants is by Nick Price. Nick is currently a student at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO, and is a former staff member for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. As an Evangelical Christian, Nick feels called by his faith to encourage Evangelical Christian participation in the interfaith movement. Nick was profiled in a video by 30 Good Minutes, in which he discusses his faith as an Evangelical and his commitment to interfaith work. He was also invited to write series for RELEVANT Magazine, in which he shared his Christian convictions for doing interfaith work. Nick is also the author of Prodigal Preacher, a blog that explores his experiences in seminary, where he wrote a 3 part series outlining his own theology of interfaith cooperation.

It’s been hard for me to watch the news lately. Even going on Facebook has been difficult. Every time I go online I hear of more disturbing stories emerging from Iraq and Syria as the militant group ISIS continues to oppress minorities, rape women, and violently execute innocent men, women, and children. But what has made these horrific acts even more difficult to watch is the conversation swirling around them. Over and over again I have watched friends, colleagues, media personalities, and news outlets call ISIS the face of Islam. More and more people have begun to say things like, “This is what Islam is really about. They are finally showing their true colors to the world.” And as I have seen this picture of Islam painted over and over again I have actually begun to wonder, “Are they right? Is this truly what Islam is all about?”

What terrifies me about that thought is just how pervasive it is. For someone who spent his undergraduate studies focusing on Islam to suddenly start to wonder if this faith tradition is truly, at its core, a religion of violence says something about the power of this narrative. It is one that has begun to make me question even my own understanding of Islam.

And so, it has taken a conscious effort on my part to remember my past. I remember the late night conversations in the dining hall with my classmate Umar as we talked about the shared emphasis on social justice within both Christianity and Islam. I remember my Malaysian roommate, Adzwan, and how he would play religious music from his home country while I would share worship songs from my own faith tradition. I remember all the years of visiting the local mosque during Ramadan, only to be greeted with warm hugs, delicious food, and long conversations about the need to promote peace and advance humanitarian causes around the dinner table. I remember reading beautiful Sufi poetry, learning about Muslim leaders in nonviolence, and reading books by pioneering activists like Farid Escak, Eboo Patel, and Feisal Abdul Rauf.

And then I am confronted with ISIS, and my question suddenly becomes, “How do I respond to this, in light of all I know and all I have experienced?” The answer comes when I slow down and think carefully about what I am seeing. ISIS is an abbreviation of the name “The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”. More recently, this group has shortened its name to “The Islamic State.” And suddenly it becomes clear what the real agenda of this organization is. They are seeking to define Islam for the world. They want their extremist brand of religion to be the face of Islam to people the world over. They want to steal the heritage of this faith tradition and narrowly define it for their own violent and bloodthirsty ends. And, sadly….I think they are winning.

They are winning every time a Western news media outlet calls these fanatics “Muslims.” They are winning every time a person thinks, “This is the truth about Islam.” ISIS wants us to see them as the authoritative voice of how Muslims think, act, and behave in the modern world. And every time we charge them with being the true face of Islam, we give power to their voice while silencing the countless Muslims around the world who work for peace, nonviolence, and social justice.

So how do we change this trend? I would argue that the first thing we can do is call these people what they are: psychopaths, murderers, and rapists. They are not Muslims. They are not religious fanatics. They are genocidal maniacs. Pure and simple. We need to stop equating them and their violence with a faith tradition that is far more diverse and beautiful than the horror they would export. We need to rob them of their voice and their attempts to usurp the name “Islam” from the countless men and women who honorably and peacefully bear the name of “Muslim”.

Second, we can learn from, support, and work alongside the countless Muslim leaders who oppose groups like ISIS. I think of leaders like Feisal Abdul Rauf, Eboo Patel, Farid Esack, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, and Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah, who are all leaders in the Muslim community and who have advanced the cause of peace both in the West and abroad. In doing so we can advance the cause of peace and work for greater understanding between people of all faith communities.

Thirdly, we need to get to know our Muslim neighbors. As one of the largest religious communities in the United States, it is likely that every one of us has at least one Muslim neighbor, coworker, or friend. I think it might be worth asking them about their faith and how it informs their life. Take some time to stop and listen to their stories and allow them to give you a broader perspective on what it means to be a follower of Islam. I think that this will not only strengthen your friendship, but will help redefine how we think about one another in a world where extremists are seeking to steal the mic.

My hope is that ISIS will not win the war against Islam. But that will only happen when we begin to interact with each other and work together to combat their propaganda campaign. May we truly stand united against the threats from terrorists everywhere.

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Interfaith Relationships

In honor of Valentine’s Day (which also happens to be my birthday!  Gifts in comment, reposting, or tweet-form are not only acceptable but preferred), here is an article about interfaith relationships.

Have you ever dated/married outside of your own faith tradition?  What are some of the joys?  Challenges?

Peace and love,

Anthony

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Quick Links: There’s a ‘War on Christmas’ – Just Not the One You Think

In Sojourners’ There’s a ‘War on Christmas’ – Just Not the One You Think, Rev. Evan M. Dolive challenges the notion that the war on Christmas is about “Holiday trees” and “Happy Holidays” – but rather is about the rampant consumerism amidst the social ills of our time. This really resonated with me as I consider my Advent practice and to really examine the ways that I’m giving back and how Christmas can truly change the world.

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Hearing Stories and Telling Stories: How Polarization Erases Personhood

Unsure of the public’s reaction in the days immediately following 9/11, Dr. Saleh Sbanaty and his family refused to go outside for fear of violence, heckling, or worse. One day, however, necessity got the better of them and they traveled to the grocery store to pick up a few things. While walking the aisles toward the cash registers,  Dr. Sbanaty felt a hand on his shoulder.

He froze.

He turned around to see a woman he had never seen before. She looked him in the eyes.

Though for a moment time seemed to slow to a halt, Dr. Sbanaty’s pulse quickened. Would she yell? Would she spit? Dr. Sbanaty did not know.

“You are welcome in this community,” she said.

Instead of insults and hate, she spoke words of encouragement and acceptance, even though she knew nothing of the man before her– a professor of engineering at Middle Tennessee State University and a devout Muslim. She was able to see him as a person, not a talking point.

Picture can be found at [http://www.islamophobiatoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Islamic_Center_Murfreesboro2.jpg].

During FLP’s hiatus, we’ve seen religiously-motivated violence, political unrest, anti-American protests, massacres, shootings, the bizarre national argument over same-sex marriage fought over a fast-food chicken sandwich, debates over foreign and domestic policy, bombings, landmark Supreme Court decisions and more– and all the while we argue and denigrate one another as we disagree. Much of it has left me confused and disappointed; everything seems so broken, so irreparable.

This feeling of disappointment at humanity’s ability to talk about tough issues hits home for me. Many of you will have heard of the controversy that began some time ago surrounding the construction and opening of the mosque and Islamic community center in Murfressboro, TN. I’ve even written about it a couple of times on Faith Line Protestants.

During my orientation at Sewanee last August, we heard from Dr. Saleh M. Sbenaty, a professor at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro who has advocated for the building of the mosque and spoken on its behalf to the media on numerous occasions. The story at the beginning of this post comes (albeit slightly paraphrased) from the talk he gave that day a couple of months ago.

His daughter, Lema, a strong, proud, hijab-wearing young woman, joined him at our orientation and delivered the powerful story of her experience in the Murfreesboro community as both a student at the university and as a worker at a local pharmacy. She too has spoken publicly on behalf of the Murfreesboro Islamic Center, and has even appeared on CNN and other prominent news outlets to share her story and fight common misconceptions that follow Muslims in this country.

It brought tears to my eyes to hear how she had been treated– how customers had refused her service at the pharmacy, and how people stared and jeered and taunted. The Sbanatys aren’t strangers to the Murfreesboro community; indeed, Dr. Sbanaty has lived in Middle Tennessee for around a quarter of a century, and the area is the only home his children have ever known. Lema spoke with as much of a drawl as any good country girl I know, seeming just as at home in her cowboy boots and fashionable jeans as she did in her head scarf. Yet she and her fellow Muslims have found themselves treated in recent years as outsiders rather than neighbors.

In addition to his identity as a Muslim and a university professor, Dr. Sbanaty is also from Syria, having obtained his undergraduate education at Damascus University. You could see the pain in his eyes when he talked about the current struggle plaguing his home country. I felt ashamed that here in America we couldn’t offer him something more than just less persecution, less danger, than what he would now face in his home country.

Despite their recent struggle with parts of the community and country-at-large, Lema and her father had positive stories to tell in addition to their sad ones– stories of the mountains of support they have seen from local churches and other groups that have come in to advocate on their behalf.

Yet this support seemed betrayed when the construction of the mosque hit so many snags. Arson, vandalism, and legal obstructionism have all taken their toll on the Muslim community in Murfreesboro, despite the opening of the mosque last summer. It makes me think: with all the arguing, name-calling, and ill-informed discussion, what do we lose in the background? What stories go untold, unheard? Surely something gets lost among our soundbites and rapid-fire commentaries.

Something Dr. Sbanaty said about the situation in Syria struck me rather deeply. He urged us to consider that, despite the simplistic narratives fed to us in the drone of endless news cycles, the actual environment in many of these countries that produces such violence comes not simply from the Muslim faith, but from the years of oppression, mis-management of funds, militarism, and complex socio-political and even tribal contexts that produce what we have seen in everything from the Arab Spring to the anti-American sentiment prevalent in some of the region. (Our own military intervention in these countries might also have something to do with it, I’d wager.)

What gets lost among the rubble of our terrible discussions, I think, is personhood. Polarization erases personhood. Whether it be in Murfreesboro, TN or Damascus, Syria– polarization pushes stories and individual experience out of the way for an easy stereotype or an easier cliche. What this presupposes about human dignity should give us pause.

As a Christian, I believe in the inherent worth of all God’s children.Therefore I also believe in the inherent worth of all these children’s stories, their lives. Just as Frank Fredericks’ wonderful post earlier this week about the parable of the Good Samaritan challenges us, I too want to challenge us to think: what goes unnoticed when we are unwilling to listen? What stories go untold?

Interfaith work can be a way of telling those stories. Tell them. Hear them. Share them.

Amen.

 

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Principled Pluralism: The Challenge of Religious Diversity in 21st Century America

Eboo Patel, Jim Wallis and Meryl Chertoff discuss last week’s Aspen Ideas Festival and the challenge of religious diversity on HuffPost Religion.

Religious differences can be a potent source of social tension, as evidenced by bloody conflicts from Belfast to the Balkans to Baghdad. However, as with race and gender, religious diversity is a source of strength and richness when properly engaged.

Read it here.

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Who Would Jesus Hate?

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Lately I have been hearing some rather outrageous assertions made on the behalf of God from supposed “Christian” leaders. Pat Robertson called the Haitian earthquake God’s judgment on the nation he claimed “made a pact with the Devil.” Most recently, the Christian Right’s favored child Glenn Beck instructed Christians to abandon congregations that encourage “social justice” as a part of their teachings. While many Christians have out against them, I think there may be a bigger picture not being seen.

These men represent only the most recent string of extreme statements by Christian leaders that appear to conflict with the core tenets of Christianity itself. Quite often, however, these statements are widely embraced, especially by followers of the Evangelical orientation. As a person who comes from that tradition, having attended Christian high school and Evangelical services, I often got the idea that Jesus was most angry with the gays, the godless liberals, and the Lady Gagas.

I know how I felt about such ideas, seeing them as hateful, unproductive, and un-Jesus-like. However, I felt that in order to properly address such concerns, I had to explore them in theological terms. So I asked myself, who would Jesus judge? Who would He hate?

It’s interesting to note who Jesus didn’t judge: first, Jesus did not judge the woman caught in bed with a man who was not her husband (John 8:1-11), but rather chose this opportunity to teach us the association of judgment and hypocrisy.

He announced, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.” Thus, in an opportunity of condemnation, Jesus chose to love. His expression of love occurs while acknowledging her wrongdoing but choosing forgiveness. Jesus makes a pattern of this. Another example of this is when He met the Samaritan woman at the well, who was divorced and living with a man (John 4:7-28). What is so telling about this verse is that Jesus bestowed love to one who was not a Jew but a Samaritan, someone from a religious community considered apostates. (The Samaritans were formerly enslaved by the Persians, taken from Israel at the end of Hoshea’s rule in 722 BC [2 Kings 17:1-2].) So who is Jesus judging?

According to the Gospels, Jesus did not refrain from judging, but he chose two distinct groups of people to target with his judgment: religious leaders who were hypocrites, and those who profited off the sacred.

Jesus really had it out for the Pharisees, whom he admonished for judging others, giving false teachings, and acting in pride. He reserved such phrases for them as “hypocrites,” and “den of vipers”! Pretty strong language for the Prince of Peace. Jesus also grew furious at the sight of the money changers at the Temple for their attempt to profit off of the religious observance of others.

So who are the Pharisees today, and who are the moneychangers? I would argue that religious leaders who abuse their pulpits for political propaganda, promote violence, or push a hateful agenda fit the Pharisee profile. Also, those who take the cross as a sign of salvation and cash it in as a merchandising opportunity are our contemporary moneychangers. Our concern should be with forked tongues of false teachers like Robertson, and our conflict with Christian consumerism, trading prophets for profits.

Similarly, who are the forgiven sinners? Who are the Samaritans? If Jesus forgave those acting outside of marriage, why can’t we embrace our brothers and sisters from among the LGBT community? Disagreement of lifestyle does not need to transcend into ostracizing loved ones or lobbying against civil rights. Likewise, the antagonistic language towards Islam, Judaism, Catholicism, or even atheism obstructs us from learning from our fellow Americans as modern day Good Samaritans.

This notion turns a lot of the beliefs of the Christian community in America on their head. Perhaps if the Second Coming were today, it is Pat Robertson who’d get the cosmic ass-kicking, not Perez Hilton.

This piece originally appeared here in Huffington Post Religion
.

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Response to Tragedies in Oak Creek and Joplin

The burning of a mosque in Joplin, Missouri. A horrific shooting rampage at a crowded gurdwara outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

These two terrible events mark the latest in religious hate crimes across the US, and highlight the continued need for interfaith efforts in building bridges of understanding among people of all backgrounds. As the discourse around these two events develops, it remains clear that much is still required– even of large, mainstream media outlets like CNN– to better know the perceived “others” in our midst.

Our hearts go out to all impacted by these terrible tragedies as our prayers rise to the heavens, seeking reconciliation, solace, and peace. We stand in solidarity with the Sikh victims and their families as they deal with the profound terror of the attack perpetrated against them. And we stand, too, with the Muslims in Missouri as they seek to rebuild and repair their place of worship, just as we all seek to rebuild and repair the wounds in our hearts at the sad state of relations in our world today.

These events will continue to shape us as we strive toward a world in which differences are not addressed with violence or vandalism, and we must recognize them as an indication that working for dialogue is more important than ever.

May the Christian community show its best in the shadow of these two tragedies. May we reach out to those effected to fully extend the love of Christ and his servant’s heart in the restoration of these two communities. For it is in this way that we may also restore the whole community– the whole of humanity.

— Cameron and Greg

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Charles Worley Shows Us What Jesus Wouldn’t Do

This piece was originally published on the Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-damhorst/charles-worley-and-what-jesus-wouldnt-do_b_1559209.html.

I found it painful to watch the video (also below) that hit the web last week of North Carolina pastor Charles L. Worley expressing his particular view on President Obama’s recent announcement about same-sex marriage. Perhaps most disturbing is Worley’s suggestion that “lesbians, queers and homosexuals” be quarantined until they eventually die off from a lack of ability to reproduce — an idea that reeks of hate and contains echoes of genocide.

Gay marriage is an issue that divides our country, and President Obama’s new position on the matter promises to make it a central issue in the upcoming presidential election. But it’s also an issue that divides American Christianity.

Through my experiences as an interfaith organizer and a Christian, I have been blessed with relationships with people from many different traditions, perspectives and backgrounds. It’s also given me a unique perspective on my own tradition as I’ve worked with Christian ministries boasting political positions on both ends of the spectrum. As a result, I am witness to some congregations that are open and affirming and others which remain conservatively quiet.

To me, the matter at hand is not about whether I agree or disagree with a particular ministry’s position. However, the ministries I respect and admire are those which approach all people with a posture of love — a position antithetic to Charles L. Worley’s ideas.

It’s too often that the Christian perspectives heard around the world — whether as viral media or on the front page of the news — are those of radically bigoted leaders who fail to represent the Christ that I know. And Charles Worley reminds me of some of those embarrassments, like Terry Jones, the Florida Family Association or even Harold Camping. These instances in which my faith is so badly misrepresented remind me why the world needs interfaith cooperation.

Worley, as a matter of fact, gives me two reasons.

First, the face of Christianity that many see today is not an accurate picture of a compassionate Christ. If I and other Christians want to better represent our faith, we can only do so in a world where opinions are based on real relationships, not viral bigotry. The interfaith movement seeks to create such a world. This means increased opportunity for Christians to demonstrate, through dialogue and common action, that what Charles Worley is suggesting is exactly what Jesus wouldn’t do.

Second, Worley’s hate misrepresents Christians on both sides of the political debate over gay marriage. I’m not convinced that every denomination of Christianity will ever come to unanimous agreement on the morality question. However, at moments like this, the Christian Church must be prepared for intra-religious cooperation that seeks to overcome the language of hate with a language of love. Once again, we need the tools of the interfaith movement.

If you look in the right place, you’ll find many Christians apologizing for Charles Worley’s comments on behalf of our faith tradition. I, too, wish to echo this apology. But many also recognize that this incident is a call to action, and that we must reach across divides to practice radical hospitality.

Now is a time in which we are reminded that, as human beings, differences are not only present in our theological perspectives or the texts we consider sacred, but at many levels in human existence. And although we will not agree with each other on many levels, we must agree that bigotry cannot be tolerated. This instance is yet another reminder that an example of hate is a call to practice love.

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