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A mosque in Mayfield, Kentucky?

A "good sign" for Mayfield

By Berry Craig

[11-13-10]

Mayfield, Ky., my hometown, will have a Muslim prayer space after all.      

The city Board of Zoning Adjustments recently reversed itself and approved a Somali man's request for such a space, which the media and many townsfolk have been calling a mosque.      

“This is a good-hearted town,” Tom Waldrop, a former city council member, told the Louisville Courier-Journal after the vote. “This is not a mean town.”      

In August, the board voted to grant the permit, then reconvened and voted it down.      

Some Somali Muslims, many of whom work at a local chicken processing plant, had petitioned the city to let them turn an empty store into a house of worship. After the board approved the permit, some people complained that they hadn't had a chance to comment on the prayer space.      

So the board met again, this time before an overflow crowd estimated at 250 people. Owners of two businesses next to the store building claimed that worshippers would take up limited parking space in the area, the Courier-Journal reported.      

Citing the alleged parking problems, the board reversed itself. Members stressed they weren't against the Somalis' faith. Even so, “city officials did field public comments raising suspicions about Islam – both by e-mail and at the ... meeting, the Courier-Journal also said.

At the same time, more than a few skeptics suggested religious prejudice – not parking – motivated many people in the crowd, which was all white, or close to it. They applauded the no vote. Some of them brought Bibles. Others wore t-shirts that said “I’m an American, I believe in the Christian Church.”      

“So let me ask you this,” posed Kentucky's Barefoot and Progressive Internet blogsite. “Do hundreds of people try to pack a zoning commission meeting in a small town at 9:00 in the morning because they are concerned about a tenant's parking? Does a favorable ruling over parking make them break out in applause? Do people rock back and forth clutching their bible over parking? I believe you know the answer to that.”      

Some in the crowd told the local media they would return if the board reconsidered its vote. But nobody spoke against the “mosque” when the board met the third time. Waldrop and others who voiced opinions said the Somalis had the right to worship just as everybody else has.      

Waldrop added that opponents of the prayer space were the minority in Mayfield, the Graves County seat, according to the Courier-Journal.      

After the board voted to disapprove the permit, the American Civil Liberties Union became involved in the controversy. Heather Weaver, an ACLU attorney from Washington, attended the third board meeting. She said the board's denial of the permit violated federal law. She also pointed out there were plenty of parking spaces at the building and nearby.      

In addition, she read a petition signed by 40 Somalis and other people who live in Mayfield and Graves County: 

We are residents and citizens of Mayfield or Graves County;

We believe that religious freedom is one of our country's most fundamental liberties;

We believe that, consistent with America's promise of religious freedom, people of all faiths should be able to establish a place where they can pray and worship according to their religious beliefs;

We believe that Mayfield and Graves County must continue to adhere to these basic American values;

Therefore, we respectfully request and urge that the Board of Zoning Adjustment approve Conditional Use Application No. 10-003, which seeks permission to operate a Muslim prayer space.      

I was glad to sign the statement. So were my wife and our teenage son.      

The Craigs thank the zoning board for putting things right. We had faith they would in the end. We also share our friend Tom's belief that the majority of Mayfieldians are fine with the prayer space.      

I commute to the community college in nearby Paducah, where I teach history. History teaches that many people have come - and are still coming - to our shores for better economic opportunity, for freedom of worship and to escape political oppression in their home countries. Those are the reasons the Somalis came to our community, and we welcome them.      

Ammar Almasalkhi, president of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Kentucky, said the board's final vote was a “good sign” that the “Constitution and law of the land would prevail over negative feelings of hatred and prejudice,” according to the Courier-Journal.      

I'll add a Presbyterian “amen” to that.

The author:  Berry Craig is an associate professor of history at Paducah, Ky., Community College and a freelance writer.

Presbyterian colleges selected to participate in interfaith leadership training

Program will give student leaders and chaplains skills to lead interfaith community service events     [10-23-10]

News release from Evangelism & Church Growth Ministries, PC(USA)

Ten Presbyterian Colleges and Universities have been selected to attend the Interfaith Leadership Institute in Washington, D.C. this weekend (October 22-24). Chaplains and students from Agnes Scott, Carroll, Coe, College of the Wooster, Macalester, Mary Baldwin, Marysville, Rhodes, Schreiner and Westminster will join about 100 other delegations from colleges and universities.

The event, sponsored by Interfaith Youth Core (IFCY), the White House and its faith based community initiative office, will provide leadership training designed, according to information on its website, "to give student leaders and campus staff allies the vision, knowledge and skills necessary to lead interfaith and community service initiatives on campus." Interfaith Youth Core Founder Eboo Patel, voted one of America’s best leaders in 2009, created the organization to bring people together from different religious backgrounds, creating opportunities for them to understand and respect each other, by serving their communities.

The rest of the story >>

A suggestion from The Interfaith Alliance: 

You may want to tune in October 11th, 12th and 13th to "God in America" on PBS   [10-11-10]

Interfaith Alliance is a cooperating organization for the three-part PBS series God In America that airs for three nights beginning Monday, October 11th and explores how religious belief has shaped American history. While the series is heavily focused on the early history of religion and religious freedom in the U.S. and not on current religious issues, the close relationship between religion, power and politics is a continuing concern in America today, if with new players. Current debates on where mosques (masjid) can or cannot be built and whether or not a Mormon, Atheist or Jew can successfully run for President are just two of the powerful signs that we still have a great deal of work to do in our continuing effort to form a more perfect union.

There are lessons that can be learned from the past as we see religious and political debates relived in this series. The six-hour, three-night television special utilizes documentary footage, dramatizations and interviews with historians of religion to examine:

bullet The relationship between religion and democracy and the origins of religious freedom in America;
bullet The role of religion in social reform movements and wars;
bullet How our guarantees of religious freedom created a competitive religious marketplace in America;
bullet And the lives and experiences of key American religious and historical leaders.

For a sneak preview of the special, visit www.pbs.org/godinamerica. The series is also mounting a national campaign that includes viewing parties, Sacred Spaces Tours, community events and an online “Faithbook” where you can share your beliefs with others. Visit the web site to learn more or to create your own Faithbook page. You can also be part of the conversation on Interfaith Alliance’s Facebook page, if you have a Facebook account. 

I hope you will tune into this documentary and use it as a starting point to think about and discuss the role of religion in America today. In our youth program, LEADD (Leadership Education Advancing Democracy and Diversity), we spend a great deal of time looking at how the founders came up with the religion clauses of the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...”) and how debate raged over protecting the right of every citizen to hold his or her own beliefs. 

This special documentary is just one look at the issue of religion in American life but we hope it will provoke a discussion of how we can better live and thrive in this uniquely pluralistic country. I was able to see a sneak preview of one hour of the documentary, and I look forward to seeing the rest of the miniseries. I also look forward to hearing your feedback on the show and the discussions it spawns. Invite some friends over, watch it with a group, discuss and let us know what you think!

Sincerely,

Jay Keller
Director of Outreach and Operations

Chronology of a Bizarre Controversy – Hurt Feelings and the “ground Zero Mosque”    [8-24-10]

This article, by Gary Leupp, describes the chronology of events surrounding the project aiming to build an Islamic center in the vicinity of "Ground Zero."

I found it is especially interesting because it shows how a local, modest, and initially uncontroversial project could become a major tool for pushing islamophobia once sufficiently unprincipled shakers and movers got hold of it. The scary part, of course, isn't that some opportunistic nitwits would try to make hay of such a project, but the fact that they've been having such enormous success.

Racheli Gai, Jewish Peace News

Crazy Hysterical Christians    [8-24-10]

John Shuck provides a very nice (or tragic, perhaps is a better word) example of the “Islamophobia” abroad these days – among Christians, perhaps more even than among Jews.   Click here for his blog page >>

Christians call for respect for Muslims at Ramadan    [8-17-10]

The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, its Interfaith Relations Commission and participants in the National Muslim-Christian Initiative, have issued a statement the eve of Ramadan calling on Christians to respect their Muslim neighbors. Christ's call to 'love your neighbor as yourself', more than the simple bonds of our common humanity ... "is the basis for our relationship with Muslims around the world."

The statement continues:

Grounded in this commitment, we question the anti-Muslim tenor of actions and speech regarding the building of Cordoba House and mosque near the site of the former World Trade Center in New York City. We are keenly aware that many Muslims, as well as Jews, Christians, Hindus, and others, lost family members in the attacks on September 11, 2001. We recognize, as does the Muslim community around the world, that it was a group of Muslims who embraced terrorism and teachings counter to the Qur'an and Islam that carried out this action. We stand with the majority of Muslims—including American Muslims—who are working against such radical influences in their communities. They have our support for building the Cordoba House as a living monument to mark the tragedy of 9/11 through a community center dedicated to learning, compassion, and respect for all people. This effort is consistent with our country’s principle of freedom of religion, and the rights all citizens should enjoy.    More >>

How the "ground zero mosque" fear mongering began     
[8-17-10]

Here’s some helpful background on the current uproar over the proposed Islamic community center in New York.

Episcopal Church moves forward on gay ordination, acts on many other issues as well

July 15, 2009

Gay ordination

The House of Deputies July 14 concurred with the House of Bishops in their action on Resolution D025 and passed it as amended. The vote was by orders: lay 78-21, clergy, 77-19

D025 "affirms that ordination is available to anyone in the church through the discernment process outlined in the Constitution and Canons of the church. It also said that God's call to ordination is a mystery and reaffirmed the Episcopal Church's participation in the Anglican Communion, while noting that the communion is not of one mind on this matter." (ENS, July 15, 2009).

The World Missions Committee had assigned to it thirteen resolutions relating to 2006-B033 widely regarded as restrain on consecrating gay bishops. Six resolutions called for repeal of B033, six others called for a restatement or strengthening of nondiscrimination canons with respect to ordination. According to committee member, Rev. Dr. Ian Douglas, the committee selected D025, the thirteenth resolution, which "was a description of where we are as a church right now and his invitation for ongoing conversation in these difficult issues was very important." (ENS, July 15, 2009).

Sources: ENS, "Resolution D025 draws mixed responses, July 15, 2009; "convention reaffirms open ordination process, commitment to communion," July 14, 2009; "Bishops approves resolution opening ordination to gays, lesbians," July 14, 2009.

While the media focused on D025, General Convention has completed action on other issues.

Economic Justice

* C049 Renew and Strengthen Economic Justice Ministry, lists actions ranging from traditional works of charity to advocacy.
* B006 Immigration: Economic Justice Implications
* B009 Regulation and the Financial Crisis
* B010 Crisis of the Global Economy
* A140, Domestic Poverty, commends the PB's poverty summit and calls on the Executive Council to address this issue.
* D019 Recommit to Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as a mission priority
* A137 Continue a task force to study employment policies and practices in the Episcopal Church

Environment

* D014 directs diocesan environment commissions or committees to educate parishes abut decisions that affect children, indigenous people and nonwhite communities
* D015 Merciful and Humane Treatment of God's creatures.
* A157 Climate cchange and the MDGs

Health

* C071 Health Care Coverage for All
* C073 Reevaluation of Care for Mentally Ill
* A077 Episcopal Health Ministries asking congregations to explore and implement health ministry
* A081 Accommodations for People with Disabilities
* C051 Wounded Soldiers and Veterans
* A159 Address the Issue of AIDS, urges all levels of the church to communicate with HIV/AIDS service providers
* A160 Access to Adequate Medical Care for People Living with AIDS
* A161 AIDS Education and Resources

International Relations

* A032 Human Rights Violations in the Philippines
* A043 Relief for victims of International Criminal gangs

Prisons

* C075 camps for Children of the Incarcerated

Racism, Oppression, Native Americans

* A144 Extension of Resolution A127 to General Convention 2012, that brings into the focus of the wider church other forms of oppression besides slavery.
* A152 Preservation of Burial Sites

Reconciliation

* A068 Reconciliation Training

Resolution numbers are included to help you track the legislation. Key to the numbers: "A" resolutions came from standing commissions, executive council and official church agencies; "B" bishops; C" dioceses and provinces; "D" deputies. For the text and information about the resolutions go to: http://gc2009.org/ViewLegislation/

For information about General Convention itself including the various committees check this Internet site: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/gc2009_106480_ENG_HTM.htm

Verna Fausey, email: Vfausey@aol.com
 

Iran clamps down on Christians

Execution, once a penalty for conversion to Christianity, is being advocated anew    [10-21-08]

The report by The Telegraph (U.K.), dated October 11, 2008, begins:

A month ago, the Iranian parliament voted in favour of a draft bill, entitled "Islamic Penal Code", which would codify the death penalty for any male Iranian who leaves his Islamic faith. Women would get life imprisonment. The majority in favour of the new law was overwhelming: 196 votes for, with just seven against.

Imposing the death penalty for changing religion blatantly violates one of the most fundamental of all human rights. The right to freedom of religion is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and in the European Convention of Human Rights. It is even enshrined as Article 23 of Iran's own constitution, which states that no one may be molested simply for his beliefs. ...

David Miliband, Britain's Foreign Secretary, stands out as one of the few politicians from any Western country who has put on record his opposition to making apostasy a crime punishable by death. The protest from the EU has been distinctly muted; meanwhile, Germany, Iran's largest foreign trading partner, has just increased its business deals with Iran by more than half. Characteristically, the United Nations has said nothing. [Webweaver’s note: The U.S. is not mentioned.] ...

For one woman living in London, however, the Iranian parliamentary vote cannot be brushed aside. Rashin Soodmand is a 29-year-old Iranian Christian. Her father, Hossein Soodmand, was the last man to be executed in Iran for apostasy, the "crime" of abandoning one's religion. He had converted from Islam to Christianity in 1960, when he was 13 years old. Thirty years later, he was hanged by the Iranian authorities for that decision.

Today, Rashin's brother, Ramtin, is also held in a prison cell in Mashad, Iran's holiest city. He was arrested on August 21. He has not been charged but he is a Christian. And Rashin fears that, just as her father was the last man to be executed for apostasy in Iran, her brother may become one of the first to be killed under Iran's new law.

The Telegraph report >>

But now, a glimmer of hope.

The Farsi Christian Network reported on October 17 that judicial authorities had ordered the release of Ramtin Soodmand, who is identified in their report as a minister of the Evangelical Church of Iran in Mashhad. He was to be released on bail, after being held since August 21.

What may come next is not clear.

The report from the Farsi Christian Network >>

Surprise, Surprise

On interfaith relations

by the Rev. Mitchell Trigger, Witherspoon Secretary and co-pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Rockaway, NJ
[5-24-08]
 

“I believe in the Virgin birth and the miraculous works of Jesus.”

"I believe that Jesus will return as a sign of the Last Hour.”

“I am a Muslim.”

Most of us who profess to be Christians would be surprised to learn that all of these statements come from a single person – in fact, they come not just from one Muslim, but from a majority of Muslims. I know I was surprised to hear these things and to read many more excerpts from the Qur’an that spoke positively about both Christians and Jews and our shared ancestry. In a world where religious extremists want to pit our peoples against each other, it’s time for all people of faith to understand not only our own faith, but the faith of others.

Many people have arrived at this conclusion. In October 2007, a large number of Muslim clerics, theologians and academics sent an open letter to all Christian leaders, saying the two religions need to work more closely together, especially since we share the basic principles of worshipping one God and loving our neighbors. These Muslim leaders recognize that 55 percent of the world’s population is either Christian or Muslim, “making the relationship between these two religious communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world.” In March of this year, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, home of Islam’s holiest shrines and the hardline Wahabi sect of Islam, announced plans to pursue a dialogue between Islam, Christianity and Judaism. In watching world events, the king noted “There is a lack of ethics, loyalty and sincerity for our religions and humanity.” The king added, “”If God wills it, we will then meet with our brothers from other religions, including those of the Torah and the Gospel to come up with ways to safeguard humanity.”

So how do we do come to understand more about each other’s religion? There are hundreds of books offering insight into Islam, Judaism and Christianity – which is the right one? I can’t say I’ve ever found a book that perfectly described my personal faith in God through Jesus Christ – how can I expect a book to do that for a Muslim or a Jew? The only reliable way I’ve found to understand another person’s faith is through dialogue.

After living in many parts of the United States, my wife and I came to be co-pastors of a congregation in Rockaway, New Jersey. I soon realized that we had moved into the most diverse state in our nation. Our congregation was involved in interfaith dialogue and I had my first intentional dialogue with Muslims. That continued dialogue has helped me appreciate the beliefs we share and the beliefs in which we differ, and yes, it’s even helped this pastor understand his own faith a bit better.

I also realized that I never would have had this opportunity nor taken the initiative for this kind of dialogue if I had not moved into this diverse community. For many of my fellow Presbyterians, the need for this dialogue may not be so apparent. I’ve lived in Iowa, Minnesota, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Indiana, and never had the chance to meet, let alone talk with, a Muslim. But we live in a much greater community today than our immediate home towns. The world has truly become a smaller place as communications, television, the Internet, all bring the world closer. It’s important for Christians to understand the faith of Islam so that we can all work together to lessen the tensions in the world and to combat those who want Christians and Muslims (and Jews) to spend their time trying to destroy each other, rather than building a peaceful world.

One of the building blocks for any mutual dialogue is respect. While we do have many concrete differences between our two faiths, both Muslims and Christians believe in one God. Yes, we understand God through the Trinity, but it is still ONE God. When we recognize that we each believe, worship and pray to the one God (“Allah,” as both Muslims and Arabic Christians call God), then we are able to begin dialogue without demonizing one another. This respect is the pathway to understanding.

From our church to our presbytery and now to the General Assembly, we have brought an overture (07-01: “On Calling for Tolerance and Peaceful Relations between the Christian and Muslim Communities”) that we believe is a good first step for our denomination, as leaders among Christians involved in interfaith relations. We hope that all of us will find ways to study our faiths (with guidance and materials from our denomination), that more of our congregations will invite Interfaith Listening teams to come and speak with them, and that we will all be intentional at reaching out to and looking for the people of other faiths in our communities, to begin the dialogue that is needed for the future of our world. We may find that God’s call to work for peace, justice and healing is being heard by others. And we may then hear God’s unique call to us even clearer.


If you have comments or questions
about this overture
(and the more general matter of interfaith relations)
please send a note,
to be shared here.

A deeply personal story of expanding faith:

My Spiritual Pilgrimage toward Universalism:
Finding God’s All-embracing Love in Scripture

[5-7-08]

The Rev. Dr. Arch B. Taylor, Jr., begins his story this way:

I was born, baptized, and nurtured in the Presbyterian Church in the United States (the old “Southern”). My church nurtured me in the faith of my forebears, but it assumed without question the culture of the South: white supremacist, 100% segregated, male dominant and female subordinate, prejudiced against Catholics and Jews, and against homosexuals. My pilgrimage of faith has been a steady growth away from all those cultural presuppositions, one after another. I have been “born again” several times as my growing understanding of Scripture has challenged and impelled me to move beyond. As a Presbyterian I think of my theology and my practical Christianity as being reformed and continually being reformed.

Another element in the Christian religion in which I grew up was the belief that without faith in Christ as Savior, no one could be saved.

His life has taken him through 30 years teaching as a missionary in Japan, travels in China and many other places, study of the Reformed tradition and the Bible, and wrestling with the human experiences of suffering and evil and much more.

Taylor tells of his struggles with the classic issues of free will, human evil, the place of Israel and Judaism in this universal view of God’s grace, as well as the place of other religions.

And his solid conclusion is best summed up thus:

In the light of my life-long study of God’s word in Scripture, and my experience as a preacher, teacher, and missionary, I have reached the deep conviction that God truly does include everyone in the gracious purpose of reconciliation. (p. 25 f.)

Read his full essay >>

 

Why the Conservative Turn in the Catholic Church?
And What Can We All Learn From It?
[1-4-08]

Gene TeSelle, Witherspoon’s Issues Analyst, reviews a recent book of four thoughtful chapters, mostly by Jesuits, analyzing efforts in the Catholic Church to deal with the changes initiated by the Second Vatican Council (“Vatican II”) – largely by backing away from them. The authors see the Catholic Church’s conservative trends as efforts to restore a “healing balance” to the tensions between continuity and change in the church – a struggle which is familiar to us Presbyterians as well.

TeSelle focuses on three particular aspects of the church’s life in recent decades, as examples of the difficulties in finding that healing balance. First he considers how these tensions have affected Catholic bishops around the world, many of whom (especially in Latin America) have struggled with the tension between engagement in progressive social movements, and ecclesiastical resistance to such activities.

Second, he looks at efforts by Catholics, as members of one of the most diverse organizations in the world, to deal with global tensions ranging from the Cold War to the current struggles over globalization. Nurturing the global community of the Catholic Church in the midst of all these tensions presents great challenges.

And those challenges are sharpened by the third reality: the growing secularization of nations and peoples around the world, which often is represented as a threat of “cultural liberalism” that denies deeply held Catholic values and weakens the commitment of many Catholics to their tradition.

TeSelle suggests that understanding these struggles – the “major ruptures of our time” – might be helpful to Presbyterians as well.

The book is Vatican II: Did Anything Happen?, edited by David G. Schultenover.

The full essay -- and a link to order the book.

The Peace of Abraham, Hagar, & Sarah:
Sharing Sacred Seasons, 2006

Jews, Christians and Muslims will be celebrating sacred seasons at about the same time in September and October of 2006. Leaders of the three faith communities are inviting us to celebrate together by praying and learning with each other and by acting together to "seek peace, pursue justice, feed the poor, heal the earth, serve the One."   [5-25-06]     More >>

Islam in America: Challenges and Opportunities
Monday, March 27, 2006

Dr. Jamillah Karim

[3-9-06]

Wilson College, in Chambersburg, PA, is presenting a full day of lectures and discussions on this very important topic. The featured speaker is Dr. Jamillah Karim, Assistant Professor of Religion at Spelman College. Her topics will be "How Far We've Come: American Muslims in the 21st Century," and "Becoming a Model Community: The Future of American Muslims."

To Pre-Register or learn more visit www.wilson.edu/orrforum
Or contact Dr. David True, Chair of Philosophy and Religion
(717) 264-4141
dtrue@wilson.edu

For a one-page brochure in PDF format >>

What happens to religious freedom in a time of domestic surveillance?   [3-3-06]

The current Administration’s efforts to conduct and defend warrantless domestic eavesdropping have raised many concerns. Jonathan Rothchild, Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University, looks specifically at ways in which religious freedom is coming under threat.

He cites reports indicating that "the government infiltrated the Truth Project, a group that met in a Quaker Meeting House to discuss nonviolent ways of countering military recruiting in high schools. The formal religious character of the project is not the primary concern; what is at issue is the Truth Project's contrarian perspective, which challenges the status quo through nonviolent means ... Moreover, reports reveal that the federal government identified the Los Angeles Catholic Worker as a group subject to surveillance -- an unsurprising fact, given that the FBI meticulously tracked Catholic Worker cofounder Dorothy Day."

Read the article on Sightings, published/posted by The Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago.

Reports from the World Council of Churches –
[2-22-06]

The World Council of Churches is meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, through the 23rd of February.

The Presbyterian News Service is there and covering many events, concerns and interest on international affairs.  To find all of their reports, go to the PNS web page >>

Here's a list of some of the PNS reports, with links to them >>
 

WCC Assembly calls for care of water resources

The Ninth Assembly of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, 14-23 February, has called on churches and ecumenical partners to work together to preserve and protect water resources against over-consumption and pollution.

Toward a Network of Spiritual Progressives   [7-25-05]

More than 1200 people came together for four days last week for a first-time, remarkable gathering. Jews and Christians, Muslims and Hindus, theological liberals and evangelicals, and lots more – all were drawn by an invitation to shape a positive progressive response to the conservatives’ success in making faith and values something on which they seem to claim a monopoly.

Your WebWeaver offers reports on two of the first presentations, which set the framework for the whole event.  Michael Nagler spoke of our nation's spiritual crisis and non-violence as an alternative.  George Lakoff outlined his theory of the language of values in American politics.

We also point to other reports on the event, and a post-conference note of celebration by Rabbi Michael Lerner, who initiated the whole thing.

We would like to invite you to participate in a special online event, May 9th-20th at http://forums.rockridgeinstitute.org :

SPIRITUAL PROGRESSIVES:
A Dialogue on Values and Building a Movement

Are the words progressive and faith polar opposites? Of course not. But in America, the word "religious" seemingly has become synonymous with conservatism. The fact is that the religious right has spent 30 years melding Christian language with conservative political ideology. And they have been very successful. The influence of extreme right-wing religious organizations in politics and public discourse has taken America backwards, and has contributed to a divisive and coarsened politics. It has overshadowed progressives who are also people of faith. And it has created a divide of alienation between secular and religious progressives. We say enough is enough.  [5-3-05]

More -- including links to join the dialogue >>

We offer news and reflections on Pope John Paul II and his successor, Pope Benedict XVI     [4-20-05]
What can we learn from the Orthodox churches?

Jean Rodenbough, a retired Presbyterian minister, reflect s on a two-week visit to Belarus and Russia by ten representatives of Salem Presbytery. Her time with churches in the Russian Orthodox tradition exposed her, she says, "to an alternative for our studied intellectual approach to faith." In the Orthodox sense of the Mystery of the divine she finds what could be a refreshing corrective for our current problems and tensions.    [3-18-05]

New organization of U.S. churches set for June launch

Ecumenical group first to include Catholic bishops    [3-18-05]

A long-discussed organization of a wide range of U.S. churches and church bodies will be launched in June. The new group, Christian Churches Together in the USA (CCT-USA), will officially inaugurate its work on June 1. It will include the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Evangelicals for Social Action, the humanitarian organization World Vision, as well as evangelical and main-line Protestant denominations.

Religion should unify, not divide, says Madeleine Albright

The people of the world can longer afford to allow religion and religious leaders to divide them, former Secretary of State and U.N. Representative Madeleine Korbel Albright told the annual gathering of the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes February 25.   [2-26-05]

So what do you think?  Can religion really play a uniting role in our world?
What can we do to help that happen?
Please send a note and we'll share it here!

Cutting-edge Lutheran mission under attack for calling a lesbian pastor

[9-16-04]

Central City Lutheran Mission, in San Bernardino, CA, describes itself as "a cutting edge ministry which assumes both delivery of a wide variety of social services and development of a Word and Sacrament ministry." Their simple style focuses on neighborhood leadership in a multilingual ministry, "where the poor and oppressed become subject in a pastoral project for neighborhood transformation and are not simply the objects of the church's charity or social services."

The Mission recently called the Rev. Dr. Jenny Mason as an Associate Pastor. Mason was ordained in 1991, served for ten years in urban ministry in Chile, and has already been serving for some months on the CCLM staff. While the Lutheran Church (ELCA) exercises considerable latitude in matters of ordination and sexuality, this call has been challenged and is now under review by a special committee, and some economic sanctions have already been imposed on the Mission.

You can learn more of the situation in a statement from the CCLM.

A New Covenant With America   [4-22-04]

Charles Henderson, a Presbyterian minister and "Your Guide to Christianity" on about.com, has posted this interesting announcement:

I believe that a majority of spiritually committed Americans would see their core values better represented by a progressive political agenda, rather than by the narrowly partisan programs of the religious right. With a group of colleagues, I am writing "A New Covenant with America" in which we will spell out exactly what this agenda for America might look like.

He describes the project of developing "a faith based social and political agenda for the 21st Century" in a fairly lengthy essay.

Check out his detailed essay on the starting points for this endeavor.

The recently formed Clergy Leadership Network seeks to encourage more progressive religious leaders to join with others in "working for national leadership change."

We encourage you to consider the group as a way to channel your concerns for justice and freedom in our nation today.  [3-11-04]

"The Passion of the Christ" - resources and comments on a hot topic
[2-27-04]

We've been asked for opinions and comments on "The Passion of the Christ," so we've assembled link to a variety of resources that you may find helpful in responding to questions, or in thinking about the film itself if you go to see it.

We'd like to hear from you - either your own comments on the film, or others you've found helpful.
Just send a note to be shared here!

NCC Interfaith Relations Commission offers reflection guide for controversial 'Passion of the Christ' film    [2-18-04]

On Ash Wednesday, Feb. 25, Mel Gibson's controversial new film, The Passion of the Christ, opens in theaters to fears by some that it could impair Jewish Christian relations or lead to a rise in anti-Semitism.

The National Council of Churches Interfaith Relations Commission has prepared a reflection guide for Christians who want to consider an array of issues raised by the film. The guide, in a bulletin-insert style suitable for reprinting and sharing with congregations, is available on this site in PDF format, which requires that Adobe Acrobat Reader be installed on your computer.

Another Top Ten - religion news stories of 2003.    [1-5-04]

Charles Henderson provides a listing of the ten stories chosen by the the Religion Newswriters Association.

bulletThe Presbyterian Church makes the list at Number 8, for retaining the ban on LGBT ordination, and for electing "first clergywoman moderator." [Well, not quite, but first woman pastor serving a congregation, apparently.]
Protestant justice groups proclaim "JusticeWorks" as they explore ways of renewing the churches' social witness [3-31-03]

Gene TeSelle, Witherspoon Society Issues Analyst, reports on the Protestant Justice Action conference, "JusticeWorks: Renewing the Church's Social Witness," in St. Louis, March 28_30,

Michael Kinnamon's list of seven "key assumptions" of the gathering fills out the report.

Washington Office joins others calling for opposition to "Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act," H.R. 235   [2-27-03]
Top ten religion news stories for 2002 [1-24-03]

John Rakestraw, proprietor of the very useful website onReligion.com, was asked to assemble one of those new_year favorite's, a "top_ten" list of religion stories for the year 2002.

The top three were

bulletClergy sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.
bulletIslam redefining itself for the modern world.
bulletChallenges to authority and traditional structures in the Catholic Church.

Number 10 was "Religious response to proposed US/UN invasion of Iraq."

Check out the rest of them, and his reasons for choosing them.
Sorry, this page is no longer available.

Asians in America are experiencing religious change  [1-14-03]

The Washington Post has published two articles on religious changes in Asian-American communities. One reports on the growing number of Chinese Americans who are becoming Christian, and another surveys Korean Americans, many of them intensely loyal members of Korean Christian churches, who are now becoming more assimilated, and entering into interracial marriages and joining non-Korean churches.

bulletThanks to onReligion.com - a great source for all kinds of news on religion in the United tates and around the world

The Case for Religious Pluralism in a Secular State

The separation of church and state takes on new dimensions - and new importance - as our society becomes more pluralistic religiously, and as fundamentalisms gain strength in many faith communities. Gene TeSelle summarizes a variety of studies that help us understand the new religious situation in which we live.  [10-9-02]

Karen Armstrong says the US should foster democratic strands in Islam  [9-13-02]

Noted scholar Karen Armstrong, writing in the Washington Post, urges that "Americans should support Muslim initiatives to build a spiritually and intellectually vibrant American Islam, which could counter extremism at home and abroad."

The Rev. Dr. Robert Boehlke, who spent many years teaching in the major Protestant theological seminary in Indonesia, offers both criticism and appreciation for Armstrong's statement.

Panel of Christians rejects attempts to convert Jews  [9-9-02]

The Boston Globe reports that a prominent group of Protestant and Roman Catholic scholars, in a major boost to Christian-Jewish relations, has declared that Jews, like Christians, have a covenant with God and that a belief in the divinity of Jesus is not necessary for salvation. As a result, the group denounced ''missionary efforts directed at converting Jews.''

Religious left holds conference in Texas, focusing on "Fundamentalism's Threat to Democracy"      [8-29-02]

The Dallas Morning News reported recently on a one-day gathering of about 800 people for a conference of The Texas Freedom Network. The group was kicking off its Fundamentalism Education Project with "what often felt like a revival meeting for the Religious Left," on the theme of "Fundamentalism's Threat to Democracy." Karen Armstrong, whose book The Battle For God sets out a historical explanation for the rise of fundamentalism in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, was a main speaker at the event.

One nation under God - or under many gods?  [8-22-02]

The Rev. John Shuck, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Billings, MT, recently published an opinion piece in the Billings Gazette. With the title "Respond with hospitality to growing diversity," Shuck simply highlights from his own experience the fact that our "Christian nation" is becoming much more diverse than that -- and suggests hospitality as our best response.

Presbyterian pastor Dudley Sarfaty comments on the current crisis in the Catholic Church as an example of the need for continuing reformation   [6-27-02]
The United Methodist Church is also struggling with issues of sexuality and ordination.   Recently the Council of Bishops of that church gathered with the aim of modeling for their congregations " honest, thoughtful dialogue to replace win-or-lose wrangling on what is viewed by many as the denomination's most controversial issue."     [5-8-02]
A suggestion from the Rev. Bruce Gillette:

Use this Sunday for prayers for sexual abuse victims, offenders, families and churches    [3-16-02]

This Sunday would be a good one to pray for the victims of sexual abuse, the victims' families, the offenders, the offenders' families, and the churches impacted by these crimes. Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters are hurting with the continuing news of abuses in their churches that have sometimes been followed by poor responses by church authorities. Sunday's New York Times has an lengthy article with the headline, "As Scandal Keeps Growing, Church and Its Faithful Reel."  The Apostle Paul instructs Christians to "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." (Romans 12:15) so let us now pray for those who weep.

While I disagree with just about every position of the Roman Catholic Church's teachings related to sexuality (birth control, abortion, homosexuality, annulments of marriage, women priests, and the mishandling of child abuse cases), I also know that Protestants are hardly without sin. No denomination or congregation of any faith tradition is immune to this possible abuse. An excellent ecumenical resource is the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence, see web site: http://www.cpsdv.org/ There you can read online Marie Fortune's response to the Geoghan case in Boston, and find helpful information and links to online resources to prevent abuse by clergy and others.

Blessings on you and your ministry.

Grace and Peace, Bruce

Bruce & Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, Co-Pastors
First Presbyterian Church, 305 South Broadway, Pitman NJ 08071
Office Phone: (856)-589-1050
Home Phone: (856)-589-8444
Email: Bruce.Gillette@ecunet.org
Church Fax: (856)-589-1051
Church website: http://www.firstpresby.org/

COCU becomes CUIC, with a focus on racism    [1-19-02]

More than 300 leaders from nine denominations representing 22 million American Christians are gathering in Memphis this weekend to celebrate a culmination of 40 years of unity talks, as the member churches of the Consultation on Church Union (COCU) become Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC). This new level of unity will not be structural, as envisioned by many as the movement began in 1960. But the churches will recognize each other's ministries and ministers and will seek to achieve greater visible unity. And perhaps most important, the churches will work together to overcome the racism which still divides American people and churches - as they are demonstrating by the time and place of their celebration.

Churches move toward greater unity  [1-8-02]

The Presbyterian Church (USA) and 8 other denominations are moving another step toward unity as the new Churches Uniting in Christ emerges from the Consultation on Church Union.

WCC General Secretary Konrad Raiser has issued a Christmas message that proclaims God's grace in the face of "a world without mercy," ruled by competition and money.  [12-17-01]
Release of missionaries held in Afghanistan raises questions about truthfulness and respect for law of some "evangelists"  [12-12-01]
Dealing with religious diversity in America  [11-30-01]

Religious pluralism in America has taken on new weight since September 11th. A recent book by Diana Eck offers a careful look at this reality, and points toward healthy ways we might respond to it. Gene TeSelle reviews A New Religious America: How a "Christian Country" Has Now Become the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation.

NCC faces challenges in society and in its own funding 

A meeting of the National Council of Churches in Oakland, CA, November 11-16, dealt with a range of issues, from efforts to develop a broad-based campaign against poverty in America, to struggles to develop ecumenical and interfaith relations -- as well as the NCC's own financial problems.  [11-19-01]

"Public Protestants" deplore public housing in Chicago  [9-20-01]

Protestant Justice Action (PJA), a network of Protestant public activists from seven mainline denominations while meeting in Chicago, criticized present policies of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) which destroys problem buildings, but offers far too few alternative shelters.

Brazilian churches deal with peacemaking and violence

A consultation in Brazil, in early July, brought together representatives from the PC(USA) and two Brazilian churches to share and strategize about ways the churches might respond and peacemakers in the face of growing violence in Brazilian society. Witherspooner Charles Hurst attended as an observer, and reports on the group's struggles with the fact that violence is rooted in the growing rich-poor gap, while the membership of the Presbyterian churches is relatively well off. [8-15-01

PBS will feature a new documentary, "In the Light of Reverence," on Native American struggles to protect landscapes of spiritual significance.  [7-27-01]
A world of concerns  [7-10-01]

The Worldwide Ministries Division hosted a gathering just before and after General Assembly, with over 50 ecumenical guests from 27 countries sharing a wide variety of concerns (religious persecution, the imposition of American military presence, exploitation by foreign oil companies, the US rejection of the Kyoto global warming treaty, and much more), and explored the meaning of partnership between the PC(USA) and their own churches.

Equal Partners in Faith publishes The Religious Progressive newsletter  [7-7-01]
Financial health improves for NCC   [6-2-01]

Leaders from the National Council of Churches (NCC) presented an improved financial forecast for the 51-year-old agency and promised to build on increased enthusiasm for "expanding the ecumenical table" to attract Catholics and evangelicals.

U.S. group of World Council of Churches meets to discuss ways of overcoming violence.

Fifty people gathered in Nashville this week under the aegis of the World Council of Churches, to talk as Americans about the current WCC focus on overcoming violence around the world. [4-25-01]

The new Progressive Religious Partnership held its first meeting in Washington DC, April 4-6.  It aims to create a grass-roots movement to work for justice in a nation increasingly pressured by the Religious Right. [4-11-01]
Prof. Eugene March, speaking at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, says Christians must repent of their age-old mistreatment of Jews, calls on church to change in this age of religious pluralism. [3-8-01]
Ten African-American employees of the Christian Coalition have filed suit against the organization and Pat Robertson, charging glaring problems of racial discrimination.  One white employee charges that he has been fired for refusing to spy on the African-Americans. [3-6-01]
The Oxbow group of unofficial progressive organization related to Protestant churches met in Washington, DC, on February 4-6, with four Witherspoon representatives in attendance.

Major decisions:  

bulletChanging the group's name to Protestant Justice Action
bulletAdopting three major foci for action in Washington, in the immediate future: (1) vouchers, charitable choice, and the President's initiative on "faith-based organizations"; (2) reproductive choice; and (3) reparations.
The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Potsdam, has heard General Secretary Konrad Raiser indicate that more changes will come to the WCC, with more focus on issue-focused cooperation.  [1-31-01]

Also from the WCC meeting:  A Methodist bishop from Argentina urged "dependent countries" to confront the global economic system "in which we are becoming the property of those who hold our debt"- creditor nations.

Critics force Latin American council to withdraw mission document
[1-25-01]

Dissenters say document represented ‘Pentecostalization’ of the ecumenical movement.

Chicago Methodist church stays involved in denomination, but also in same-sex holy unions. [1-16-01]
In an act of hope and courage, Church of Pakistan ordains women deacons, despite court challenge from breakaway church with McIntire roots. 
NCC General Secretary Bob Edgar has withdrawn his endorsement from a statement on marriage, signed by representatives of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Southern Baptist Convention and the National Association of Evangelicals, which defined marriage as between man and a woman.  Affirming his concern for strengthening families, he expressed regret for going along with a statement which could easily be read as a denial of the rights of gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender people to equal respect of their committed relationship.
National Council of Churches may seek a much wider coalition, with an initial focus on poverty
Religions need some peacemaking of their own, says Buddhist scholar   [10/4/00]

Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman spoke recently as part of a symposium on paths to world peace, calling on followers of different religious traditions to learn to love people of other faiths. He noted that in all traditions, "religious interpretation is newly created in every generation. What we must have now is an interpretation of 'love of neighbor' to mean 'I don't despise your religious attitude.'"

For the complete story in the Nashville Tennessean, dated October 3, 2000, click here.

An inner-city pastor challenges well-off evangelical suburban churches to partner with inner-city churches and service agencies.
The Ecumenical Seminary in Matanzas, Cuba, is in need of books by Walter Brueggemann.
United Methodists of color call for a fully inclusive church

The United Methodist General Conference, held last spring in Cleveland, took actions viewed by many as a large step backward in the move toward a fully inclusive church.

One response to the attitudes of exclusion that were evident there -- as they have been in the Presbyterian Church as well -- was this statement issued by United Methodists of Color.

Much attention has been given to the actions of the Episcopal General Convention in mid-July, 2000, which included a rejection of what Presbyterians have been calling holy union ceremonies. However, the Episcopal Church took significant steps toward affirming the variety of committed relationships that are a part of life in our society today, and this story offers some perspective on the positive side of their actions.

 

GA actions going to the presbyteries   

A number of the most important actions of the 219th General Assembly are now being sent to the presbyteries for their action, to confirm or reject them as amendments to the PC(USA) Book of Order.

We're providing resources to help inform the reflection and debate, along with updates on the voting.

Our three areas of primary interest are:

bullet Amendment 10-A, which would remove the current ban on lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender persons being considered as possible candidates for ordination as elder or ministers.

bullet Amendment 10-2, which would add the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions.

bullet Amendment 10-1, which would adopt the new Form of Government that was approved by the Assembly.
 

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Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, PVJ's Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.

 

Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.

 

John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, politics, culture, travel, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.

 

John Shuck’s Shuck and Jive

A Presbyterian minister, currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., blogs about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.

 

Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!

 
 

Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, PVJ's Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.

 

John Shuck’s new "Religion for Life" website

Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck, a Presbyterian minister currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., writes about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.

Click here for his blog posts.

Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores the intersection of religion, social justice and public life."

 

John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood -- by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.

 

Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.

 

Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!

 

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