Thursday, November 30, 2006

Upping the Ante: Jimmy Carter and the "A" Word

Former President Jimmy Carter's new book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid" is igniting controversy for its allegation that Israel practices a form of apartheid. Commentators who value relationships with the mainstream Jewish community have carefully stayed away from the "A" word. Although Mr. Carter has demonstrated over the years that he is a friend of Israel, with the word Apartheid appearing on the title of the book, he is clearly raising the ante. If his book leads to a public discussion on the question, it'll be interesting to see if it changes the vocabulary of the conversation.

Yesterday's Atlanta Journal Constitution ran an opinion piece by South African law professor teaching in the Netherlands. John Duggard is currently Special Rapporteur (reporter) on Palestine to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Read the article here.

In his new book, Jimmy Carter writes, "Israel's continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land." An interview with Carter was broadcast on Democracy Now today. You can read or listen to the interview here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Should Keith Ellison swear-in on the Qur'an

Keith Ellison (pictured left) made history during this mid-term election by becoming the first Muslim to be elected to the US Congress. Read more about him here.

Ever since his election the right wing media has been relentlessly attacking him. And that includes CNN, where Headline News has given Glen Beck, a crude talk-radio host a primetime slot to rant in a show that doubles as "news." Beck had Congressman-elect Ellison on his program recently. I couldn't believe that CNN would air this!

“I have been nervous,” said Beck, “about this interview with you because what I feel like saying is, ‘Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.’”

For an opinion piece by Jeff Cohen of the media watchdog group FAIR on Glen Beck and others like him who provide legitimacy for wars click here.

Keith Ellison is an African American and has moderate views on the Middle East. He recently indiated that he does not want to swear-in on the Bible, but on the Qur'an as I believe, is his right to do.

Now comes Dennis Prager, another right-wing radio host, who has a column this morning in -- a right wing blogsite suggesting that America not Keith Ellison decides which book he will place his hand as he takes the oath of office on January 3rd. Prager, of course, does not say which America he is going to ask and how he is going to ask it! That is to say his entire tirade is based on an outmoded view of a monolithic America (if ever there was one!)

Prof. Eugene Volokh of the UCLA School of Law has written a point-by-point rebuttal to Prager in the National Review online. On presidential swearing-ins he reminds us that Presidents Franklin Pierce and Herbert Hoover (a Quaker) didn’t swear at all, but rather affirmed. If a Bible was present it wouldn’t have been used as a swearing device. Nixon, also a Quaker, did swear, apparently on two Bibles. This didn’t seem to help!

His concluding two paragraphs are worthy of quote:

Much folly has been urged in the name of multiculturalism. But this is no reason to dismiss the core notion that a nation should both create a common culture and leave people with the freedom to retain important aspects of other cultures — especially religious cultures. That notion is deeply American, and expressly enshrined in our Constitution. If it is “political correctness,” it is so only in the sense that it’s a political notion, and a correct one. It has served us well, even when dealing with religious groups that were once hated and seen as incompatible with American values, such as Catholics.

We ought not blindly accept the legitimacy of other cultures’ beliefs. But the Constitution says that we can’t demand complete surrender to our majority culture — especially its religious beliefs — either in “personal life” or in public life.

This will be an interesting conversation leading upto January.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Imams, Airplanes, and my Grandmom

The following reflection on the incident involving the praying imams who were taken off the US Airways flight in Minneapolis/St. Paul was sent by Rabbi Arthur Waskow of The Shalom Center in Philadelphia.

Dear Friends,

Last Monday, six imams on their way home from a conference of imams were forced off a US Airways flight in handcuffs because they had been praying before entering the plane. – Though they had gone through security and in every other way had satisfied every requirement, someone on the plane wrote a note to an attendant: Their presence made him or her uncomfortable.

Did US Air invite the frightened passenger to choose a different flight?

No. Instead, they forced the imams off the plane in handcuffs, and even after checking on their bona fides refused to let them board another flight.

On Wednesday, Imam Mahdi Bray of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, whom I had met in several vigils against the use of torture, called to ask me whether I would join a pray-in by Jews, Christians, and Muslims at Washington National Airport on Monday morning.

I groaned. I had intended to come back home to Philadelphia on Sunday evening from a family Thanksgiving visit to the Midwest; to get to Washington in time, I would have to switch my flight and stay overnight in Washington.

I groaned – and said Yes, of course.


Here is what I said at the pray-in near USAir's ticket counter on Monday morning:

"My grandmother was born in Poland and came to America when she was in her teens. When I was eleven years old, she came home in tears from a visit to the kosher butcher in our neighborhood. She said that one of the women in the buying line had used a derogatory Yiddish word about African-Americans, and my grandmother had spoken up:

" 'You must not talk that way! That is the way they talked about us in Europe!' "

"That is why I am here today. My community knows very well that what might seem small acts of contempt, of dehumanization, can grow into mountains of death and disaster. So I am here to say to USAir: YOU MUST NOT ACT THIS WAY.

"Through her tears, my grandmom stood tall for an America that would not talk this way, would not act this way. How can I do otherwise?

"So far as I am concerned, I will do my best to fly on airlines other than USAir until US Air fully apologizes to the imams and makes full recompense to them. Then we will know that in America, we do not act this way!"

After leaders of each community spoke, the Muslims prayed in the traditional way, through prostration and chant. Then I chanted the prayer "Oseh shalom bimromav, hu yaaseh shalom alenu, v'al kol Yisrael – v'al kol Yishmael – v'al kol yoshvei tevel --

"You Who make shalom, harmony, peace, in the ultimate reaches of the universe, teach us to make shalom, peace, within us, among us, among all the people Yisrael, among all our cousins the children of Ishmael, and among all who dwell upon this planet."

Several Christian ministers drew on the prayers of their own tradition for justice, for peace, for prayer itself.

And to all these prayers we together said: "Ameyn, ahmin, amen."

Shalom, salaam, peace – Arthur

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Pope's Visit to Turkey: An Opportunity Heal Muslim Christian Relationships

Pope Benedict XVI
As Pope Benedict XVI visits Turkey many are talking about the state of Christian-Muslim relations.

The Pope's comments in September quoting a 14th century Byzantine emperor who characterized Islam as “evil and inhuman,” sparked riots in many Muslim countries. He was giving a lecture at the University of Regensburg in Germany, on faith and reason critiquing the “modern western world that excludes God from its life.” He was also attempting to seek common ground with Muslims while making a salient point about religion and violence. His neglect of disavowing the Byzantine emperor’s comment left the impression that he endorsed it. The Pope’s public apology that followed a few days later has remained unconvincing to many Muslims. His visit to Turkey today can provide a significant opportunity for healing that rift.

Living at a time of deep misunderstandings between religions, initiatives that help Muslims and Christians to learn about each other and build relationships as individuals and communities have become critically important.

Other recent incidents highlight this need. Earlier this month at a US airport, six Muslim leaders (imams) were taken off a commercial airliner. Passengers had expressed concern and fear after seeing the men praying in the terminal. They were unaware that Muslims are religiously obligated to pray five times a day, that when they pray they must face Mecca and prostrate themselves, and that this a common sight in many international airport terminals. They were also concerned that they said “Allah” as they boarded the plane. They were again unaware that this is the word for God, and indeed that it is the word that Arabic speaking Christians use as they refer to God.

The National Council of Churches USA nearly five years ago offered a resource called, "God is One: The Way of Islam." It is designed to help Christians understand their neighbors who also trace their religious heritage to Abraham as do Christians and Jews.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

When Praying in Public May Get You Arrested!

Initial reports of the removal and arrest of the six imams from a Phoenix bound US Airways flight at Minneapolis - St. Paul last night, were distorted, according to reports from CAIR (Council for American Islamic Relations).

Three of the six imams returning from a Conference in Minneapolis of the North American Imams Federation, prayed while still in the boarding area as is the normal religious practice of Muslims, and not inside the plane as previously reported. The men did not board together, except for two (since one was blind) nor did they sit together in the plane. The imams also deny that they chanted "Allah" as they boarded the plane as was reported. None of which would be grounds for removal from a plane, unless you are "flying while Muslim!"

The imams also deny that they resisted their removal. Although they insisted on their rights as Americans and as passengers to fly, when the Airport security arrived they complied. Despite that they were handcuffed and treated in a humiliating manner.

After taking them through security clearence, US Airways did not provide accomodation for them and did not take them on an alternate flight. Instead they arranged for a Northwest Airlines flight to take them to Phoenix, the following day.

In an MSNBC interview today, asked if he could understand why people might be concerned to see Muslim people praying at an airport, CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said, "if someone was unfamiliar with Islamic prayer and the need to pray at certain times during the day, I could see that there could be concern and that's why we need to reach out and educate people."

Clearly, educating the public about Islam is critically important. Our "God Is One" Adult Education Curriculum for churches, is one such effort.

Read the CAIR Statement
Read the Washington Post Story
Watch the MSNBC Interview

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Solidarity in Fremont, California: Many Wear Hijabs/Turbans

Sisters, Rachel and Jilliann Lau, of Mountain View listen to speakers during the Wear a Hijab/Turban Day at Central Park in Fremont.

On October 19, Alia Ansari (38) was killed by a single bullet to the head as she walked with her 3-year-old daughter on a well-to-do residential street in Fremont, California. She was distinguished by a hijab, the head scarf worn by some devout Muslim women. The Afghan immigrant had no purse or money on her, family members said. Stunned relatives and Muslim leaders said the only motive they could see, outside of insanity, would be hatred.

"Whoever did this did not see Alia Ansari, a mother of six children," said Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, one of the nation's most respected Muslim scholars and leaders, who spoke to the media outside of the Ansaris' modest two-bedroom apartment. "He saw a symbol of something that people are taught to hate."

"What happened here is an act of terrorism," said Rona Popal, executive director of the Afghan Coalition, which provides services to the community. "There is no reason to shoot an innocent woman walking down the street, holding her child."

Local Muslim leaders and the victim's relatives attributed blame to an American culture of violence, propagated through movies and video games that reward players for killing. In addition, they said things such as talk radio, politicians and religious zealotry by some Christians had focused on Muslims since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Three women at the Islamic Society of the East Bay said they would continue to wear head scarves even if the killing was a hate crime. "Even if they wiped out everyone on Earth, I would not remove the hijab," said Suzanne Azim, 43, a Hayward resident.

The Fremont community responded by coming together on November 13 for a "Wear a Hijab/Turban Day" along with an "international moment of silence," a rally featuring various local politicians and community speakers. Attendees wore headscarfs, turbans, hats, yarmulkes in solidarity.

Melanie Gadener, founder of the Foundation for Self Reliance, a non-profit organization that promotes "economic independence in the Afghan community," the event is an opportunity for "an intriguing social experiment,""What if women of all religions pledged to wear a Muslim head covering, a hijab,for one day? How might people treat you differently if, for one day, the only thing different about you was what you were wearing on your head?"

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Forgotten Faithful: A Window into the Life and Witness of Christians in the Holy Land

Sabeel Liberation Theology Center completed it's 6th International Conference last week. Their theme focusing on Christians in the Holy Land is urgent and compelling. The NCC/CWS General Assembly last week reflected on the plight of these our brothers and sisters, and lifted them up in prayer, following reports from those who visited Israel/Palestine and Lebanon in the past few weeks.

Sabeel is an organization initiated by Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land who seek a just peace based on two states-Palestine and Israel. I have encouraged and facilitated conversations between Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek who leads the organization and the mainstream Jewish organizations in the United States with whom I am in dialogue. Such conversations will continue. I encourage you to read the Conference Statement.

Click here for the Sabeel 6th International Conference Statement

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

God's Foreign Policy -- New York Times Article

The conversation about Christian Zionism is not one that happens only in workshops of conferences and assemblies -- it is mainstream. Today's New York Times carries a front page article on the issue under the headline: "For Evangelicals Supporting Israel is God's Foreign Policy." While it's not a ground-breaking article and there are no significant new revelations in it, its placement affirms the importance of the issue.

Click here for the New York Times story.

My colleague Robert O. Smith adds this important caution:

One very interesting thing about this article is its willful confusion of “evangelicalism” with the more specific category of “Christian Zionism.” It is simply not true that all evangelicals are Christian Zionists. The theological and foreign policy perspectives of Christian Zionism are formed into a single, very dangerous ideology of conflict and hatred. The ideology of Christian Zionism ties Christian faith to militarism and imperialism, all in our name. The failure of this high-profile article to name this ideology more precisely should be of concern to all of us.

And from another colleague: Corrine Whitlach of Churches for Middle East Peace, this comment:
The following article from the Nov. 14th New York Times is very relevant to our work and the challenges we, and you, face in our faith-based advocacy of Israel-Palestinian peace. This article, and especially the title, "Evangelicals Backing Israel: 'God's Foreign Policy'", also requires us to keep in mind that stereotypes and generalizations can be wrong and dangerous. There are many evangelical Christians who pray and work for Israeli-Palestinian peace alongside CMEP. A number of leaders of evangelical organizations joined CMEP leaders in signing a letter to President Bush that was published in the New York Times in January 2004. Over 40 evangelical Christian leaders wrote to President Bush, in July 2002, that they "reject the way some have distorted biblical passages as their rationale for uncritical support for every policy and action of the Israeli government instead of judging all actions – of both Israelis and Palestinians – on the basis of biblical standards of justice."

On the question of Christian Zionism read Corrine Whitlach's policy analysis written in CMEP's Quarterly Newsletter in June 2003:

Christian Commitment to Peacemaking is Distorted by Christian Zionists

Monday, November 13, 2006

Alliance of Civilizations: High Level Group Report Issued Today

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan with
Prime Ministers José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (Spain) and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Turkey)

The Tripartite Forum at the UN in which I participate, is a part of the Alliance of Civilizations initiative of the UN. A demonstration against the discredited "Clash of Civilizations" the Alliance of Civilizations attempts to bridge the divides with creative ways of dealing with international, inter-religious and cultural crises.

The report of a High-level Group of eminent personalities appointed by the Secretary of the UN was issued today in Istanbul. The group was tasked with generating a report containing an analysis of the rise in cross-cultural polarization and extremism and a set of practical recommendations to counter this phenomenon.

The Report of the High-level Group was presented to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and to Prime Ministers José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on 13 November 2006 at the final meeting of the High-level Group in Istanbul, Turkey.
Click here for the report.

Click here to see some stimulating video interviews with the participants of the High-Level Group of eminent persons.

UCC / Disciples of Christ Global Ministries Statement "On the Situation in Gaza"

The following statement was issued by the Common Board of Global Ministries over the weekend on the situation in Gaza. The statement and an accompanying article can be found by clicking here.

The Common Global Ministries Board of the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, November 10-12, 2006, is deeply dismayed by the continually worsening situation in Gaza. We, board members, are especially saddened by the deaths of eighteen Gazans this past week—described by Israel as a “technical failure.” Their fate is emblematic of the reprehensible conditions in which the people of Gaza live. Since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005, Israel has continued to control access to and isolate Gaza, and otherwise inhibit daily human activity. We hear from our Christian partners there that they are far from adequately able to carry out their ministries of health and healing, rehabilitation, vocational training, and emergency relief for their community. Our own executive staff has been prevented from visiting them in their place of deepest need, having been denied access to enter Gaza by the Israeli authorities.

There is no justification for violence. In the words of one analyst, “every confrontation or war waged by Israel on the basis of aggression and occupation only brings more political and social forces in the Middle East into the circle of resistance.”
[*] Neither aggression nor resistance need find cause; their justifications can be eliminated with resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that ensures two secure and viable states in which all people enjoy—among full citizenship rights and other basic needs—freedoms of movement and worship, access to necessary resources, and sovereign political expression.

The situation in Gaza has continually been overshadowed by other news, but our awareness compels us to speak out

  • to call attention and respond to the dire humanitarian crisis there by our churches;
  • to express in all possible ways our accompaniment with our partners in Gaza to enable them to carry out their work and ministries; and
  • to pray and advocate for a comprehensive settlement to the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict aiming to bring about a just peace; and an end to violence in, and the suffering of, all people of the region.

[*] Nassar Ibrahim, “The War on Lebanon,” in News From Within, XXII:7 (August, 2006), p. 14.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

US Vetos Security Council Sanction of Israeli Attorcity in Gaza

Children hurt in the Israeli shelling in Gaza last Wednesday

The United States vetoed a draft UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel for the shelling of in Beit Hanoun in Gaza, further establishing the US bias in the Middle East conflict.

"The veto will only increase anger" said Amr Musa, Secretary General of the Arab League. Ghazi Hamad, the spokesperson for Hamas said "Such a decision was expected, because the US have already given the green light for Israel to carry on these massacres."

John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN, described the text of the resolution as "unbalanced" and "biased against Israel and politically motivated." The American Jewish Committee agreed calling it a one sided resolution.

"It is inexplicable that a veto can be used to protect Israeli actions against civilians," said Amr Musa. Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Egyptian foreign minister, added that America's action would "only lead to impose the situation that Israel wants, and increase the frustration of Palestinian people."

Last Wednesday, Israeli artillery shells slammed into five apartment blocks in Beit Hanun at dawn Wednesday, killing eight children, five women and five men and wounding 58 people, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert apologized saying it was a "technical failure." But Mr Olmert also warned that Israel would continue with military operations as long as rockets were launched into Israel and that, while every effort would be made to prevent mistakes, further such tragedies "may happen."

In an editorial fiercely denouncing the shellings entitled "Cease-fire in Gaza" the Haaretz declared: "No excuse can justify this atrocity. When artillery batteries aim their shells near a residential neighbourhood, such a disaster is inevitable, even if its unintentional."

In the meantime, South African Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu condemned an Israeli attack. "It is an outrage that cries out to heaven and we must condemn it unequivocally as we do the atrocities committed by suicide bombers against Israeli civilians," the former archbishop of Cape Town, said in a statement. "We learnt in South Africa that true security does not come from the barrel of a gun," he said, joining the worldwide chorus of outrage and condemnation.

"Therefore we cannot, we dare not, keep quiet in the face of the latest atrocity in Gaza City when about 20 civilians including about seven children were killed whilst sleeping by Israeli artillery." "Israelis and Palestinians can survive only together as citizens of free and sovereign states, can ultimately prosper only together as citizens of such free and sovereign states."

Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center responded by circulating "A Mourner's Kaddish."


Yitgadal V'yit'kadash Shmei Rabah

May the Great Name, through our expanding awareness and our fuller action, lift Itself to become still higher and more holy;
May our names, along with all the names of all the beings in the universe, live within the Great Name;
May the names of all whom we can no longer touch but who have touched our hearts and lives, remain alight within our memories and in the Great Name;
May the names of all who have died in violence and war be kept alight in our sight and in the Great Name, with sorrow that we were not yet able to shape a world in which they would have lived. (Cong: Amein)

B'alma di vra chi'rooteh v'yamlich malchuteh b'chayeichun, u'v'yomeichun, u'v'chayei d'chol beit yisrael, b'agalah u'vzman kariv, v'imru: --

May Your Great Name lift Itself
still higher and more holy
throughout the world that You have offered us,
a world of majestic peaceful order
that gives life to the Godwrestling folk
through time and through eternity ----
And let's say, Amein (Cong: Amein)

Y'hei sh'mei rabbah me'vorach
l'olam almei almaya.

So therefore may the Great Name be blessed, through every Mystery and Mastery of every universe.

Yitbarach, v'yishtabach, v'yitpa'ar, v'yitromam, v'yitnasei, v'yithadar, v'yit'aleh, v'yithalal -- Shmei di'kudshah, -- Brich hu, (Cong: Brich Hu)

May the Great Name be blessed and celebrated, Its beauty honored and raised high; may It be lifted and carried, may Its radiance be praised in all Its Holiness –-- Blessed be!

L'eylah min kol bir'chatah v'shir'atah tush'be'chatah v'nechematah, de'amiran be'alma, v'imru: Amein (Cong: Amein)

Even though we cannot give You enough blessing, enough song, enough praise, enough consolation to match what we wish to lay before You –

And though we know that today there is
no way to console You
when among us some who bear Your Image in our being
are slaughtering others
who bear Your Image in our being.

Yehei Shlama Rabah min Shemaya v'chayyim { aleinu v'al kol Yisrael, v'imru Amein.

Still we beseech that from the unity of Your Great Name flow great harmony and joyful life for all who wrestle God; (Cong: Amein)

Oseh Shalom bi'm'romav, hu ya'aseh shalom aleinu v'al kol yisrael v'al kol yishmael v'al kol yoshvei tevel -- v'imru: Amein.

You who make harmony
in the ultimate reaches of the universe,
teach us to make harmony
within ourselves, among ourselves --
and peace for the Godwrestling folk,
the people Israel;
for our cousins the children of Ishmael;
and for all who dwell upon this planet.

(Cong: Amein)

Oseh Shalom bi'm'romav, hu ya'aseh shalom aleinu v'al kol yisrael v'al kol yishmael v'al kol yoshvei tevel -- v'imru: Amein.

The Mourner's Kaddish is also available at our Season of Prayer website.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Armageddon Theology and Its Impact on Peace in the Midde East

Robert O. Smith, co-author of Christians and a Land Called Holy: How we Can Foster Justice, Peace, and Hope led a Rotation Forum at the NCC General Assembly on Armageddon Theology and its impact on peace in Middle East.

The General Assembly’s theme: "For the Healing of the Nations" (Revelation 22:2) comes from the apocalyptic book of the Bible that is widely used by those who embrace a particular Armageddon theology which is at variance with the interpretation accepted by the member communions of the NCC and their policy positions. He challenged the churches to look not for the speck in the other's eye, but for the log in our own and consider our own lack of a strong eschatology. He expressed the hope that NCC's consideration of the book of Revelation at this meeting might influence a strong articulation of a theology of end times based on a vision of justice and peace.

This theological position, also called Premillennial Dispensationalism, has a strong influence in the cultural and political lanscape in the US. In this week's midterm elections (Zogby Intl.) 31% of likely voters agreed that “Israel must have all of the promised land, including Jerusalem, to facilitate the second coming of the messiah." Its political manifestation called Christian Zionism has bipartisan advocates in the US government. Most recently, Pastor John Hagee of San Antonio, Texas initiated Christians United for Israel (CUFI) as a Christian lobby on behalf of Israel, a Christian AIPAC, based on Christian Zionist ideology. Their methodology includes advocating violence on behalf of Israel which includes the bombing of Iran.

Christian Zionism is an auto-generated movement, not dependent on Jewish political Zionism. William Blackstone's Jesus is Coming was published in 1878 before Theodore Herzl's Der Judenstaat in 1896, which is identified as the beginning of Jewish political Zionism. We can be supporters of Israel, even Zionists, and at the same time stand against this theology.

Mainstream Jews themselves are ambivalent about this as indicated by the following quotes.

  • Gershom Gorenberg: Christian Zionists see “Jews as actors in a Christian drama leading toward the end of days … real Zionism, as a Jewish movement, is a movement aimed at taking Jews out of the mythological realm and making them into normal actors in history, controlling their fate and acting for pragmatic reasons connected to the here and now. So what’s called Christian Zionism is actually very distant from Zionism.”
  • David Cantor (ADL) argued in 1994 that philo-Semitism is the flipside of anti-Semitism. In a section titled “Jews as Cosmic Curiosities,” Cantor noted how Christians often fail “to recognize the common humanity of Jews and tend, finally, to dehumanize Jews.”
  • “Sure, these guys give me the heebie-jeebies. But until I see Jesus coming over the hill, I’m in favor of all the friends Israel can get.” — former AIPAC researcher Lenny Davis

Evangelicals themselves are soul-searching about this. As Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, has said, “Evangelicals who are Christian Zionists want to see events unfold, but they aren’t so concerned about justice.” Smith argued that the evangelical community’s long-time association with an ideological theology that, in the name of God, despises efforts at peacemaking must be “shaken off.”

This emphasis has resulted from the "Jerusalem Declaration" of August 22, 2006, signed by several prominent Christian leaders of Jerusalem. The NCC has committed itself to researching this question and educating the churches. The president of the NCC will appoint a task force that will include members from the Commissions of the NCC to study this phenomenon and bring back a report next year.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Victory for Minimum Wage -- General Assembly Statement

The General Assembly applauded Rev. Dr. Paul Sherry whose untiring work in "Let Justice Roll" and its Minimum Wage Campaign received a significant boost from yesterday's election. The National Council of Churches adopted the following celebratory statement.

Eliminating poverty is the great moral challenge of our era! This conviction has been central to the work of the National Council of Churches of Christ in recent years, including the Council's strong support for raising the minimum wage. Through its "Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign," the council, together with others, has advocated for an increase in the federal minimum wage (currently $5.15 and hour) and -- successfully! -- for an increase in the state minimum wage in such places as Arkansas, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Michigan.

Thus, it is with a real sense of joy and thanksgiving that we, the delegates to the NCC's 2006 General Assembly, note the results of yesterday's election. Voters in six more states -- Arizona, Ohio, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and Colorado -- approved an increase in the minimum wage, acknowledging that such public policy is good for business as well as workers.
There is still much work to do. The federal minimum wage has not been raised since 1997 and now buys less than it did in 1950. Full-time workers earning $5.15 an hour simply cannot provide a decent livelihood for their families. It may well be, however, that 2006 will provide to be a turning point in this struggle. And for this we say: Thanks be to God!

For the Healing of the Nations -- NCC General Assembly Meets in Orlando

Archbishop Vicken Aykazian (president-elect) and
Bishop Earl McCloud, Jr (Chair, General Assembly Planning Committee)

For the Healing of the Nations comes from Revelation 22:2. Dr. Mary Foskett, Associate professor of Religious Studies at Wake Forest University leading Bible Study yesterday, challenged the assembly to re-read the Apocalypse again, understanding that Bablylon is the United States and consider its call to the church to live faithfully in the context of Empire. Her work on apocalyptic literature has direct implications on questions of Christian apocalyptic theology and what is usually called Christian Zionism, which has direct implications on our attitudes about peach and justice in the Middle East. A New Testament scholar, Dr. Foskett has recently edited Ways of Being, Ways of Reading: Asian American Biblical Interpretation. Published by Chalice Press, it will be out this month. Her previous publications include, A Virgin Conceived: Mary and Classical Representations of Virginity (Indiana University Press, 2002).

Later today, we will have a forum on "Armageddon Theology and its impact on the Middle East,"led by Robert O. Smith. More on that later....

In today's Bible Study, Dr. Robert Michael Franklin, Jr. challenged the Assembly to consider the question: How does the church address questions of healing in the public square after an election?

Friday, November 03, 2006

A New Secretary General at the ISNA

Islamic Society of North America is our closest partner in the US Muslim Community. Recent changes included Dr. Sayyid Syeed moving to Washington DC to become the head of ISNA's new office of interfaith and Community Alliances. Their offices in Washington DC will be located in the Methodist Building, the same building the NCC offices are located. We wish Dr. Syeed well in his new responsibility and look forward to continuing to partner with him.

ISNA has just appointed a new Secretary General. Here's ISNA's news release.

Plainfield, IN – The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is pleased to announce that Dr. Muneer Fareed will be joining ISNA as the new Secretary General starting November 1, 2006. This is the conclusion of an eight month search for a replacement for Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, who will head ISNA’s new Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances in Washington, DC after serving as Secretary General at the headquarters since 1994.

A Search Committee actively advertised and recruited for the Secretary General position, reviewing applications and interviewing final applicants. After completing this process, the committee recommended Dr. Fareed for the head position at ISNA headquarters.

Dr. Fareed has been trained in both traditional Islamic and American academic settings, studying in South Africa, Saudi Arabia, India and Michigan, where he earned a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from the University of Michigan. Ingrid Mattson, President of ISNA has said of this appointment, "I am delighted to welcome Dr. Fareed to ISNA. He has served as an Imam and in academia in South Africa and in Michigan, so he brings both practical knowledge of lived Islam, as well as a depth of scholarship to this position. In addition, Dr. Fareed has a good understanding of the challenges faced by youth, as he has been one of the founders and core scholars of the ALIM Program, a successful program in “Islamic literacy” for Muslim high school seniors and college students."

The challenges and opportunities are many for the Islamic Society of North America as a leading organization of the Muslim American community. Dr. Fareed will fill a key role in guiding the headquarters staff as they strive to carry out the mission of the organization and contribute to American society at large.