Rather than portraying the Cordoba House/Park51 Islamic Center and mosque in Manhattan as what it actually is — a center promoting interfaith relations, combating extremism, and offering community programs for people of all religious backgrounds — opponents of the proposed complex such as Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin have stirred up a great deal of publicity by labeling it an “insult” and a “provocation.”
Today more than 40 prominent, diverse faith leaders and religion scholars in New York and across the country issued a statement calling the rhetoric of pundits like Palin and Gingrich exactly what it is — an appeal to “xenophobia and religious bigotry.” The statement, signed by leaders ranging from Simon Greer of Jewish Funds for Justice to National Council of Churches President Peg Chemberlin to Salam Al-Marayati, President of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, argues that Cordoba House opponents “would make a more lasting contribution to our nation if they stopped issuing inflammatory statements and instead helped inspire a civil dialogue between Christians, Jews and Muslims committed to a future guided by the principles of compassion, justice and peace.” The entire statement and list if signatories, including numerous rabbis, is here.
Faithful America – Faith in Public Life’s online community of more than 100,000 people of diverse faiths – is also standing up to anti-Muslim sentiment and fierce opposition to proposed mosques in communities across the country by circulating and signing a petition to honor the “many contributions of American Muslims toward global peace” and denounce bigotry and limits on religious freedom as a betrayal of American values. The petition will be sent not only to American Muslim leaders, but also to Gingrich and Palin. Sign it here.
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The vitriolic opposition to the proposed Cordoba House Islamic center in Lower Manhattan (the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”) has been nothing short of shameful – Newt Gingrich labeled it “deliberately insulting,” Sarah Palin called it a “provocation” and Cal Thomas described it as a celebration of 9/11 (seriously!). But defenses of the center have been as moving as the attacks have been ugly. Today’s New York Times editorial praising New York’s Landmark Preservation Commissions approval of the project said it well:
It has been disturbing to hear and read the vitriol and outright bigotry surrounding the building of a mosque two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. So it was inspiring when New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 9 to 0 on Tuesday to reaffirm one of the basic tenets of democracy: religious tolerance.
Instead of caving in to the angry voices — many but not all of them self-promoting Republican politicians — commissioners paved the way for construction of the mosque and Islamic center. It was not just the right thing to do, it was the only thing to do.
And New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave an inspiring speech yesterday in response to the commission’s decision, saying
Of course, it is fair to ask the organizers of the mosque to show some special sensitivity to the situation – and in fact, their plan envisions reaching beyond their walls and building an interfaith community. By doing so, it is my hope that the mosque will help to bring our City even closer together and help repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 were in any way consistent with Islam. Muslims are as much a part of our City and our country as the people of any faith and they are as welcome to worship in Lower Manhattan as any other group. In fact, they have been worshiping at the site for the better part of a year, as is their right….
Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure – and there is no neighborhood in this City that is off limits to God’s love and mercy, as the religious leaders here with us today can attest.
The contrast between this embrace of America’s highest ideals and the Right’s pandering to our society’s most shameful instincts could hardly be more stark.
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We reported a few weeks ago on the AP stylebook’s clear guidelines that journalists should avoid describing undocumented immigrants as “illegals.” Looks like Bruce Smith didn’t get the memo:
Immigration skirmish brews in quiet SC town
By BRUCE SMITH (AP) – 4 hours ago
SUMMERVILLE, S.C. — In a quiet Southern bedroom community of gardens and parks across the country from Arizona, another skirmish in the battle over illegal immigration is brewing.
Poor and uneducated illegals “come for the American dream,” said Villacis, 48, who emigrated from Ecuador four years ago.
There’s a reason journalists pursuing balance and accuracy should not be using politically loaded, dehumanizing language. We hope the AP catches this and makes a quick correction.
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“Religion works because of media,” Macky Alston, founder and director of Auburn Media, reminded me and fellow seminary students at our Beatitudes Society Summer Fellows workshop on understanding media strategy on Monday. In a world shaped by the media, religion works because of the ways religious leaders navigate media to communicate core messages on important issues. Religion cannot be separated from media and still be relevant.
However, as a seminarian, I can tell you that theological education does not prepare us to respond to the media. Being a strong communicator is an essential part of ministry, and so we are trained to preach, but we also need to be trained to talk to the press. I feel pretty comfortable in the pulpit, but sitting in a chair across from a journalist with a camera is a completely different story!
Even without actively seeking to be a voice in the realm of faith and politics, faith leaders are often called upon as public figures by the press to respond to issues of financial management, sexual misconduct, community tragedy, and hot button political debates on social and moral issues. The Auburn Media Training was an opportunity for me to fill in some of the gaps of my seminary training to more effectively do ministry.
Too often in seminary, we pick up habits that disconnect us from public debate because we rely too heavily on theological rhetoric and church-speak to be relevant in the media. Media training was a blessing in its focus on how to reach people through the press. For example, I learned how to take a story about sharing vegetables in my home church in rural Harford County, Maryland, to the press to send a message about food justice in our community and how people of faith can make our communities healthier. In this situation, the media is a way to share resources with other groups wanting to do similar work and also a way to share what we offer with a part of the community who may not be aware of this ministry.
Media is an important tool in social change, but it only works if faith leaders can make journalists care about the issue. One interview can change the course of a church project, a career, even a movement, so faith leaders must make media strategy a priority in the ministry they do.
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Since Faithful America unveiled its new radio ad last week challenging Glenn Beck’s claims about social justice, Beck has ramped up his attacks. As Media Matters notes, Beck responded to the ad by alleging that issues important to 100,000 Faithful America members had nothing to do with religion, but in fact were the products of “fascism” and “evil.”
While dismissing health care reform, immigration reform and ending war and torture, he directed particular attention to Faithful America’s commitment to addressing climate change. Beck complained:”If your pastor or priest or whoever is talking about social justice and it is, ‘God is telling you that the government needs to solve global warming’, run for your life.”
Beck may not want to believe climate change is a religious issue, but there’s a reason people of faith across the spectrum– from evangelical leaders and the conservative Christian Coalition to the Pope, numerous mainline protestant churches, and Jewish groups– have called for action on this issue. Not only is our current energy infrastructure unsustainable, but it disproportionately harms the poor. As climate change continues to worsen, access to clean water and food supplies deteriorate, and extreme changes in weather uproot entire communities–hitting developing countries the hardest. Our faiths call us to care for both creation and those in need, both of which will be devastated if we fail to act.
Beck’s attempt to appoint himself arbiter of what is or is not a religious issue may make for good radio, but by ignoring the broad religious concern for the issues he’s dismissing, Beck reveals his true ignorance.
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