The Parliament Blog

The Killing of Deon Gilbert (15) and the Unmasking of Violence

Blog Post written by Parliament Trustee Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana for scupe.org

Fifteen year old Deon Gilbert was killed in the south side of Chicago on the night of November 7th by a single gun-shot to his abdomen. This promising young man attended Ellis Avenue Church almost every Sunday since he was about 3 years old, had hopes of playing football and studying architecture perhaps at Florida A &M. The church which attracts a good number of African American young people has the question of urban violence regularly brought to its attention during prayer time by these young people who seek prayer for a neighbor, a classmate, a relative or friend who has been shot or killed. But this time, it was not one that we did not know. It was one of our own children. The worship on Sunday was somber and mournful. It was not yet time to think of hope and resurrection. It was just time to mourn.

On Saturday morning, November 8th, shortly after receiving the news of Deon’s death, I spoke to the Religious Educators Association (a professional organization of scholars and professors of religious education) at their conference in Oak Brook, on the question of Unmasking Violence. The insights for my presentation came from the present SCUPE class I am teaching together with Dr. Clinton Stockwell on Public Issues in the City.

In that class, we talked about Sudhir Venkatesh’s book Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets (Penguin Books, 2008). This is the story of a University of Chicago sociology Ph.D. student’s immersion in the gang culture in the Robert Taylor Homes – one of the poorest housing developments in the country at the time. We used it as an example to understand the principles of ethnography, to understand the limits of our knowledge and our methods of acquiring that knowledge.

We recalled that those buildings, which non-residents usually called “projects” and residents called “community,” did not automatically appear – they were created, as a means of warehousing people away from mainstream society. These massive buildings housed some 1000 families each, and there was no economy in the immediate neighborhood to support jobs for all the people who needed them. To find a job, the residents had to travel to the suburbs. Imagine the difficulty for a young mother, who needed to travel two hours each way by bus, train and bus, only to have to pay half her earnings to the child care worker! Naturally, an underground or informal economy sprang up.

Some informal economies are illegal as well. This was the case with the drug trade. The income was small. For a foot soldier in a gang, it would be less than $20,000 a year. But the costs in terms of risk to life and limb were very high. This too was the case with prostitution. Police are as corrupt, says Venkatesh. They are often paid off by the gangs, and often have sex with the women they arrest. The buildings are patrolled and secured by gangs. If you want to be safe, you need to pay the gang to look after you. They have guns and will be brutal with those who will harass those they protect. Even though Robert Taylor Homes is no more, the illegal underground economies flourish particularly in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, as is the case in some communities in the south and west sides of Chicago. Much of the gun violence in our communities is a part of this informal economy. Click here to continue reading on scupe.org 

November 20th, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Announcing His Holiness the Dalai Lama & Dr. Karen Armstrong Are Coming to the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions

It is with great pleasure that we announce  two of the esteemed keynote speakers of the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions:

 

His Holiness The Dalai Lama

& Dr. Karen Armstrong

 

Read their biographies below

*Both of these acclaimed leaders will also be featured in the Get Golden Banquet at the 2015 Parliament.

Who better to help lead the interfaith world in reclaiming the heart of our humanity than two of the most acclaimed teachers of compassion?

Returning to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 2015, His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso the XIV Dalai Lama and Dr. Karen Armstrong will cross-pollinate the religious, scientific, and civic institutions we represent with the seeds of compassion and kindness.

We are honored to present these pillars of wisdom to share their expertise on the themes of the next Parliament:

  • Widening Wealth Gap and Wasteful Consumption
  • Climate Change and Care for Creation
  • War, Violence, and Hate Speech 

Still haven’t registered for the 2015 Parliament?

Super Saver Discounts end November 30th.

Register now – Students save 70%!

RegisterSubmit ProposalsExhibitSponsor

Exhibit, Sell, & Sponsor

Hundreds of booth spaces are available to display, showcase or sell your books, gift items, or pieces of art. It can be about your faith, your organization, your passion, or your business. Parliament participants are highly educated, highly networked, and highly philanthropic; best of all, people who attend Parliaments are dedicated to promoting healing action across the world. Click here to exhibit…

Be a Presenter at the Parliament

Share the stories of how different religions work with each other for common good, tell others about your faith, and recruit people who can tell your story better. Engaging the leadership of young and emerging adults, women, and indigenous communities in the Interfaith movement is especially considered programming for the 2015 Parliament!  Click here to propose a program to present at the 2015 Parliament….

Attend the Golden Banquet at the Parliament

We are planning a fabulous dinner to celebrate practitioners of the Golden Rule! Join us as we honor some of our champions who exemplify compassionate living, and are teaching the world to do the same. The 2015 Parliament Get Golden dinner will benefit the future of the interfaith movement. Reserve your seat when you register!

His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the head of state and spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. This Nobel Prize winning peace activist is known for his unswerving commitment to love, compassion and non-violence, and has moved the world with his spiritual teachings on “the universal religion of kindness.” Since 1967, His Holiness has traveled and met with adherents, leaders and scholars in over forty-five countries and has authored or co-authored more than sixty books.
Dr. Karen Armstrong is a religious thinker who has written more than 20 books on faith and the major religions, studying how our faiths shaped world history and drive current events. Her new book is entitled Fields of Blood: Religions and the History of Violence. Armstrong’s 2008 TED Prize wish asked us to help her assemble the Charter for Compassion, a document around which all of us can work together for peace. It has since inspired the Charter for Compassion movement sprouting in hundreds of cities around the world.

As the World Turns, Local Science Facilities Lag on Climate Change Facts

The latest report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Report on Climate Change provides evidence for climate change’s “widespread impacts” on the environment:

  • Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are now higher than ever and are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.
  • Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.
  • Adaptation and mitigation are complementary strategies for managing the risks.
- From the Intergovernmental 2014 Climate Change Report

 

And yet, too little has been done to mitigate these effects. Scientists have trouble highlighting the damaging repercussions of mankind’s role in climate change, and various groups have trouble adopting concrete policies to help ameliorate these effects. One of the major themes of the 2015 Parliament will address climate change and creation care, and how interfaith groups can lead the way in providing concrete changes to help solve these issues.

The editorial board of the Pittsburg Post-Gazette challenge the vintage of some in the science community after considering the the UN Intergovernmental report on climate:

The latest report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Report on Climate Change used language that was said to be the starkest ever. The panel warned with new urgency that continued emissions of greenhouse gases threaten severe consequences for the planet, affecting people and the ecosystems that sustain them.

“Without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread and irreversible impacts globally,” the report said.

Yet these dire predictions appear to have changed few minds. To climate change deniers, the doomsday-like warnings are an increasingly shrill expression of desperation by a science community that can’t make its case. Indeed, in the same week as the report, American voters rallied to the Republican Party, home to many who dismiss the large scientific consensus as a political creation.

In truth, the threat of climate change has too few believers, even if the world scientific community is in general agreement. And if ever there was proof that a prophet is not without honor except in his own town, it was the Sunday story by the Post-Gazette’s Chris Potter on the state of climate change exhibits in local science-education facilities.

The Carnegie Science Center makes no mention of it in its displays.

Continue reading on Pittsburg Post-Gazette….

 

The Ever-Growing Religious Movement That Doesn’t Get Enough Attention

Via HuffPost Religion

Along with politics, poverty and culture, religion is often cited as a source of conflict throughout the world. However, the last 100 years reveal a growing interfaith movement in America — one that promotes peaceful and productive interactions between religious traditions.

And it all began with a fair.

THE FAIR THAT SET THE STAGE

The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, IL drew millions of visitors to the windy city over its six-month run. Among its 5,978 educational addresses and meetings was the World’s Congress of Religions, which hosted religious leaders from all over the world.

The congress marked the first organized, international gathering of religious leaders and is thought to be the nascence of formal interfaith dialogue. Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda, spoke at the congress, greeting the 5,000 assembled delegates with the iconic words, “Sisters and brothers of America!”

A CENTURY OF INTERFAITH DIALOGUE

One of the first international groups to get organized after the fair was the International Council of Unitarian and Other Liberal Religious Thinkers and Workers — now the International Association for Religious Freedom – formed in London in 1900 with the stated purpose of uniting all those striving for fellowship and religious liberty.

With the outbreak of World War I other interfaith efforts emerged. The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) formed in New York just after war began in hopes of bringing people of faith together to promote peace, and it went on to become a leading interfaith voice for non-violence and non-discrimination.

With the second World War on the horizon, the World Congress of Faiths formed in London with the dual purpose of bringing people of faith together to enrich their understandings of their own and others’ traditions and also to educate and report on religious happenings through its journal, Interreligious Insight.

Following the devastation of World War II and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Christian missionary Carl Allison Evans founded the New Jersey-based Fellowship in Prayer as a multi-faith organization that would use prayer and meditation to foster peace.

In addition to the work of humanitarian organizations, renowned world leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and the Dalai Lama, inspired by their own faiths, promoted religious, racial and political freedom. Many scholars say the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, in particular, demonstrated the organizing power of congregations working together for social change, under the guidance of religious leaders like King marching side by side with Abraham Joshua Heschel.

In 1962 the Catholic Church took a giant step forward in interfaith relations by convening of the Second Vatican Council. Before Vatican II, Catholics were discouraged from visiting other faiths’ houses of worship — but this all changed with the Nostra Aetate. This document, which officially took effect October 28, 1965, acknowledged the divine origin of all human beings and the truths present in other religions. It stated: “We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God.”

Many organizations followed the Vatican’s lead over the next few decades. Religions for Peace, based in New York and accredited to the United Nations, officially kicked off in 1970, and the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington formed in 1978.

First formed in 1960 the Temple of Understanding helped publish the first directory of interfaith organizations in 1987 and over several years hosted meetings that paved the way for the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN), which was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1990.

A CENTURY LATER

By 1988 nearly 100 years had passed since the World’s Congress of Religions and Vivekanada’s historic speech. A group of religious leaders and local organizers in Chicago came together to plan a centennial celebration, and through this the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions came into being.

parliament

The late late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago addresses the audience at the 1993 Parliament meeting.

In 1993 the Parliament hosted its conference in Chicago with 8,000 participants from faith backgrounds around the world. The organization went on to host meetings around the world every several years, and in September 2014 announced its first U.S. conference since 1993, to take place in Salt Lake City in 2015.

The 1990s also saw the birth of interfaith groups focused on the environment, including Green Faith in 1992 and Interfaith Power & Light in 1998. These efforts put ecological sustainability at the core of their faith-based activism.

With the growth of interfaith dialogue came increased academic and sociological interest in the ways pluralism affects religious life. Harvard University’s Diana Eck launched the Pluralism Project in 1991 to chart the development of interfaith efforts throughout the United States. And in 2001 the Pew Research Center initiated its Religion & Public Life Project to explore the intersection of religion and public life.

INTERFAITH’S NEW MILLENNIUM…

Continue reading on Huffington Post

This article  by Antonia Blumberg for HuffPost Religion is published with permission.


Parliament Ambassador Launches Spirituality and Medicine Interest Group at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine

During my first few months in medical school, I noticed that religion was rarely discussed. As a Theology minor in college, I knew that religion was an important part of life for many Americans; indeed, nearly 9 in 10 Americans report a belief in some divine or spiritual power, and several studies have shown that organized faith communities can play important roles in promoting healthy behaviors. Topics related to spirituality and religious beliefs arose during the Healthcare Disparities course, but the discussions were only tangential. I had a feeling that students felt uncomfortable discussing such personal topics in the academic setting.

For this reason, I proposed a new student organization for the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago: the Spirituality and Medicine (SAM) Interest Group. This group aims to create a safe space for discussion of how spirituality/religion affect healthcare. I thought that this idea fit in perfectly with Pritzker’s commitment to all forms of diversity. Last month, SAM was approved for funding by the Dean’s Council, and I was awarded Germanacos Fellowship, a $5000 grant to develop a medical discussion series focused on the intersections between spirituality/religion and medicine. These seminars will be partially based on a well-known religious literacy curriculum for healthcare workers developed by the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. The Germanacos Fellowship was awarded by the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based nonprofit that aims to make interfaith cooperation a social norm in the United States by promoting inter-religious dialogue and community service.

I am interested in the intersections between spirituality and healthcare because my own religious beliefs inform my choice of career. My passion for medicine stems from a declaration in Islam and various other traditions that saving one person’s life is equivalent to saving all of mankind. Through my work with the Interfaith Youth Core during my undergraduate years at Georgetown University and as an Ambassador for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, I have come to realize that religious communities—like all social structures—can be divisive or, when harnessed correctly, can be powerful catalysts for social improvement. Fortunately, the medical field is especially conducive to interfaith engagement because the concepts of service and human dignity are always implicit. In addition, physicians are one of the most religiously-diverse populations in the United States, and providers are increasingly recognizing the importance of religious literacy in medical education.

Over the next several months, I hope to introduce other students to religious diversity in the healthcare world, and to provide opportunities for my classmates to reflect on their personal motivations and values (whether or not those they come from a religious background) for pursuing medicine. I also look forward to finding connections between existing student organizations and facilitating dialogues on important topics such as mental health, reproductive health, and organ donation.

While becoming a physician, I also want to be at the forefront of the interfaith movement’s expansion into the healthcare world. I would be interested in collaborating with similar proposals that bridge the areas of religion and medicine, and presenting our work at the upcoming Parliament of the World’s Religions in 2015. I intend to demonstrate that religion and science can work together rather than in opposition. I am guided by one of my favorite verses from the Quran: “Had God willed, He would have made mankind as a single religion [or community], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so strive with each other for virtue (5:48).

Aamir Hussain is a first-year medical student at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. . A recent graduate of Georgetown University, Aamir became an interfaith programs facilitator through leadership training introduced by the Interfaith Youth Core and now serves as an Ambassador of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. 

Connect with Aamir on Twitter at @AamirNHussain and stay up to date on his blog on the Huffington Post.

Abe’s Babes: Interfaith Theater to Counter Prejudice at the Dinner Table

When we encounter systemic racism, we know where our moral obligation lies. We speak out. But what happens when prejudice finds its way into the most intimate setting, the dinner table? “Well, you know how they are. They can’t be reasoned with. Could you please pass the salt?”

Abe’s Babes members dine together around their own laden table. Credit: Yvonne Perczuk.//TikkunDaily

Disparaging comments about another group are unfortunately common in many communities. When these kinds of off-hand remarks emerge in our own homes or in the homes of our friends, how are we supposed to respond? Abe’s Babes, a group of six Jewish, Muslim, and Christian women in Sydney, Australia, may have found an answer.

After experiencing this brand of “dinner table prejudice” in Sydney’s Muslim and Jewish communities, the group decided to confront the issue with a creative weapon: theater. Collectively, they wrote a play called The Laden Table, which tells of two meals – a Jewish family breaking their Yom Kippur fast and a Muslim family celebrating Eid. After seven years of hard work, the first professional production will take place in Sydney on the nights of July 30, July 31, and August 1.

After hearing prejudiced remarks about Muslims at a Jewish dinner table, Yvonne Perczuk, one of the founders of the playwriting group, felt deeply disturbed. Realizing that similar conversations were taking place in Muslim homes, she decided something had to be done about misconceptions harbored in both communities.

“The fear of the other, the fear of the unknown – all of those fears come out at the dinner table,” Perczuk said. “They come out in a spontaneous way so that’s where you hear the truths about how people feel.”

Based in part on her family background, Perczuk was particularly unsettled by this form of racism. “The sort of comments I heard at the dinner table really shocked me and upset me because my parents were Holocaust survivors,” said Perczuk. “It’s this kind of prejudice that they were victims of. When I heard it coming from my own community, I found it most distressing.” After some soul-searching, the idea to create The Laden Table emerged – a play that would highlight the problem of dinner table prejudice while involving members of both communities in a creative, collaborative project. Seeking out likeminded people with a theater background, Perczuk found her Muslim co-facilitator and “partner-in-crime” Nur Alam, along with Abe’s Babes’ original core members Raya Gadir, Jumaadi, Chris Hill, Ruth Kliman, and Marian Kernahan. The playwriting group decided on the name “Abe’s Babes,” a reference to its members’ shared Abrahamic religious heritage.

Creating the Play: A Constructive Response to Dinner Table Prejudice

“Our whole project is about making relationships better, fostering understanding,” said Nur Alam. For her and other members of the Abe’s Babes team, the interactions between participants during the process have been just as important as the final production. Every time the group completed a new draft of the script, they invited members from the Jewish and Muslim communities to Alam’s house for workshops, where they could read the script and give feedback over Alam’s own table laden with snacks. The project encouraged members of both communities who “would have never ever in their lives sat with a Jew or a Muslim” to talk and listen to each other’s stories. The process, Alam said, has gotten people to “share and to talk about their cultures and customs, and go, ‘Oh, I do that,’ ‘Oh, really? So do we.’” For some, the experience has been quite powerful. A Muslim contributor, for example, was in tears at one workshop after reading the script aloud. He hadn’t realized some of the experiences underwent by the other community, he explained, and could now better see their perspective. Ultimately, “the play’s been a living thing that’s been nourished by both communities,” Perczuk said.

Abe’s Babes co-facilitator Nur Alam lights Chanukah candles with the rest of the Abe’s Babes team. Credit: Yvonne Perczuk.//TikkunDaily

Now that the play is finished, the team hopes members of Sydney’s Muslim and Jewish communities can connect over the experience of watching the production. “I’m looking forward to seeing members of both communities sitting in the audience and actually rubbing shoulders with people from the other group and experiencing the play together,” said Perczuk.

As the audience watches characters participate in and struggle with dinner table prejudice, the Abe’s Babes team hopes the play will challenge them to confront themselves about their own misconceptions and table talk. Raya Gadir pointed out that the theater may be the best setting for this to happen. “Growing up in an Israeli home, people were never afraid to confront each other with strong opinions,” she said. ” I realize that sometimes with all this confrontation people don’t listen actually to each other. They just say what they want to say. And in theater people are actually listening.”

Gadir went on to joke that, if the audience leaves in the middle of the play, Abe’s Babes can rest assured that the play made them think. “We’re not tiptoeing around things,” she said. “We want them to think about things. We don’t want to resolve anything.” As Alam described it, the goal of The Laden Table is to hold a mirror up to the audience. The play “creates a distance between you and yourself and you actually see how you behave and hopefully that gives you a new way of looking at yourself,” said Perczuk. Alam pointed out that, if even one person can see himself in the characters and, as a result, reexamines his own preconceived notions, the play will have been a success. “That one person is part of a family and, if those children at that table of that one person are not infected by the racism that they would normally be infected by, then it’s not only the one person. It’s all their family and all their children and hopefully their children,” Perczuk added. While the group cannot imagine having a “tsunami effect” they hope to create “a tiny drip,” as Marian Kernahan put it, which can make larger ripples. “This is what we hope will happen, that we can recognize our common humanity and create perhaps just a little bit of friendship and harmony in our society,” Kernahan said.

Where Do We Come In?

But how can we – as Jews, Muslims, and members of other communities – create our own ripple effect to confront dinner table prejudice? Alam said that, on a practical level, the first step to combatting prejudice in a communal setting is simply being conscious of it when it happens. “Recognize it for what it is. When you recognize the problem you can start doing something creative,” she said. But before coming up with new, innovative solutions, Alam suggests that a bystander simply disengage. “One of our sayings in the Quran is if you don’t like people sitting there gossiping, either ask them to stop it or just get up and walk away,” she said. Perczuk describes this approach as a form of passive resistance. “I’ve been in that situation and I’ve walked away guilty because I haven’t said anything at the time,” she said. “But I then think about it now and, if I had said something, it would have just created an explosion at the table and that’s not productive.” Perczuk suggests that, when you leave a situation in which another group is put down, the next step is to think of a constructive way to counter the overarching prejudice.

Ultimately, Abe’s Babes encourages other Muslim and Jewish communities to raise awareness about dinner table prejudice by engaging in projects like The Laden Table in their own cities. According to Ruth Kliman, the key is to get communities working together on a project that involves weeks or months of work, culminating in a final product they can take pride in together. “That journey is the essence of the whole thing,” she said. Kliman stressed how this process made the Abe’s Babes team into lasting friends, who meet weekly since the project began. “When we don’t see each other once a week, it’s terrible!” she said. Perczuk explained that an imaginative project like The Laden Table creates new friendships and enables people to engage with each other honestly without sidestepping controversy when talking about dinner table prejudice.

“I think if you actually want to challenge some of those negative stereotypes, if you want to confront the prejudice head-on, you need something where people actually touch one another, are working together, and find out about each other,” Perczuk said, “not simply by dialoguing but actually working on something creative, so there are sparks flying, there are tensions, and the real people come out.”

VIA TIKKUN DAILY | REPUBLISHED WITH PERMISSION | By Sara Weissman | Print Editorial Intern 

Sara Weissman is an undergraduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, earning her B.A. in History with a minor in Religious Studies. 


October 30th, 2014 at 1:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized []

Sanctuary 101: How Churches and Synagogues are Stopping Deportations

This article was written by Esther Meroño and was originally published on groundswell-mvmt.org.

The Sanctuary Movement has been rebirthed this year, with over 100 congregations supporting moral action to help our undocumented brothers and sisters in need. Here’s what you need to know.

1. SANCTUARY IS OLD NEWS—LIKE, BACK WHEN SCROLLS WERE WHAT YOU READ, NOT WHAT YOU DO THROUGH YOUR TWITTER FEED.

Sanctuary is when faith communities offer safe havens – and they’ve been doing it from the beginning of the Old Testament, to the times of slavery and the Underground Railroad, to housing Jews during WWII, to the draft during the Vietnam War.

In fact, Sanctuary 2014 was inspired by a church in Arizona successfully keeping a family together this year (more on that below). That church – Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson – actually founded the official Sanctuary Movement 30 years ago during the 1980s, when churches took in refugees from Central America fleeing U.S.-funded civil wars.1

2. SANCTUARY ISN’T ABOUT POLITICS—IT’S ABOUT FAMILIES AND FAITH.

This isn’t about left or right, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. People supporting Sanctuary are connected, not by political affiliations or specific faith tradition, but through a shared moral responsibility to compassion and justice. Families get torn apart is morally wrong, so we take action together to stop it.

That’s where faith comes in. Nobody questions God’s commandment against murder or stealing. But our faith also calls us to do something a little harder: Welcome the stranger and care for the most vulnerable.

Some people make excuses. They say things like, “Well, these people came to our country illegally.” The Sanctuary movement recognizes that no one is illegal – that we are all brothers and sisters made in the image of God. And, as MLK wrote in his letter from Birmingham Jail, “There are just laws and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all… One who breaks an unjust law must do it openly, lovingly.”

 

3. SANCTUARY IS EMERGENCY MORAL ACTION—BECAUSE OUR GOVERNMENT LEADERS HAVE FAILED TO ACT AND OUR LAWS ARE BROKEN.

We have a promise from President Obama that at some point “soon” he will reform our country’s deportation policies to end the suffering of families. But right now? Over 1,000 deportations happen each day, tearing apart families and communities.

There are immigrants in our country who have been waiting *decades* for legislative action to find a legal path to citizenship, but as Congress stalls and Obama pushes executive action further away, these families continue to suffer.

Let’s check out the Scripture on this. In Ezekiel 22, God is pissed. He says, “The people of the land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger. So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it.” When there is oppression, God calls for someone to stand in the gap and do the moral, just thing. Sanctuary is emergency moral action – standing in the gap to protect the wrongfully oppressed.

4. UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS ARE OUR NEIGHBORS.

We know scripture says “Welcome the stranger” – but actually, the immigrants facing deportations are not strangers at all. They are mothers and fathers, friends and neighbors, community leaders and volunteers. We see them every day, but they’re disappearing from their homes and communities.

Those in Sanctuary are our brothers and sisters. Sanctuary lifts up their prophetic story and courage to show us the impact of our broken immigration laws.

It’s the personal stories of our neighbors like Rosa, Luis, Beatriz , and Francisco that show us how when any of us suffers from injustice, we all do.

5. IS SANCTUARY BREAKING THE LAW?

Law is a lot like scripture – it’s up to your interpretation. There is a law against bringing in and harboring persons not authorized to be in the U.S. (INA Sec.274) While we are clearly not bringing people in, whether we are harboring someone is up for interpretation.

Some courts have interpreted harboring to require concealment of a person. When we declare Sanctuary for an individual, we are bringing them into the light of the community, not concealing them in the dark of secrecy. (U.S. V Costello, 66 F.3d 1040 (7th Cir. 2012)) Other courts have interpreted harboring to be simple sheltering. (U.S. V Acosta de Evans, 531 F.2d 428 (9th Cir. 1976))

Quick reminder: Rescuing slaves via the Underground Railroad and protecting Jews from Nazis in WWII was illegal at the time. Our saving grace is that immigration officials know that if they went into a house of worship to arrest a pastor they would have a public relations nightmare on their hands.

Meanwhile, here are two immigration policies you should know about that relate to Sanctuary:

1) “Sensitive Areas” – There’s no official legislation that keeps law enforcement from entering a church to arrest someone outside of a 2011 ICE memo that advises officials to avoid detaining immigrants in “sensitive areas” like schools, hospitals and churches2. But can you imagine what would happen if immigration officials broke into a church to drag away a mom? Plus, God’s on our side, you guys.

2) “Prosecutorial Discretion” – Activists and faith leaders are using ICE’s own policies of “prosecutorial discretion” to argue that these immigration cases are low-priority. Deportation would only serve to break up a family and the community that supports them.

6. BUT THERE ARE SOME RISKS.

Though no one has been arrested in 2014, in the 1980s, a handful of clergy, nuns and laymen were convicted in “The Sanctuary Trials” for their efforts on behalf of immigrants3. Faith leaders today are

CONTINUE READING ON GROUNDSWELL MOVEMENT

October 23rd, 2014 at 9:49 am

Compassion Week Cultivates Empathy and Compassion in All Areas of Life


Compassion Week is a joint initiative of the Tenzin Gyatso Institute, Stanford University’s CCARE, The Charter for Compassion, and Dignity Health, and it coming to San Francisco in a few weeks time. It will include 5 days of events featuring conferences on The Science of Compassion and Compassion and Healthcare, and will a feature an all day event highlighting The Charter for Compassion.

Compassion Week brings together doctors, civic leaders, scholars, mindfulness practitioners, and society at large to address how holistically and economically practical an investment practicing compassion can be in all institutions and areas of living.

Speakers include: Arturo Bejar, lead engineer at Facebook, The Honorable Mayor Greg Fischer, Louisville, KY and other Mayors, Dr. Dan Siegel, Dr. Rick Hanson, Julia Kim, M.D., Karen Armstrong, Dr. Paul Gilbert, Michael Imperioli, Dr. Paul Ekman, Angelica Berrie, Tom William, Esq, Dr. Eve Ekman, Dr. Yotam Heineberg.

The Parliament of World Religions is a proud Sponsoring Partner of  Compassion Week.

Empathy and Compassion in Society is a forum for anyone wishing to explore what compassion is, how to cultivate and enhance it, and what benefits it can bring to individuals, and modern society as a whole.

The conference will present well researched methods for cultivating empathy and compassion, show the benefits these methods have to enhance ones personal and professional life, and share concrete examples of organizations and public institutions that have effectively employed them.

Internationally renowned neuroscientists, psychologists, decision-makers, leaders and researchers will share their insights, methodology, and benefits observed from cultivating compassion. Innovators are also invited to submit case studies demonstrating how the implementation of a focus on compassion has been a force for change in their area of work.

Highlights this year include talks, Q&A, workshops, networking and panel discussions with Karen Armstrong, Dr Dan Siegel, Dr Paul Ekman, Arturo Bejar, Michael Imperioli, Dr Julia Kim, mayors who are leading the way with ‘Compassionate Cities’ initiatives, and other innovators in the field.

The conference is aimed at professionals from all walks of life, including management, policy, law, health and social care, business, the arts and philanthropy.

Empathy and Compassion in Society is a non-profit event sponsored by a partnership of charities. A free youth gathering for schools will take place November 12th, the day preceding the opening of the conference.

Learn more about Compassion Week or click here to register!

 

October 23rd, 2014 at 9:36 am

Peacefully Resolving Conflicts, Thinking Creatively of Non-Violent Options

Rev. Robert V. Thompson, Former 
Chair of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, considers alternative methods of bringing about peace using creative thinking and being attentive to conflicts at their earliest stages.

This op-ed was originally published in Chicago Tribune on December 5, 2001 

Because we Americans are suckers for the quick fix we want to believe the war on terrorism will be won through military action, improved intelligence, stemming the flow of terrorist money and stepped-up national security.

While most of us believe these policies will solve the problem, many of us are plagued by a palpable uneasiness and persistent ambivalence. We are, after all, an intensely empathic people. We care very much about the plight of the Afghan people and it is not OK with us that one more time, innocent people are being offered as a sacrifice on the altar of a just cause. Equally unsettling is the gnawing awareness that terrorism is the face rather than the heart of the problem. If we destroy terrorists in Afghanistan, where do we go next? Is it back to Iraq or on to Indonesia? And it is common knowledge that our war in Afghanistan will likely create hundreds or perhaps thousands of new terrorists. Where will it end?

Bill Ury, author of “The Third Side,” has extensive experience in creative non-violent conflict resolution. Ury says terrorism, for that matter any form of violence, is comparable to a virus. He says terrorism, like a virus, lies sleeping, spreads throughout the body and attacks, as if from out of nowhere. It flourishes when the world’s immune system is weak.

I asked Ury what might have been different had we had a strong global immune system prior to Sept. 11. He said, “Witnesses might have informed us of the terrorists’ plans. Peacekeepers the world over might have frustrated the terrorists and taken them into custody. Healers would have been healing the wounds of the Islamic world. Mediators would have been working hard to resolve the obvious conflicts like that of Israel-Palestine. Teachers would have been at work teaching other ways of dealing with differences and about the tragic futility of violence. Providers would have been addressing the conditions of poverty and oppression that often breed terrorism. Bridge-builders would have been building bridges between the Islamic and Western world. Arbiters, equalizers, referees would all have been at work.”

peaceful resolution

Every person has a role to play in strengthening the global immune system. Every human being can become a peace keeper, healer, mediator and teacher of non-violent conflict resolution. We can do this in our homes, schools, neighborhoods, religious communities, nation, and around the world. This is an infinitely greater challenge than flying a flag or singing the national anthem on key. We are now being called to this greater patriotism. One like that envisioned by Martin Luther King Jr., who said, “No nation can live alone . . . we are tied together in a single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.”

This wisdom, this greater patriotism is the awareness that a healed and renewed America cannot exist apart from a healed and renewed world. And history has taught us that if the people will lead, the leaders will follow. 

Copyright © 2001, Chicago Tribune

 

Robert Thompson Rev. Robert V. Thompson – Parliament Chair Emeritus. A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, Bob Thompson graduated from Berkeley Baptist Divinity School (Graduate Theological Union) and was ordained an American Baptist minister in 1973. He served American Baptist Churches in Kansas, Ohio, and for 30 years, as Senior Minister of the Lake Street Church in Evanston, Illinois. During the 1980′s Thompson became an activist pastor focusing on issues such as homelessness, racial reconciliation and advocacy for LGBT rights. He is the author of A Voluptuous God: A Christian Heretic Speaks (CopperHouse, 2007) and a contributor to the book for preachers, Feasting On the Word, Westminster John Knox Press.

October 14th, 2014 at 9:50 am

Contemporary Film: A Source For Theological Reflection

Religion and filmParliament Trustee Robert Sellers discusses film as a means of reflecting on human drama occurring across the globe, and as a springboard for conversation regarding shared values and the role of Religions therein.

Every couple of years, I offer a course for both undergraduate and graduate students at my university entitled “Religion and Film.” This theology-prefix course, offered on the Friday nights and Saturday mornings of about half of the semester weekends, is identified by the following course description: “An exploration of the relationship of modern film and religion, particularly Christianity. The focus will be upon theological interpretations of the characters and plots of selected mainstream movies. Students will have an opportunity to explore how specific spiritual and ethical motifs are treated in film.”

Some may question why movies should be a source for theological reflection. There are several good reasons. First, the Divine doesn’t only confront us in sacred texts, so we are challenged to grapple with the Mystery and to “read the text” in all of life’s experiences. Second, the visual and audio, and, (now, even) 4D capabilities of contemporary films greatly enhance the impact that they can contribute to those who experience them. Third, many screenwriters, directors, and actors consciously determine to communicate profound insights through their work, yet many movie viewers assume that films do little more than entertain, which is a notion that should be challenged. And, finally, film is perhaps the most popular artistic medium today, and the largest demographic of moviegoers are young people—the very group that, regardless of their religious (or non-religious) background, might learn to appreciate the power that a good story has to shape one’s moral character.

The way in which I structure my class meetings enables students to watch 14 films during our sessions together, as well as to participate in small group presentations at the end of the semester. Seminar members write a theological reflection on each movie, focused upon a suggested theme such as life, identity, guilt, forgiveness, pain, coping, faith, hope, love, trust, redemption, transformation, acceptance, and interdependence.

Some students enter the course expecting to view overtly religious movies—Christian films, to be precise, since my university has Baptist roots and distinctiveness. But they suppose the course title “Religion and Film” really means “Religion in Film,” and thus we’ll be watching movies that serve an apologetic function, like The Passion of the Christ (2004) or God is Not Dead (2014), or at least films where some perceived Christian virtue is dramatized, as in Facing the Giants (2006). These young people may also believe the movies I select will unequivocally demonstrate the superiority of “our” faith by portraying the bad behavior of persons who aren’t Christ-followers.the bridges of madison county

Other students think that finding a theological meaning in a movie simply requires identifying the story element that is contrary to their own particular religious upbringing. Thus, they will write a paper decrying marriage unfaithfulness in The Bridges of Madison County (1995), greed in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), or sexual abuse in The Kite Runner (2007). But the theological meanings I want them to engage are more subtle and more gray than black or white. The Bridges of Madison County, for example, could yield a helpful discussion about choices, The Wolf of Wall Street about consequences, and The Kite Runner about redemption.

Such assumptions, however, are wrong and have nothing to do with my purpose or approach. What I want to do is to acquaint students with the human drama as it unfolds in many cultures and among people of different religious traditions. Thus, some of the films I select originate in countries other than the United States, while the values implicitly or explicitly expressed in the stories are grounded not only in Christianity, but in a variety of other religious traditions. Films of this type that I’ve used productively include In a Better World (Denmark, 2010), The Sea Inside (Spain, 2004), Rabbit-Proof Fence (Australia, 2002), Monsieur Lazhar (Canada, 2012), The Color of Paradise (Iran, 1999), Tsotsi (South Africa, 2005), Ajami (Israel, 2009), Innocent Voices (Mexico, 2005), and Five Minutes of Heaven (Ireland, 2009).

I’ve discovered that movies can also stimulate rich conversations concerning perspectives from the Religious Other and, especially, about ways to relate to persons who follow other faiths. One of the best entrees to such a discussion is the sweet story Stolen Summer (2002). Students are particularly interested discussing their idea of the themes in two cinematically gorgeous films by Ron Fricke, neither with a plot or dialogue, entitled Baraka (1992) and Samsara (2011). These visual and emotional “masterpieces” elicit multiple interpretations.

Based upon several years of successfully challenging very bright university students to think creatively about pop culture, I heartily recommend that films be used to initiate conversations about our shared values and virtues as people who practice various religions. They not only entertain hundreds of millions of people around the world—including a host of faithful adherents of our own spiritual traditions—but they are often reservoirs of helpful theological insight about the Divine, our fellow human beings, and the world which we all share.

Robert Sellers

Robert P. Sellers is professor of missions and theology at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, and represents Cooperative Baptist Fellowship on the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches, USA.  He is a member of the Board of Trustee of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.

October 9th, 2014 at 12:19 pm