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Georgian Baptist Bishop Says ‘Being a Good Christian Isn’t Enough”

Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili of the Evangelical Baptist Church of the Republic of Georgia’s recent visit to the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education offices facilitated by SCUPE President and Parliament Trustee Shanta Premawardhana schooled Chicago Christians in lessons on radical solidarity with minority groups in need of compassion. By championing the rights of Chechan Muslims, LGBT citizens, masses of unemployed and female clergy hoping for ordainment, the Baptist Bishop unravels stereotypes associated with religious practices in the Russian Orthodox world.

by Tanya Sadagopan, Director of Continuing Education and Outreach
Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE). Republished with permission.

Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili, Evangelical Baptist Church of the Republic of Georgia

Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili at SCUPE -Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili of Georgia visited SCUPE offices on Tuesday July 29th. Not only was it unusual for us to encounter a Baptist Bishop but one that was purple-robed and long-bearded, befitting his Eastern Orthodox context. The Bishop shared with us the courageous story of his Evangelical Baptist community and its advocacy work with Chechen Muslim refugees. Being Baptist means standing for the rights of all people, the Bishop said.

“Being a good Christian or a good Church isn’t good enough anymore. We must learn the ways of compassion. Something that we learned in the course of the struggle is that it is very important to have equal rights and equal opportunity for everybody, Songulashvili said.

Ordaining women as leaders, standing in solidarity with the LGBT community, and fasting with Muslims during Ramadan are marks of discipleship. There is clearly a great deal we can learn about justice and peace from Baptists in the Republic of Georgia.

In the context of a state Orthodox Church the people of Georgia longed for a church of and for the people. The Evangelical Baptists of the Republic of Georgia focus not just on high liturgy and sensual worship, but more importantly they do the work of justice and peace in an environment of increasing tensions with Russian government forces occupying foreign lands.

These radical Baptists are not afraid to speak out and stand up where others would not. They ordained women as clergy early in their history. They celebrate women as deacons, presbyters, and currently have one female bishop with another one on the way. They stand for equal treatment of people regardless of their sexual orientation. They are deeply engaged in the work of interfaith advocacy with persecuted Muslims both within Georgia as well as with Russian refugees.

All this work of justice and peacemaking takes place in the economic context where in some villages the unemployment rate is as high as 70 percent. In a time of great economic disparity, how can a church find so much energy and resources to do the ministry of Jesus on the ground? Perhaps it is their liturgical commitments and their spiritual practices of fasting and prayer that undergird the power of their practice of ministry. We have much to learn from the Evangelical Baptists of Georgia. But don’t take my word for it, read the story of their ministry below.

Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili

Evangelical Baptist Church of the Republic of Georgia

Lecture given at the SCUPE offices on Tuesday July 29th, 2014

For the Baptist Church in Georgia we often have to find some analogies or stories to explain our identity.  One such story goes like this.

Once upon a time, in the forest a lion decided to have a convention. So he invited all the animals and birds for the convention. Once they came he asked them to divide into two groups. Those who are beautiful should stay on the left and those who are strong should stay on the right. There was upheaval in the group and ultimately everybody found their place. In the midst there was an ugly frog. The lion asked, “Why did not you choose your place?” The frog said, “I do not know how to choose a place because I am both strong and beautiful.”That is the story of the Evangelical Baptist Church in Georgia.

On one hand we are orthodox in our liturgy, in our theology, and in our ecclesiology. But on the other hand we are strongly related to the European radical reformation. The church came into being about 140 years ago as a result of a search for meaning in the context where the Orthodox Church was a state church. There was longing to have a church to be closer to the people where the liturgy would be understandable for the congregation. Our identity was forged in the time of persecution. We were first persecuted by the Czars and then persecuted by Communists and then we were persecuted by religious nationalists after the breakup of the Soviet Union. So our identity has been forged in constant struggle with the culture which happened to be Russian Imperial, Soviet, and then Nationalist.

 

<Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili speaking at SCUPE in July of 2014
President of SCUPE Shanta Premawardhana and the Bishop’s wife Ala were among our guests.

Something that we learned in the course of the struggle is that it is very important to have equal rights and equal opportunity for everybody. In the 1930’s all the churches were closed down by comrade Stalin and all the male leaders and male laymen were sent to Siberia. All of them. And I think the Soviets made a dramatic mistake. If they wanted to get rid of the Baptist Church in Georgia, they should not have sent the men; they should have sent the women. Owing to the work of the women, the church not only survived, but it grew. When the Soviets came there were twelve ethnic Georgian Baptist churches. And when the Soviet Union collapsed there were a couple of thousand churches.

It was not because the Soviets favored the Baptists, but it was because of the energy the women brought to the life of the church. Therefore it was not surprising that we have not even discussed the question which is now being discussed by the Church of England and other churches whether women should be allowed into ordained ministry. It would be sacrilegious to speak of whether women had a right to be ordained. The church survived owing to the leadership provided by women. My grandmother was a sort of bible woman in Communist time who would go from a village to another and would stay overnight and would speak to the people. The Communists would not even notice. Because she was a women, she was not taken seriously. But now when I travel as a Bishop I often come across people who will say, “Son, I know who you are. I knew your grandmother. She was first to preach the gospel in our village or in our community or in our clan.” This is the difference that women make. Therefore since we are Episcopal by structure, we have women as bishops, presbyters, and deacons. In all three layers of the church we have considerable feminine representation.

Our ecumenical identity was forged by our encounter with Muslims. It happened in the aftermath of thefirst Russian-Chechen war when there was a huge influx of Chechen refugees into Georgia.  Nobody wanted to deal with Chechen refugees out of fear of Russia. Our country was very poor. The government was very poor to do anything about it. So we decided to go forward and deliver some tokens of support to the refugee camp. We did not want to do anything more. We just wanted to affirm that we are Christians. We are so nice and we would like to present you some gifts.

I should tell you that in the Georgian psyche, the Chechen and Northern Caucasians have always been associated with terror. Georgia is a mountainous land and it also has beautiful valleys, very fertile valleys. We produce a lot of crops, and grapes, ecetera. In the north of Georgia, beyond the Caucasian mountain range, there are northern Caucasian tribes who are predominately Muslim.  They have neither fertile lands nor anything else to support their economy. They were very creative to develop their own economy, which happened to be kidnapping. They would come on horsebacks to Georgia in the autumn, kidnap young lads and ladies and take them down to the Istanbul slave market. They would sell them and thus build up their budget for their plans. That was happening over and over and over again for centuries. Therefore we as Georgians had accumulated a lot of hatred, understandably for the Chechenian and Northern Caucasian people.

When we learned that the Chechenian people were coming to Georgia as refugees we did not know how to handle it. Reports were coming on a daily basis of their suffering. They did not have food or clothes. There were mainly children and women. Christmas was drawing nearer and I asked the congregation, “What should we do for the refugees from Chechenia.” There was silence in the congregation and I knew what the silence meant because I felt the same way that they did.  If you hear that your traditional enemies are coming here and they are suffering, somewhere in the bottom of your heart you are somewhat delighted. But then we realized that Christmas was drawing nearer and we contemplated the Advent Season. We are fasting during Advent season and we thought we should do something for the refugees because we are Christians.

We went to the camp. We had collected whatever we could: tea, chocolates, and blankets. We went to deliver these goods before Christmas and then forget about it.  But much to everybody’s amazement we got trapped in the camp. When we met for the first time, we realized that we are humans as they are.  Immediately some sort of bond was forged. Before leaving the camp, we said out of politeness, “If there is anything we can possibly do, never hesitate to ask.”  Immediately they produced shopping lists. In the lists they needed binding materials for the wounded, medicine, warm clothes for children, blankets, and tea.

 

Map of the Republic of Georgia, 2014

The Bishop resides in Tbilisi. The refuge camps were near the Causasus Mountains.

 

We took these lists back to the church. Since we didn’t have money to purchase these items, we needed to do some fundraising. This was my first fundraising effort on the internet. So I go to my computer in my office and I open up my internet account. I write a letter to all my friends asking for $500 U.S. dollars to complete the purchases for everything we needed for the camp. That was Thursday. I go to my office on Friday and there is a pledge for $15,000 U.S. dollars.  The next week we had $200,000 and within one month we had half a million U.S. dollars.

Thus began our relationship with the Muslim leaders. Because of the overwhelming fundraising response, together we built the much needed schools and hospitals. You see some of the children had never had a chance to go to school. If you are at war for 10 years, the children cannot go to school. So we found ourselves physically and emotionally involved in relief work for a number of years.

At that time, we did not realize that what we were doing would prepare us for what was going to happen later within our own country. Then several years later all the skills and knowledge we had accumulated in the course of working with the Chechen refugees was useful for working with the ethnic Georgian Muslims who were being persecuted by Russian Orthodox Christians right here at home.

What we found out is that Muslims were forbidden to pray on Fridays, that orthodox police were stopping people who were not wearing crosses and beating them, and the government organized the removal of a Muslim minaret in a small village. In our part of the world, you can be Muslim as long as nobody sees you. It is fine to have a place of worship, but as soon as you put up a minaret you are the target of abuse and attack. The same is true for various groups in our society that are sidelined by the majority culture. The Orthodox church says it is fine for you to be a part of the LGBT community as long as nobody knows about you. So invisibility is the only way to survive. But unless you are visible we cannot possibly feel as a dignified part of the wider society. This is how we found ourselves deeply engaged in advocacy work for the Muslim community in Georgia.

Read more about Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili:

Christianity Today: “The Baptist Bearing Robes and Incense

Ecclesial Theology Blog: “Baptist ‘Receptive Ecumenism’ in the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia”

 

‘Parliament Liberia’ Ambassador Raises Hope for Interfaith During Ebola Crisis

Sharing an update with the Parliament about his work in Liberia during the recent Ebola crisis, Ambassador of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Victor Garpulee, gives us hope that in times of humanitarian emergency, commitment to the Interfaith movement is building support between neighbors. Here is his pictorial essay:

Victor’s Parliament of the World’s Religions group in Liberia demonstrates will and commitment to work with students, as well as religious, social, and other institutions to promote the Parliament’s Faiths Against Hate initiative, and eliminate violence and discrimination.





“The banner above is a working material of Parliament Liberia as we go in communities and institutions where there are people of difference faith to sensitize them about respecting people of other faiths.”




An awareness of the Ebola epidemic that is taking away the lives of the people of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.


 


The below letter shows how Parliament Liberia is demonstrating will to work with various institutions across the country.



August 21st, 2014 at 1:12 am

Engaging in Something Marvelous: a Non-Muslim Learns from His Ramadan Fast

Kevin Childress

By Kevin Childress

There simply was no diversity in the small southern town I grew up in. Virtually 100 percent of the population was white, middle-class Baptists. The most “exotic” people in town were a small number of Lutherans, including my close friend Laura and her family. Hearing how people talked about Lutherans, I wanted to defend them, and I started seeing myself as an outsider like them. From that time onward I have identified with outsiders.

As an adult, my life has taken me around the world (for example, I lived in Armenia for two years, working with the Peace Corps). I’ve been to Egypt, Turkey, Russia, India, and all over Eastern and Western Europe. And in all these places I have witnessed expressions of hatred and superiority that one group of people directs at another. No country is free of it. But in those same countries I witnessed extraordinary acts of kindness, sympathy and respect for outsiders.

When I finally got around to it in my 40s, I went back to school to formally study comparative religion (the comparison of doctrines and practices of the world’s faith traditions). It was something I had always wanted to learn more about, perhaps because of my commitment to respecting outsiders. I never wanted to solely study a particular religion, as it is the diversity in particular that most fascinates me, and what I wanted to center my work around.

Two years ago, I read a blog by Lisa Sharon Harper (a columnist with “Sojourners”) about her experiences as a non-Muslim fasting during Ramadan. The idea was appealing to me, as it clearly conveyed a message of respect for, and solidarity with, Muslims.

When I decided to fast last Ramadan, I posted something about it on my Facebook page. That was all I initially said about it to anyone. I prepared myself for fasting with what I thought was practical planning – figuring out schedules for when I would prepare and eat food. I am such an organized person (one of those people with a Master List of smaller “to do” lists), and I dove into it with enthusiasm. For a while it was pretty easy. And I learned a lot of tips. For one thing, it helps to have ready-to-eat food on hand. Late at night, I sometimes just didn’t have the energy to cook. And it’s important to be sure to eat when the time arrives – missing the mealtime window can make for a very uncomfortable day.

Some people say they gain spiritual insight during fasting. It might sound odd, but I have to say that during my fasting time, I found myself reading more poetry, and thinking about the world around me in poetic terms. I rarely ever write poetry, but during fasting I found myself writing haikus about the smell of summer rain, or the intricacies of a well-made shirt. I developed a kind of stillness in my mind that allowed me to “unpack” an idea, to hold it to the light and attempt to see it more clearly. Some people might joke I was simply experiencing protein deficiency or something, but I don’t think that was it. I think I was just a little closer to what I call the “eternal,” and what most people call God.

My post on Facebook attracted a bit of attention. Muslim friends sent me the obligatory “High Five” comments in the beginning, and checked in with me on occasion to see how I was faring. Muslims I hadn’t met before sent me friend requests, because they’d seen something about my fasting on their friends’ Facebook pages. As Ramadan went on, people started sharing with me how fasting was altering their views of the world and themselves, often (to my surprise and pleasure) using poetry as a means of communicating their feelings. One friend on Facebook quoted the Sufi poet Rumi, who compared the fasting person to a musical instrument ready to be played: “We are lutes, no more, no less.” I had often heard that fasting during Ramadan brought Muslims together, spiritually and emotionally (through their shared experience), and physically (in breaking the fast every evening). It was interesting to discover the same type of thing happening virtually.

My first invitation to attend an Iftar (the evening breaking of the fast) came from someone I had met on Facebook. At that Iftar, I met numerous people who in turn invited me to other Iftars. Thanks to these invitations, I could easily have gone to a different one every evening, and quite a few of them were interfaith iftars – some hosted by city politicians who weren’t even Muslim. And it was in the gathering together with people to break the fast that I knew I was engaging in something marvelous and important: around the table, as we met and got to know each other, we changed from strangers into neighbors.

As Ramadan continued, what started to be a problem for me were encounters with people who didn’t know I was fasting. I would show up at someone’s home and they would have this lovely lunch laid out. “I made lasagna because I know how much you love it,” a friend said. It reminded me of a time in Armenia when a poor village family had invited me over for a meal. In honor of my visit, they had killed their only goat, and fried its liver. They brought the dish to the table with such pride, and I remember feeling queasy just looking at it. But, in knowing what it cost them – and what it meant to them to serve me – I ate as much of it as I could. So when faced with the lasagna, I made a quick decision to eat it. Later I felt bad about breaking my fast, thinking I had failed. But then I realized I had sacrificed something that was important to me in order to offer my respect and regard for another person. Maybe I hadn’t failed after all.

For the rest of Ramadan, I fasted as much as I could, but I broke fast when situations like this arose. A Muslim would never make such concessions, of course – and they would rarely face such situations anyway, since most people know they are fasting. But for me, my fasting had been successful because it prompted me to be mindful of food, and to think about the function of food in society. The sharing of food can break the ice between strangers; it can be a gesture of hospitality, and an indication of trust and respect. And it certainly helps us to celebrate joyful moments in our lives, when people come together around a table to share a meal.

Beside fasting during Ramadan, there are countless ways a person can join in experiencing the faiths of other people. Guests are warmly welcomed at the Jewish Passover Seder, Christmas Mass, a Sikh Diwan, or the annual Hindu Diwali. But what I learned from my Ramadan experience is something that perhaps leaders and members of faith communities should keep in mind: for the people outside your doors who are interested in sharing your faith – they need to be invited. An implicit and generic “We are always open to visitors” isn’t really enough. Much better to issue an explicit and specific invitation, a “We invite you to join us next Tuesday” type of thing. Like a meal, the sharing of faiths requires a proper invitation.

About the author: Kevin Childress is the sole proprietor of SocialNet Works, LLC.  While his academic background is in Comparative Religion, his professional background is in Business, with more than a decade of experience in Information Technology, Public/Media & Donor Relations, Executive Management and Finance.  He has extensive knowledge of digital imaging, including video production and, of course, all avenues of social media.  A 22-year resident of Manhattan, Kevin has worked with religious and civic leaders in every borough of New York City.

The Parliament and URI Issue Joint #LoveAlert for #Kansas

Global Interfaith Movement Acts for Kansas on Holy Weekend

 

We, the global interfaith community, cherish the principle of shared humanity and champion the Golden Rule as the guiding principle of each of the world’s great spiritual and religious communities. We unite as neighbors in our call for harmony, compassion, and peaceful relationships everywhere.

Sunday’s tragic hate shootings in the Kansas City area urgently signal why interfaith cooperation must become stronger to ensure all people are exposed to the beautiful lessons we learn from each other in diverse communities.

We invite all people to join with the United Religions Initiative (URI) and the Parliament of the World’s Religions in coming together to amplify action for peace:

“The hearts and prayers of our interfaith and inter-cultural family go out to those affected by this terrible tragedy,” said the Rev. Victor H. Kazanjian, Jr., Executive Director of URI.  “Around the world, we affirm our promise to cultivate peace in the midst of difference, to promote enduring interfaith cooperation, and to show love in the face of hate.  May peace and healing find those shaken by this loss.”

Dr. Mary Nelson, Executive Director of the Parliament concurs, “in the face of violence and hate, we people of spirit and faith are challenged to proactively reach out in love and reconciliation.  Now is the time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

From Thursday April 17 through Sunday, April 20, we call for #LoveAlert messages to spread the goodness of interfaith cooperation around the world.

Ways to observe your solidarity include:  Fasting, lighting candles, and inviting your neighbors to your interfaith community events.

Use our tools to overcome hate! The Parliament’s  Faiths Against Hate webinars  train interfaith advocates and URI’s Talking Back to Hate campaign’s toolbox is full of effective best practices in a variety of materials.

Interfaith cooperation is happening; we as partners in the movement for peace affirm that deep interfaith relationships bring everyone closer together to overcome fear and embrace others as neighbors.

By bravely speaking out and acting together, we at the Parliament and URI invite all to work with us to correct injustice and make peace possible for all.

 

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.

Solidarity Pledge One Year Later, Sharing Sacred Spaces Wraps Year Two

June 10 is the first anniversary of the signing of a powerful solidarity pledge on the Federal Plaza in Chicago by the eight Sharing Sacred Spaces: Downtown Chicago religious communities who participated in a pilot program of interreligious community building. The project was created in partnership between the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions and Suzanne Morgan of Sacred Space International. This weekend also the completion of the second year of the work of these eight congregations building solidarity for mutual support and neighborhood service.

How Did The Sacred Spaces Solidarity Pledge Come About?

Morgan says the idea of the solidarity pledge was ignored when it was first put on the table. “I would say they were challenged to do something they had not done before; even though they may have said they wanted to stand together, they had not yet thought of actually making a public declaration and signing a pledge that committed them to that action. ”  Six months into the project, a template was finally considered. “It was one person from the Seventeenth Church of Christ Scientist who woke up in the night and put together an entire pledge, which was then unanimously accepted by all eight representatives.”
The following steps required each congregation seek formal approval by their individual congregational governance structures, then declare their commitments to state their tradition’s ability to work with other religions for peace, which was a brand new process for many of the involved congregations.  “For [my Sacred Space], this was a complex process and took a couple of months,” Morgan says.

How Suzanne Morgan Measures The Impact Of The Solidarity Pledge

The fact that all eight congregations got up at the podium, read their tradition’s declaration and signed the pledge on behalf of that tradition, along with Vance Henry of the Mayor’s office, and the CPWR, was amazing and touching.  The proof of its effect, for me, was when a man working on the stage and sound setup came up to me afterward. He said to me, ‘My wife and I are having problems; Monday we are going to a marriage counselor. Well, after what I have witnessed here today, people of these different faiths, known by their fighting around the world, agreeing to work together in the face of any defamation or threat to their religions, certainly, I can work things out with my wife!’
That did it for me!

Deep Connections Over Year Two Programs

Congregation Sinai invited each of the communities to view thought provoking documentaries with a presentation by a panel of speakers and Muslim-led open dialogue. Chicago Sinai also invited each of the communities to an educational Seder dinner fostering love of neighbor and interfaith understanding.

During UN designated World Interfaith Harmony Week, The Downtown Islamic Center demonstrated the hospitality of Abraham by hosting a meal and dialogue workshop: Beyond Separation, Seeds of Change, Dialogue Skills for Cultivating Interreligious Cooperation. A Program of Dialogue for the Common Good, LLC. In addition, Islamic prayers were explained, followed by open dialogue to respond to curious participants.

Also during World Interfaith Harmony Week, the Midwest Buddhist Temple and Sacred Spaces jointly hosted a New Year celebration programmed to release the hardships and limitations of the past and to plant seeds of hope and peace. All the religious communities were invited to share and present at this experiential interreligious New Year’s ceremony, dining on symbolic Japanese cuisine and refreshments.

Fourth Presbyterian Church invited the Sacred Space communities to the Community Grand Opening of their newly constructed Gratz Center followed by an Open House. Guests enjoyed lively conversations together, appetizers, and live music. Fourth Presbyterian Church also hosted an event with world-renowned speaker Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Chairman of the Cordoba Institute and member of the Interfaith Center of New York.

Old St. Pat’s Catholic Church invited the Sacred Spaces religious communities to their annual Memorial Service for the homeless attracting so much attendance it became a standing room only event.

Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist invited the religious communities to participate an intimate experiential Mid-Week Prayer Meeting focused on “How Can We Feel Safe in the Face of Danger.” The evening began with sacred readings from Holy Scripture and Mary Baker Eddy’s works, and progressed into quiet time in between open dialogue, as participants felt compelled to share.

Saint James Episcopal Cathedral ended the second year of events with a Concert & Photographic Display, “Portraits and Voices” by Michael Nye on Mental Health Disorders in the United States.

Sharing Sacred Spaces in Hyde Park, Chicago Launched, Too

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religion’s Sharing Sacred Spaces program has two objectives for interreligious community building in a neighborhood or city: (1) to facilitate a collection of diverse congregations to become comfortable with each other and enthusiastic about signing a pledge of solidarity agreeing to stand with each other in the face of antireligious defamation or threat and then (2) to see that newly bonded group select a humanitarian issue in their neighborhood/city to address, and articulate a way to implement a solution together.

A May 5 event at First Unitarian Church completed a yearlong program from the Sharing Sacred Spaces project in Hyde Park. Six South-Side Chicago congregations agreed to each hold an event at their sacred space for the purpose of interreligious engagement for those attending,  including KAMII congregation, Ellis Avenue Church, Chicago Theological Seminary, Augustana Lutheran Church, St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church

The Sunday afternoon events began in October of 2012 and were completed this May. A second year of events is being planned to continue the engagement. The Hyde Park and Kenwood Interfaith Council has been in existence for over 100 years, mainly consisting of Christian denominations in the Hyde Park area. With the SSS program, they plan to widen their vision to include additional traditions in new ways.

INTERFAITH EVENT FRIDAY: Solidarity Circle for Father Solalinde and the Caravan Opening Doors to Hope

The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions in partnership with the DePaul University Office of Religious Diversity is convening a special one hour solidarity circle for interfaith leaders to meet Catholic priest, Padre Alejandro Solalinde, and his Caravan Opening Doors To Hope. 
Solalinde is traveling the U.S. with a large group of victimized migrants turned activists who have experienced human rights abuses in Mexico. The story of 70,000 Central American brothers and sisters disappearing over the last few years, while Solalinde has been imprisoned and arrested for his work operating a network of shelters is shocking. We are helping share this story and honor his bravery.

NOTE: This event is being produced to connect university-level Interfaith leaders with Padre Solalinde’s entourage, but we are inviting you as guests of CPWR.

In this hour we will…
-Hear words from Mexico’s 2012 Human Rights Award recipient
Watch a short film documenting the reality of the migrant train in Mexico
-Welcome Amnesty International to recognize the work of Padre Solalinde
-Share our blessings and offerings to the migrant activists
-Extend our wishes for peace and security to the caravan
-Personally connect Chicago’s young interfaith leaders with a hero to a humanitarian crisis

TO ATTEND: All are welcome, but for seat reservations contact molly@parliamentofreligions.org

Cost: NONE

Religious Communities Rally to Support Missouri Muslims After Mosque Arson

 

Imam Lahmuddin holds his hands over his face after a devastating fire destroyed the Islamic Society of Joplin mosque Monday morning, Aug. 6, 2012.
Photo from Joplin Globe/T. Rob Brown

by Roger McKinney
from Joplin Globe

JOPLIN, Mo. — Some local Christians and others who attended an event Saturday at the Islamic Society of Joplin mosque said they are saddened and dismayed about the fire that destroyed the mosque Monday morning.

The Rev. Frank Sierra, of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, called Saturday’s gathering “a great event.”

“Instead of labeling people, we get to see them as fellow human beings — children of God — and that breaks down a lot of walls,” he said.

All were unanimous about their support for members of the Muslim community in their time of hardship and their outrage over the burning of the mosque.

“This is a threat to a group of law-abiding citizens in our midst,” said Paul Teverow, with the United Hebrew Congregation, who was at Saturday’s gathering and was at the mosque to offer condolences Monday morning. “The people of Joplin should share the same sense of outrage.”

He said such incidents are something much deeper when a place of worship is destroyed.

“I just feel a lot sadder,” he said.

He said ties between the mosque and synagogue go back many years, and that the connection would continue.

“This strikes very close to us,” he said. “They’re our extended family.”

Jill Michel, pastor of South Joplin Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), echoed the sentiment.

“They’re our brothers and sisters,” she said. “These are caring and compassionate people who are making a difference in our community. Their grief must be ours. It just has to be. That’s what our faith tells us.”

Click here to read the full article

In Solidarity with the Sikh Community

All those associated with the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions offer our deepest condolences for the members of the Sikh gurdwara of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and our heartfelt concern for the sense of anguish and loss being experienced throughout the Sikh community worldwide, in the wake of the senseless shooting on Sunday, August 5th.

Any act of violence is abhorrent. When it targets a religious community—in their sacred space, engaged in worship—it is especially difficult to fathom.

The Council joins the worldwide interreligious movement in recognizing all that the Sikh tradition engenders in its followers: the deep devotion, the ethical clarity, the sense of communal solidarity, and the unwavering belief that all human beings are equal in the sight of the divine. The origins of Sikhism had an interreligious dimension—in the founding mission of Guru Nanak—giving it a unique relevance and poignancy for the challenge of promoting harmony and understanding across diverse communities and traditions.

The fact that, in the first hours after the shooting, the news media struggled to describe Sikhism accurately speaks to the work that needs to be done by the interreligious movement in acquainting the wider public with the diversity of communities and traditions in their midst. Though such knowledge may not have deterred this gunman in his rampage, it can only help reduce the number of incidents of harassment and violence in the future.

The world should know that any person, Sikh or non-Sikh, is welcome at a gurdwara anywhere, to be received with graciousness, offered a meal, and shelter, if necessary. This sense of hospitality that the Sikh community embodies has had a profound impact on the mission and work of the Council. The generous offering of langar—a sacred, blessed meal central to its communal practice—by the Sikh community at the 2004 Parliament in Barcelona is still remembered and cherished by all those who gathered for that event.

—Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions

 

“It is not an act of ‘random, senseless’ violence.  Sikhs, Muslims, Latinos and Africans are increasingly targets of rising hate in the United States. These attacks are sanctioned by a political culture that tolerates hate speech and promotes xenophobia. As hate is rising in the nation, it is critical that the forces of faith mediate anger into the positive energy of relationships. We must build a stronger interfaith movement for our children and the planet.   I stand in solidarity with our Sikh neighbors.”

—Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chair, CPWR Board of Trustees

 

“My wholehearted sympathies and ardent prayers are with the innocent victims of senseless violence in the Sikh community in Wisconsin.”

—Dr. Robert Henderson, Vice Chair

 

“My heart and prayers go out to the families and the Sikh community. This hate and violence upon a peace loving community makes the work of the Parliament towards interreligious understanding and helping our country towards inclusive and caring community all the more urgent and important. I pledge my support.”

—Dr. Mary Nelson, Vice Chair

 

“Yesterday was a troubling day, not only for Sikh-Americans, but for all Americans. We need to re-double our efforts to promote mutual respect and understanding. In the midst of this anguish and pain, we must also pray for the family of the assailant.”

—Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia, Secretary

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Click here to read full article

July 25th, 2012 at 12:45 pm