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President Jimmy Carter’s “Call to Action” on Women, Religion, Violence and Power; (Excerpt Features 2009 Parliament)

From A CALL TO ACTION by Jimmy Carter. Copyright © 2014 by Jimmy Carter. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

 

All the elements in this book concerning prejudice, discrimination, war, violence, distorted interpretations of religious texts, physical and mental abuse, poverty, and disease fall disproportionately on women and girls.

I saw the ravages of racial prejudice as I grew up in the Deep South, when for a century the U.S. Supreme Court and all other political and social authorities accepted the premise that black people were, in some basic ways, inferior to white people. Even those in the dominant class who disagreed with this presumption remained relatively quiet and enjoyed the benefits of the prevailing system. Carefully selected Holy Scriptures were quoted to justify this discrimination in the name of God.

There is a similar system of discrimination, extending far beyond a small geographical region to the entire globe; it touches every nation, perpetuating and expanding the trafficking in human slaves, body mutilation, and even legitimized murder on a massive scale. This system is based on the presumption that men and boys are superior to women and girls, and it is supported by some male religious leaders who distort the Holy Bible, the Koran, and other sacred texts to perpetuate their claim that females are, in some basic ways, inferior to them, unqualified to serve God on equal terms. Many men disagree but remain quiet in order to enjoy the benefits of their dominant status. This false premise provides a justification for sexual discrimination in almost every realm of secular and religious life. Some men even cite this premise to justify physical punishment of women and girls.

Another factor contributing to the abuse of women and girls is an acceptance of violence, from unwarranted armed combat to excessive and biased punishment for those who violate the law. In too many cases, we use violence as a first rather than a last resort, so that even deadly violence has become commonplace.

My own experiences and the testimony of courageous women from all regions and all major religions have made it clear to me that as a result of these two factors there is a pervasive denial of equal rights to women, more than half of all human beings, and this discrimination results in tangible harm to all of us, male and female.

My wife, Rosalynn, and I have visited about 145 countries, and the nonprofit organization we founded, The Carter Center, has had active projects in more than half of them. We have had opportunities in recent years to interact directly among the people, often in remote villages in the jungles and deserts. We have learned a lot about their personal affairs, particularly that financial inequality has been growing more rapidly with each passing decade. This is true both between rich and poor countries and among citizens within them. In fact, the disparity in net worth and income in the United States has greatly increased since my time in the White House. By 2007 the income of the middle 60 percent of Americans had increased at a rate twice as high as that of the bottom 20 percent. And the rate of increase for the top 1 percent was over fifteen times higher, primarily because of the undue influence of wealthy people who invest in elections and later buy greater benefits for themselves in Washington and in state capitals. As the conservative columnist George Will writes, “Big government inevitably drives an upward distribution of wealth to those whose wealth, confidence and sophistication enable them to manipulate government.”

Yet although economic disparity is a great and growing problem, I have become convinced that the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls, largely caused by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts and a growing tolerance of violence and warfare, unfortunately following the example set during my lifetime by the United States. In addition to the unconscionable human suffering, almost embarrassing to acknowledge, there is a devastating effect on economic prosperity caused by the loss of contributions of at least half the human beings on earth. This is not just a women’s issue. It is not confined to the poorest countries. It affects us all.

After focusing for a few years on the problem of gender discrimination through our human rights program at The Carter Center, I began to speak out more forcefully about it. Because of this, I was asked to address the Parliament of the World’s Religions, an audience of several thousand assembled in Australia in December 2009, about the vital role of religion in providing a foundation for countering the global scourge of gender abuse. My remarks represented the personal views of a Christian layman, a Bible teacher for more than seventy years, a former political leader.

I reminded the audience that in dealing with each other, we are guided by international agreements as well as our own moral values, most often derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Bible, the Koran, and other cherished texts that proclaim a commitment to justice and mercy, equality of treatment between men and women, and a duty to alleviate suffering. However, some selected scriptures are interpreted, almost exclusively by powerful male leaders within the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and other faiths, to proclaim the lower status of women and girls. This claim that women are inferior before God spreads to the secular world to justify gross and sustained acts of discrimination and violence against them. This includes unpunished rape and other sexual abuse, infanticide of newborn girls and abortion of female fetuses, a worldwide trafficking in women and girls, and so-called honor killings of innocent women who are raped, as well as the less violent but harmful practices of lower pay and fewer promotions for women and greater political advantages for men. I mentioned some notable achievements of women despite these handicaps and described struggles within my own religious faith. I called on believers, whether Protestant, Catholic, Coptic, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or tribal, to study these violations of our basic moral values and to take corrective action.

No matter what our faith may be, it is impossible to imagine a God who is unjust.

— Zainah Anwar, founder of Sisters in Islam, Malaysia

In the following pages I will outline how I learned more and more about these issues, as a child, a submarine officer, a farmer, and a church leader during the civil rights struggle, as a governor and a president, as a college professor, and in the global work of The Carter Center. During the nine decades of my life I have become increasingly aware of and concerned about the immense number of and largely ignored gender-based crimes. There are reasons for hope that some of these abuses can be ended when they become better known and understood. I hope that this book will help to expose these violations to a broader audience and marshal a more concerted effort to address this profound problem.

I will explore the links between religion-based assertions of male dominance over women, as well as the ways that our “culture of violence” contributes to the denial of women’s rights. I maintain that male dominance over women is a form of oppression that often leads to violence. We cannot make progress in advancing women’s rights if we do not examine these two underlying factors that contribute to the abuse of women.

In August 2013 I joined civil rights leaders and two other American presidents at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered there in 1963. As I looked out on the crowd and thought about the book I was writing, my thoughts turned to a different speech that King made, in New York City four years later, about America’s war in Vietnam, in which my oldest son was serving. King asserted, “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.” King went on to ask that we Americans broaden our view to look at human freedom as inextricably linked with our commitment to peace and nonviolence.

Using this same logic, it is not possible to address the rights of women, the human and civil rights struggle of our time, without looking at factors that encourage the acceptance of violence in our society — violence that inevitably affects women disproportionately. The problem is not only militarism in foreign policy but also the resort to lethal violence and excessive deprivation of freedom in our criminal justice system when rehabilitation alternatives could be pursued.  Clearly, short-term political advantages that come with being “tough on criminals” or “tough on terrorism” do not offer solutions to issues like persistent crime, sexual violence, and global terrorism.

I realize that violence is not more prevalent today than in previous periods of human history, but there is a difference. We have seen visionary standards adopted by the global community that espouse peace and human rights, and the globalization of information ensures that the violation of these principles of nonviolence by a powerful and admired democracy tends to resonate throughout the world community. We should have advanced much further in the realization of women’s rights, given these international commitments to peace and the rule of law. Instead many of the gains made in advancing human rights since World War II are placed at risk by reliance on injury to others as a means to solve our problems.

We must not forget that there is always an underlying basis of moral and religious principles involved. In August 2013 Pope Francis stated quite simply that in addition to the idea that violence does not bring real solutions to societal problems, its use is contrary to the will of God: “Faith and violence are incompatible.” This powerful statement exalting peace and compassion is one on which all faiths can agree.

In June 2013 The Carter Center brought together religious leaders, scholars, and activists who are working to align religious life with the advancement of girls’ and women’s full equality. We called this a Human Rights Defenders Forum. Throughout this book I have inserted brief statements from some of these defenders that offer a rich array of ideas and perspectives on the subject.

“A Call to Action” © 2014 by Jimmy Carter. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster Inc., N.Y

Standing in Solidarity to Stop Hate in Wake of Killings at Kansas Jewish Sites

The Parliament of the World’s Religions shares the feelings of sadness and horror expressed universally in response to Sunday’s tragic attack at Jewish community sites in Overland Park, Kansas which killed three persons.

The Parliament of World’s Religions stands in solidarity with the Jewish community and the relatives of the victims.

In a letter to the convener of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, Sheila Sonnenschein, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid expressed hope that “as hate, anger, and fear is rising in our nation, the people of faith will rise with our loving relationship to translate negative energy into positive force for common good.” Imam Mujahid is the Board Chair of the Parliament of World’s Religions.

The attacker is allegedly a renowned former leader of the KKK hate movement with a history of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and hate towards immigrants.

In the wake of the Nevada stand off in which more than 2,000 armed militiamen gathered to fight the Federal authorities and the attack on the Jewish centers, it is important for law enforcement to take appropriate action against the white racist movements.

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).

 

Faith and Race: A Dialogue Worth Having

by Phillipe Copeland

According to the Abrahamic traditions, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Baha’i Faith, the universe itself was spoken into being. This offers a fitting metaphor for the promise of interreligious dialogue, the promise of a new creation. Like the speaking into being of the universe, for interreligious dialogue to fulfill this promise requires attention to detail. We must be attentive not only to what we are dialoguing about but who is engaged in the dialogue.

In my experience, interreligious dialogue is too often limited to issues of religious identity. The exception tends to be gender. Given that women represent at least half of the human race, talking about the intersection of faith and gender is time well spent. However, historical forces and contemporary social, political and social realities have conspired to make each of us not only gendered beings but also highly racialized beings. Race is always in the room when interreligious dialogue is going on whether we acknowledge it or not.

This may appear self evident, but ask yourself how many interreligious dialogues you have participated in where race is not discussed even in societal contexts rife with racial conflict and oppression? The silence can indeed be deafening. Can there truly be a full and rich exchange across faiths if the meanings people are making of race and the spiritual resources they draw on to combat racism aren’t being discussed? For example, when I participate in an interreligious dialogue, I am never only participating as a Baha’i, but as a Black, male, Baha’i living in the United States. Understanding my faith requires understanding how it is embodied in my experience of being a Black man in America.

For example, I have been invited to interreligious dialogue where participants would walk away having learned a great deal about the life and mission of Baha’u’llah (1817-1892) the Founder of the Baha’i Faith. They may have heard about Baha’i laws and spiritual practices. They most certainly would have heard something regarding Baha’i teachings about social justice. What they may not have heard is that Baha’u’llah compared Black people to the pupil of the eye which is “dark in color but a fountain of light and revealer of the…world.” They may not grasp the impact of this metaphor, which subverts centuries of propaganda making darkness an undesirable trait, on my healing from internalized racial inferiority. They might miss the contribution that the multi-racial, international community Baha’u’llah has raised up has had on the salvation of Black men like me. To offer one example, in 2006 I was welcomed along with thirty-one other Black men from the United States to the Baha’i World Center, located in Haifa, Israel. Our recent services, collaborating with Baha’is in Ghana in the process of community-building, were graciously recognized. Men, whom at home were so often the objects of fear and loathing were celebrated like heroes by people from virtually every nation on earth. It was a taste of heaven I will not soon forget. For me to engage in interreligious dialogue and fail to share such intersections of faith and race represent missed opportunities. Others may fail to appreciate an essential aspect of Baha’i teaching and practice. More importantly, they may miss the chance to engage in a dialogue about the role religion can play in freeing humanity from the inevitable consequences of the color line. Surely that is a dialogue worth having.

Thankfully, I’ve had opportunities to bring my racial reality to interreligious dialogues. One of my fondest memories of being a student at Harvard Divinity School was working with a white, male Unitarian Universalist on a series of dialogues about race and culture for students, faculty and staff. As an alumnus, I was able to participate in a panel discussion about faith-based responses to crisis among people of African Descent that included Baha’i, Muslim and Christian perspectives. These conversations deepened the theological reflection of all involved about the intersection of faith and race and were richer for it. In these conversations, I caught glimpses of the promise of interreligious dialogue, of new worlds of racial unity and justice spoken into being.

Phillipe Copeland is author of the award winning blog Baha’i Thought that provides commentary on religion, society, and culture informed by the teachings of the Baha’i Faith. He is a contributing scholar to the multi-author blog State of Formation that is sponsored by the Journal of Interreligious Dialogue. Mr. Copeland is an adjunct faculty member of the Boston University School of Social Work and is a clinical social worker specializing in behavioral health and forensics.

If Hate Is the Problem…

By Anya Cordell
from Washington Post

Hatred is a current ‘cool’ fad—but a terribly dangerous one.

Four days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, three innocent men, (Sikh, Muslim and Egyptian Christian) were murdered. The killer of the Sikh victim vowed to “kill the ragheads,” shooting the first person he saw wearing a turban.

A Hindu man was murdered October 4, 2001, and we just marked the 10th anniversary of the day an extraordinary young Muslim, Rais Bhuiyan, was blinded in one eye and left for dead.

Even now, most articles mentioning Muslims continue to elicit strings of comments, many of which genocidally proclaim, “Kill them all.” The anti-Muslim cloud permeates our atmosphere; coloring perceptions, inciting bullying, assaults and policies.

Click here to read the full article

‘We Walk By Faith’: Religion and Race During the Civil Rights Movement

By Logan Edwards

Proudly Protestant and Evangelical, southerners consider themselves the religious backbone of America. Yet, in historical moments when the nation’s attention was centered on the South, few recognized Christian morality in the actions of many. How could a Citizen Council member burn a cross on Saturday and serve as a deacon on Sunday? This question found resonance in particular with southern blacks, whose churches were instrumental in challenging social injustice. This paper looks at the different understandings, not of the radicals, but of the majority of black and white southerners, about the role of religion in society and how this impacted the way they reacted to the civil rights movement. By looking at these groups from an inter-religious perspective, one is able to see how different they truly are and begin to build bridges and heal old wounds.

Click here to read the article from the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue