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Bussy-Saint-Georges, the Town with Built-in Religious Harmony

Photography Credit to Philippe Wojazer/Reuters from the Guardian.

Workmen prepare the European Regional Temple in Bussy-Saint Georges.

by Stephanie Le Bars
from The Guardian Weekly

Hugues Rondeau is the Radical party mayor of Bussy-Saint-Georges, a new town in the Paris suburbs. His taste for “ordered urban space” has led to an innovation: the multi-faith district. On a plot of land just beyond the built-up area, he has authorised the construction of several places of worship.

“Here there will be two Buddhist temples, a mosque, a synagogue, a Chinese evangelical church and an Armenian cultural centre,” said the mayor, a practising Catholic who is convinced that in a secular state the government should not turn a blind eye to religious fact. “Our 30,000 inhabitants are mostly of foreign origin with 45% from Asia,” he said. “We couldn’t deprive them of their religious practice.”

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Colorado Churches Remember, Reflect on Aurora Theater Shooting

Photo credit to Helen H. Richardson from the Denver Post.

Parishioners of the Potter House Church worshipping in a powerful service dedicated to the victims of the Aurora theater shooting.

by Elana Ashanti Jefferson, Kurtis Lee and Kristen Browning-Blas
from The Denver Post

Few things soothe like the familiar.

For parishioners in and around Aurora on Sunday, that meant coming together for worship and perspective in the aftermath of a far-reaching act of public violence.

Church leaders rose to the occasion.

“You can’t just not mention it,” Eleanor VanDeusen, religious education director for children and youth at Foothills Unitarian Church in Fort Collins, said of Friday’s movie-theater shooting that left 12 dead and dozens more injured. “When these horrific events happen, we really come back to that idea of community and connection.”

Sierra Graves, 20, Derrick Poage, 22, and Naya Thompson, 22, went together Friday to see “The Dark Knight Rises” at the Century Aurora 16 theater. After an anxious, sleepless weekend and several national media interviews, the friends were together again Sunday, calm and composed, for an uplifting 11 a.m. service at Restoration Christian Fellowship, about 2 miles from the shooting site. The service began with 20 minutes of prayer and reflection around the massacre.

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July 25th, 2012 at 12:45 pm

From Steeples to Domes, Architecture Reflects Religious Diversity

Photo Credit to John Gillis from The Daily News Journal

The pinnacle of Shri Krishna Pranami Mission Hindu Temple in Christiana.

from The Daily News Journal
by Scott Broden and Doug Davis

Religious architecture is all about helping believers worship.

Whether it comes to church bell towers, steeples and crosses or mosque minarets and domes, the designs are ways for the congregation to keep the faith. The Daily News Journal recently visited a number of these houses of worship throughout Rutherford County to learn how architecture plays a role in their religion.

Located in rural Christiana, the 12,799-square-foot Hindu Shri Krishna Pranami temple completed in 2009 is, on the surface, a stark contrast to the traditional homes and farms that make up this tight-knit community. But it’s that rural quality, that “incredible natural beauty” that made the community an ideal fit for the temple and its followers, according to Vippin Aggarwal, speaking on behalf of Temple President Hasmukhbhai Savalia.

Michelle Obama: “No Place Better” for Political Issues Than in Church

Photo Credit Wikipedia

First Lady Michelle Obama

by Adelle M. Banks
from Religion News Service

First lady Michelle Obama held up the church as the place to deal with political issues and the catalyst for getting people to the polls in a keynote speech Thursday (June 28) to members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“You see, living out our eternal salvation is not a once-a-week kind of deal,” she said in a keynote speech at the historically black denomination’s quadrennial General Conference in Nashville, Tenn.

“And in a more literal sense, neither is citizenship.”

She noted that Jesus, too, did not keep his work within the walls of the church.

“And to anyone who says that church is no place to talk about these issues, you tell them there is no place better — no place better,”   she said. “Because ultimately, these are not just political issues — they are moral issues.”

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U.S. Southern Baptists Elect First Black President

Fred Luter, newly elected leader of the Southern Baptist Convention.

by Kathy Finn
from Reuters

The largest U.S. Protestant denomination chose its first black president on Tuesday, an historic election for the predominately white religious group as it seeks to better reflect the diversity of the country and its membership.

Fred Luter, a New Orleans pastor and civic leader, ran unopposed for the top post in the 167-year-old Southern Baptist Convention, which counts a growing number of minorities among its 16 million members.

His election to a one-year term was met by thunderous applause and a standing ovation from the thousands of Southern Baptists attending the convention’s annual meeting in New Orleans.

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How Should Baptists Relate to Persons of Other Faiths?

by Robert Sellers

How should Baptists relate to persons of other faiths?  “Where am I going to meet someone like that?” might be the question of many Baptists, especially in the “Bible Belt” of the deep South.  Well, we no longer need to travel internationally to encounter them.  Here in this country they are our office colleagues, university classmates, town merchants and healthcare workers, active-duty soldiers, or local firefighters and police officers.  They congregate in community centers and shopping districts of our large cities, establishing an ethnic, cultural quarter that is distinct and well-defined.  They lobby city councils and zoning boards for permission to build mosques, temples, gurdwaras, or synagogues on quiet, tree-lined streets.  They manage play groups and summer camps, participate in science fairs and musical competitions, and conduct food and craft bazaars.  Most importantly, such families are living in our suburban neighborhoods, where we meet them at backyard barbecues and pool parties.  At school their youngsters become our children’s and grandchildren’s friends and competitors and may one day become our daughters- and sons-in law.  None of these new realities should surprise anyone, for this growing segment of our population belongs here, for they too are Americans.

Yet, the increasing cultural and religious plurality in the United States, coupled with recent world events, makes it difficult for many Americans to know just how to relate to minority religious and ethnic groups.  My immediate concern here, however, is how Baptist Americans—those of my own religious heritage—think about and treat our neighbors of other faiths.

CERTAINLY NOT WITH FEAR AND STEREOTYPING

There are several ways of relating to religious others.  One approach that is totally unproductive and damaging is to react with fear and stereotyping.  There is evidence of this negativity all around us.  Books that claim to know the “truth” about other religions line the shelves of popular Christian bookstores.  Internet “you-won’t-believe-it!” stories about religions and their practitioners are forwarded, perhaps by millions of church members, without regard for whether the accounts are factual or kind—or simply constitute urban legends, political propaganda, or hate-mongering.  Regrettably, Baptist leaders—the most recent being Robert Jeffress—make public statements that draw critical reactions and portray an intolerant spirit.

According to Harvard professor Diana Eck: “Without question, some Americans are afraid of the changing face of our country.  After all, the first response to difference is often suspicion and fear.”#  This nebulous fearfulness expresses itself in stereotypical thinking and unkind generalizations.  Reacting with fear and stereotyping, however, is uncivil and unchristian, yet Baptists have not been guiltless in this regard.  One particularly harsh judgment, for example, was made by Baptist Franklin Graham, who in the aftermath of 9-11 called Islam “a very evil and wicked religion.”#  Speaking to NBC News in 2001, he remarked: “It wasn’t Methodists flying into those buildings, and it wasn’t Lutherans.  It was an attack on this country by people of the Islamic faith.”#  Graham’s generalization circled the globe via the internet and painted Baptists worldwide in harsh shades of black and white.  As an institution dedicated to proselytism, the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board has produced Prayer Guides that direct members of the denomination, especially during the high holy days of individual religions, to pray for “lost” Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, and Muslims who are bound by “confusing and mistaken belief[s]” and who practice “meaningless rituals.”#

Fomenting fear of followers of other faiths by making grossly stereotypical observations and patently untrue accusations—or uncritically passing along such inflammatory material—will not encourage peace or cooperation.  May Baptists never build walls when we ought to construct bridges.

NOT EVEN WITH INDIFFERENCE OR TOLERATION

A second possible approach to religious others is to act with indifference or toleration.  Perhaps we believe that tolerating differences is the best way, because it is a moral solution with impressive historical roots.  The Greek moralist Plato considered the crowning human virtue to be “harmonious action [that] forges a link between [an] individual and [others within society].”#  Immannuel Kant, the German Enlightenment rationalist, argued that people should act in such a way that they could be satisfied were their action the universal behavioral norm.#  These lofty European ideals were preceded by parallel sentiments from Asia.   Confucius taught his followers to cultivate loyalty, humanity, integrity, mutual respect, personal self-restraint, and harmonious family and social relationships.#  Similarly, the ancient Buddhist philosopher Shantideva taught that “[i]f you can cultivate the right attitude, your enemies are your best spiritual teachers because their presence provides you with the opportunity to enhance and develop tolerance, patience, and understanding.”#  So, tolerating others is certainly better than not tolerating them!

The problem with toleration, however, is that it may just be a polite word for “indifference.”   Diana Eck acknowledges that “[a]lthough tolerance is no doubt a step forward from intolerance, it does not require new neighbors to know anything about one another.  Tolerance can create a climate of restraint but not one of understanding.”#  Tolerance becomes indifference if its mantra morphs from “we all have a right to be ourselves” to “let them just be whoever they want.”  Whenever our language turns from talk of “we” to references to “they,” a dichotomy, a chasm, a rift has formed between us and them, between ourselves and the “Other.”

As America becomes more religiously and culturally pluralistic, some Baptists regrettably practice only toleration, mistaking the philosophical moral norm for the ethic of Jesus Christ, which is much more demanding.  May we never merely tolerate our multi-religious neighbors, much less treat them with indifference, as if they are not important to God.

BUT WITH COMPASSION AND FRIENDSHIP

How, then, should Baptists relate to religious others?  We need to respond with compassion and friendship.  Jesus is our model for approaching others.  He crossed multiple barriers that separated respectable religious folk of his day from the foreigners, disenfranchised, and marginalized of Palestinian society.  Toward a host of persons whom most merely tolerated, and others who were feared, stereotyped, and even violently oppressed, Jesus was inclusive, attentive, helpful, and befriending.

Of course, genuine friendships require honest communication, which necessitates both talking and listening—dialogue instead of monologue.  Also, friendships are always more successful where there is mutual esteem and a genuine interest in the other.  Such connections require both time and great patience.  This kind of relationship that stretches across cultural and religious barriers may be more difficult, but it is adventuresome and hugely rewarding.

CONCLUSION

Genesis 18, in the Hebrew Bible and Christian Old Testament, records the occasion when Abraham was sitting outside his tent at Mamre, seeking a breeze on a stiflingly hot Middle Eastern day.  Three strangers appeared in the hazy distance—perhaps enemies, clearly not a part of Abraham’s clan.  But, interestingly, Abraham eagerly went to greet the strangers, first falling down before them in an extravagant gesture of welcome, later offering a warm meal and place to rest in his personal tent.  British historian, comparative religionist, and author Karen Armstrong astutely notes that “during the ensuing conversation, it transpires quite naturally that one of these strangers is Abraham’s God.  The act of practical compassion led directly to a divine encounter.”#

It is my conviction, one I passionately hold, that most of the people who follow other faiths—like most Baptists—are good people who would like to tear down the walls of separation and build bridges of connection.  But in order for us to do our part, we must not react to them with fear and stereotyping.  We have to go beyond mere indifference or toleration.  The way forward, the way of Jesus, is to respond with compassion and friendship.  And, when we risk forging new friendships with our multi-religious neighbors, they will no longer be as strangers to us. Such a bonding can provide an experience of real transcendence, for in acting toward them in a godly fashion, we will be enriched by the evidences of God in them.

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 Trustees of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.

CPWR’s “Sacred Space” Program Visits Historic Old St. Pat’s Catholic Church

Sacred Space Event attendees view the beautiful architecture and learn about the Catholic faith at Old St. Pat's Cathedral, April 22nd.

by Sarah Fentem

On the chilly afternoon of April 22nd, visitors climbed the steps of a well-known Chicago landmark in the West Loop, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, otherwise known as “Old St. Pat’s.” The cathedral, located just West of Union Station on Adams Street, was the second-to-last venue in the Council for the Parliament of World Religion’s “Sharing Sacred Spaces” program.

“Sharing Sacred Spaces” was started in 2011 by architect Suzanne Morgan as a way to foster interreligious dialogue among different faith communities in Chicago. Each month, one of eight Chicago congregations opens its doors to participants in order to showcase their religious space and speak to the public about their beliefs and traditions.

Like most of the “Sacred Spaces” events, the Old St. Pat’s event began with an introduction to Catholic faith and beliefs, given by Keara Ette, the Director of Youth Ministry at the cathedral. Ette explained that “Catholic” means “relational”. Stemming from their belief in the Holy Trinity—a tri-personal God made up of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit—Catholics believe that God “is one that teaches life is all about relationships.”

Other beliefs that would be pinned to the Catholics’ “letter jacket”, as Ette humorously described the Catholic dogma, would be the belief in Jesus as the savior of humanity, the sacredness of the Scriptures, and the belief in a God desperate to reveal himself to humankind.

Catholics, said Ette, also love “stuff.” The Holy Sacraments—sacred rituals like matrimony and baptism— are a way God uses “the stuff of the world to become present to us.”

Unlike some religions, which preach separating oneself from material items, Catholics have a distinct love of accouterment. From the reading of the scripture and praying of the rosary to the taking of the Holy Eucharist, items, art, and iconography play a huge part in the religious lives of the faithful.

Indeed, Old St. Pat’s brims with “stuff” symbolizing, celebrating, and reflecting Catholics’ relationship with God. While a popular conception of cathedrals paints them as dark, imposing places, when one walks into Old St. Pat’s, they feel as if they have walked inside a giant Easter egg. The walls are painted a pale pinky-taupe, so as to draw attention to the elaborate Celtic knot motifs that decorate nearly every surface, including the ceiling. Splendid windows, which appear to be made of melted jolly ranchers in every flavor imaginable, depict likenesses of the saints. (The famous triptych in the rear, representing faith, hope, and charity, is known as one of the finest examples of Celtic Revival art.) Even the pews are curved in a way that represents the ribs of Christ.

“Art is one of the ways we believe we can connect with the Great Creator”, said Ette.

Notable not only for its decorative interior, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is also known as an institution whose history closely parallels that of the City of Chicago. Old St. Pat’s docent and tour director Jim McLaughlin explained the church was built to cater to Irish immigrants who settled in Chicago during the mid-19th century.  As more immigrants flooded into the area to escape the Great Famine and find work building the Illinois and Michigan Canal, the congregation grew so much that a new, bigger Cathedral had to be built. The present building, completed in 1856, stands as the oldest public building in Chicago.

Two of the most seminal events in Chicago’s history are tightly interwoven with the 1956 building: The first, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, was arguably the biggest disaster the city has ever seen. Miraculously, though, St. Patrick’s escaped destruction-a change in wind carried the conflagration back across the Chicago River and away from the cathedral.

Secondly, the city hosted The World’s Columbian Exhibition in 1993, which brought visitors from all over the country to the Windy City. For the cathedral though, the most important visitor to the Exposition already lived in the city-a Chicago newspaper artist named Thomas A. O’Shaughnessy. Inspired by the Celtic art he saw at the fair, the young artist spent the next decade researching Celtic imagery and perfecting the art of stained glass. In 1912, 15 magnificent windows were installed, each inspired by images O’Shaughnessy found in the Book of Kells, one of the world’s oldest gospels. The “Faith Window” at the rear of the Church has been called “the most spectacular window around.” McLaughlin pointed out there were more than 2000 different tints of color represented in the windows.

Despite O’Shaughnessy’s unduplicated work, attendance dwindled in the mid-century, caused mainly by the neighborhood’s decline and the Cathedral’s proximity to Skid Row.  Two women were stabbed while staying in the church’s rectory. One Christmas mass had only 12 people in attendance.

The fate of the church started to turn with the arrival of Fr. John Wall, who came to Old St. Pat’s in 1983 when church attendance was at its nadir. Within 15 years, Fr. Wall revitalized the congregation through youth outreach programs, most famously founding the St. Patrick’s block party, the world’s largest, which brings thousands of young Christians downtown.  The young people started bringing their families, and by 2012 the cathedral boasted congregants from over 200 zip codes.

Today St. Patrick’s is considered one of the most famous churches in the city. The newly restored building not only mirrors the history of Chicago and its people, but also celebrates the space where the human and the divine intersect.

Impressive stuff indeed.

 

Click here to learn more about Sacred Spaces and join us at our next event!

A Church, a Shul and a Mosque Try Faithful Experiment

By Naomi Zeveloff
From The Jewish Daily Forward

Deep in America’s heartland, a Reform synagogue, a nondenominational mosque and an Episcopalian church are all putting down roots on a 37-acre tract of land that once belonged to a Jewish country club. A body of water called Hell Creek runs through the development, over which the faith groups plan to build “Heaven’s Bridge.”

Fantastical as it sounds, this interfaith campus is currently in the works in Omaha, Neb. Slated for completion in 2014, the Tri-Faith Initiative is an experiment in religious coexistence in a city better known as a hub of corn-fed conservatism.

“The only other place where such a thing exists is Jerusalem,” said Dr. Syed Mohiuddin, chairman of the Creighton University School of Medicine. Mohiuddin’s organization, the American Institute of Islamic Studies and Culture, is building a mosque on the campus. “Jerusalem is so important to these three faiths. We are sort of reproducing that model.”

If the experiment works, the city of Omaha — with a metropolitan area population of about 900,000, including 5,500 Jews, 6,000 Muslims and 4,500 Episcopalians — will become a beacon of cooperation in a world of interreligious strife. But before that can happen, the three groups still need to navigate fears, stereotypes and bureaucratic hang-ups.

The story of the Tri-Faith Initiative began with a simple quest for a parking lot. Temple Israel, the largest synagogue in Omaha, is located in the city’s congested downtown district. On the High Holy Days, the Reform congregation borrows parking space from its two neighbors, the Omaha Community Playhouse and the First United Methodist Church. When Temple Israel’s leaders decided to relocate the congregation to West Omaha, where many of the synagogue’s members now live, they reached out to Mohiuddin, who was planning a nondenominational mosque in the same neighborhood.

“It wasn’t a directive from the rabbi to say, ‘Go get with this group of Muslims,’” said Jon Meyers, a board member at Temple Israel. “Having said that, we realized: ‘Hey, this is a really cool thing. Why don’t we look at exploring this?’”

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December 21st, 2011 at 10:45 am

The Surprising Effect of Religious Devotion on Suicide Attacks

From The Huffington Post

We all have our personal “theories” about what motivates religious terrorists. To go from personal theories to real ones, we need to study the issue scientifically. One recent study draws the provocative conclusion that ritual participation more than religious belief may be behind suicide attacks.

From a scientific standpoint a suicide attack represents an extreme form of parochial altruism — a self-sacrificial act made on behalf of one’s in-group, involving aggression against an out-group. Religious belief, some have argued, is the prime motivator for such an attack. The attacker believes that his or her sacrifice will lead to a glorious reward in the afterlife (e.g., Islam’s famous 70-some-odd virgins-awaiting). This explanation can be called the “belief hypothesis,” and it would predict that those who demonstrate increased devotion to religious beliefs or deities would be more supportive of suicide attacks. In the context of a recent study (Ginges et al., Psychological Science, 20, p. 224), devotion was measured by prayer frequency. Thus, those who prayed more were assumed to be more devoted, and some preliminary analyses confirmed that this was indeed the case.

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