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Fall Into the God Gap

February 26, 2010, 2:22 pm | By lwatkins

Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported on a study released by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs addressing the role of religion in foreign policy and the need to close the ‘God Gap’ in foreign policy.

“Religion,” the task force says, “is pivotal to the fate” of such nations as Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria and Yemen, all vital to U.S. national and global security.

Some specific recommendations cited:

– Adding religion to the training and continuing education of all foreign service officers, diplomats and other key diplomatic, military and economic officials.

– Empowering government departments and agencies to engage local and regional religious communities where they are central players in the promotion of human rights and peace, as well as the delivery of health care and other forms of assistance.

– Address and clarify the role of religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy…some parts of the world — the Middle East, China, Russia and India, for example — are particularly sensitive to the U.S. government’s emphasis on religious freedom and see it as a form of imperialism.

Needless to say, responses to the report have run the gamut, but a particular strand seems to have developed that caught my eye: blog posts such as “Foreign policy + religion = recipe for disaster” and “Please, no religion in foreign policy formation“.

Stark lines drawn between ‘religious freedom’ and the inclusion of God strike me as precisely the problem the report is addressing (the the report itself is 109 pages long and I admit to not having read it), and it echoes debates in domestic politics, which often pit conservative Christianity against no role for religion in politics. It goes to show that these issues and debates don’t – and shouldn’t – stop at the water’s edge.

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Christian Leaders Speak Out Against Injustice in Uganda

December 7, 2009, 3:58 pm | By lwatkins

Last week, David Gibson asked “if Uganda executes gays, will American Christians be complicit?” It’s the right question to ask– living out our faith requires examining potential complicity in the face of injustice, whether such complicity be from our actions, or from our willingness to stand idly by. As Dan pointed out, “part of standing up for what’s right is standing up to what’s wrong and calling out those who perpetrate injustice.” In an effort to do just that, American Christian leaders came together today to stand up and call out against the injustices of a proposed piece of legislation in Uganda, the “Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009.”

The statement grew out of a shared feeling among American Christian leaders that given the long history of US Christian involvement in Uganda and the fact that the influence of US Christianity is being implicated, they needed to make their voices heard. These leaders are speaking out against what they see as an affront to Christian values:

As followers of the teachings of Christ, we must express profound dismay at a bill currently before the Parliament in Uganda. The “Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009″ would enforce lifetime prison sentences and in some cases the death penalty for homosexual behavior, as well as punish citizens for not reporting their gay and lesbian neighbors to the authorities.

…In our efforts to imitate the Good Samaritan, we stand in solidarity with those Ugandans beaten…and left abandoned by the side of the road because of hatred, bigotry and fear. Especially during this holy season of Advent, when the global Christian community prepares in hope for the light of Christ to break through the darkness, we pray that they are comforted by God’s love.

Click here to see the full statement and list of signatories.

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Denunciations of Fort Hood: Raising Muslim Voices

November 9, 2009, 3:15 pm | By lwatkins

After Thursday’s tragic shooting at Fort Hood, news of accused attacker Maj. Nidal M. Hasan’s religious affiliation began making headlines. Whether Hasan acted with religious motivations or not, his Muslim faith has been made relevant and has provoked a variety of responses. Making their own voices heard, numerous Muslim communities and organizations are speaking up.

Among the organizations who have denounced the act of violence are the following:

Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)

The Islamic Society of North America condemns in the strongest terms the attack on soldiers at Fort Hood, resulting in the murder of at least a dozen soldiers and the wounding of many others. We express our deepest condolences to the victims and their families.

Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)

“We condemn this cowardly attack in the strongest terms possible and ask that the perpetrators be punished to the full extent of the law. No religious or political ideology could ever justify or excuse such wanton and indiscriminate violence. The attack was particularly heinous in that it targeted the all-volunteer army that protects our nation. American Muslims stand with our fellow citizens in offering both prayers for the victims and sincere condolences to the families of those killed or injured.”

American Society of Muslim Advancement (ASMA)

The American Society of Muslim Advancement, its staff and supporters extends its heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of victims of the Fort Hood tragedy. We pray for the souls of those whose lives were ended so abruptly and extend our heartfelt prayers to friends, colleagues and families who are affected by this senseless tragedy.

Our President called the Fort Hood attack “a horrific outburst of violence.” We American Muslims are shocked and outraged by such an outburst of violence from a fellow Muslim. This tragic and senseless violence is antithetical to our Islamic faith which promotes compassion and respect for life. Even though the perpetrator may have been under an inordinate amount of stress, in no way does that justify this horrific crime. Some reports suggest there may be several factors at play but as American Muslims we assert that in no way does Islam teach or condone this kind of crime.

In a press release with ISNA on Friday, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC-DC), the American Muslims in Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council (AMAF and VAC), and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) also “unequivocally denounced” the incident. The AMAF and VAC has expressed particular concern for Muslims serving in the military, a concern shared by Army chief of staff General George Casey Jr.

Beyond statements, Muslim groups are also contributing time and funds. The Islamic Society of North America, for instance, has launched a special fund for the victims of the Fort Hood attack. As reported by the Associated Press:

An American Muslim group says it has established a fund to benefit the families of victims in the Fort Hood shootings.

The Islamic Society of North America announced Monday that it’s collaborating with other Muslim organizations and interfaith groups to collect donations to help the families.

Along with the official statements and actions of various organizations, numerous individual Muslims and local Muslim communities are expressing their condemnation of the act and extending sympathy to the families and victims.

North Texas Muslims immediately decried the shootings.

“I am so sad,” said Nia McKay, the Indonesian-born president of Peacemakers, a Dallas-based nonprofit dedicated to events centered on peace. “Islam means Salaam. Its root word means peace. There are nonviolent resolutions.”

A number of faith leaders have contributed to the Washington Post, On Faith discussion on the attacks. Feisul Abdul Rauf comments:

What this unfortunate Army major did was against the laws of Islam, even though news accounts said he was an observant Muslim. It is too early to understand his motivations and mental stability. He obviously was violating his faith when he undertook this act. Killing is as much a sin in Islam as it is in Christianity, Judaism and all the major religions. Taking the law into one’s own hands is against Islamic teachings.

Daisy Khan adds her voice and points to the voices of others:

The links below represent just a few of the responses from the American-Muslim community, in particular from our network of Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow, one of the largest networks of global Muslim leaders representing the next generation (visit website).

Wajahat Ali, “Fort Hood Has Enough Victims Already,” Guardian, Friday, November 6, 2009

Arsalan Iftikhar, “Prayers for Fort Hood Tonight…,” True Slant,Thursday, November 5, 2009

Shahed Amanullah, “Treachery at Fort Hood,” AltMuslim Thursday, November 5, 2009

In light of the extensive negative media and misguided conclusions, it is essential that these Muslim voices be heard.

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Faith Leaders on Afghanistan

October 15, 2009, 3:56 pm | By lwatkins

As President Obama, military leaders, and Congress consider next steps in Afghanistan, the faith community has begun weighing in from the blogosphere. While opinions range widely from acknowledging the brokenness of the world and occasional need for war to urging President Obama simply to get out of Afghanistan, another strain has begun to emerge in the debate: the need for an alternative approach.

Brian McLaren speaks to this most directly in a letter to President Obama:

I believe now, as you and I both did [when President Bush was preparing for war in Iraq], that war is not the answer. Violence breeds violence, and as Dr. King said, you can murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. As the apostle Paul said, evil must be overcome with good, which means that violence and hate must be overcome with justice and love, not more of the same.

He goes on to propose the use of military spending on development and peace work.

Along these lines, Lisa Schirch at Sojourners asks: “So what would real security in Afghanistan look like? Instead of military engagement, it would focus on: development… diplomacy… [and] democracy.”

Last week, Rabbi Michael Lerner added his thoughts in the San Francisco Chronicle and Tikkun:

It’s time to abandon the strategy of global domination (military, economic or cultural) and seek homeland security through an ethos of generosity and genuine caring for the well-being of everyone on the planet and of the planet itself.

First step: When President Obama comes to San Francisco’s St. Francis Hotel on Tuesday, tell him to just say “no” to the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and instead launch a domestic and global Marshall Plan with the G-20 countries, each one dedicating 1 to 2 percent of its gross domestic product each year for the next 20 years, to once and for all end global and domestic poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education, inadequate health care, and to save the global environment. This is what the Bible means when it instructs us: I have set before you life and death – choose life!

In a recent Associated Baptist Press op-ed, David Gushee echoed similar sentiments:

Somehow, I don’t think that a ramping up of the bloody, costly war in Afghanistan is exactly “change we can believe in.” It is instead more of the same American imperialistic hubris mixed with fear and fiscal improvidence. We cannot afford this quest for perfect security. We would instead do better to improve our homeland-security capacities and use our intelligence services and diplomatic corps rather than stretching our military and budget to exhaustion.

The folks at Catholic News Service cite Bishop Hubbard of Albany, NY who also stresses an alternative focus, urging the administration to consider, among other things:

– Focusing more on diplomacy, humanitarian assistance and long-term development, particularly agricultural programs.

– Strengthening local governance and local groups’ participation in planning their own development.

– Encouraging international support to foster effective national and local governments.

In the Huffington Post, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf appeals to Islam for an alternative approach:

Our message to the Afghan people should be that we understand [certain] objectives of their own law, and our focus will be to help them build their government around these principles. This would win their hearts and minds. And other Muslim countries should be brought in as part of the alliance that will develop an overall political, economic, military and religious strategy.

Also looking to the Muslim faith, Anthony Stevens Arroyo contributed to On Faith Sunday suggesting:

Why not appeal to the orthodox teachings of Sunni Islam to separate the pious elements in the Taliban from the radical jihadists who imitate al-Qaeda? Since Islam is not intrinsically oriented to violence, then it should be possible to bring peace according to the Qur’an. This sort of divorce from violence in favor of a pure Islamic faith was what led Malcolm X out of the radical wing of the Black Muslims into orthodox Sunni Islam. Catholic America is aware of how the Pro-life movement has had occasion to distance itself from radical, pro-violence elements such as the one led by Randall Terry. So the idea of peeling away a moderate wing from a radical religious movement is not rocket-science. Instead of relying on bullets and an army of occupation to undercut al-Qaeda, the United States might accomplish this goal by fostering Muslim religious piety.

Among the many comments in the recent Texas Faith discussion were some from Ric Dexter, a Nichiren Buddhist from the Soka Gakkai lay organization:

We are engaged in conflict which won’t end simply because we wish it so, or even because we disengage. We need to exercise self mastery and restraint in our actions while working toward a humanistic transition. This will begin when the youth, now being trained in hatred, are educated to and grow up with examples of the value of living in peace. Instead of inviting more violence we need to open the pathway to that education and become that example.

Within this same discussion, Cynthia Rigby of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary suggests that the president “first determine whether there are options other than the two given in the question.”

In light of the complexity of the situation, I have to side with those seeking alternative approaches: Afghanistan is not black and white, let’s not resort to either/or.

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A Pretty -ahem- Liberal Interpretation of the Word “Translation”

October 8, 2009, 5:14 pm | By lwatkins

You’ve probably already heard about the Conservative Bible Project – folks are weighing in on this bit of misguided hubris right, left, front, and center. Even those of us who get our news from Comedy Central have had a taste of the debate. If you haven’t heard, the gist is that the Wikipedia knock-off “Conservapedia” is planning to create a more conservative-friendly Bible that will remedy “the single biggest distortion in modern Bible translations” — liberal bias. It will do so through numerous means, among them: targeted omissions (getting rid of, for instance, Jesus’ pesky throwing stones line), emphasis on the “logic of hell”, and avoidance of unisex words and “other emasculation of Christianity.”

I’m sure I could question a number of things about this particular venture, but the question that keeps coming to my mind is… What are they so scared of? The people at Conservapedia are hardly the first to try to take control of this text and submit it to their own will, and they will doubtless not be the last. What is it about the Bible that we find so threatening?

While I could pick out a few choice passages that Conservapedia is trying to eliminate and explain why they might be scary to them I could just as easily point you to a few passages that are quite scary to me. Because the truth is, the Bible can be a pretty scary book. It is, after all, about challenging the status quo, about flipping power-structures. About getting out of our individual comfortable niches and turning toward communities and ideas that might not look quite like our own.

Yet while I can relate to this desire to make the scriptures a bit more palatable, I also believe that I am called to face head-on those aspects of God that most scare me – not to retreat to my own ideological corner or hide behind watered-down truisms.

Besides, I’m pretty sure the message of the Bible is more powerful than I am; and I’m pretty sure it’s more powerful than the folks at Conservapedia, too.

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