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The Power of Interfaith-Based Community Organizing

LA Voiceby Minister Zachary Hoover

On May 15, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously passed the Responsible Banking Ordinance, which requires banks seeking city contracts to disclose detailed information about their lending and foreclosure practices. This victory allows people to see which banks are investing in their community or being responsible neighbors and which ones are not. Big banks are incredibly powerful and pay millions of dollars for lobbying to write rules that benefit them. Angelenos won a rule that shifts some power back into the hands of the people. And that rule would not have been won without the power of organized religious communities under a common banner.

I am blessed to lead LA Voice, a multiethnic, federation of 25 churches, synagogues, and mosques that is striving to be something healing and striving to do something healing. The climate of racial anxiety, divisive politics that pull at our implicit biases, and the growing diversity of our country urgently call all of us to speak, listen, and struggle together for a different set of outcomes for our cities. Our organizational leaders, clergy and lay, are striving every day to shift the balance of spiritual and political power so that our great city might truly reflect its glorious name and the dignity of all—not just the dignity of those with the means and privilege to protect their opportunity and promote the future of their children, but of all those who have been left out or pushed out of the land of opportunity we claim to inhabit.

Pastors, imams, rabbis and laity from the member congregations of LA Voice have played key leadership roles in the struggle to gain leverage to end unfair foreclosures, to increase small business lending to communities of color, to end costly, unjust police impounds of immigrants’ vehicles—immigrants whom our state does not afford the opportunity to get a driver’s license; and to increase access to food in public housing in East LA. These same leaders have sent clergy to represent them with the Governor of California to influence the outcome of much needed revenue initiatives for our schools, and they have sent thousands of letters and made countless visits to state political offices to write new rules that make life fairer for suffering communities. The power of faith and interfaith struggle is alive and well in many places, including in PICO National Network organizations like LA Voice.

In acting together for justice, our leaders find their voice and voices. When sixty African American Muslims join 700 Christians of all colors and 50 Jews at a gathering to launch a campaign, and their leaders sit together onstage with political and business leaders, I see interfaith power. When Fr. Margarito goes to Shabbat services at a neighboring Jewish community to tell his community’s story and proposes going to city hall together, with translation, new ground is broken. When I, an American Baptist Minister, have the honor to sit with five respected Imams and dream about what we might change together about mass incarceration, as we speak about li ta’arafu and how knowing one another is something God desires for us, I hear interfaith dialogue. When our Jewish leaders from West LA journey to East LA to fight together for a better life for those whose migration is more recent, and they share their personal Exodus stories, and they take the power of that bond into meetings with LAPD, they live interfaith peacemaking. When 250 PICO affiliated clergy gathered in New Orleans last fall to launch an initiative to bring a bolder prophetic voice and the power of organizing to bear to bend the arc of U.S. history toward justice, and those leaders experience moments of discomfort at the different approaches of their fellow clergy, we build new life as they commit to each other despite those gut rumblings. When passersby see clergy of different colors and creed standing together at a press conference, defying what they have heard in the media about how much we all really hate each other, there is a witness to a more powerful Spirit.

I truly find God’s Spirit alive, and where we find power to change our world for the better, is in the messiness of our stories and contending for our public space together. Those same Jews and Christians and Muslims who have won real change have plenty of moments where understanding each other isn’t the first thing that happens—whether it’s a Jewish leader cringing at the “in Jesus’ name,” or a Muslim leader wondering why we haven’t thought about a space for their afternoon prayer on the agenda, or a Christian pastor explaining to a congregant why it is OK for them to be in relationship with non-Christians without aiming for their conversion, or explaining to another Christian how real the power of prayer is in his church.

Organizing is messy. And leaders are the ones who shepherd their people down a new path that leads to more abundant life and wrestles with the consequences of the status quo. We at LA Voice are interested in being with people who want to be together because it gives them the power to be transformed, to transform others, and to change our world. Transformations aren’t real if they don’t change our transactions.

I am not under the illusion that organizing is equally easy in all of the countries to which this newsletter makes its way. I cannot speak about the dangers and fears that must come with organizing right now in Northern Mexico or Syria. And I can only confess shame at the countless opportunities powerful countries like ours miss to act with our human family in other countries. But wherever we are, if we do not use our shared values, stories, and relationships to build real power to unyoke the burden of disproportionate death and suffering that we all allow to be visited upon some while protecting others, then no God can save us. As Bob Dylan says, “You’re gonna’ serve somebody, it might be the Devil, it might be the Lord, but you gonna’ serve somebody.”

Minister Zachary Hoover is Executive Director of LA Voice, an affiliate of the PICO National Network (a national network of faith-based community organizations working to create innovative solutions to problems facing urban, suburban and rural communities).

 

Immigrants Remaking Canada’s Religious Face in Surprising Ways

Image from Lalani & Associates

by Douglas Todd
from the Vancouver Sun

Canada is welcoming more than the global average of immigrants who are Christian, Sikh, Buddhist and non-religious.

The country, however, is taking in less than the global average of immigrants who are Muslim, Hindu and Jewish.

Those are some of the surprising findings of a sweeping global survey on immigration and religion conducted by the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The report, titled Faith on the Move, provides an enormous amount of data on the religious loyalties of the world’s 214-million immigrants, a group larger than the population of Brazil.

Canada, which has 7.2 million permanent residents who were not born in the country, is the fifth most popular destination for the world’s immigrants. This country of 34 million accepts twice as many immigrants per capita as the U.S.

The Pew Forum report, which describes migration patterns in every country of the world, makes clear that immigration is changing the religious face of Canada in unexpected ways.

Click here to read the full article

Becoming a Welcoming Nation: It’s Good for the Economy!

by Abdul Malik Mujahid
from Huffington Post

Kim suddenly started hitting his chest. I thought he had a medical emergency but before I could call the stewardess, he explained that he was just nervous after watching a video about the immigration process before landing in Chicago. Kim is a junior at a high school in South Korea and was visiting the United States for a couple of months. He was sitting next to me on an American Airlines flight from Tokyo.

Kim was not the only one subject to the bad treatment. Hundreds and thousands of people go through this every day including diplomats, businessmen and journalists. The same week, former Indian President Abdul Kalam was frisked for explosives and humiliated by airport security in New York — a violation of an established protocol. He was fully identified and this was not his first time either. A couple of years ago he went through the same problem.

Kim’s nervousness is not unfounded. Seventy percent of mostly Western European travelers also showed extreme levels of anxiety saying when traveling to the United States; they fear U.S. immigration more than terrorists or criminals. It is then no wonder that travel from Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom has actually dropped during the last ten years. These three countries along with Canada and Mexico account for about 75 percent of all travelers to the United States.

February 1st, 2012 at 10:33 am

Embracing Diversity for Peaceful Cohabitation in American Cities

By Frank Fredericks
From Common Ground News Service

New York – In the 19 November 2011 issue of The Economist, the cover story, called “The magic of diasporas” outlines the benefits of mass immigration, particularly to the West. However the changing demographics in major metropolises can also be a highly destabilising force.

This is especially true in the United States in cities where immigration is high and demographics can change significantly in less than a generation. In some places this has resulted in an increase in hate crimes and communal tensions. Yet some cities handle racial and ethnic diversity better than others and provide valuable lessons for other communities.

One example of this is Queens, one of the lesser known boroughs of New York City. Queens is the most diverse county in America; US Census Bureau statistics suggest that 138 languages are spoken there. Is it a hotbed of racial and ethnic tension? Crime reports suggest surprisingly that it’s not. So how does Queens handle all of this diversity?

In 2010, the state reported only 51 hate crimes in Queens, or .02 incidents per 1,000 people, which is slightly less than the national average. While Queens may be extreme with regards to its diversity and its success at managing diversity, it is not the only such example. London, Kampala, Sydney and Singapore all have strikingly similar stories.

Click here to read the full article

Reaching the Children

by Brendan Smialowski from the New York Times

In this short article, Smialowski presents photos and interviews exploring a new trend amongst Hindu immigrants to the United States.  His article reveals that many Hindu immigrants are sending their American children to summer camp to maintain their religious identities.

Click here to view the entire slideshow

June 22nd, 2011 at 5:31 am

A Conversation between Roger Cohen and Tariq Ramadan

A conversation between Roger Cohen and Tariq RamadanPolarized debates around migration, national identities and integration of Muslims in today’s society are increasing in Europe and North America.
The UN Alliance of Civilizations has invited two prominent personalities for a conversation on these issues: the New York Times journalist Roger Cohen, and the Philosopher and Muslim Scholar Tariq Ramadan.

The discussion will focus on the reasons immigration is perceived as negatively affecting coexistence in Europe, and why Islam is often depicted as incompatible with Western values. Together with the in-house and online audience, discussants will explore ways to better acknowledge European and American Muslims’ contributions to their societies, and examine what role these groups can have in supporting the integration of recent Muslim immigrants.

The conversation will be held on Monday, December 20th in London, UK, from 2h to 3h30pm, at the St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace (78 Bishopsgate).

The in-house and online audience will be invited to put forward questions to the speakers in real time, by email or facebook.

Click here to learn more and view the event online

The Greater Jihad of Friendship

The Rev. Dirk Ficca, Executive Director of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, addresses the current climate of Islamophobia at a recent Friendship and Dialogue Iftar dinner hosted by the Niagara Foundation.

Rev. Dr. Dirk Ficca from Niagara Foundation.

October 8th, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Interfaith Relations: 5 Defining Events

The revival of the Parliament since 1993 is listed among the top five most important events that define the modern interreligious movement, according to Beth Katz.  The following is from her blog “The Accidental Theist“:

Recently, I gave a presentation to a group of clergy about the complexity of interfaith relations in which I traced the development of the modern interfaith movement. As I was sharing highlights of all that has and is unfolding in the U.S. and our world in terms of interfaith relations, I was struck by what an incredible time it is to be living in. Some of the most encouraging and challenging interfaith events to ever happen have occurred in the past fifty years alone (just a drop in the sea waters of time).

Here are five of what I think are some of the most formative events to have shaped interfaith relations in the U.S. and beyond in the past fifty years—let me know what other events you think belong on this list:

Click here to read the full article

Paul Knitter on Dual Religious Belonging

Christian theologian Paul Knitter talks about the urgent need for inter-religious dialogue, and the increasingly common experience of dual religious belonging where believers follow more than one religious path. The interview was commissioned by Eureka Street, and sponsored by the Asia-Pacific Centre for Inter-Religious Dialogue in the Australian Catholic University.