Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Wage War on Poverty, Not Immigrants -- Rev. Jesse Jackson

In an illuminating op ed piece in today's Chicago Sun-Times, Rev. Jesse Jackson articulates an option to deal with the immigration issue that has eluded most politicians, because few politicians have their ear to the ground and few listen to the concerns of the poor and the marginalized. Their concern for big businesses, says Jackson, caused them to pass

"a treaty called NAFTA with Mexico and Canada that guaranteed rights to employers and investors but not to workers. The results have been catastrophic. Wages in Mexico, the United States and Canada have fallen. Mexico now exports more cars to the United States than the United States exports to the world -- all made by U.S. companies benefitting from cheap labor in Mexico. And U.S. food exports have displaced millions of poor Mexican peasants and driven them from their communities. They don't come to the United States because they want to leave their homes. They come desperate for work.

The only way to stop the flood of immigrants is to help lift their standards up, rather than drive ours down. When Europe created one trading union including impoverished Spain and Portugal, the high wage countries of the north spent billions on development in the poorer countries, while demanding that they adhere to labor rights, environmental protections and basic social protections. While those countries still are not as wealthy as those in the north, their people were given hope and opportunity -- and would much prefer to stay home."

Read the entire article here: http://www.suntimes.com/output/jesse/cst-edt-jesse281.html

Monday, March 27, 2006

Is the Israel Lobby Driving US Foreign Policy?

Stephen Walt of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and John J. Mearsheimer of University of Chicago have published what they call a working paper entitled “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy.” A shorter edited version was published last week in the London Review of Books.

The paper, which makes the argument that US foreign policy follows the Israeli lobby’s wishes at the expense of US security interest has been roundly criticized in the Israeli media and the Jewish press. This linked article in the Christian Science Monitor provides a reasonably good analysis of the media reports on the discussion.

Despite its possible flaws, the Christian Science Monitor as well as other pundits have suggested that the issue is worthy of discussion. Indeed, if there is any truth in what these political scientists assert, it should prompt an urgent national discussion.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Thinking Again about the Dubai Ports Deal

UAE’s economy minister Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi
in interview with Wolf Blitzer

At first, it seemed like a victory. Democrats and Republicans joining forces with some 70% of Americans to defeat President Bush’s Dubai Port Deal, which he was going to defend with all his veto power. Before the showdown, however, the company, Dubai Ports World decided to withdraw from the deal.

The charge, led by senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton (both D- NY) seemed to give Democrats a rare opportunity to gain the upper hand on security a traditionally Republican issue. Having started the fuss though, they suddenly seemed to realize that there was nothing of real substance to the issue, that corporate takeovers are commonplace in our economy. Experts seem to agree that DP World didn’t pose nearly the security threat that 80% of the containers that pass through the ports unexamined, do. So they came up with a 45 day face saving measure during which period DP World withdrew from the deal. Now questions about whether the deal would sour the relations with a US friendly economic powerhouse in the Middle East, remain.

Islamophobic overtones of the incident, though, are unavoidable. James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute responded: "When you have members of Congress literally tripping over themselves to run to a microphone . . . saying, 'The Arabs are coming, the Arabs are coming,' preying off that fear because [the UAE is] an Arab country, that constitutes bigotry."

Pointing out that two of the 9/11 hijackers were from the UAE, congressional leaders tried to link UAE to terrorism. In doing so, they failed to mention that 15 of the other hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, a staunch ally and business partner. In a CNN Situation Room interview with UAE's sharp and charming economy minister Sheika Lubna Al Qasimi Wolf Blitzer pointed out that money for 9/11 was laundered through the UAE, to which she replied, yes and through 96 countries!

Jim Wall, in this week’s Christian Century (March 21, 2006) wrote, “The negative responses to the DPW deal are an excuse to curry favor with a public that has been persuaded that the world is locked in a clash of civilizations. This clash theory has lost favor in some intellectual circles now that Iraq has become such a political and human disaster. But although it's a simplistic and incorrect response to the horrors of 9/11, some politicians and journalists still find the clash to be a convenient theory, one that hides other motives.”

Wall is right. Schumer, Clinton and others represented a blatant attempt to rile up base xenophobic sentiments among the population. The Islamophobia inherent in the issue, with all its political intrigue and the couched in the language of anxiety and fear, could have easily been overlooked. The incident reminds us that xenophonia or Islamophobia are not only the prerogative of Republicans and that we need to constantly vigilant to name and call those evils when they occur.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

"God Is One" Curriculum Training Pilot Completed

Sohaib Sultan (standing) and Abdullah Antepli (seated) from
Hartford Seminary were the trainers

Two "God is One" curriculum training events were held on March 11th at Hartford Seminary and on March 25th at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Participants from churches in Connecticut and New York attended the training and would plan to hold adult education classes this year. In the next months and years we plan to take this training to churches in local communities as funding becomes available.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Beloved Community, World House and "Oikumene"

"Towards a More Inclusive Beloved Community: Building Alliances with Other Religious Communities" was the original title of a workshop I co-led with my colleague Rev. Dr. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, yesterday, at the SCUPE (Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education) Congress on Urban Ministry in Chicago. Building off the theme of the congress, “Beloved Community Breaking Out in the City,” we discussed how to build alliances with communities of other religious traditions in pursuit of justice and peace.

Illuminating to us was a quote from Martin Luther King written in Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? published in 1968. It was surprising to me that in 1968, he could write these words – expressing a notion that many Christians almost 40 years later have trouble grasping:

“We have inherited a large house, a great “world house” in which we have to live together – black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Moslem and Hindu – a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace… All inhabitants of the globe are now neighbors.”

This quote is from a longer essay from the World House Project. You can read the essay here. http://www.theworldhouse.org/whessay.html

The idea of the “world house” comes from the word oikumene Greek for the “household of God” or sometimes used as the “world.” This is the root of the word “Ecumenical.” When the Christian ecumenical community first began to use this word more than a century ago, they intended to express the idea of the “world” except that their intention was the “world” would be converted and become Christian, and then there would be no problem about their participation in the “household of God.”

This is not a notion that we are ready to accept today. Instead, we need to go back to the original meaning of the word oikumene the “household of God” or in Martin Luther King’s words the “World House.” The work of the Ecumenical Movement towards the “visible unity of the Church” is commendable and necessary. However by restricting the meaning of oikumene to the Christian community we lose an opportunity for a broader understanding of and indeed end up dishonoring the grandeur of God’s diverse creation – the plurality of religions. A broader meaning oikumene on the other hand as “World House” in which we must all live together, (because it is the only house there is) is the responsible option open to us today.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Interfaith Relations and Economic Justice

From March 9 -12th, ecumenical and interfaith leaders gathered in Washington DC for Advocacy Days, three days of lobbying congress people on behalf of issues of justice and peace. In the picture, my colleague Rev. Dr. Brenda Girton- Mitchell addresses the gathering while Bishop Vicken Aykezian and Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar look on. For a report, click the link. http://www.ncccusa.org/news/060314eadwrap.html

Last week I spoke to the Vesper Society of Oakland, CA, on the intersection between interfaith relations and economic justice.

Interfaith Relations and Economic Justice

March 16, 2006

It is indeed an honor for me to be with you this evening to reflect with you on a topic of utmost importance this day. It is also an honor to be a member of such a distinguished panel. Thank you for inviting me.

Two foundational theological principles ground my work in interfaith relations and economic justice. First is “The earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness” which in effect means that everything we have and we think we own, in fact, belongs to God and has been entrusted to us, that we might use these as good stewards of God’s manifold grace. Second is that all human beings are created in the image of God. All human beings mean mothers and fathers and children, even grandparents. It means Muslims and Buddhists and Sikhs and Zoroastrians. It means, Iraqis, Afghans, Sudanese of Darfur, and those who live in ghettos of US inner cities. Not one of these persons is less valuable than you and me and George Bush, in God’s sight. Therefore when an Iraqi child or grand mother dies in the fighting, we cannot dismiss it as collateral damage. It is an affront to God. These principles both ground me and provide me direction.

There is a third principle. This principle in Jesus’ mouth is perhaps derived from these two principles. Let me set it up this way: someone, enthusiastic about WWJD (What would Jesus do?) asked, how Jesus would relate to people of other religions. He probably didn’t know any Hindus or Buddhists and certainly not Muslims, I said. Had he known them, I think he would enthusiastically relate to them. Jesus did not dissuade us from relating people of other faiths. He would have criticized those religious people for their hypocrisy and misuse of power, like he criticized the Jewish religious leaders of his time – and as he would criticize Christian leaders today. There were many religious communities in Jesus’ time, but we don’t find Jesus opposing them. But there was one religion that Jesus was firmly opposed to though, and that’s the religion of Mammon. “No one can serve two masters,” he said, “you will serve one and hate the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon.” There may have been at that time a myth of Mammon, a personified deity perhaps of wealth and greed. Contrary to Mammon in Jesus’ mind was the Kingdom or Rule of God, where, as a Christian hymn succinctly states “Justice serves with mercy and love is law’s demand.” I think Jesus would welcome any Muslim, Hindu, Jew, Buddhist or a non religious person, who will work with him against Mammon and for the household of God.

That reminds me of the oikumene, the Greek word that means household of God or the world. We use that term now to refer to the ecumenical movement; the Christian one, as if that’s the entirety of God’s household. There is an interesting debate going on in US ecumenical circles these days. There is a crisis in local ecumenism because local and state ecumenical councils are becoming interfaith councils. This is inappropriate, some object, because the ecumenical project of the visible unity of the church is not yet achieved! It will not be achieved until Jesus comes, I say to them, wake up and smell the coffee. The world (oikumene) is interfaith. God created us with all that diversity. The household of God must include people who are Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and others. But we have this problem. We have erected massive barriers between these religious traditions. And we can hardly communicate. Well, that’s my job – to help Christians learn to build bridges across those barriers. I hope you will pray for me!

During this past century, we began to realize that we really needed to do just that. So Christians, with some reluctance, have came to the table. It began during the colonial period, and Christians were still feeling highly superior to everyone else. We still do. If you saw Franklin Graham on Nightline last night, or read the report of that in the newspaper today, you know that the attitude of superiority is still alive and well. But we worked at it now for almost a century. Some of the theological questions and issues are in a speech I made in February and you can read it on my blog site.

Our best attempts at theological conversations, as important as they are, were far removed from most people in churches and these didn’t make any sense to them. But over the past 20 years or so, we’ve begun to understand that there is a critical value to working together, both locally and nationally.

Over the years, we have also begun to understand two important principles. One is that our work must be “supra-ordinate.” By that we mean is that when two or more religious traditions work together, their achievement is greater than the sum of what they can do separately. The second is that religious leaders coming together can create “track 2 diplomacy.” If what politicians do is track 1, and they keep failing, track 2 brings religious, philanthropic, community, academic, business leaders together in a Civic Public Forum. Their moral authority and large following often can yield results that track 1 cannot achieve.

Now, let me tell you about local and national organizing, specifically for economic justice. I lived in Chicago for over 20 years, a good part of it in the south side of Chicago in Hyde Park where I pastored a church for 14 years. If you know anything about the south side, you would know that it is largely African American, that the people are mostly poor, and the communities are depressed. Robert Taylor Homes which is a series of hi rise project buildings that hold 1000 families per building and is known to be the poorest community in the United States was less than 10 blocks from my church. Drugs and gangs were rampant in those neighborhoods. I had many congregants from those depressed neighborhoods. Yes, and I have conducted funerals for those who fell victim to drive by shootings, and I have intervened to settle gang conflicts that arose from time to time in our youth group. And my claim to fame there is organizing a boys' basketball team in Englewood, one of the most depressed of the south side communities, and taking them to championship in a Chicago-wide tournament. Organizing for that occurred through the young people who hungrily participated in small group home Bible Studies I conducted in several locations in that community. Hungrily, because I think they had no idea how the Bible spoke to their daily situation of economic injustice.

My church was also in a powerful neighborhood. One block to the west was Jesse Jackson’s Operation Push, two blocks to the east and one to the north was Minister Louis Farakkhan. Barrack Obama, before he became the star he is now, lived a block from my church. It was clear to me that the dynamic of power was critical in addressing the issues of economic justice. And so together with my colleagues in other churches, we created a congregation-based community organization, which we affiliated with the Gamaliel Foundation, a network of community organizations now in 28 metropolitan areas. There are three other national networks, IAF (Industrial Areas Foundation), DART (Direct Action and Research Training) and headquartered right here in Oakland is PICO (Pacific Institute of Community Oraganizing).

Gamaliel concentrated on two campaigns: Metro Equity and Immigration Reform. They are both complex subjects. Let me for now tell you about Metro Equity. Minnesota State Senator Myron Orfield, in a brilliant study published in the late 90s called “Metropolitics” identified several Metropolitan areas in the United States where communities are clearly divided into areas of concentrated wealth and concentrated poverty. A causal visitor to most any US city or town might observe that those on the other side of the tracks live in blighted communities. Orfield’s thesis was that this did not automatically happen, that they were created systematically, through tax structures, discriminatory public policies (pertaining to businesses, housing, healthcare, schools), even discriminatory election laws.

For instance, if 1000 families live in one building and there’s a series of such buildings in a neighborhood, there is no way that all the employable people in those neighborhoods find work unless there’s a manufacturing plant near by. So the businesses that thrive there are the franchises which end up taking the capital from that neighborhood away to the affluent suburbs. One would think if people are enabled to buy their own homes in these neighborhoods, the neighborhoods would thrive. But even when people are properly employed and have decent credit ratings, banks still red-line. In fact the growth of a loan sharking industry like Pay Day Loans, because the regular banking industry is not reaching out to them, is devastating these communities. Take schools. The state of Illinois has determined that it takes a minimum of $4500 per year to educate a student, some south side communities spend $3500, while affluent suburbs spend up to $18,000. I can go on and on…

Two years ago, the NCC began its “Let Justice Roll” initiative. Led by former UCC president Paul Sherry, this is an organizing network which engages churches, particularly those in poor communities. These days they are working on a Living Wage Campaign. Some states have raised the minimum wage now to $10 and 11, from the measly $5.15 it is now. Benefit Bank is a computer program that is set up in a church or community organization which allows a person to write their basic information on a “Turbo Tax” type questionnaire, after which the program tells the person all the federal and state funds they are eligible to apply for, and prints out all the relevant forms. The program now functioning in 48 locations in FL, KS, PA, and set to expand nationwide in a few years. If the earth is indeed the Lord’s, that means that the earth’s resources, including its public funds, need to be allocated in a way is just and equitable.
Our current NCC emphasis is: Peace, Poverty and Planet Earth. That is, promoting peace, fighting poverty and encouraging the proper stewardship of Planet Earth. On the economic justice front, we have now undertaken to seriously engage with the Millennium Development Goal of ending the poverty that kills, by the year 2015. On our website you will find our latest publication, and a curriculum that helps churches deal with that subject.

That then moves my conversation from the local organizing to the global. As you can see, the pattern is not dissimilar. There are areas of concentrated wealth and areas of concentrated poverty, and the disparities grow every day. Now for a final comment then.

I was born in Sri Lanka at a time when the British empire was crumbling around me. That’s the good news. Empires do not last forever. Just so we are clear, the European invasions did not occur because the colonized countries were poor. It happened because the colonized countries were rich with resources. Just also so we are clear, Christianity in Asia is as old as St. Thomas the Apostle. Sometimes they are referred to as the younger churches. There was Christianity in Sri Lanka as far back as the 6th century. Today, these countries are economically struggling because the colonizers exploited those resources, and the same colonizing attitude prevalent today.

Let me give you an example. When the tsunami occurred, evangelists in the guise of relief workers poured into the country. Even reputed and massive NGOs such as World Vision would not disclaim their evangelistic agenda. When Antioch Community Church of Waco, Texas sent a team to do children’s ministry, which in their mind clearly included evangelism, that was properly seen as preying upon the most vulnerable population. A member of a Conservative Baptist Church in Chicago argued with me recently that such disasters are God’s way of providing an unprecedented opening to countries that are usually closed to evangelism.
The connection between evangelism and globalization must not be lost. They used to say in Sri Lanka, "When you get saved you get an American accent." Now they say when you get saved you also develop a taste for Coca Cola. Many critics of the new evangelistic movements suggest that what evangelists are doing is nothing less than priming the pump for economic globalization, which clearly is the new colonialism.

Fighting economic injustice, both in its local and global manifestations, provides a common agenda for religious communities.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

"My Name Is Rachel Corrie:" Its Not Against Israel, Its Against Violence

Rachel Corrie

Three years ago, on March 16th I was horrified to hear the story and see the gruesome pictures of Rachel Corrie’s death. This unlikely American hero from Olympia, WA, was 23 when she was crushed to death under an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza while in the midst of a nonviolent direct action to protect the home of a a Palestinian doctor, his wife, and three children from demolition.

LA Times columnist Katherine Viner describes her as a “young, middle-class, scrupulously fair-minded American woman, writing about ex-boyfriends, troublesome parents and a journey of political and personal discovery that took her to Gaza. She worked with Palestinians and protested alongside them when she felt their rights were denied.”

Last April a play entitled “My Name is Rachel Corrie” was staged in London. The play ran to sold out houses and won several awards. This year this unique American woman’s story was coming to the United States. It was due to play at the New York Theater Workshop: the home of “Rent.” But about two weeks ago, the Workshop cancelled its booking. Viner writes: “The political climate, we were told, had changed dramatically since the play was booked. As James Nicola, the theater's 's artistic director, said, ‘Listening in our communities in New York, what we heard was that after Ariel Sharon's illness and the election of Hamas in the recent Palestinian elections, we had a very edgy situation.’”

Viner writes: One night in London, an Israeli couple, members of the right-wing Likud party on holiday in Britain, came up after the show, impressed. "The play wasn't against Israel; it was against violence," they told Cindy Corrie, Rachel's mother.

Click to read more about Rachel Corrie and http://www.criticalconcern.com/rachelcorrie.html
Click to read Katherin Viner’s column in LA Times
Click to read an Open Letter to New York Theater Company by Warren Guykema

Monday, March 13, 2006

March Newsletter

The March 2006 edition of the Interfaith Relations Newsletter is now online. Please click here to read it: http://www.ncccusa.org/pdfs/IRnewsletter06.pdf

This month's newletter includes:

  • Article on Dialogue of Civilizations
  • Information about Interfaith Relations Commission that met in Pasadena in February
  • Dialogue with Evangelicals
  • News and Resources

I appreciate your comments and feedback.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Powerful Testimony in the Face of Death -- Stand in Courage for Non-Violence says CPT

Tom Fox in Baghdad doing what he loved to do

Protesting the Israeli Wall in Palestine

One of the four Christian Peacemaker Teams members captured in November was killed in Iraq. The tortured body of Tom Fox was found on the side of a road in Baghdad.

I was closely associated with CPT when I lived in Chicago back in the 1980s. They are people who embody the principles of non-violence and justice that many of us just talk about, by putting their bodies on the line to stand for peace.

CPT’s response to the murder of their colleague is a great testimony to their commitment to non-violence. Here’s a quote from their statement.

In response to Tom’s passing, we ask that everyone set aside inclinations to vilify or demonize others, no matter what they have done. In Tom’s own words: "We reject violence to punish anyone. We ask that there be no retaliation on relatives or property. We forgive those who consider us their enemies. We hope that in loving both friends and enemies and by intervening nonviolently to aid those who are systematically oppressed, we can contribute in some small way to transforming this volatile situation.” Even as we grieve the loss of our beloved colleague, we stand in the light of his strong witness to the power of love and the courage of nonviolence. That light reveals the way out of fear and grief and war.

For the CPT web site click here
For the NCC statement click here

Friday, March 03, 2006

Ethics Daily Publishes My Response to Russell Moore, Dean, Southern Seminary

NEWS from Ethics Daily

Ecumenical Leader Says Southern Baptist Prof Limiting God
Bob Allen

A Southern Baptist seminary professor who challenged a World Council of Churches leader for saying the Holy Spirit "reaches in mysterious ways to people of all faiths" is guilty of placing limits on God, a U.S. ecumenical leader says.
Russell Moore, senior vice president for academic administration and dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, denounced the WCC, an ecumenical body that includes nearly all the world's Orthodox and numerous Protestant denominations, as a "boutique of paganism in Christian garb."

Moore cited comments by the WCC's moderator, Catholicos Aram I of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

"According to biblical teachings, God's gift of salvation in Christ is offered to the whole humanity," Aram said. "Likewise, according to Christian pneumatology, the Holy Spirit's work is cosmic; it reaches in mysterious ways to people of all faiths."

Moore said in Baptist Press that Aram's suggestion that the Holy Spirit "operates in non-Christian religions" should lead "regenerate" believers around the world to recognize the spirit of the WCC as "the spirit of antichrist."

But Shanta Premawardhana, associate general secretary for interfaith relations with the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., says a foundational Bible passage of Christian pneumatology--the study of the Holy Spirit--is the third chapter of John, where Jesus tells Nicodemus the Spirit cannot be contained.

"The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don't know where it comes from or where it is going," Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 3:8. "So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

The Greek word used in the verse, "pneuma," can mean wind, spirit or Spirit, "each of which occurs in this context," according to the Holman Christian Standard Bible, published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Bible says Nicodemus, identified as a "man from the Pharisees," was bewildered by Jesus' words. "Present-day Nicodemuses, like the Pharisee of old, stand bewildered at the breadth of God's Spirit," Premawardhana said.

Christians view the Holy Spirit as one of three persons in the Godhead. Though the word Trinity is not in the Bible, it became a central dogma describing the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the early centuries of church history.

In her 2003 book, Joining the Dance: A Theology of the Spirit, Baptist theologian Molly Marshall revisited theology developed in the fourth century to propose a "holistic" view "that relates all creation to the Trinitarian history without succumbing to pantheism or to the hierarchical dualism that sharply separates the divine from the creaturely."

Beyond enlivening and empowering the church, Marshall, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Kan., said, God's Spirit "indwells all creation" and is the reason humans yearn to worship.

Such a theology has implications for the environment, she wrote, and social issues. Liberation movements like those for women's and civil rights, she said, are part of the Spirit's "winnowing work" in the world, toward liberation and overcoming evil, including beyond the walls of the church.

As far as relating to people of other faiths, Marshall wrote, "An increase in religious tolerance (at least in many sectors) and a growing receptivity to pluralism in contemporary society have opened avenues of dialogue never before possible between religions."

"As one learns more about other religious pathways, one discovers not only momentous differences, but also striking similarities of meaning," she wrote. "At this point in human history, we must find new ways to engage adherents of the disparate religions for the sake of understanding and for the sake of continued coexistence."

"When we can cease our triumphalist monologue long enough to listen deeply, we can hear the breathing of the Spirit through these other ways of faith," Marshall wrote. "It seems plausible to interpret the truth that is encountered as nothing less than the work of God's Spirit guiding into all truth," a quotation from John 16:13.

Recognition that the Spirit is at work in other traditions, Marshall wrote, does not "diminish the significance of the Christ."

"As the Spirit draws persons toward God, they are moving toward the one we confess as Trinity," Marshall said. "Although we cannot say with certainty how their faith is met by the grace of God, the Spirit's sustaining presence with them grants hope."

Premawardhana, an ordained Baptist minister, said Moore's "fundamentalism seems to close his mind to the possibility of the Holy Spirit's movement outside his own narrow theological constructs."

"Let alone in other religious traditions, his theology won't even allow God's Spirit to be working within one of the largest manifestations of the Body of Christ in the world, which, by the way, includes several Baptist bodies," he said. "'Are you a teacher of theology,' Jesus might say, 'and yet you do not understand these things?'"

Premawardhana said Jesus "took very seriously" attempts to limit the Holy Spirit, or in other words, to limit God.

"Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him," Jesus says in Matthew 12:32. "But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the one to come."

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

Order Joining the Dance: A Theology of the Spirit from Amazon.com.

Previous related story:
Southern Baptist Professor Denounces Ecumenical Group

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Cartoons

Posted on Wed, Mar. 01, 2006
U.N. conference tries to pacify furor created over Mohammed drawings
International leaders agreed that Muslim anger over the Mohammed cartoons is a symptom of a far more serious problem.
Associated Press
DOHA, Qatar - The furor over the Prophet Mohammed drawings is a small part of an expanding divide between Islam and the West, or what international leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu describe as the ``symptom of a more serious disease.''
Attending a U.N.sponsored conference aimed at healing the deepening rift, Tutu and 19 other delegates agreed that key ways to bridge the chasm were reaching out to young people and providing more education. Even then, they agreed it would take years of dialogue and practical steps before the rift can be healed.
''What we face nowadays is not a clash of civilizations but a clash mostly caused by ignorance, arrogance, insensitivity and festering political differences that fuel hostilities,'' Turkish minister of state Mehmet Aydin said.
As the conference wrapped up Tuesday in this Persian Gulf state, more than 5,000 children age 8 to 12 demonstrated in Karachi, Pakistan, at a rally organized by Pakistan's largest Islamic group. They chanted ''Hang those who insulted the prophet!'' and burned a coffin draped in American, Israeli and Danish flags.
Tutu, a retired Anglican archbishop from South Africa, said the drawings published last year by a Danish newspaper were just a sign of a far broader problem.
''What has happened and the aftermath has been seen as a symptom of a more serious disease,'' said Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner. ``Had relationships been different, one, the cartoons might not have happened, or if they had, they probably would have been handled differently.''
Although the 12 drawings were first published last September, they have since been reprinted and have caused widespread demonstrations in the Muslim world. They have also become a rallying cry in the West for freedom of expression.
The European Union on Monday said that although it regretted the cartoons were ''considered offensive'' by Muslims, freedom of expression ``is a fundamental right and an essential element of a democratic discourse.''
Opinions such as that angered former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, who complained, ``We already have enough misunderstandings in our world today.''
''Insulting the beliefs and customs of people and religions is not freedom of speech. This is not only related to Islam. We must respect the beliefs of other nations and religions whether we believe in them or not. If we don't believe or approve of them, we must challenge them through discussion and intellectual undertakings,'' he said.
Tutu noted that freedom of expression also came with some obligations.
''Imagine if the subject had been the Holocaust and it had been treated in a way that the Jews had deemed offensive and the reaction of the Danish government and international community had been as it is now,'' he said.
He lamented the negative stereotyping of Muslims and wondered why North Ireland's Protestants and Catholics, the Oklahoma City bombers or even the Nazis had never been labeled ``Christian terrorists.''
'Look at the Ku Klux Klan, who use a cross as their symbol and propagate hatred against others and encourage lynching. And yet we never hear someone say, `There's an example of how Christianity encourages violence,' '' Tutu said.