Religions can be part of the solution for peace, not the problem, faith leaders say

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VATICAN CITY (RNS) — When John Lennon wrote his hit song “Imagine,” eliminating religions and the divisions they entail was in his view a necessary condition for “living life in peace.” A meeting of religious representatives in Rome this week made the case for shifting that paradigm.

The Abrahamic Faiths Initiative group united 25 religious leaders representing millions of Christian, Muslim and Jewish faithful to discuss practical ways of promoting peace and fraternity at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome Jan. 14-16.

Attendees included Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, president of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies; Riccardo di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome; and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem and all Palestine.

Many peacemaking efforts have failed because they didn’t consider the religious implications of their initiatives, according to Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, who also attended.

“I think the world is crying for this movement,” Brownback told Religion News Service in an interview on Thursday (Jan. 16), adding that even though the world might not want to talk about religion, the matter cannot be ignored.

“If we’d involved the religious actors 30 years ago in the Middle East peace negotiations and discussions, saying ‘OK, this is what we are thinking about, what do you think? Help us build the peace,’ we might be somewhere today,” he said.

“We still don’t have peace in the Middle East and the prospects don’t look particularly good.”

Brownback underlined that Christian, Muslim and Jewish faithful all source back to Abraham, creating a communality that can be built upon. “I just think the people who would divide have gotten out ahead of the people who would unite. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do,” he said.

In its final statement Thursday, the AFI members vowed “to seek to serve those of other faiths and no faith” and condemned those who “use the name of God, or the teachings of Abraham, to incite bloodshed or to oppress others.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE 

Australia bushfire: Muslims, Christians pray together for rain

khaleejtimes - photos

The Australia bush fire from space.

FULL PHOTO ESSAY FROM THE KHALEEJ TIMES 

Donald Trump Jr.’s rifle shows how obsessed the right still is with the Crusades

Over the weekend, Donald Trump Jr. picked up a rifle inscribed with medieval Christian iconography, a molded knight’s helmet and a magazine picturing Hillary Clinton behind bars, and went shooting. He shared the photos of this weapon on Instagram.

This gun, dubbed the “Crusader,” has been in the news before, when it caused controversy for its anti-Islamic imagery. This new version, as with the original, was marketed as something to be used by American citizens against Islamic terrorists and is described on the seller’s website as “inspired by some of the most fierce warriors who fought in nearly 200 years of epic conflicts known as the Crusades. … Technology evolves, warriors never change.”

The key element here is the molded helmet. Unlike actual helmets of the 12th century, which would almost all have been quite similar to those shown in the Bayeux Tapestry, the helmet on the gun fully encloses the face. It’s a much later type of helmet — and one that importantly speaks not to the real Middle Ages but to an Internet fantasy version. Specifically, it iconographically winks at the popular “Deus vult” rallying cry and “Templar” meme that is hurled at Muslims by white supremacists in the United States and Europe, directed at political leftists in Brazil and even scrawled on the walls of a Planned Parenthood facility last week, allegedly by an extremist who tried to burn the building down.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE WASHINGTON POST 

Iranian cultural sites include landmarks important to Jews and Christians, too

webRNS-Iranian-Sites5-010720(RNS) — When President Donald Trump tweeted about the possibility of retaliatory strikes on “52 Iranian sites,” including some that are important to “the Iranian culture,” the world reacted with alarm.

Strikes on cultural sites are considered illegal — some would even say a war crime. The U.S. is a signatory to several international agreements, including the 1954 Hague Convention, which calls on warring parties “to protect cultural property.”

Trump’s own defense secretary, Mark Esper, followed up Monday (Jan. 6) by saying the United States would not target Iranian cultural sites, should Tehran retaliate for America’s targeted killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani last week.

But scholars say it’s important to distinguish today’s Iranian leadership from the rich legacy of Persian culture, which predates the rise of Shiite theocracy, Islam, even monotheism.

Iran is part of the cradle of civilization, the place where civilization is understood to have emerged. Its history goes back at least 2,000 years before the rise of Islam. The country, which is about twice the size of Texas, has many religious sites important to Jews and Christians, too.

“It has very significant sites for the Zoroastrian religion, Jewish and Christian communities, and of course Muslims,” said Omid Safi, professor of Asian and Middle Eastern studies at Duke University. Safi grew up in Iran until the age of 15, and he studies Persian mystical literature.

Many pointed out that Iran has 22 cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites. But in addition, a number of its religious landmarks continue to function as places of worship and pilgrimage.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE 

The U.S. killing of Soleimani could have devastating consequences for Iraq’s Christians

iranFollowing the news reports last night that eventually confirmed that a U.S. drone strike on Jan. 2 had killed Qasem Soleimani, leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, and associates including Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of the Iran-backed Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, I found myself hoping that someone in the Trump administration was remembering the perilous status of the Christian remnant in northern Iraq.

Christians in Nineveh province have just begun over the last year or so to trickle back to communities that had been devastated first by ISIS then by the Iraqi and U.S. coalition forces that drove ISIS—if not out of the country, then at least back underground. The forces which helped defeat ISIS over two years of fighting included the same Shiite militia that had been targeted by the Trump administration over the last week.

While the United States prepares itself for reprisals, I wonder if any attention is being paid to the vulnerability of the region’s remnant Christians.

Decolonising Jesus Christ

The figure of Jesus Christ goes way beyond the image of him which hegemonic European Christianity imposed on the world.

5ad05132e3834125be15b3de80432865_18Christians around the world are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Some do so on December 25 and others on January 7, depending on what church or liturgical calendar they follow. 

Given the overwhelming hegemony of Western Christianity in Europe, the Americas, Australia and throughout the colonised world where European Christianity has been the vehicle of colonisation, the fact of celebrating the birthday of Jesus early in January has become something of an afterthought.

But why? The difference is not just liturgical, canonical or doctrinal. It is also cultural, historical and the prelude of decolonising Christ and Christianity.

Eurocentric hegemony over Christian practices and perceptions of its central figure, Jesus Christ, have systematically sidelined various other rites and conceptualisations of his figure. Shifting the point of emphasis from one branch of Christianity to another – or any other religion – points to the multiplicity of ways in which a religious figure such as Jesus has been celebrated.

As millions of Eastern Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, it is an opportune time to revisit how he has been imagined throughout time and across the world. 

Revolutionary Jesus

For those familiar with Jaroslav Pelikan’s magnificent book Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (1999), this is not unusual for a different cultural milieu giving birth to a different figure of Christ.

In his study, we encounter a floating figure of Jesus which moves from a Jewish Rabbi in the first century after his birth, to “the Light of Gentiles”, and “the King of Kings” during the Roman Empire in the second and third centuries, “the Cosmic Christ” in the aftermath of encounter with Platonism, “the Son of Man” in St Augustine’s work in the fifth century, and “the Prince of Peace” during the Reformation in 16th-century Western Europe.  

FULL ARTICLE FROM AL JAZEERA 

My Muslim friend Ali and my Christian commitment to his life of faith

How American hostility toward Muslims has shaped my pastoral vocation

011520faithmattersDuring Sunday worship 13 years ago, my district minister invited me to the front to bless me in my first pastoral calling. I stood with her, looking at all the faces of church members and community friends, side by side, snug in the pews. She asked, “Will you seek to be faithful in prayer, in setting forth the scriptures, and in seeking the good of this congregation?” As I said yes I glanced around the room, my eyes meeting those of my friends—people who weren’t members of the church but had come together to support me, to affirm my calling.

With my yes I made a commitment to this whole gathering, church members and others. They embodied, for an hour, a mestizaje of lives from different traditions, to borrow a concept from mujerista theologians. That congregation was an amalgamated body, a hybrid of people rooted in various communities. For my identity as a minister, the line between the church and the world has been permeable from the beginning, a calling to a congregation of mixed constitution.

Among the gathered body that day was my friend Ali. Over the years he had visited our Mennonite community for Sunday worship and I had joined his Muslim community for Friday prayers. Our communal singing captivated him; their embodied reverence mesmerized me. Once I went with him to Eid al-Fitr, the service at the end of Ramadan where Muslims come together for their salat, their worshipful devotion. That year they gathered in the main arena at the state fairgrounds. We took off our shoes and added them to the endless lines along the walls. With his prayer rug tucked under his arm, Ali walked me to the chairs for non-Muslim guests before he weaved his way through men sitting cross-legged on their mats. I watched him roll out his rug, lift his hands to his ears, drop his arms to his side, then reach his arms to hold each other across his chest. He and the others stood in silence, waiting for the imam to lead the first takbir, the invitation to call upon God.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIAN CENTURY