How the Trump Administration Has Harmed Faith Communities

How the Trump Administration Has Harmed Faith Communities

Getty/John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe

Black clergy members stand with other attendees during a Mass for racial healing on Castle Island in South Boston on June 13, 2020.

  • OVERVIEWPeople of faith have suffered under the Trump administration’s attacks on civil rights, religious freedom, and health and economic well-being.
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See also: Connecting the Dots: How the Trump Administration Misuses Religious Freedom To Create a License To Discriminate” by Maggie Siddiqi, Kurt Mueller, Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, and Sharita Gruberg

Introduction and summary

There is a commonly held but misleading perception in U.S. public discourse that the Trump administration’s policies have been largely favorable to faith communities. This is based on the administration’s narrow understanding of religion and public policy—one that privileges the concerns of a select group of conservative white Christians, mostly evangelical, who by no means represent all of America’s faithful. Rather, this subset has a narrow focus on policies that discriminate against LGBTQ people and stigmatize reproductive health services, including abortion, presenting a very skewed representation of religious Americans’ public policy concerns. While the Trump administration purports to help this narrow band of religious Americans, the reality is that many of its policies have harmed all religious communities—particularly religious minorities.

To understand the needs and concerns of all American faith communities, it is important to first understand the religious diversity of the nation. While 3 in 4 Americans identify with a religious tradition, only 15 percent identify as white evangelicals, according to the 2019 American Values Atlas Survey.1 Yet this small proportion of the population tends to garner a disproportionate share of attention concerning religion in the public discourse on national politics. Their concerns certainly dominate how the Trump administration’s impact on faith communities is perceived at large.

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Public opinion polling reveals that even the so-called benefits of the Trump administration to those select faith groups crusading against reproductive and LGBTQ rights are rejected by majorities within faith communities other than white evangelicals. According to the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), majorities of white mainline Protestants and Black Protestants say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, as well as a plurality of Catholics.2 The vast majority of U.S. women of faith have used or currently use birth control.3 The PRRI also found that majorities of all major religious groups in the United States support government-backed health insurance programs covering contraceptives and supporting nondiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ community.4

FULL ARTICLE FROM AMERICANPROGRESS.ORG

Muslim lands staking out interfaith coexistence

The notion of the Arab and Muslim world as a cauldron of perpetual religious strife – and thus a place to avoid – has been a difficult rap to beat. Yet many countries keep defying the myth. The latest may be Sudan. On Sept. 3, its prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, signed an agreement to enshrine the principle of “separation of religion and state” in the constitution. In addition, political parties would not be established on a religious basis.

Sudan joins Tunisia, Iraq, Lebanon, and a few other Muslim-majority countries that are trying to curb their sectarian divisions or the strict imposition of sharia, or Islamic law, on civic and private life. Notions of political equality are rising up, led mostly by youthful protesters who rely on the Arabic term for citizens: muwatinun.

Sudan’s move toward secular governance comes out of pro-democracy protests that felled a dictator, Omar al-Bashir, in April 2019. His three-decade legacy of Islam as the de facto state religion is slowly being overturned in favor of a unifying “civilian state.” An interim constitution makes no mention of sharia. The transitional government has abolished the apostasy laws as well as corporal punishment or flogging of non-Muslims. It allows non-Muslims to drink alcohol. It has banned female genital mutilation, a practice tied to certain religious views of women.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

ABTS (Lebanon) peace-building initiatives promote understanding between Christians and Muslims

Lebanon (MNN) — The more tragedies and hardships that hit countries and cities, the more communities splinter, drawing dividing lines and focusing on themselves. But even during trying circumstances, the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) looks to build bridges and foster friendship between Christians and Muslims through its Institute of Middle East Studies’ (IMES) peace-building initiatives.

Chief academic office Martin Accad explains that these peace-building initiatives remain distinctive because they put faith at the center.

“The purpose is to allow your faith values [to] inspire living together across faith traditions and working together towards the common good,” he says.

Reconciling Communities

Included in these initiatives is the Friendship Network of Church and Mosque Goers. For the past two and a half years, IMES has worked to build a network of leaders across Lebanon that can bring people of both faiths together.

“With this group of 25 to 30 people, we explore themes around friendship,” Accad explains.

The pandemic meant these groups had to stop meeting, but the health crisis combined with a severe economic downturn means unity and cooperation are more important than ever. Accad says the friendship network is using relief funds to help both communities. The network has had Christian and Muslim leaders take food packs to families together.

“We want to demonstrate that in times of crisis, faith leaders, out of their values, are able to think beyond the wellbeing of their own community,” he says.

Accad also explains delivering these food packages serves two important purposes.

“We will have an impact in certain families that we are reaching out to, but most importantly, we will be demonstrating that people of faith can collaborate together toward the common good,” he says.

“It doesn’t mean that all religions are equal. It doesn’t mean that we are trying to say that there are no differences. On the contrary, true dialogue and peace building is based on the recognition that we are different, and we can collaborate together despite our differences.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM MNNONLINE.COM

Faith and Values: ‘Interfaith’ work means everyone gets a seat at the table

I recently had an exchange with someone who was concerned about my approach to interfaith work.

As the executive director of SpokaneFāVS, my job is more than religion reporting. Through our journalism, commentary and the FāVS Center (our 1-year-old faith and nonfaith community center), our goal is to foster community dialogue and educate people about the beliefs that make up this great city.

One of the glorious things about Spokane is its religious diversity. Besides hundreds of Christian churches, we have two Sikh gudwaras, and strong Muslim, Buddhist, Baha’i and Hindu communities – to name a few. We also have an increasing number of atheists, agnostics and nones (those with no affiliation).

To me, interfaith work means bringing all those voices to the table.

The term ‘interfaith,’ though, has become loaded because many seem to associate it only with progressives.

And that’s where the above-mentioned exchange comes in. This person couldn’t understand why we would have conservatives and/or Evangelicals sitting at our table – people who saw LGBT issues and Black Lives Matter differently than them.

On the flip side, I’ve also had people question why we have atheist writers. My argument to them is the same.

I reminded them that interfaith work (or faith and nonfaith, as I prefer) can’t be exclusive. We can’t preach inclusivity, and then leave groups out who have different views from us. (Extremists would be the exception).

FāVS has worked hard to become a gathering place for all beliefs, which of course means not everyone sees eye to eye.

And I think that’s wonderful.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW

Racial Justice and Interfaith Cooperation

Another opportunity for an interfaith coalition to come together and move forward together for a just world.

Eboo Patel July 14, 2020

Recently, my Muslim family joined a Hindu family and a Jewish family at a protest for racial equity near our home on the North Side of Chicago. A couple of days ago, my older son and I went to an event on the near South Side with fellow Muslims. As we talked about the verses of the Qur’an and the values of Islam that inspired our involvement, I made sure to point out the people wearing crosses around their necks, the clergy with collars or kippahs, the religious scripture prominently displayed on several signs. On the way back, I talked about how Sikhs were setting up makeshift kitchens to feed protesters, a sacred practice called langar. 

I want my kids to know from an early age that racial equity is an interfaith movement. It is imperative across religious traditions, and therefore a site where people from different faiths meet, get inspired by one another, deepen their own convictions and advance a cause that we view as a sacred command. 

I was considerably older than my children are now when I realized the powerful relationship between racial equity and interfaith cooperation. In fact, I remember the exact moment. It was early December of 1999 and I was at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Cape Town, South Africa. I had gone largely for personal reasons, namely because my own spiritual journey had been deeply influenced by multiple religious traditions. But then Nelson Mandela spoke, and what he said changed everything. 

He began by pointing out into the cape, towards Robben Island, where he spent over 25 years in prison and uttered these words: ”I would still be there if it were not for the Christians, the Jews, the Hindus, the Muslims, the Baha’is, the Quakers, those from indigenous African religions and those of no religion at all, working together in the struggle against apartheid.”

Marcel Proust famously said that the true journey of discovery was not in seeing new landscapes but in developing new eyes. It felt like Mandela had given me new eyes. In South Africa, a movement of racial equity had been a site for interfaith cooperation. I had taken a range of courses on race in college, but my explorations into faith had been largely private, and mostly about my own personal spirituality. The idea that racial equality could be advanced through interfaith cooperation was brand-new and totally inspiring.

FULL ARTICLE FROM INSIDE HIGHER ED

Muslim World League secretary-general honored for interfaith work

  • US officials, American Jewish leaders award Dr. Mohammed Al-Issa for combatting anti-Semitism
  • He vowed that the MWL would “keep on until there is no more antisemitism and racism”

NEW YORK: Former Saudi Minister of Justice Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa was awarded the first ever Combat Anti-Semitism Award for his work in the interfaith community and his fight against anti-Semitism and religious intolerance.

The virtual ceremony on June 9 was co-hosted by the Combat Anti-Semitism movement and the American Sephardi Federation. Senior US diplomats, UN officials and leaders of the American Jewish community all hailed the interfaith work of Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League (MWL).

Al-Issa has been the MWL secretary-general since 2016 and has forged several alliances with Jewish, Christian and other religious committees across the world.

He recently led a high-level delegation to Auschwitz in January of this year and announced several historic initiatives to counter extremism, guarantee religious freedom and improve human welfare, spreading the virtues of inter-religious understanding. He has been described by the US Department of State and other major international agencies as one of the foremost proponents of moderate Islam in the world today.

FULL ARTICLE FROM ARAB NEWS

From Islam to Buddhism, faiths have long encouraged stewardship of nature

In most major religions there is scripture encouraging the protection and care of nature.  From Buddhism to Christianity, Hinduism to Islam, faiths recognize the need for environmental stewardship and urge followers to be caretakers of the planet and its biodiversity.

Spiritual leaders play an important role in sharing religious practices and passages so that followers can live a more sustainable lifestyle respecting the 8 million species we share our planet with.

That message was echoed by World Environment Day 2020, which fell on 5 June. The celebration cast a spotlight on the services nature provides us—from food to medicine—and highlighted that, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, life on earth would not be possible without nature’s bounty.

Here are how seven faiths remind us how we are connected to nature.

The Baha’i writings are replete with statements on the importance of the harmony between human life and the natural world. Bahá’u’lláh’s writings are imbued with a deep respect for nature and the interconnectedness of all things, seeing especially in nature a reflection of the divine:

Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity, there are signs for men of discernment.

Buddhism inspires ecological mindfulness to address the loss of biodiversity. It seeks wisdom through adherence to the Five Precepts, the pursuit of the Noble Eightfold Path, and the understanding of karma. Buddhists find themselves in harmony with nature by acknowledging the interdependence of all forms of life.

At the core of Brahma Kumaris’ work is the understanding of the connection between our consciousness, thoughts and actions, and their impact on the world. It is seen that long-lasting change in any social or environmental system starts with a profound shift in the minds and hearts of people. The current loss of biodiversity is therefore a clear call to transform our awareness and lifestyle, and start caring for all living forms on the planet.

“Our capacity to change ecosystems is proportional to our capacity to change our own consciousness” – Brahma Kumaris

For Christians, biodiversity conservation is a role that is at the heart of their daily lives. In the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, Christians are called to experience the world as a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise, as St. Francis does in the words of the Canticle of Creation:

“Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM UNENVIRONMENT.ORG

Can Muslim college students heal divisions in the US?

Amid rising Islamophobia, Muslim students show greater tendencies towards interfaith goodwill, a recent survey suggests.

by Saba Aziz

Musbah Shaheen left war-torn Syria in 2013 to attend college in the United States.

As the then-19-year-old from Homs settled into student life at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, he was often asked about the conflict and life in Syria.

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The conversations in hallways, classrooms and cafeteria with professors and fellow classmates also turned into more personal questions about his faith, he said.

“The biggest challenge for me in college was navigating the assumptions that people made about my religion,” Shaheen told Al Jazeera.

Some were surprised that he did not have a beard, others that his sister did not wear a veil or that he ate meat. He felt like an outsider – misunderstood and stereotyped.

US college pluralism story

Musbah Shaheen is currently doing a PhD at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio [Photo courtesy: Musbah Shaheen] 

“I don’t want anyone to feel this way, so I engaged in interfaith dialogue as a student leader, and that shaped my entire work life after college,” the now-26-year-old said.

FULL ARTICLE FROM AL JAZEERA

Towson’s Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies seeks to make Baltimore a model religious city

After listening to Dr. Benjamin Sax lecture during a mini-course entitled “Crossroads in Jewish-Christian Dialogue” earlier this month, it’s the turn of a group of mostly senior citizens to speak.

Seated around a dozen or so tables in the library of the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies in Towson, they are asked to discuss weighty ideas in the context of Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza’s critique of historical religious dogma and doctrine.Ads by TeadsADVERTISING

“Spinoza opened the door to interpreting other religions individually,” Sax, the ICJS Jewish scholar, said of the 17th-century, Jewish-educated philosopher who eventually joined a Mennonite sect. “He talked about the universality of religions and about recognizing an opinion, rather than a fact.”

The attendees were urged to mull over that idea along with many others offered by Sax, with the burning question being what would happen to religious institutions if the masses, a la Spinoza’s philosophy, interpreted sacred tracts on their own.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE BALTIMORE SUN