Monday, May 28, 2007

Muslims in America: We Are All the Same, for Better or for Worse

Last week, on May 22, 2007 the Pew Research Center issued a survey report entitled, Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream." This is a valuable resource that points to how well mostly immigrant Muslims are mainstreaming in the United States. Our paranoid news media, however, have been quick to point out that one in four young Muslims will condone suicide bombings in defense of Islam under certain circumstances.

To which, I wondered how many young people in the general population (given incidents like Columbine and Virginia Tech) or more specifically in the inner cities of the United States where gun violence (often under-reported) abounds would feel taking others' lives even without a cause is justified.

In response, yesterday's Seattle Post Intelligencer wrote the following editorial, in which they point to a different study by University of Maryland's Program on International Public Attitudes which reports that an incredible 24% of Americans surveyed agreed that "bombing and other types of attacks intentionally aimed at civilians" are justified sometimes or often.

The editorial follows:

Those who feel threatened by the millions of Muslims in America (with their mosques, hijabs and Allahu Akbars) need to take a moment to read the new survey on Muslim Americans done by the Pew Research Center. It shows that we have much in common.

Survey results show a population that is "highly assimilated into American society. With the exception of very recent immigrants ... a large proportion of their closest friends are non-Muslims." And 63 percent of Muslim Americans feel they can remain devout while living in a "modern society." Only a quarter believe that the U.S. "War on Terror" is "a sincere effort," which lines right up with the number of Americans who feel the country is going in the right direction (according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll, just 25 percent). Most Muslims here (59 percent) want the government to protect society's moral fiber. Around half, though, support a separation of mosque and state.

Naturally, most will take away one stat from the survey -- that one in four young Muslims would condone suicide bombing in defense of Islam under certain circumstances. The results also show, though, that only 13 percent felt that suicide bombings against civilian targets can be justified ("Often," "Sometimes" and "Rarely"), with only 1 percent saying that such attacks were "Often" justifiable.

Still, let's try a little experiment. Replace "suicide bombings" with just "bombings" and "religion" with "freedom" and what you have are the beliefs of (at least) one in four Americans. According to yet another survey, this one done by University of Maryland's Program on International Public Attitudes, 24 percent of Americans believe that "bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians" are "often or sometimes justified." We're all the same, for better or worse.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Memorial Day -- A New Vision, A New Call to Organize

The Democrats capitulated. There are great excuses -- spin -- about why they needed to do that. But the fact remains that the war is funded by $120 billion without any time tables to bring the troops home.

The top excuse, of course is that they don't have a veto proof majority. Did they really have no alternative? I think they did. They could have stood their ground. They could have brought public pressure to bear. They could have entirely withdrawn funds from the war. But their sons and daughters are not in Iraq (except for a very few) -- why should they put in the extra effort?

Rabbi Michael Lerner thinks this is because they are liberal about their liberalism. Stuck in the same old "domination" paradigm as the President, they have no alternative ways to see reality. This is why Democrats are so often Republican-Lite!

Lerner offers an alternative paradigm -- Generosity rather than Domination. Rabbi Lerner's Network of Spiritual Progressives is picking up that call. Here's his article in

Funding and Crying: Why The Dems Capitulated To One of The Least Popular Presidents in US History to Support One of The Least Popular Wars in US History—A Response From The Religious Left

The Network of Spiritual Progressives ran a recent ad in newspapers. Click here to read and sign the ad entitled "An Ethical Way to End the War in Iraq: Generosity Beats Domination as a Strategy for Homeland Security."

But the fault is also with us. The anti-war community is not organized enough to hold the Democrats' feet to the fire. This is why they will get away with this spineless action.

Memorial Day is a good day to re-commit to organizing.

On this day we will commemorate the lives of 3487 US military lives lost. The website Iraq Body Count reports a minimum 64351 and maximum 70491 Iraqi civilians have died in this war. Every month US troops stay in Iraq, it gets worse.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow offers a reflection on Memorial Day that calls us to organize. Indeed a table of interfaith leaders are coming together to organize a massive campaign to be held in local communities across the country on October 8th. The organizing work begins now.

Here's Arthur Waskow's reflection:


Dear Friends,

Memorial Day was created to mourn the dead of American wars: "That these dead shall not have died in vain; that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

The people of the United States have spoken clearly. This war is indeed "of" us – it is our young who are dying, losing eyes and legs and genitals and minds and souls. It is our schools, our firefighters, our levees, our health care, that are robbed and starved to pay its monstrous costs.

But this war is not by us, and not for us. Our soldiers are dying bravely to veil the cowardice of those who govern us. Our peoples – American and Iraqi – are suffering so those who govern us can celebrate their arrogance, their stupidity, their greed. Their idols.

The President and Congress of the United State have just now, on the very cusp of Memorial Day 2007, chosen to celebrate it not by mourning the dead but by killing more of them.

What shall we do? Mourn, pray, organize.

Pray in the way Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught us: "Prayer is useless unless it is subversive, unless it shatters pyramids ."

Organize the way he taught us as he marched for justice and for peace: "I felt as if my legs were praying."

During the past month, we at The Shalom Center have been working with The Tent of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah – Jews, Christians, Muslims – and with the leaders of the great church, mosque, and synagogue bodies of America, to imagine and plan a moment this fall for us to begin again.

To turn from conquest to community, from violence to reverence, from our old and arrogant celebration of the "discovery" of America by Columbus to the self-discovery of our best selves by our true selves.

To lower the barriers that separate our different faiths so that we can join with each other to fast in self-reflection, celebrate together the Infinite Unity that connects us, call out for an end to this war, to torture, to the celebration of grotesque violence that corrupts our media, to abusive violence in our homes and communities, to the rain of bullets in our streets and schools.

This month of discussion is beginning to bear fruit. Soon we will be able to share the Call that is emerging from them.

Meanwhile, this Memorial Day may we all keep in our hearts and minds, our prayers and meditations, our eating and our sharing, the vision that we can, we WILL, turn from conquest to community, from violence to reverence.

So that these dead shall not have died in vain.

With blessings for shalom, salaam, peace –


Rabbi Arthur Waskow, co-author, The Tent of Abraham; director, The Shalom Center which voices a new prophetic agenda in Jewish, multireligious, and American life. To receive the weekly on-line Shalom Report, click on --

Friday, May 25, 2007

Bob Edgar Leaves NCC to Head Common Cause

A courageous advocate for interfaith relations, a fearless speaker of truth to power and for the past seven years the leader of the US ecumenical movement as the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar will leave the NCC to become the President/CEO of Common Cause in Washington DC.

He often said that his commitments are to Peace, Poverty and Planet Earth -- and later added and to Pluralism!

I will miss him -- his friendship, his charm, his jokes, but most of all his agitation and encouragement to push beyond doing that which is easy and comfortable and to take risks. Bob Edgar will transition out of the NCC in the next few months.

Here's the NCC press release:

NCC's Edgar to head Common Cause

Washington, D.C., May 22, 2007 – The outgoing General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA (NCC), the Rev. Bob Edgar, has been picked to lead the national advocacy group Common Cause.

Edgar, who announced last October he would not seek a third term as general secretary, broke the news to the NCC's Governing Board meeting in Washington. Common Cause made the announcement today in a news release [].

Edgar, "a former congressman who represented eastern Pennsylvania from 1975 to 1987, was elected president and chief executive officer of Common Cause by the organization's National Governing Board," said the Common Cause announcement. "Edgar succeeds Chellie Pingree, who stepped down in February."

"With devastating consequences, powerful special interests distort and disrupt the democratic process in ways that shift political power away from the American people," Edgar said in the news release. "I look forward to carrying on (Common Cause founder) John Gardner's vision of Common Cause as a people's lobby both in Washington, D.C. and in the states."

Last October Edgar announced to the NCC's Governing Board he would not seek a third four-year term as General Secretary of the national ecumenical body.

Edgar was president for ten years of the Claremont School of Theology in Southern California when he came to the NCC in 2000.

He found a critical financial crisis at the NCC and is credited with making the necessary changes to put the NCC on sound financial footing. He will leave the NCC with several million dollars in reserves.

"It would be hard to imagine a person whose experience, background and commitment offer better qualifications for this position," said the Rev. Michael Livingston, NCC President. "Bob Edgar has always demonstrated a zeal for justice, peace, fairness and all that Common Cause stands for. There is no question that the National Council of Churches has benefited from his leadership in many ways and I'm sure that Common Cause will also benefit and the nation will, as well."

Edgar will work with the governing entities of both groups to map out a transition. The NCC's Governing Board has appointed a search committee that is currently examining potential candidates for the next NCC General Secretary.

The NCC is the ecumenical voice of America's Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, historic African American and traditional peace churches. These 35 communions have 45 million faithful members in 100,000 congregations in all 50 states.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

NCC Women's Delegation Returns from Israel/Palestine and Jordan

A delegation of church women from several denominations who spent almost two weeks in the Middle East are returning to the United States today.

Their hope was to see the plight of women and children suffering through hostilities in the Middle East, and to hear firsthand the human toll of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the effects of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Iraq now living in Jordan.

Click here to read their stories and reflections on a blog

While rare in the ecumenical and interreligious world, delegations of women can yield insights that are very different from those of men's delegations. Gender-based diplomacy may be another facet of track II diplomacy we still have to explore.

In my reflection on Mothers' Day (see below May 11, 2007) I noted that the original proclamation of that day called for mothers to unite against the violence that their sons commit. Here is a portion of that again:

Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

Here's the NCC press release about the women's delegation:

NCC women's delegation hears from Iraqi, Palestinian refugees

Jerusalem, May 21, 2007 – While violence raged in Lebanon and Gaza this past weekend, 15 women leaders from several denominations of the National Council of Churches USA (NCC) traveled through Israel/Palestine and Jordan.

They finish their two-week visit Tuesday (May 22) which has focused on the plight of women and children suffering through hostilities in the Middle East.

Linda Bales, one of the delegation members from the United Methodist Church's General Board of Church and Society, Washington, D.C., sent back some reflections of the trip which have been posted on the NCC website here.

"One of the most profound meetings on our pilgrimage was meeting with Iraqi women who were living as guests in Jordan. We met them at the Syrian Orthodox Church in Amman," wrote Bales.

The "Rev. Sue Turley, an NCC delegate from the Swedenborgian Church, opened the meeting by saying that she was a 'Gold Star Mom'--a mother who had lost a son in the Iraq war. Sue said we, as mothers, can help each other through our losses and work for peace."

"With great emotion, the women sitting around the room extended their sympathies to Sue, hugged her, and then began sharing their own experiences as refugees in a foreign land," Bales continued. "One couple reported having had a relative kidnapped for ransom in Iraq. They felt threatened which resulted in their fleeing their homeland to Jordan in fear of their own lives."
The delegation was led by the Rev. Dr. Thelma Chambers-Young, an at-large vice president of the NCC and vice president of the North American Baptist Women's Union.

Bales' reflection quoted Chambers-Young: "We need to hear the voices of women. I believe when women in the U.S. can hear the voices of women and men in the Middle East, U.S. women will be motivated to work for a just peace."

The delegation members came from the African Methodist Episcopal Church, American Baptist Churches (USA), National Baptist Convention, Presbyterian Church (USA), Progressive National Baptist Convention, The Swedenborgian Church of North America, United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Stereotyping -- however inadvertent -- must be challenged and corrected

Professor Amy-Jill Levine and I came to know each other a few months after I became the Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations at the NCC. I wrote a short bulletin insert as a discussion guide to Mel Gibson's movie, "The Passion of the Christ." In writing that piece, I had not adequately nuanced a couple of sentences, and she challenged me. There was little room for nuanced writing in that very short piece, I argued. But I sought her help and she gladly did. The result was a much stronger piece, whetted through the eyes of a Jewish scholar.

Over the years, through many Jewish colleagues who have challenged and prodded me, my theological outlook has broadened and my faith has become stronger. But I am no push over. I too challenge and prod. But in doing so, I've discovered that we all grow. Interfaith dialogue is not about "tea and sympathy" any more, as Rabbi Leon Klenicki accurately observed once. Its often as sharpening as "iron sharpens iron." Over the years, I've felt that I have come to appreciate Jews and the Jewish faith more than I ever have, and have abandoned any stereotypes I may have carried.
But A-J fussed with me again! This time about the review I wrote on her book The Misundersood Jew (see below -- May 15, 2007). And I immediately saw and understood the problem.

I write this post, not only to correct it, but to highlight how vulnerable we all are to stereotypes, even if they seem slight and are often inadvertent.

The sentence in question begins the last paragraph of the post. "The Christian institutions she identifies will continue to challenge contemporary Judaism’s tendency to uncritically support policies of the State of Israel that are unjust towards Palestinians."

I wonder if my Christian friends located the problem in that sentence!

It is the phrase "contemporary Judaism's tendency." As she accurately points out that phrase assumes that all Jews tend to uncritically support policies of the State of Israel. I personally know many Jews who don't unequivocally support, and often quite vociferously condemn the unjust policies of the State of Israel. Its a no brainer -- but I didn't see it when I wrote it first, and many of you may not see it until it is pointed out.

The fact is, we are often vulnerable in this area. We not only need to be more vigilant, but also seek the help of our Jewish colleauges, even as we give them ours. The result will be stronger theologies and healthier relationships.

I am changing the first sentence of the last paragraph of the earlier post to read as follows:

"The Christian institutions she identifies will continue to challenge the tendency some Jews' and Jewish organizations have to uncritically support policies of the State of Israel that are unjust towards Palestinians."

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Diana Eck on Jerry Falwell

A Good Person with Bad Theology

The Reverend Jerry Falwell was apparently a warm and loving person to those who met him. He looked that way –as if one would like a big bear hug from him. But, alas, I believe he preached a divisive and even dangerous form of Christianity. From where I sit, his is a legacy of finger pointing and judgment that is not the Good News as I hear it.

I will never forget his widely publicized conversation with Pat Robertson right after the 9/11 attacks, when he said, "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way--all of them who have tried to secularize America--I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen."

He went on to say that somehow these people –gays and members of the ACLU—had caused God to lift the curtain of protection to allow the enemies of America to give us "what we deserve." He later said he was just sharing his own burden and "intending to speak to a Christian audience from a theological perspective about the need for national repentance."

I'm sorry, but this is a "theological" perspective I have disagreed with for years and will go on resisting. I am a Christian woman, a feminist, a gay woman, a supporter of the ACLU and People for the American Way, and a supporter of freedom of religious conscience and practice for all people, even for pagans. Like Falwell, I'm a patriotic American and a lifelong Christian, but I do not believe for a moment that God is a God who lifted a curtain of protection, allowing the 9/11 attacks. Nor do I believe for a moment that America is or ever was somehow under the special protection and blessing of God. "God bless America" is a hope and a prayer, not a prescription for favor.

Jesus did not tell us to point the finger and judge our neighbors, but to love them. To love God with all our hearts, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Like so many, I'm sure I would have found Jerry Falwell warm and loveable as a person. I would like to have met him. That said, I have argued with his theology throughout my life, and I won't cease that argument now that he is gone.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell

The National Council of Churches published the following statement on the death of Rev. Jerry Falwell.

New York City, May 15, 2007--

The National Council of Churches USA expresses to the family, friends and colleagues of the Rev. Jerry Falwell our sympathy in his sudden passing today. Rev. Falwell was a prominent and controversial figure on the American scene for many years. He often made public statements with which other Christians strongly disagree, including his contention that the terror attacks of September 11 were God's judgment on sinful America, and his support of apartheid and the Iraq War.

"Some media pundits tended to think of Falwell as representative of American Christianity, but most church leaders, while claiming him as a 'brother in Christ,' strongly differed with many of his outspoken views, including his puzzling denunciation of the Teletubbies children's TV program," said the Rev. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the NCC.

"He did perform the valuable contribution of taking stands that forced mainstream Christians to re examine their positions and test their convictions," Edgar noted.

"Acts 15:2 records that apostles Paul and Barnabas 'had no small dissension and debate' with fellow Christians in Jerusalem, but their debate was clarifying and advanced the cause of Christ. We may never understand why Jerry Falwell felt apartheid and war were consistent with Christ's teachings, but we are grateful he was there to force us to examine our own consciences and strengthen our commitment to justice and peace," Edgar said.

"It is clear that my Brother Jerry now knows the Truth we are all seeking, as he rests in the arms of a kind, loving and forgiving God," Edgar concluded.

The NCC is the ecumenical voice of America's Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, historic African American and traditional peace churches. These 35 communions have 45 million faithful members in 100,000 congregations in all 50 states.

"The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus" by Amy-Jill Levine

The Misunderstood Jew:
the Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus
Amy Jill Levine (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006)

A Jewish scholar who teaches New Testament to primarily Protestant students at Vanderbilt Divinity School, Amy-Jill Levine is in a unique position address the meaning of Jesus, the “Jewish prophet” for our time.

Expanding our understanding of the cultural and religious context of Jesus’ life and teaching, Levine paints a picture of the culture in which Jesus grew up, including diet and dress of first century Palestine, Jewish holidays and customs, the numerous public roles of Jewish women and the rituals of the temple. Many of the difficult sayings of Jesus that have puzzled Bible readers for generations suddenly make sense in the light of his Jewish heritage.

This is a necessary book for Christians, particularly for preachers and teachers. Christians have a history of stereotyping Judaism, for instance as legalistic, purity-obsessed, Temple-dominated, xenophobic, violent, greedy, and misogynist. Every time we separate Jesus from his context we run the risk of promoting anti-Judaism. I see Levine’s challenge as a call for a deeper and more genuine Christianity.

For the same reason, it is also an important book for Christian ecumenical organizations, publishing houses, and Liberation and Post Colonial theologians. While these institutions have stood against bigotry of all types, as Levine admits, often unintentional anti-Judaic bias in their statements and theologies has gone unrecognized. I see in Levine’s challenge to them as well, a call for a deeper and more genuine Christianity.

The Christian institutions she identifies will continue to challenge contemporary Judaism’s tendency to uncritically support policies of the State of Israel that are unjust towards Palestinians. Anti-Judaic bias is not necessary for such criticism to be legitimate. Unbiased criticisms will be easier for Jews to receive, and their self-critical examination will yield opportunities for a deeper and more genuine Jewish faith. Such is the result of authentic interfaith dialogue.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Mothers of the World, Unite!

Mother's Day was not a Hallmark invention, I learned today. It was a call to mothers to unite in protest against men's inclination to go to war. A call as relevant today as it was in 1870. In that same spirit Code Pink Moms descended upon Washington DC this weekend to protest the war.

Julia Ward Howe (who also authored the Battle Hymn of the Republic) saw some of the worst effects of the war -- not only the death and disease which killed and maimed the soldiers. She worked with the widows and orphans of soldiers on both sides of the war, and realized that the effects of the war go beyond the killing of soldiers in battle. She also saw the economic devastation of the Civil War, the economic crises that followed the war, the restructuring of the economies of both North and South.

In 1870, Julia Ward Howe took on a new issue and a new cause. Distressed by her experience of the realities of war, determined that peace was one of the two most important causes of the world (the other being equality in its many forms) and seeing war arise again in the world in the Franco-Prussian War, she called in 1870 for women to rise up and oppose war in all its forms. She wanted women to come together across national lines, to recognize what we hold in common above what divides us, and commit to finding peaceful resolutions to conflicts. She issued the following declaration hoping to gather together women in a congress of action.

Mother's Day Proclamation - 1870
by Julia Ward Howe

Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly:"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

"From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.
"Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

John Hagee and the Congresswoman

Pastor John Hagee, recently buoyed by his address to AIPAC is holding events called "A Night to Honor Israel." I am distressed that many of my Jewish colleagues who know better are taken in by this duplicitous Israel-phile. His theology calls for nothing less than the conversion of all Jews, he is against a two-state solution, he calls for a nulear attack against Iran and his rhetoric is bigotted and hatefilled, the kind that Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League has always stood firmly against.

The Jewish Week columnist James D. Besser addresses this question in his column last week, entitled "Growing Acceptance Seen of Fiery Pastor."

At the end of his article, Besser quotes Rabbi Dov Beliak, founder of a website -- JewsOnFirst -- that battles the religious right, "I am deliberately putting this in very harsh language. Many Christian Zionists share with the Nazis the paranoid idea that Jews and Judaism are the central actors in the world. And both seek the ultimate dismantling of Judaism and the Jewish faith -- the Nazis through murder, the Christian Zionists through our 'redemption.' Why would we cooperate in our own undoing? Why would we work with people who want us to disappear as a people?"

Good question, Rabbi Beliak!

Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCullum wrote a well-crafted letter declining her invitation to "A Night to Honor Israel." All of us Christians and Jews will do well to take her objections seriously.

April 25, 2007

Pastor James M. (Mac) Hammond
Living Word Christian Church
9201- 75th Avenue North
Brooklyn Park, MN 55428

Dear Pastor Hammond:

A letter of invitation to your church's April 29th event, "A Night to Honor Israel," was received in my St. Paul office. In response, I am writing to inform you that I must decline the invitation.
Your event and events like it are "being coordinated and conducted around the country by Christians United for Israel," according to the invitation. The founder of this organization, Pastor John Hagee, is prominently highlighted on the invitation as an event speaker, along with Israel's Consul General Barukh Binah.

Pastor Hammond, freedom of speech and the freedom to practice one's religion are cherished American rights. However, well publicized public statements by Pastor Hagee demonstrate extremism, bigotry and intolerance that is repugnant. For example:

"I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God ... I believe that Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans." (Fresh Air, 9/18/2006)

"Those who live by the Quran have a scriptural mandate to kill Christians and Jews." (Fresh Air, 9/18/2006)

"I would hope the United States would join Israel in a military pre-emptive strike to take out the nuclear capability of Iran for the salvation of Western civilization." (Jerusalem Post, 3/21/2006)

These statements are not representative of the people of Minnesota nor do I believe they reflect the views of the people of Israel whom the Pastor purports to be advocating on behalf of your church. How does one "honor Israel" with an individual whose toxic statements pollute the environment of peaceful religious coexistence, cooperation and respect that we strive to achieve in America, and especially in Minnesota, among Christians, Jews, Muslims and people of all faiths?

Pastor Hammond, it seems I am not alone in this belief. A clergyman from Pastor Hagee's own hometown of San Antonio, TX, Rabbi Barry Block, was identified in the Jewish Weekly as a supporter of Israel and characterizes Hagee as promoting, "...extremist anti-Palestinian positions and anti-Muslim prejudice..." and states, "I do not believe Pastor Hagee's activism is good for Israel." (Jewish Weekly, 3/9/2007)

My support and much of America's support for Israel is built on a historic partnership between our two nations and peoples, sharing a common goal of living in peace, security and freedom. Unlike Pastor Hagee, I support working for the "roadmap for peace" in the Middle East, Israel living side-by-side in peace and security with an independent Palestinian state. This is a goal many of us in Congress share with both Israeli political leaders and citizens.

Pastor Hammond, your invitation says this event's purpose is for people to "speak and act with one voice in support of Israel and the Jewish people." As an elected official and a person of faith, I feel compelled to speak out against a voice, like Pastor Hagee's, that promotes or, even worse, preaches intolerance and bigotry - whether in churches, synagogues or mosques. Minnesota is a state in which multiculturalism, religious tolerance, honest debate and a spirit of respect are treasured. Pastor Hagee's voice is clearly inconsistent with our Minnesota values and I believe with the values of the people of Israel .


Betty McCollum
Member of Congress

Link to full letter on Congressperson's McCollum's letterhead with attachments

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sri Lanka -- Tigers Escalate Civil War

A Tamil woman rides her bicycle past propaganda billboards urging Tamils to join the rebel force of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)

There are disturbing developments to report on the deteriorating situation in Sri Lanka. The international community has paid little attention to this festering wound.

The LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) or Tamil Tigers used recently acquired small planes to aeriel bomb three military installations north of Colombo, and thereby escalating the war. Click here to read the story in Khaleej Times
An AP reporter was allowed unusual access into the Tiger stronghold of Kilinochchi. Click here to read the report

The Tamil people's grievances are legitimate and are yet to be addressed. The Tigers who presented themselves as the representative of the Tamil struggle seems to have lost that battle. Most Tamil and Sinhala people who are committed to justice and peace are united in their opposition to the terrorism of the Tigers. Indeed the Tamil people have disproportionately sufferred during this almost 25 year old war. Tamil elites, politicians, academics, opinion leaders and peace activisits have been ruthlessly murdered. (The high profile killing of Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar is still very fresh in our minds.) Tamil people in the north and the east of the Island live in extreme hardship because of this war.

The LTTE funds its operations by "taxing" Tamil people, particularly those in the diaspora who run businesses. A recent report by Al Jazeera TV documents how this happens in the UK. The 20 minute video is worth watching. Click here for the video on "Tiger Tax."

The government of Sri Lanka is not blameless by any means. Prodded by chauvinistic Sinhala groups they have opted for military solutions that have been pathetically ineffective. The government's military operations have killed scores of mostly Tamil, innocent people. Many opportunities that have been afforded both parties to negotiate have been wasted because neither the government nor the Tigers has been serious about negotiations.

This has not been known as a religious war. However, chauvinistic Buddhist monks have formed a political party which has agitated against negotiations. A recent report citing the storing of Tiger weapons in Hindu kovils portends an unfortunate possibility that religious communities may get engaged in this war.

The British parliament, following a debate on Sri Lanka, voted to withhold aid from Sri Lanka, citing the government's inability to engage in peace talks with the Tigers. This hypocrisy is from the same parliament that authorized Tony Blair to go to war against innocent people in a third country, Iraq, because they couldn't talk to Al Queda. This is either a total mis-read of the situation on the ground in Sri Lanka, or an arrogant display of its old colonial mentality. The Tamil - Sinhala problem is a legacy of their dastardly imperialism. Rather than engage the parties they cut off aid?

Read an opinion column that appeared in today's Sunday Times of Sri Lanka, here.

It is time for all those who are committed to justice and peace, Tamils, Sinhalese and others to effectively organize. It is time for faith-based and citizen-based diplomacy from all sides.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Theology of Jamestown

Jamestown 1606 -- Unknown artist

Ask the average person about the founding fathers and the answer will likely be that they came in the Mayflower and landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. That would be a full 13 years after the founding of the Jamestown Colony, the first English settlement in the New World. Many people's knowledge of the Native American tribes might not go much beyond Pocohontas, who married the settler John Rolfe and went to England to die of smallpox in 1617 - and that thanks to the Disney movie.

The Queen of England visited Jamestown today to commemorate the 400th anniversary of that event. Although it was originally billed as a celebration, according to news reports, the organizers say that the word is banned at this year's special events because it was an "invasion" that resulted in a "holocaust."

"You can't celebrate an invasion," Mary Wade, an influential Jamestown 2007 Commemoration planner and Native American activist, has stated. After all, the tribes "were pushed back off of their land, even killed. Whole tribes were annihilated. A lot of people carry that oral history with them, and that's why they use the word 'invasion,' because it truly was an invasion, and I'm sure some of the Indian people will probably want to tell that as a part of the story of 400 years."

Historian Howard Zinn in his popular People's History of the United States tells the alternative story of the invasion.

The Jamestown colony was established in Virginia in 1607, inside the territory of a Native American confederacy, led by the chief, Powhatan. Powhatan watched the English settle on his people's land, but did not attack. And the English began starving. Some of them ran away and joined the tribes, where they would at least be fed. Indeed, throughout colonial times tens of thousands of indentured servants, prisoners and slaves -- from Wales and Scotland as well as from Africa -- ran away to live in Indian communities, intermarry, and raise their children there.

In the summer of 1610 the governor of Jamestown colony asked Powhatan to return the runaways, who were living fully among the Native Americans. Powhatan left the choice to those who ran away, and none wanted to go back. The governor of Jamestown then sent soldiers to take revenge. They descended on a Native American community, killed 15 or 16 people, burned the houses, cut down the corn growing around the village, took the female leader of the tribe and her children into boats, then ended up throwing the children overboard and shooting out their brains in the water. The female leader was later taken off the boat and stabbed to death.

By 1621, the atrocities committed by the English had grown, and word spread throughout the villages. The tribes fought back, and killed 347 colonists. From then on it was total war. Not able to enslave the Native Americans the English aristocracy decided to exterminate them.

A few years after the first landing, the settlement also saw the start of slavery with the arrival of the first manacled Africans in 1619.

"It is very easy, with the Pilgrims and the Mayflower, to ignore those aspects of early America that were tough and not a pretty story," said James Horn, author of a book about Jamestown, A Land As God Made It. The bloody history of the last 400 years can not be undone. "When you think of Jamestown, if you are native, you see those images of pain and suffering. But on the other hand, you see where you are today, you see the rights we have today," said Stephen Adkins, chief of the Chickahominy tribe. "One of the legacies of this commemoration was that our story will find its way into the history books."

What is often ignored in such conversations is the religious motivation and legitimization of such invasions. For instance, the "Doctrine of Discovery," a papal bull (authoritative statement) issued by Pope Nicholas V in 1452, or forty years before Columbus' journey, essentially declared war against all non-Christians throughout the world, and specifically promoting and sanctioning conquest, colonization and exploitation of non-Christian nations and their territories. It is imperative that Christians today self-critically examine the the role Christian theology and doctrine played in such violence. This is the first step towards ridding ourselves of the violence that is still very much a part of us.

The NCC's Interfaith Relations Commission is planning a Missiological Consultation early next year, to examine this question and to think about how we can have alternative ways to think about our theology of mission.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

My Colleague Tony Kireopoulos in Best Life Magazine

New York City, May 2, 2007– "As nations turn a blind eye to the ongoing genocide in Darfur, a New Yorker named Tony Kireopoulos takes action," reads the headline in the May issue of "Best Life" magazine.

Dr. Kireopoulos is the associate general secretary for international affairs and peace at the National Council of Churches USA (NCC) and a member of the executive board of the Save Darfur Coalition.

"Three and a half million Sudanese are at risk of genocide and starvation," says Kireopoulos in an interview in the upscale magazine that targets professional male readers. "Already 400,000 lives have been lost and 2 million refugees have fled into neighboring Chad. This ethnic cleansing, fueled by ethnic and tribal hatred, has been described as the worst the world has seen since the Rwandan massacre of 1994. It continues to this very minute," says the article in a feature section the magazine calls, "My Cause."

Kireopoulos reveals in the article how his own personal journey toward a career in international finance took a radical turn after visiting his family's native Greece. He heard stories from village residents about their resistance to fascism in World War II. Instead of returning home and continuing his corporate finance career, he tells "Best Life," he wanted to learn about the resilience of such people and ultimately went on to study theology and take a different direction in his life. "With my international politics education from Georgetown and international finance training from Thunderbird, in Arizona, I found myself uniquely qualified to join the struggle for global peace," he says in the article.

The magazine's cover photo of a well-dressed Luke Wilson is surrounded by eye-catching headlines: "The best way to lose your gut," "Younger, Leaner & Richer," and "5 Perfect Foods for Men." The magazine routinely offers advice on finance, sex, marriage and other areas of life including philanthropy.

"I think having Tony's witness to peace and to the Gospel in this publication is just what Jesus had in mind when he said, 'No one lights a lamp and hides it under a bushel basket,'" said Wesley Pattillo, NCC's associate general secretary for communication.

"There are thousands of readers who may never pick up a Bible but now they've read Tony's story and know why people of faith bear such witness."

The magazine also listed several ways to take action starting with visiting where families can learn ways to help stop the murder of thousands.

"Last September, as tens of thousands of blue-beret-wearing activists, symbolizing the needed U.N. peacekeepers, rallied in Central Park," Kireopoulos says in the article, "I took the microphone and told the crowd, 'The human race cannot bear another shameful day in the future when, looking back – if we do nothing – all we will be able to say is 'Never again.' Something we've said too many times before."

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Si Se Puede! Yes We Can!

Immigrant Rights Rally in Chicago (CNN Photo)

With the chant "Si Se Puede," thousands of protesters took to the streets in major cities of the United States today seeking civil rights for immigrants.

CNN's report on the event read as follows:

CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- Kids skipped school. Men and women walked off their jobs. Others didn't bother going to work. Businesses shut down for lack of patrons or employees.
Throngs of immigrants and advocates took to the streets of many U.S. cities Monday to protest proposed immigration laws, and the sites represented a veritable where's where of American metropolises.

Among them: New York; Washington; Las Vegas, Nevada; Miami, Florida; Chicago, Illinois; Los Angeles, California; San Francisco, California; Atlanta, Georgia; Denver, Colorado; Phoenix, Arizona; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Organizers of the nationwide event, dubbed "A Day Without Immigrants," asked those opposing tighter restrictions on immigration -- namely immigrants themselves -- to flex their economic muscle by boycotting all aspects of commerce, including going to work and school.

Chicago was the site of one of the largest protests, with about 300,000 demonstrators marching downtown, according to the city's emergency management center. Predominantly Latino schools in the city saw a 10 to 33 percent drop in attendance.

As protesters marched through the Windy City's business district, some waved Mexican and American flags and carried signs that read, "We're not terrorists" and "We build your homes."

Justice for immigrants is an imperative for people of faith. The Bible for instance, is entirely on the side of the "stranger," that a Christian position on the issue can hardly be disputed. Here are some examples:

“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the stranger. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” --Leviticus 19:33-34

“And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? . . . ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” --Matthew 25:38,40

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” --Hebrews 13:2
A network of congregation-based community organizations that I was closely associated with during my time in Chicago is the Gamaliel Foundation.

Its Clergy Caucus a couple of years ago perpared a strong statement entitled "Civil Rights for All Immigrants." The statement is signed by many religious leaders. It is a statement that can form the theological basis for our support for the justice for immigrants.