Sunday, October 14, 2007

Moving to the World Council of Churches in Geneva

Dear Friends and Colleagues,


Yes, it is now official. In less than a month, I will move to Geneva, Switzerland and begin work as the Director of Inter-religious Dialogue and Cooperation.

In 1971 the WCC formalized its commitment to inter-religious dialogue when it established the Sub-Unit of Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologies. Ecumenical luminaries such as Stanley Samartha, Wesley Ariarajah, Hans Ucko and Tarek Mitri led this effort for the past 36 years. I am privileged to join their ranks.

My four years at the National Council of Churches have been exceedingly rewarding. The Interfaith Relations Commission will continue its work, although the current re-structuring at the NCC will provide some challenges in staffing some of the projects that I engaged in.

Many of you who are reading this have been an important part of this work and will continue to be. While my work will now be more international in scope, I still want to hear about what you do, and want to be engaged in this work as I am able.

Thank you for all your encouragement and support.








Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Thousands Fast for Peace


New York City, Oct. 10, 2007--Thousands of Americans crossed the lines of faith traditions to fast from dawn to dusk last Monday (October 8) to call for an end to the Iraq War. Prayer and fasting events were also reported in Canada, Australia and elsewhere, said the Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, associate general secretary at the National Council of Churches USA (NCC), one of the fast's organizers.

Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Unitarians, people of other faiths and people of no faith observed a day of fasting together. In many communities the breaking of the fast was observed at Islamic centers with an "iftar" dinner on the "Night of Power," the holiest night in Ramadan. Events were posted on the website www.interfaithfast.org but many more events were held according to emails received by the organizing network, Premawardhana said.


"This war must end!" said the religious leaders in their statement organizing the fast. "We must end the shattering of Iraqi and American lives by offering American generosity and support ? but not control ? for international and nongovernmental efforts to assist Iraqis in making peace and rebuilding their country, while swiftly and safely bringing home all American troops."

Breaking the fast at sundown dinners rolled west across the nation in the different time zones. They began in Washington, D.C., North Carolina and Pennsylvania to Kansas, Colorado, California and Washington State.

What may have been a first was a fast that took place in the online virtual community of Second Life (secondlife.com), organized by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and the Peacemaker Institute. Through their avatars, participants met for hourly mediation sessions throughout the day and then broke the fast with a closing ceremony and virtual snacks. "Since I don't live near any of the real life celebrations, participating in Second Life gave me the opportunity to be in community with others while I was fasting" said Ruby Sinreich of FOR.

At an Islamic center in Sterling, Va., just outside the nation's capital, several Christians and Jews gathered with Muslims to break the fast. Also present were officials of the U.S. State and Homeland Security departments and elected officials.

"Perhaps more than ever before religious people in small communities and large cities throughout the U.S. are gathering right now to break the fast," the Rev. Dr. Premawardhana told the gathering. "It is now imperative that we work to expand and deepen those relationships."

Rick Ufford Chase, former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, USA, spoke of the efforts of Christians to bring an end to the war in Iraq, including those of Christian Peace Witness, which brought over 3000 religious leaders to Washington on the 4th anniversary of war.

"Christians must own that our Christian president took us to war," he said. "That was the focus of the gathering in March. Now, working hand in hand with our interfaith partners we are much stronger."

The leaders of many faith communities invited Americans to join interfaith events for the common goal of peace which is common to all major religions in the world.

"American culture, society, and policy are addicted to violence at home and overseas," said the organizers. "In our time, the hope of a decent future is endangered by an unnecessary, morally abhorrent, and disastrous war. Ending this war can become the first step toward a policy that embodies a deeper, broader sense of generosity and community at home and in the world."


Among the religious who organized or endorsed the event were: Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Shalom Center, Philadelphia; Dr. Sayyid M. Sayeed, Islamic Society of North America, Plainfield, Ill.; Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, NCC Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations and Rev. Michael Livingston, NCC President; Jean Stoken, Pax Christi Roman Catholic peace ministry; Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia, Moderator of Religions for Peace USA; Jim Winkler, United Methodist Board for Church and Society; Rick Ufford-Chase, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and Christian Peace Witness, and Bishop Christopher Epting, The Episcopal Church.

The National Council of Churches USA is the ecumenical voice of 35 of America's Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, historic African American and traditional peace churches. These member communions represent 45 million faithful Christians in 100,000 congregations in all 50 states.
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NCC News contact: Dan Webster, 212.870.2252, NCCnews@ncccusa.org, or Philip Jenks, 212.870.2228.
For more information on the interfaith fast please go to: www.interfaithfast.org

Friday, September 28, 2007

Interfaith leaders call for day of fasting to end the war in Iraq

Here is the NCC press release and pictures from the religious leaders' press conference held on Wednesday, September 26th in Washington DC to call for an interfaith fast to call for an end to the war in Iraq. On October 8th in local communities around our nation people will fast during the day and come together in interfaith gatherings in the evening to break the fast. Please go to http://www.interfaithfast.org/ for details, to post information on a local event and to search for events in your area. On that page you will also find an organizing tool kit that includes bulletin inserts on fasting and organizing interfaith events. Please click the mail icon at the bottom of this post to email this post to a friend: http://www.interfaithfast.org/



Washington, Sept. 26, 2007 – Several religious leaders representing tens of millions of faithful Americans stood today in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol calling religious communities of various traditions to a day of fasting and prayer to end the Iraq war.

"We must return to the ancient disciplines so that we will turn away from violence toward reverence," said Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center, Philadelphia, to reporters gathered in front of the United Methodist Church office building on Maryland Avenue.
Represented at the news conference were leaders of Muslim, Jewish, Roman Catholic, Unitarian, and Baptist traditions. The Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, associate general secretary for interfaith relations at the National Council of Churches USA (NCC), and himself a Baptist, organized the news event.


Ancient practices were used at the news conference in the call to the nation. The ram's horn, or Jewish shofar, was sounded to "wake up" a nation. Ashes were placed on the leaders' foreheads as signs of repentance. A bell was tolled to call America's people of faith to join together on October 8 to fast from dawn to sunset, breaking the fast with their Muslim sisters and brothers.

"When you are fasting for Ramadan, you are enhancing your sense of compassion," said Dr. Sayeed Syeed from the Islamic Society of North America. "We will be asking mosques to open their doors to people of other faiths around the world on October 8 for prayer and dialogue.

"Dr. Syeed said the Islamic Center in nearby Sterling, Va., will open its doors to interfaith neighbors Oct. 8 to break the Ramadan fast together. Local religious groups are registering events at http://www.interfaithfast.org/, a website managed by the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

"From beginning to end the biblical revelation is a revelation of peace," said the Rev. Stan Hastey from the Alliance of Baptists and an officer of the NCC's Governing Board.
Hastey said the NCC has opposed the war since the beginning and recommended the "withdrawal of troops in an orderly way." The Baptist leader also called the war "unjust and seemingly unending."

"Our nation is engaged in a horrendous war, one destructive of civilizations and divisive of communities. We have a responsibility to end our violence and to make concrete our compassion for the people of Iraq," said Sister Marge Clark, BVM, a member of Pax Christi USA.
"May our prayer and fasting bring us to live our responsibility for the precarious world which we have shaped," said Sister Clark, who is also a member of NETWORK, the women religious-led Roman Catholic Social Justice group.

In addition to events in localities members of the internet site Facebook are organizing virtual communities to observe the day of fasting and prayer. One of the organizers is Alex Winnette from the Unitarian Universalist Association."Young people are unfairly and negatively stereotyped. We believe the opposite is true. We are connecting to a global effort," said Winnette of the Facebook plans. "We will take the lessons of our ancestors as inspiration (in this fast)."

Congregations may find material about fasting and other bulletin inserts at http://www.interfaithfast.org/ as well as an organizing tool kit to hold an event. A list of sponsoring organizations and individuals endorsing the day of fast is also at that website.

NCC News contact: Dan Webster, 212.870.2252, NCCnews@ncccusa.org

Photos by Leslie Tune

Thursday, September 06, 2007

September Issue of the NCC Interfaith Newsletter

The September 2007 issue of the NCC Interfaith Newsletter is now available. It features informatin on:

1. The Interfaith Fast on October 8th. See www.interfaithfast.org
2. Information about the Interfaith Relations Commission's initiatives:
a. Missiology of Jamestown Consultation
b. Restarting the Jewish Christian Dialogue Table
c. Planning for a Muslim Christian Dialogue Table
3. Article on Why IRD spent millions on mailing Epharaim Karsh's Islamic Imperialism to churches.
4. Two book reviews: Eboo Patel's Acts of Faith and Madeline Albright's Mighty and the Almighty

Read or download the newsletter here: http://www.ncccusa.org/pdfs/IFRsep07newsletter.pdf

Monday, September 03, 2007

Honored by ISNA

The 44th Annual Convocation of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) meeting at Chicago over the Labor Day weekend, honored me with the Interfaith Unity Award at the Interfaith Unity reception on Sunday, September 2. As she presented the award, Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of ISNA spoke of NCC's commitment to stand in partnership and solidarity with the Muslim community through some of the most difficult times of discrimination and prejudice they've faced, particularly since 9/11. Click here for the NCC press release

Dr. Ingrid Mattson, President of ISNA presenting the Interfaith Unity Award

The citation on the glass plaque reads:

"Islamic Society of North America presents Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, a fellow activist for peace, justice and reconciliation, a "Christian believer" as described in Qur'an (3:113) in recognition of his tireless contribution to advancing inter-religious dialogue and partnership, with our prayers for a continued demonstration of energy, understanding and commitment."

The keynote speaker at the event was the Hon. Ibrahim Rasool, Provincial Premier or Western Cape in South Africa. Rabbi Ellen Dreyfus, Vice President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and I responded. Here are my remarks:


ISNA Unity Reception – September 2, 2007


My sisters and brothers of faith – greetings of peace, assalamu aleikum.

As I noted earlier in this convention, these are the same words my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ used to greet his disciples shortly after his resurrection – peace be upon you. You didn’t know it, did you? Lots of Christians don’t know it either. Indeed there is much that Christians and Muslims don’t know about each other. Fact is, we have a great deal more in common in our religious traditions than our differences. No, we don’t need to hide our differences. They are real and we must honestly deal with them. But we have more in common.

When I greet you as sisters and brothers of faith, I must tell you, there are some Christians who object. How can I speak of non-Christians as sisters and brothers, they ask. For one very simple reason, I say. Jesus called them sisters and brothers. Its in the book! See, Jesus was out teaching and preaching, forgiving and healing, restoring people to God and to relationships with each other. His mother and brothers got so worried about him that they came looking for him. Some of his people came to Jesus and said, Rabbi (he was a rabbi, you know!) your mother and brothers are looking for you. And Jesus said something very incredulous. Pointing the people around him, he said, “Here are my mother and brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother, sister and mother.”

Whoever does the will of God? My reading of the Bible makes it clear that the will of God that he is talking about is the restoring of creation into right relationship. This what the early Jewish tradition established as the Jubilee, which Jesus said he came to proclaim. Everywhere you look in the Bible, its talking about restoring relationships: of human beings with God, human beings with each other and human beings with the world. You in this room, whatever your religious tradition, are working very hard to restore these relationships. You are doing the will of God. You are the ones upholding faith and serving humanity. You are my sisters and brothers.

There are others who try to do the very opposite. They try to create the sharpest of divisions among human beings. I want to draw your attention to two situations.

In April of this year, the far right wing advocacy organization Institute of Religion and Democracy, IRD sent a book, Islamic Imperialism, by Efraim Karsh as a gift to 100,000 churches around the country. They probably spent at least $ 1.7 million on that project. An anonymous donor wanted them to educate the churches, they said.

I read that book as soon as I could get my hands on a copy. Despite it being published by Yale University Press, the book has only a thin veneer of academic scholarship. Its purpose is not to educate but to persuade towards a right-wing ideology. It does not seek to restore relationships as the Bible teaches, but to destroy relationships by fear-mongering. It tries to portray Islam as unique among religions in supporting imperial ambitions. This distorted view of history dismisses Christian support of imperialism in one sentence. It is an unfortunate truth: all our religious traditions have legitimized imperialism and supported military adventures. In this Islam is not unique.

Those who promote fear mongering ideologies that strengthen divisions in human relationships, I am convinced, are not doing the will of God. Some of them bear the name Christian. But I must tell you, I have a hard time even thinking them as sisters and brothers. But you, who are Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and others who work so hard to create and restore human relationships, are doing the will of God. You are my sisters and brothers.

One more example. In February this year, I was a member of a Christian delegation that visited Iran. We met with many religious leaders, among them several senior Ayatollahs, both in Tehran and in the sacred city of Qom, and we met with president Ahmadinejad. We came away with three insights. 1. An assuarance that the nuclear program is only for energy purposes and not for weapons, since nuclear weapons are prohibited by fatwa by the supreme leader as being against Islamic teaching. 2. an affirmation that the only viable option in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a political one, and not a military one. 3. an eagerness to engage the United States government and the people in dialogue. Following our return, we shared this information with key Senators and congresspersons as well as with officials at the State Department.

I believe that the time has come and indeed past, when religious leaders must take very seriously what we have begun to call Faith based diplomacy. These conflicts are too serious to be left to politicians. Many conflicts around the world today have some basis in religion. Many, perhaps most religious leaders today are skilled enough in the methods of dialogue that we can stay at the table, even when the times get tough. Religious leaders have three things going for them that many political leaders do not: 1. a moral high-ground, 2. a large following, 3. the ability to speak with divine authority.

This is particularly important today regarding Iran. Last week the State department refused to grant visas to four out of fourteen Iranian religious leaders who were due to arrive in a return delegation to the US next week, forcing the cancellation of that visit. No reason was given other than “security,” although I believe the reasons are “political.” If diplomatic avenues for avoiding conflict are important, not granting visas to religious and academic leaders shows unusual ineptitude. If avoiding conflict are not important then it makes all the more sense. I have begun to worry that the latter is the case for this reason.

At about the same time that the visas were being denied, our president, speaking to a American Legion National Convention in Reno, on August 28th, had this to say.



The other strain of radicalism in the Middle East is Shia extremism, supported and embodied by the regime that sits in Tehran. Iran has long been a source of trouble in the region. It is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism….
And Iran’s active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust. Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. And that is why the United States is rallying friends and allies around the world to isolate the regime, to impose economic sanctions. We will confront this danger before it is too late.
We will do well to remember the rhetoric that came out of this White House prior to the attack on Iraq. Remember Colin Powell’s weapon’s laboratories in semi-trailor trucks, and Condaleeza Rice’s smoking gun “mushroom cloud!” And the president says, again, “We will confront this danger before it is too late.” These are fighting words, folks. Does anyone believe that Bush will leave office without a confrontation with Iran? It is time for people of faith to stand up together.

There are many ways to do that, but I don’t have the time to tell you. But here’s one opportunity. On October 8th, you my Muslim brothers and sisters will observe the most sacred night of Ramadan, the night of power. On that day you will not fast alone. Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhist and people of other religious traditions have agreed to fast with you. Under the theme from Conquest to Community, from violence to reverence, and interfaith fast to end the war in Iraq, religious people in small villages and large cities will fast together, hold vigils, teach-ins and other public actions together and come together after sundown to have Iftar with you and break the fast. I want to ask that you help initiate these events in your community, that you open your mosques to interfaith iftar celebrations and welcome your guests. We will instruct them to leave you to your particular prayer that will go late in to the night. But it will be a good beginning for your own observance. Please go to http://www.interfaithfast.org/ for information.

Someone said the powers that be have a vested interest in keeping us divided. The more we work together, stand in solidarity together, serve humanity together, the stronger we will be to restore human beings to God, to each other and to creation. That’s God’s will. And those who do it together are indeed my sisters and brothers.

Praise be to God! Hamdulillah!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Interfaith Fast Website


Dear Friends,

I have not been posting for over two weeks now, partly to allow the posting of the October 8th Interfaith Fast to End the War in Iraq to be the front story. Now we have a new website for the Interfaith Fast: http://www.interfaithfast.org/.

On that page you will be able to volunteer to organize events in your neighborhood, post events, and search for events by zip code.

If after reviewing the page you have questions or comments about the interfaith fast, please write to me: shanta@nccccusa.org.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Interfaith Fast to End the War in Iraq -- October 8th (Revised)


Dear Friends,

Do you remember February 15, 2003? It was a month before the war in Iraq began and people across the world came together in local communities for candlelight vigils for peace. Although, it didn’t stop us from going to war, it was one of the most poignant demonstrations of people power that I had seen in a long time. Many other such community events have taken place both centrally in Washington DC and in local communities. Recently, Christian Peace Witness (a coalition organized by Rick Ufford-Chase) brought together over 3000 people to Washington DC, on the fourth anniversary of the war in March.

On October 8th, we have the opportunity continue this tradition, but do it together with religious communities other than our own. We are calling local communities to come together and participate in an “Interfaith fast,” calling us from “conquest to community; from violence to reverence.” We seek to join with the Muslim community who would already be fasting on the "Night of Power" the holiest day of Ramadan. I am attaching our framing document for your review.

We are working on two ways of expanding this focus:

1. As we fast from food, we will call on all armed forces and militias to “fast” from killing at least for one day, reminding them that Ramadan calls for a fast from violence as well. We are currently seeking the support of international religious leaders to give this call more traction.

2. Considering Oct. 8th a beginning, we will seek to educate people in our religious communities about electing a president and representatives who are committed to ending this war and to peaceful means of resolving conflicts.

Our next steps are the following:

1. Set up a website that has capacity to receive listings of events from local communities and announce them

2. Prepare and publish material that teaches people about the spiritual discipline of fasting and
provides strategies for getting together with people in other religious communities.

3. Hold a press conference with top religious leaders towards the end of August in Capitol Hill and concurrently run ads in New York Times and other newspapers.

4. Organize local religious communities.

You are our key contact in the local religious communities. Without your support and engagement this event will fall flat. Therefore I want to ask two things from you at this time.

1. Sign the attached document, both on your own behalf and for your organization (If necessary do it first on your behalf and organization later.) Reply to this email with your endorsement and we will include you in the list of signers. (The first page of a growing list of signers is included in the document.)

2. Agree to help organize religious communities in your network for Oct 8th.

I want to convene a conference call on Wednesday, August 8th at 2:00 p.m. (Eastern) of those who agree to organize local communities to both work together and check in with our progress. Please let me know if you would agree to participate. We will also do so in the first weeks of September and October.


Please write or call me if you have questions. My contact information is below.

Thank you for your participation in this important work. Please write me if you have questions: shanta@ncccusa.org


The Framing Document and a partial (and growing list) of signers is below.



FROM CONQUEST TO COMMUNITY, FROM VIOLENCE TO REVERENCE,
AN INTERFAITH FAST TO END THE WAR IN IRAQ


We call on all Americans to join in fasting from dawn to dusk on Monday, October 8, to call for an end to the Iraq War. On this day, people of faith in local communities across our nation will act as catalysts to transform the meaning of the day from one of conquest to community and from violence to reverence.

Why:

This war must end!

We must end the shattering of Iraqi and American lives by offering American generosity and support – but not control – for international and nongovernmental efforts to assist Iraqis in making peace and rebuilding their country, while swiftly and safely bringing home all American troops.

Just as Isaiah called the People Israel to hear the Yom Kippur fast as God's call to feed the hungry, just as Jesus fasted in the wilderness, just as Christians through Lenten fasting and Muslims through Ramadan fasting have focused on spiritual transformation, just as Mohandas Gandhi, Cesar Chavez and others drew on fasting to change the course of history, so we call on all our communities of faith to draw now on fasting as a path toward inner spiritual transformation and outward social transformation.

American culture, society, and policy are addicted to violence at home and overseas. In our time, the hope of a decent future is endangered by an unnecessary, morally abhorrent, and disastrous war. Ending this war can become the first step toward a policy that embodies a deeper, broader sense of generosity and community at home and in the world.

Who:

Millions of faithful Americans in local communities across the nation who believe in changing the course of our nation’s priorities from conquest to community and from violence to reverence.

This fall, in an unusual convergence, many of our faith traditions share a season of sacred self-assessment and self-transformation. This holy season includes the month of Ramadan and the Night of Power (Islam); the High Holy Days and Sukkot (Judaism); the Feast Day of Francis of Assisi and Worldwide Communion Sunday (Christianity) and Pavarana / Sangha Day (Buddhism).

Since each of our traditions recognizes the power of fasting as a spiritual discipline, we call on all people of faith to join in a fast from dawn to dusk on Monday, October 8.

How:

Pre-Events:


During the months of August and September, we will prepare and publicize educational material that religious leaders can use to prepare their congregations to
1. appropriately relate with religious communities other than their own, and
2. learn the spiritual discipline of fasting as a transformational exercise, making clear the distinction between transformational fasting and the abusive use of fasting for the sake of a false sense of beauty and body-image

We invite individuals or small groups to begin the discipline by fasting one day a week, in the months prior to October 8.

Sundown, Sunday, October 7: Gather in intentionally interfaith events across the United States to pray and to break bread together.

On Monday, October 8th

Have a simple meal before dawn, committing to fast throughout the day as a sign of your commitment to move our core values from conquest to community and from violence to reverence.

While fasting, many of us in cities as New York, Chicago, San Francisco and in local communities across the United States will take part in public vigils, inviting community leaders and elected officials and candidates for the presidency to join us as we commit to take immediate action to end the war. In Washington DC, religious leaders will gather to fast together and engage in a public action to draw attention to the nation-wide events that will take place that day.

At sunset: We will eat together once again to break bread in public places as a sign of our commitment to work together for peace and an end to violence. This shared meal will be a sign of our covenant with one another – as individuals and as communities - to stand against the war in Iraq, and to work with one another to stand against violence in our communities and around the world. (Communities should be aware that for Muslims, later in the evening there will be large-scale gatherings for the Night of Power, commemorating the first revelation of the Quran. Shared break-fast meals should be scheduled so as to take account of these gatherings.)


Post Events -- A Season of Commitment:

As a practice of our covenant, we encourage local communities to continue in regular fasting, praying and holding vigils for peace and to take specific actions through the election cycle to stand together against the war in Iraq and against all of the ways in which violence is destroying our communities.

We encourage participants to continue to reach out to elected officials and candidates for congress and the presidency, inviting them to fast with us, break bread with us, pray with us, vigil with us, and publicly express their commitment to end this war.

We encourage those who live in states in which primary elections are held to use that opportunity to engage with the presidential candidates in their public appearances about their commitment to end the war

The Invitation:

We, religious leaders from several traditions, invite you to join with millions of other Americans by organizing joint interfaith events in your local community on October 7 and 8th, for the breaking of bread, fasting, and breaking our fast together as we covenant together to live out the deepest calling in each of our traditions – the desire for justice and for peace for all people. We offer these suggestions to communities that desire to deepen their witness:

Following the gathering on Oct 7th evening, plan events such as Teach-Ins that may extend to all night events to pray, study nonviolence in our different faith traditions, study sacred texts together, and witness to our opposition to war and violence.

Extend the fast to twenty-four hours – beginning with our interfaith meal together on Sunday evening, or for Christians, beginning on Sunday morning with the celebration of World Communion.

Gather on Monday morning, October 8th, for an inspirational public event that will both highlight the issues and provide motivation as we begin the fast.

Broaden our witness to insist that we stand against all use of torture, as well as to highlight our grave concerns about the growing violence on the streets of our cities and in mass shootings across the country, and about the way in which the media’s obsession with grotesque acts of violence undercuts the most fundamental values of our faith.



Partial List of Signatories

Rev. Robert Edgar General Secretary, National Council of Churches USA
Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, National Director, Islamic Society of North America
Rev. Michael E. Livingston, President, National Council of Churches USA
Executive Director, International Council of Community Churches
Rev. Dr. Stan Hastey, Minister for Ecumenical Relations and Mission Partnerships, Alliance of Baptists
Nihad Awad, Executive Director, Council on American Islamic Relations
Council on American Islamic Relations
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, the Shalom Center
The Shalom Center
Mark C. Johnson, Ph.D., Executive Director, The Fellowship of Reconciliation
The Fellowship of Reconciliation
Kathy Partridge, Executive Director, Interfaith Funders
Pax Christi USA: National Catholic Peace Movement
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Medical Mission Sisters' Alliance for Justice
Herman Harmelink III, Ecumenical Officer, International Council of Community Churches
Elder Rick Ufford-Chase, Executive Director, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
Rev. Jim Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church & Society, United Methodist Church
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
Rabbi Ted Falcon, Ph.D., Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue, Seattle, WA
Fr John Oliver, Cape Town Interfaith Initiative (CTII)
Roberta Wall, Ordained member of the Buddhist Order of Interbeing, Ordained by Thich Nhat hanh
Rev. Dr. Robert L. Brashear, Pastor, West-Park Presbyterian Church, New York City
Virginia Gray Henry, Director, Fons Vitae Publishing and DistributionRabbi Levi Meier, PhD
David L. Hoffman, Coordinator, Humanity Check interfaith peace and reconciliation projectEcumenical Peace Institute/Clergy and Laity Concerned
Parvez Ahmed, Council on American Islamic Relations
The Reverend Dwala J. Ferrell, Executive Director, Petersburg Urban Ministries, United Methodist Church
Jim Rice, Editor, Sojourners magazine
Duane Shank, Senior Policy Advisor, Sojourners/Call to Renewal
Rabbi Gerry Serotta, Chair, Rabbis for Human Rights/ North America
Rabbi Shirley Idelson, Hebrew Union College
Rev Dr Joan Brown Campbell, Chautauqua Institution
Rabbi Phyllis Berman,
Terence Cozad Taylor, Interfaith Paths to Peace
Rev. Jamie Hamilton, Exeter Academy
Rabbi Howard A. Cohen, American Hebrew Academy
Ahmed Bedier, Executive Director, CAIR Tampa

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Saudis Set to Behead Teenage Baby Sitter

Rizana Nafeek

17 years old Muslim girl from Sri Lanka.

Sent to Saudi Arabia as a nanny.

She was assigned 10 children to look after.

Had to get up 3AM to work until late at night.

She has been accused of strangling a four month old infant in Saudi Arabia.

She was then sentenced a death penalty of beheading according to the Saudi Arabian High Court.

No one knows whether she committed the crime or not.

Rizana Nafeek and family

Their house

In contravention of the UN charter on the rights of the child, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is set to behead a Sri Lankan maid who at the time of the incident was 17 years old. Yesterday she lost her appeal. Large numbers of very poor Sri Lankans travel to Middle Eastern countries seeking employment, without proper understanding of the implications of sharia law.

Rizana Nafeek, a Muslim teenager is supposed to have not had legal representation at her trial and the sharia court has upheld the beheading decision based on a confession which she claims she never made. She is accused of killing a baby she was bottle-feeding, which she claims was a choking incident that occurred despite her desperate attempts to clear the baby's air passage.

Saudi Arabia enjoys cordial relations with the United States because of its monarch's close ties with the Bush family -- this despite most of the 9/11 hijackers having been native to Saudi Arabia, and numerous reports of human rights violations.

Watch You Tube movie here

You Can Take Action: Go To Save Rizana Webiste


Today's Sri Lanka Sunday Times editorializes:

Somehow the plight of young Rizana Nafeek, the 19-year-old teen from the war-ravaged, poverty-stricken Eastern Province of Sri Lanka now on death row in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has not kindled the outrage it ought to have -- and would have -- in most other countries. Certainly not within the Government. Her story is a saga in itself.

Read the entire editorial here

Amnesty International is raising urgent concern over the plight of Rizana Nafeek at a time when executions in Saudi Arabia have increased rapidly. In the first six months of this year nearly 100 people in the Kingdom have already been executed, including three women.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'The death penalty is always wrong but it is an absolute scandal that Saudi Arabia is preparing to behead a teenage girl who didn't even have a lawyer at her trial.

'The Saudi authorities are flouting an international prohibition on the execution of child offenders by even imposing a death sentence on a defendant who was reportedly 17 at the time of the alleged crime.

'Rizana's execution must be stopped and she must be allowed proper legal representation. Saudi Arabia should also freeze all further executions and stop what has become a torrent of judicial killing in recent months.'

Read Amenesty International's report and Action Alert

Child Rights Information Network Reports...

In January 2006 Saudi Arabia assured the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child that no children had been executed in the country since the children's convention came into force in Saudi Arabia in 1997.

Half of these have been foreign nationals, mostly from poor countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Iraq.

In 2006 Saudi Arabia was known to have executed 39 people (though the true figure may have been higher), the seventh highest number in the world. This year the execution 'rate' is approximately five times higher than last year's, and Saudi Arabia is now likely to have one of the highest execution tolls for 2007 of any country in the world.

Read the entire report from Child Rights Information Network here

Read the Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding death penalty

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) -- Iraq War Inconsistent with Teaching and Example of Jesus

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) a member communion of the NCC meeting this week in Fort Worth, Texas, affirmed the following resolution opposing the war in Iraq.

Rev. Sharon Watkins, President and General Minister, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)


THE CHURCH’S RESPONSE TO THE WAR IN IRAQ
REVISED

WHEREAS, Jesus declared peacemakers "blessed" (Matthew 5:9) and scripture reminds us that Jesus lived nonviolently even while suffering, leaving us an example that we should follow in his steps (1 Peter 2: 20-23) and, further, that scripture calls us to "live peaceably with all" (Romans 12:18); and

WHEREAS, many of the earliest and most influential leaders of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) taught war to be utterly at odds with Christian practice, among them Alexander Campbell, who taught, "War is not now, nor was it ever, a process of justice," and Barton Stone, who declared, "Nothing appears so repugnant to the kingdom of heaven as war;" and

WHEREAS, the war in Iraq is not only contrary to the views of Christian pacifism but also is at odds with the traditional standards of just war at several points:
(1) A preventative war is not a just cause, regardless of whether there were weapons of mass destruction in the arsenal of pre-war Iraq. (2) The war was not a last resort. Since the war was not a defensive war calling for immediate violent response, nonviolent efforts of resolution were still possible, and

WHEREAS, on the advice of the President of the United States of America, Congress authorized an attack on Iraq if certain conditions were not met, when the rightful authority charged to examine the veracity of accumulation of weapons of mass destruction is the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a body of the United Nations, and WHEREAS, leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches, the Episcopal Church, and mainline Protestant churches in the United States have expressed opposition to the Iraq War and our global church and ecumenical partners have issued statements on the war declaring it to be immoral and contrary to the principles of "Just War;" and

WHEREAS, leaders of the church - for example, Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams - have expressed regret for not doing more to oppose the war in Iraq; and

WHEREAS, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) witnesses to our inclusiveness by encouraging the lively and meaningful discussion of this, and all divisive issues, at every level of our denomination through honest dialogue in which a respect for the faithful viewpoints of others is expected as a matter of both conviction and conscience;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) gathered in Ft. Worth, Texas on July 21 – 25, 2007, after due reflection and a respectful discussion, go on record as conscientiously opposing the war in Iraq as an action inconsistent with the teachings and example of Jesus Christ, and a violation of the traditional standards of just war, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this General Assembly reaffirm the following statement (included in the letter of February 18, 2006, from the U.S. Conference of the World Council of Churches addressed to the delegates at the WCC Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil) that "we lament with special anguish the war in Iraq, launched in deception and violating global norms of justice and human rights" ; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that although the General Assembly disagrees with the war in Iraq, we lift up the men and women of the armed forces who are stationed there for their courage and sacrifice and hold them and their families in our prayers; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the General Minister and President inform Disciple chaplains within the armed services about the action taken by this General Assembly regarding the war so that they may prepare to provide this information to service members who seek to know the position of their church; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) affirms the God-given right of conscience and offers moral support to men and women who volunteered for military service but who, on the grounds of Christian conviction, refuse deployment to Iraq, realizing that this action may subject them to military discipline; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the General Minister and President be encouraged to write a pastoral letter to all congregations acknowledging the deep pain this war has caused our country and our church and promoting the ongoing discussion of this war from a theological viewpoint; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that regions of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) be encouraged to institute for ministers with standing and students seeking ordination, education and training in the Christian tradition of "Just War" standards and pacifist perspectives; and

FINALLY, BE IT RESOLVED that the General Minister and President make the President and the Congress of the United States and the Prime Minister and Parliament of Canada aware of these actions to be taken by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), regardless of the decisions the US government chooses to make in relation to the war in Iraq.

_________________________
1. The jus ad bellum, criteria for entering into to warfare are:
-- There must be a just cause for entering into warfare. Essentially just cause is limited to self-defense or putting a stop to egregious and ongoing injustice.
-- The actions must be guided by right intentions. Right intention pertains to the reestablishment of peace and order, and not to intentions which lead to brutality, vengeance and humiliation for the enemy.
-- A war can be justifiable only when declared by a competent and recognized authority.
-- War can be engaged in only as a last resort. All other possible means of resolving the conflict must be exhausted before war can be considered justifiable.
-- There must be a high probability of success as far as can be determined. "Heroic" lost causes, however just, are not justifiable.
-- The reasonably anticipated good to be achieved by engaging in warfare must be proportionally greater than the destruction to persons, property and culture which will likely result as a consequence of war.

Just War Theory developed by Aristotle, Cicero and Augustine has beencodified in the United Nations Charter, the Hague and the Geneva Conventions.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Hagee's Disclaimers Disingenuous

As Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the Christian Zionist lobby headed by John Hagee ended their convention in Washington DC this week, both mainline Christian and Jewish communities seemed to distance themselves from it.


Despite Executive Director, David Brog's claim that it is primarily an educational organization; "we devote the bulk of our resources to teaching Christians both the biblical imperatives of supporting Israel and modern-day political imperatives,” the group's political agenda is obvious. That claim was belied by an extensive set of congressional talking points that also included calls for divestment from Iran, increased U.S. foreign aid for Israel and a greater focus on Hezbollah’s violations of United Nations resolutions.

In addition, the Convention featured several prominent US politicians including Senator Joseph Liberman, Congressman Roy Blunt (Republican whip) and former speaker Newt Gingrich. Likud leader and former Prime Minister of Isarael Benjamin Natanyahu brought special greetings.

Indeed, CUFI is becoming known as the Christian AIPAC -- the powerful Israeli lobby.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Rev. Hagee denied the relationship between the apocalyptic prophecies described in his books and CUFI’s political activities. “Our support for Israel has absolutely nothing to do with end-times prophecy — it has absolutely nothing to do with eschatology,” he said.

I find this very interesting, because much of Hagee's own writing and much of the Christian Zionist movement is ideologically situated in a particular reading of the Biblical apocalyptic literature usually called pre-millennial dispensationalism. Its mythical scenario ends with armageddon (the battle of Megiddo) where a violent Jesus will destroy unconverted Jews in a bloody battle.

Jewish leaders didn't buy this disclaimer either. Writes James Besser of Jewish Week:

“As a religious person, I find that hard to believe," Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism said. "My own theological thinking and reading of the Bible and other sacred texts has a major impact on how I see the world, including the political world.”

Rabbi Yoffie said he is “not really interested in questioning” Rev. Hagee’s theological motivations. “What concerns me is what he says about politics. And based on what I read, there is no question that he is embracing policies that are contrary to the policies of the Bush administration, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, not to mention the government of the state of Israel.”

I’m sure he believes what he writes,” said Rabbi Barry Block, senior rabbi at Temple Beth-El in San Antonio, the home of Hagee’s Cornerstone Church. “I can’t see how that is unconnected to his political activity. I think more Jews at every level need to know about his apocalyptic vision.”

Rabbi Block said that “I fear that when Pastor Hagee and his minions enter the halls of Congress, what they will tell our leaders, at least implicitly, is not to support any agreement that moves toward a two-state solution. That is something Pastor Hagee has written about quite clearly.”

Indeed, CUFIs position seems to be at varience with the Israeli government's commitment to a two-state solution.

CUFI's position of non-proseletization of Jews is a welcome change to many Jewish leaders who've seen offensive attempts at evangelism by Evangelical denominations such as the Southern Baptists. Several mainline denominations reounced Jewish evangelism many decades ago, with the theological understanding that God has not "revoked the covenant" with the Jews.

Two other items in CUFIs rhetoric are deeply distressing. One is its on-going villification of Islam and the other its aggressive push to go to war against Iran. Both positions are seriously irresponsible.

First, most Muslim people are peace-loving and law-abiding people. American Muslim organizatoins have regularly condemned terrorist activities by extreme Muslims. Not too long ago, the most authoritative of American Muslim bodies, the Fiqh Council issued a fatwa (edict) against terror. The NCC has consistently encouraged Christians learn about Islam and build relationships with Muslim people.

Second, war with Iran will be catastrphic not only to the stability of the Middle East but to the world and particularly to the security of Israel. To do the same thing and expect different results is nothing but lunacy. If Iraq is any indication of the catastrophic nature of war, Iran will be worse. The only answer to our disagreements with Iran is dialogue and diplomacy -- and in my view, religious leaders should be front and center of that movement.

For further reading click the links below.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

An Interfaith Fast to End the War in Iraq -- October 8th

Dear Friends,


Do you remember February 15, 2003? It was a month before the war in Iraq began and people across the world came together in local communities for candlelight vigils for peace. Although, it didn’t stop us from going to war, it was one of the most poignant demonstrations of people power that I had seen in a long time. Many other such community events have taken place both centrally in Washington DC and in local communities. Recently, Christian Peace Witness (a coalition organized by Rick Ufford-Chase) brought together over 3000 people to Washington DC, on the fourth anniversary of the war in March.

On October 8th, we have the opportunity continue this tradition, but do it together with religious communities other than our own. We are calling local communities to come together and participate in an “Interfaith fast.” The event that calls us from “conquest to community; from violence to reverence” seeks to join with the Muslim community who would already be fasting for Ramadan.
This time we are encouraging local communities to engage their political leaders, to call on them to end this war. In communities where presidential primaries are held we are encouraging religious leaders to engage the presidential candidates for their commitment to end the war.

You are our key contact in the local religious communities. We need your organizing power.

Threfore, I want to ask two things from you:

1. Sign the document, both on your own behalf and for your organization (If necessary do it first on your behalf and organization later.) To do so, click on the comment button at the bottom of this post and write you own and your organizational information and we'll sign you up. You may also email me with your endorsement at
shanta@ncccusa.org

2. Agree to help organize religious communities in your network for Oct 8th. Again please indicate your willingness by clicking on the comment button or emailing me.

Please write me if you have questions: shanta@ncccusa.org

Thank you for your participation in this important work.

The framing document and a partial list of current signers is below



FROM CONQUEST TO COMMUNITY, FROM VIOLENCE TO REVERENCE,
AN INTERFAITH FAST TO END THE WAR IN IRAQ


We call on all Americans to join in fasting from dawn to dusk on Monday, October 8, the day officially known as "Columbus Day," to call for an end to the Iraq War. On this day, people of faith in local communities across our nation will act as catalysts to transform the meaning of the day from one of conquest to community and from violence to reverence.

Why:

This war must end!

We must end the shattering of Iraqi and American lives by offering American generosity and support – but not control – for international and nongovernmental efforts to assist Iraqis in making peace and rebuilding their country, while swiftly and safely bringing home all American troops.

Just as Isaiah called the People Israel to hear the Yom Kippur fast as God's call to feed the hungry, just as Jesus fasted in the wilderness, just as Christians through Lenten fasting and Muslims through Ramadan fasting have focused on spiritual transformation, just as Mahatma Gandhi, Cesar Chavez and others drew on fasting to change the course of history, so we call on all our communities of faith to draw now on fasting as a path toward inner spiritual transformation and outward social transformation.

American culture, society, and policy are addicted to violence at home and overseas. The day we officially call "Columbus Day" is overlaid with a history of violence and conquest. In our time, the hope of a decent future is endangered by an unnecessary, morally abhorrent, and disastrous war. Ending this war can become the first step toward a policy that embodies a deeper, broader sense of generosity and community at home and in the world.

Who:

Millions of faithful Americans in local communities across the nation who believe in changing the course of our nation’s priorities from conquest to community and from violence to reverence.

This fall, in an unusual convergence, many of our faith traditions share a season of sacred self-assessment and self-transformation. This holy season includes the month of Ramadan and the Night of Power (Islam); the High Holy Days and Sukkot (Judaism); the Feast Day of Francis of Assisi and Worldwide Communion Sunday (Christianity), and Pavarana / Sangha Day (Buddhism).

Since each of our traditions recognizes the power of fasting as a spiritual discipline, we call on all people of faith to join in a fast from dawn to dusk on Monday, October 8.

How:
Pre-Events:

-- During the months of August and September, we will prepare and publicize educational material that religious leaders can use to prepare their congregations to
1. appropriately relate with religious communities other than their own, and
2. learn the spiritual discipline of fasting as a transformational exercise, making clear the distinction between transformational fasting and the abusive use of fasting for the sake of a false sense of beauty and body-image

-- We invite individuals or small groups to begin the discipline by fasting one day a week, in the months prior to October 8.

-- Sundown, Sunday, October 7: Gather in intentionally interfaith events across the United States to pray and to break bread together.

On Monday, October 8th

-- Have a simple meal before dawn, committing to fast throughout the day as a sign of your commitment to move our core values from conquest to community and from violence to reverence.

-- While fasting, many of us in cities as New York, Chicago, San Francisco and in local communities across the United States will take part in public vigils, inviting community leaders and elected officials and candidates for the presidency to join us as we commit to take immediate action to end the war. In Washington DC, religious leaders will gather to fast together and engage in a public action to draw attention to the nation-wide events that will take place that day.

-- At sunset: We will eat together once again to break bread in public places as a sign of our commitment to work together for peace and an end to violence. This shared meal will be a sign of our covenant with one another – as individuals and as communities - to stand against the war in Iraq, and to work with one another to stand against violence in our communities and around the world. (Communities should be aware that for Muslims, later in the evening there will be large-scale gatherings for the Night of Power, commemorating the first revelation of the Quran. Shared break-fast meals should be scheduled so as to take account of these gatherings.)


Post Events -- A Season of Commitment:

-- As a practice of our covenant, we encourage local communities to continue in regular fasting, praying and holding vigils for peace and to take specific actions through the election cycle to stand together against the war in Iraq and against all of the ways in which violence is destroying our communities.

-- We encourage participants to continue to reach out to elected officials and candidates for congress and the presidency, inviting them to fast with us, break bread with us, pray with us, vigil with us, and publicly express their commitment to end this war.

-- We encourage those who live in states in which primary elections are held to use that opportunity to engage with the presidential candidates in their public appearances about their commitment to end the war

The Invitation:

We, religious leaders from several traditions, invite you to join with millions of other Americans by organizing joint interfaith events in your local community on October 7 and 8th, for the breaking of bread, fasting, and breaking our fast together as we covenant together to live out the deepest calling in each of our traditions – the desire for justice and for peace for all people.

We offer these suggestions to communities that desire to deepen their witness:

-- Following the gathering on Oct 7th evening, plan events such as Teach-Ins that may extend to all night events to pray, study nonviolence in our different faith traditions, study sacred texts together, and witness to our opposition to war and violence.

-- Extend the fast to twenty-four hours – beginning with our interfaith meal together on Sunday evening, or for Christians, beginning on Sunday morning with the celebration of World Communion.

-- Gather on Monday morning, October 8th, for an inspirational public event that will both highlight the issues and provide motivation as we begin the fast.

-- Broaden our witness to insist that we stand against all use of torture, as well as to highlight our grave concerns about the growing violence on the streets of our cities and in mass shootings across the country, and about the way in which the media’s obsession with grotesque acts of violence undercuts the most fundamental values of our faith.


Signatories

Rev. Robert Edgar General Secretary, National Council of Churches USA

Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, National Director, Islamic Society of North America

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center

Rev. Michael E. Livingston, President, National Council of Churches USA
Executive Director, International Council of Community Churches

Rev. Dr. Stan Hastey, Minister for Ecumenical Relations and Mission Partnerships, Alliance of Baptists

Nihad Awad, Executive Director, Council on American Islamic Relations

Council on American Islamic Relations

Mark C. Johnson, Ph.D., Executive Director, The Fellowship of Reconciliation

The Fellowship of Reconciliation

Kathy Partridge, Executive Director, Interfaith Funders

Pax Christi USA: National Catholic Peace Movement

Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Medical Mission Sisters' Alliance for Justice

Herman Harmelink III, Ecumenical Officer, International Council of Community Churches

Elder Rick Ufford-Chase, Executive Director, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship Presbyterian Peace Fellowship

Rev. Jim Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church & Society, United Methodist Church

Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

Rabbi Ted Falcon, Ph.D., Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue, Seattle, WA

Fr John Oliver, Cape Town Interfaith Initiative (CTII)

Roberta Wall, Ordained member of the Buddhist Order of Interbeing, Ordained by Thich Nhat hanh

Rev. Dr. Robert L. Brashear, Pastor, West-Park Presbyterian Church, New York City

Virginia Gray Henry, Director, Fons Vitae Publishing and Distribution
Rabbi Levi Meier, PhD

David L. Hoffman, Coordinator, Humanity Check interfaith peace and reconciliation project
Ecumenical Peace Institute/Clergy and Laity Concerned

Parvez Ahmed, Council on American Islamic Relations

The Reverend Dwala J. Ferrell, Executive Director, Petersburg Urban Ministries, United Methodist Church

Jim Rice, Editor, Sojourners magazine

Duane Shank, Senior Policy Advisor, Sojourners/Call to Renewal

Rabbi Gerry Serotta, Chair, Rabbis for Human Rights/ North America

Rabbi Shirley Idelson, Hebrew Union College

Rev Dr Joan Brown Campbell, Chautauqua Institution

Rabbi Phyllis Berman,

Terence Cozad Taylor, Interfaith Paths to Peace

Jamie Hamilton, Exeter Academy

Rabbi Howard A. Cohen, American Hebrew Academy

Ahmed Bedier, Executive Director, CAIR Tampa

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Betrayal of Faith and Profession -- a Muslim Doctor Speaks Out

Dr. Asma Mobin-Uddin, pediatrician, Children's author from Columbus, Ohio and the board chairwoman for the Ohio chapter of the Council for American Islamic Relations wrote a column today in the New York Post on the news for sense of shock and disbelief that persons arrested on charges of terrorism in Australia are not only Muslims but also doctors.

Click to view video of Dr. Mobin-Uddin interviewed on July 5th on

CNN This American Morning and

Fox and Friends


BETRAYAL OF OUR FAITH & PROFESSION


July 4, 2007 -- AS THE investigation of the terror plots in London and Glasgow unfolds, I am experiencing the emotions I often do in hearing that people associated with my faith are involved - incredulity, anger, and outrage that once again, these heinous acts are associated with people professing to be Muslims.

But this time, my sense of disbelief and betrayal reaches a new level as I learn that many of those accused share not only my faith but also my profession.

The thought of physicians treating patients while secretly plotting to kill innocent people sickens and angers me on a new level.

Read the entire article here

Read also the

STATEMENT FROM THE ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM HEALTH PROFESSIONALS (AMHP) REGARDING RECENT EVENTS UNFOLDING IN THE UNITED KINGDOM


It is with a heavy heart that we read about the affair in the United Kingdom. As we consider these events, we hope to remind ourselves and our peers in the health and the Muslim communities of several things:


We have faith in the British system of justice and hope and expect that all suspects will have a fair trial, without prejudice. These acts in the UK, if found to be truly done by health professionals, are inconsistent with all we believe in as Americans, as Health Professionals, and as Muslims. We call on all people of conscience, whether they be health professionals, Muslims, Americans, or British to consider seriously the damage their actions might cause to innocent people, the societies who would suffer from their actions, and the peoples and groups whom they will be labeled to represent when caught and identified.

If found to be guilty, these men will not be the first doctors to plan or perform heinous acts. If British justice system finds them guilty of these crimes, we put them in a pantheon of heinous physicians performing acts that go against the grain of all we believe in as Muslim Health Professionals. Josef Mengele, Mike Swango, Harold Shipman, and in the UK, John B Adams are small list of psychopaths with medical degrees who have harmed countless numbers of people in defiance of their professional oaths. We make no difference between health professionals who use their skills contrary to the human rights of any individual. Whether it is serial murder or genocide, medical torture for the military, or unethical research for profit, these people are not from us and we are not from them.

We especially call on all health professionals, from all ethnic and minority communities, to look for signs of social isolation within their community, and to openly discuss the issues of terrorism, vigilantism, and violence that have become a cancer in our midst.

Indeed, we remind all health practitioners of their obligations under the Geneva Convention, which ask that we state that "[I, the medical practitioner] will maintain the utmost respect for human life from its beginning even under threat and I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity.”

The Association for Muslim Health Professionals, founded in 2004, seeks to become a leader in improving public health, through methods inspired by Islamic Tradition.

Contact: Janice French, Association of Muslim Health Professionals, (240) 271-7692

Monday, June 25, 2007

"Drive Out the Money Changes" Bill Moyers Speech to UCC

Click here to listen to Bill Moyers' terrific speech to UCC



Here's a summary by W. Evan Golder

June 23, 2007

In a speech inflamed with passion, anger and an altar call's possibility of hope, Bill Moyers spoke to General Synod on Saturday morning about poverty and justice. His 57-minute keynote address – interrupted by applause more than three dozen times and followed by a two-minute standing ovation –lamented the growing gap between the rich and poor in America and called the UCC to act in the name of the Jesus who was a disturber of the peace and threw the rascals out.

"I have come to say that America's revolutionary heritage – and America's revolutionary spirit – "life, liberty and the pursuit of justice, through government of, by, and for the people" – is under siege," he said. "And if churches of conscience don't take the lead in their rescue and revival, we can lose our democracy!"

Although an ordained Baptist minister, Moyers and his family have been members of the Garden City (N.Y.) Community UCC for 40 years, and now worship at The Riverside Church (UCC/American Baptist) in Manhattan.

"I am at home in the UCC," he said. "I thank God for your witness, and for the storied heritage of the UCC. This United Church has a lineage that has influenced the American experiment far beyond its numbers and treasures.

"You have raised a prophetic voice against the militarism, materialism and racism that chokes America's arteries. You have placed yourselves in the thick of the fight for social justice. You have aligned yourself on the side of liberty, equality and compassion.

"And you have been a church of prominent firsts: first to ordain an African American, first to ordain a woman, and first to ordain an openly gay person.

"Moyers pointed out that 11 signers of the Declaration of Independence were members of UCC predecessor churches. Speaking of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," he said that once those words were abroad, every human being who heard them could imagine another world possibility.

"They could think differently about the value that had been arbitrarily assigned to their lives by others," he said. However, he said, "The man who wrote those words knew it couldn't last. (Jefferson) "knew from his own experience the perversity of owning another person as chattel. For the hands that wrote those words – 'all men are created equal' – also stroked the breasts and caressed the thighs of a slave woman named Sally Hennings. It is no secret.

"Thomas Jefferson got it right, you see," Moyers continued, "but he lived it wrong. He was imbedded in the human condition. "Addicted to his own place and privilege, he could send the noblest sentiments winging around the world, but refuse to let them lodge in his own home."

Moyers pointed out that this conflict between power and justice has come down through the ages. He gave as an example Job's protests against a world where the wicked prosper and the innocent suffer."

Job saw that poverty and injustice were proscribed by the powers-that-be who arranged the social order to serve their own self-interest and called upon obliging priests to bless it as God's will," he said. He cited the spectacular rise in the number of gated communities, both in Southern California and in Buenos Aires, Argentina, as an example of today's powers-that-be to keep the poor and the lonely invisible.

"But," he said, "the realities on the ground don't go away," and told stories from contemporary life: woefully inadequate public education in New York City, deaths from Chicago's record heat wave in 1995, the plight of a homeless person in Los Angeles, and a UNICEF report card that ranks the United States near the bottom in child well-being in the developed world.

"I have to confess," he said, "it's a mystery to me. Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me.'... You have to wonder how this so-called Christian nation leaves so many children to suffer."

"For 30 years," Moyers said, "we have witnessed a class war fought from the top down against the idea and ideal of equality. It has been a drive by a radical elite to gain ascendancy over politics and to dismantle the political institutions, the legal and statutory canons, and the intellectual and cultural frameworks that checked the excesses of private power."

It's as if you invited 100 persons to a party, divided a pie into five pieces and gave four pieces all to one person, leaving one piece for the remaining 99, he said. "Don't be surprised if they fight over it," he said, "which is exactly what's happening when people look at their wages and then their taxes and end up hating the government and anything it does. The strain on working people and on family life has become intense," he said. "Television sets and cell phones and iPods are cheap, but higher education, health care, public transportation, drugs, housing and cars have risen in price faster than typical family incomes."

What's been happening to working people is "the direct consequence of corporate activism, intellectual propaganda, the rise of a political religion of fundamentalism deeply opposed to any civil and human right that threatens its paternalism, and a series of political decisions favoring the interests of wealthy elites who bought the political system right out from under us," he said.

Moyers concluded with an "altar call."

"Poverty and justice are religious issues," he said, "and Jesus moves among the disinherited." He imagined Jesus "striding through the holy precincts that had been transformed into a market place, a stock exchange, upsetting the dealers, scattering their money across the floor, even bouncing them forcefully from the temple.

"Indignant at a profane violation of the sacred, Jesus threw the rascals out," he said. Challenging the audience, Moyers reminded them of that Jesus. "Let's call that Jesus back to duty, and drive the money changers from the temple of democracy," he said. "If you don't, who will?"

Saturday, June 23, 2007

United Church of Christ Calls for End to the War in Iraq


The Collegium of Officers (the five elected officers) of the United Church of Christ took action today to call for an end to the Iraq war.

Just as they were beginning to celebrate the UCC's diamond jubilee, delegates and visitors to the 26th General Synod heard a the pastoral letter calling the war in Iraq "the arrogant unilateralism of preemptive war." The letter included a confession that "too often the church has been little more than a silent witness" to the deaths of thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis.

The letter was endorsed by UCC's Conference Ministers (the leaders of our geographic jurisdictions) and by its Seminary Presidents. It was endorsed also by the full body of the General Synod Friday afternoon

The delegates and visitors interrupted the reading of the letter with a standing ovation and afterwards voted to add the name of the General Synod. Delegates were invited to add their names as individuals. And as the Rev. Linda Jaramillo, told a packed news conference, all across the nation members of the UCC who were watching the Synod on live streaming video would have a chance to sign the letter as well.

The Pastoral Letter follows:


A Pastoral Letter on the Iraq War
From the Collegium of Officers
United Church of Christ


June 22, 2007

“God expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry"
(Isaiah 5.7)

The war in Iraq is now in its fifth year. Justified as a means to end oppression, this war has imposed the new oppression of terror on the people of Iraq. Justified as the only way to protect the world from weapons of mass destruction, this war has led to the massive destruction of communal life in Iraq. Justified as a means to end the rule of terror, this war has bred more terror. Every day we look for justice, but all we see is bloodshed. Every day we yearn for righteousness, but all we hear is a cry.

Thousands of precious American lives have been lost; thousands more have been altered forever by profound injuries. We grieve each loss and embrace bereaved families with our prayers and compassion. Tens of thousands more innocent Iraqi lives are daily being offered on the altar of preemptive war and sectarian violence. They, too, are precious, and we weep for them. In our name human rights have been violated, abuse and torture sanctioned, civil liberties dismantled, Iraqi infrastructure and lives destroyed.. Billions of dollars have been diverted from education, health care, and the needs of the poor in this land and around the world. Efforts to restrain the real sources of global terrorism have been ignored or subverted. Trust and respect for the United States throughout the world has been traded for self-serving political gain. Every day we look for justice, but all we see is bloodshed. Every day we yearn for righteousness, but all we hear is a cry.

We confess that too often the church has been little more than a silent witness to evil deeds. We have prayed without protest. We have recoiled from the horror this war has unleashed without resisting the arrogance and folly at its heart. We have been more afraid of conflict in our churches than outraged over the deceptions that have killed thousands. We have confused patriotism with self-interest. As citizens of this land we have been made complicit in the bloodshed and the cries. Lord, have mercy upon us.

In the midst of our lament we give thanks – for pastors and laity who have raised courageous voices against the violence and the deceit, for military personnel who have served with honor and integrity, for chaplains who have cared for soldiers and their families with compassion and courage, for veterans whose experience has led them to say, “no more,” for humanitarian groups, including the Middle East Council of Churches, who have cared for the victims of violence and the growing tide of refugees, for the fragile Christian community in Iraq that continues to bear witness to the Gospel under intense pressure and fear, for public officials who have challenged this war risking reputation and career. The Gospel witness has not been completely silenced, and for this we are grateful.

Today we call for an end to this war, an end to our reliance on violence as the first, rather than the last resort, an end to the arrogant unilateralism of preemptive war. Today we call for the humility and courage to acknowledge failure and error, to accept the futility of our current path, and we cry out for the creativity to seek new paths of peacemaking in the Middle East, through regional engagement and true multinational policing. Today we call for acknowledgement of our responsibility for the destruction caused by sanctions and war, thereby, we pray, beginning to rebuild trust in the Middle East and around the world. Today we call for repentance in our nation and for the recognition in our churches that security is found in submitting to Christ, not by dominating others.

To this end may we join protest to prayer, support ministries of compassion for victims here and in the Middle East, cast off the fear that has made us accept the way of violence and return again to the way of Jesus. Thus may bloodshed end and cries be transformed to the harmonies of justice and the melodies of peace. For this we yearn, for this we pray, and toward this end we rededicate ourselves as children of a loving God who gives “light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

John H. Thomas
Linda Jaramillo
Edith A. Guffey
José A. Malayang
Cally Rogers-Witte

You too can add your name to the list of endorsers by following this link:

Friday, June 22, 2007

Faith in Public Life Releases Map of Progressive Religious Leadership

Congratulations to Jennifer Butler and our friends at Faith in Public Life for what appears to be a fascinating and comprehensive database of progressive religious leaders and organizations across the US.

"Mapping Faith: The Strength, Diversity and Growth of Faith Groups Seeking Justice and the Common Good" enables activists and reporters to search for progressive faith leaders by issue and by state.

Click here to download the complete report.

The map lauched yesterday is reportedly creating a buzz in the media and blog world and is likely to draw more attention to progressive faith activism.

For more information including a link to the press conference of the launch click here

Monday, June 18, 2007

Alliance of Baptists Leaders Conclude Trip to Sri Lanka

Stan Hastey, Jim Hopkins and Joann Davis in front of Beligodapitiya Baptist Church, a rural church located amidst paddy fields


A delegation of Alliance of Baptists leaders, Stan Hastey (Minister for Ecumenical and Missional Partnerships), Jim Hopkins (President), Joann Davis (Chair, Missions Committee) spent a week in Sri Lanka with the hope of cementing the partnership begun with Sri Lankan Baptists about 5 years ago. I accompanied them on the trip.

The delegation hoping to listen to and learn from Sri Lanka, met with Baptist pastors, travelled to churches in the village of Beligodapitiya and Kandy, met with the faculty at the Theological College at Pilimatalawa, several religious leaders, public officials from both the Sinhala and Tamil communities, and preached in churches. Among their more interesting meetings were with Rev. Ranjini Liyanaarchchi (the only ordained woman among Sri Lankan Baptists).

The visit was not without tensions. A resolution passed by the Alliance Convocation in 2004, opposing a US constitutional amendment then before congress on defining marriage, was interpreted by some Sri Lankan Baptists as an Alliance position supporting same sex marriage. The Alliance has a policy of non-discrimination towards persons with a homosexual orientation in its hiring practices and in its recruitment of board members. While churches in Alliances' membership may have policies affirming same-sex marriage, the Alliance as an organization has no policy on same-sex marriage.

Yet, the controversy created a new opportunity. I had several conversations with Sri Lankan Baptist leaders about the Christian response to persons with a homosexual orientation, something they would not have had the opportunity to do otherwise. In my next trip I am invited to work with Baptist pastors to get a handle on this issue.
The Alliance of Baptists leaders will consider how best to deepen the partnership based on what they heard from Sri Lankan leaders.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sri Lanka's Collective Suicide

Dr. Vinoth Ramachandra, a Sri Lankan Evangelical scholar and theologian published a must read article in the "The Nation" newspaper of June 8, 2007. It provides a sharp analysis that is important for all of us concerned with peace in Sri Lanka to consider.


Collective Suicide

The recent eviction of Tamil youth from lodgings in Colombo and their forced ‘repatriation’ to the north and east must have left the LTTE rubbing their hands with glee. Not only does this make for excellent propaganda against Sinhala racism but it gives back to the LTTE the very people who were escaping their clutches by fleeing south. Ever since the massacres of July 1983, the Sri Lankan army and police have been regularly recruiting Tamils for the separatist cause. Instead of winning “the hearts and minds” of the Tamils in the north and east, and so isolating the LTTE, the government’s endless acts of violence against its own citizens plays right into the hands of the LTTE.

Sri Lanka has long fallen into the category of a “failed state”. It is ruled by a non-elected “inner circle” comprising the President, his brothers and his friends. There is a total breakdown of the rule of law. Criminal gangs and death squads roam unhampered. Corruption is rampant, and the Defence Ministry is the biggest defaulter on debts to public sector utilities. The CID is employed to intimidate all critics, and the judiciary has lost its final shreds of independence. The civil service has been so politicised that is has become incompetent. The government has absolutely no interest in the protection and welfare of its non-Sinhalese citizens.

We have almost half a million internally displaced persons, the vast majority of them Tamils. If Sinhalese villagers are butchered by the LTTE, the President immediately offers their families financial compensation. Young men in the village are given machine guns, a modicum of “training”, and appointed as Home Guards. But when Tamils in the north and east lose their lives or homes, it is left to local NGOs, churches and international NGOs to come to their aid. The present regime is clearly a Sinhala regime that does not regard these Tamil refugees as equal citizens of Sri Lanka, despite all the rhetoric about a “unitary Sri Lanka”. If you keep treating people like foreigners or second-class citizens, don’t be surprised that they demand a state of their own.

Why has this senseless war dragged on for so long, with no sign of ending? I suggest the following reasons, among others:

(1) Neither the Sinhala political leadership nor those promoting and funding the LTTE have any stake in the future of this country. All their children are safely settled in the West, and their fortunes in offshore banks. They don’t have to suffer the consequences of their respective nationalisms. The brunt of the war is borne by poor Sinhalese and Tamils who have nowhere else to live. Those who still talk of a “military victory” do so from inside their bullet-proof cars and behind their fortified mansions (all paid for by local taxpayers).

(2) The LTTE have provided the Sinhala political leaders with a convenient scapegoat for all their failures and crimes over the years. The war can also be blamed for the economic backwardness due to mismanagement, corruption and sheer incompetence on the part of politicians and government bureaucrats.

(3) Neither side has leaders with the courage to speak the truth. There can only be healing if we admit that we are wounded and need to be healed. Telling the truth, which begins with public confession of the wrongs we have done to others, is painful and humbling, but it is an indication of human maturity. When any confession of wrongdoing is seen as “losing face”, then there is no hope for peace.

Each day that this war drags on is a day that makes eventual healing and restoration more difficult. We already suffer a massive “brain drain”, many of those who emigrate being Sinhalese. Replacing this loss of experienced and skilled professionals will take many generations. And even if the LTTE leadership were to be killed in a “military victory”, who will guarantee that there will be no remnants who continue to seek bloody revenge in the future? It is our children and their children who will reap the folly of the present regime’s policies. It is a source of wonder to many foreigners that a country with such rich resources in natural beauty, free education and health services, and human manpower, should be committing collective suicide on the scale that we now witness in Sri Lanka.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Ecumenical Study Seminar at Islamic Society of North America Convention

For the second time Islamic Society of North America has invited the Christian ecumenical community to conduct a study seminar at the ISNA convention this labor day weekend August 31 - September 3 in Chicago. 35 - 40,000 Muslims are expected to attend this massive convention.


The study group will conduct seminars on interesting themes such as Christian theologies of building relationships with Muslims, and explore Muslim perspectives on Christian issues with some of the leading Islamic scholars.

One on day we will take a trip to the African American Islamic Convention of "Mosque Cares" the organization of Imam W.D. Mohammad which is also held in Chicago during the same weekend.

Please click here for brochure with more information. Registration closes on July 31st.

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