WATCH: ‘The Racial Divide: Time For Change’ Town Hall – faith and mental health focus

WASHINGTON (ABC7) — On Tuesday night, WJLA broadcasted a live virtual town hall addressing affairs of race relations with a focus on faith and mental health issues.

ABC7 News anchors Jonathan Elias and Michelle Marsh moderated the one-hour virtual panel discussion with religious leaders and mental health experts from the Washington, D.C. region.

The discussion centered around the COVID-19 pandemic and the nationwide protests and calls for justice, and how those have impacted our mental health in terms of stress, anxiety, and depression. Our panelists discussed how to move forward in a better direction together and provided resources for help.ADVERTISING

RELATED: The Racial Divide: ABC7 hosts second town hall, tackles mental health concerns

Panelists and special guests who appeared:

You can watch our first Racial Divide: Time For Change Town Hall, which aired on June 9, HERE.

Take a look below at the topics that were discussed:


Faith leaders discuss what they’re hearing from their congregation in terms of stress, anxiety, and depression related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the toll is taking on people and affecting their ability to return to church.


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.


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.”


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.


U.S. Religious Leaders Helping To Heal Active Trauma In Protests, COVID-19

NEW YORK (AP) — American religious leaders across faiths are grappling with the heavy burden of helping to heal two active traumas: rising civil unrest driven by the police killing of George Floyd and the coronavirus pandemic.

Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders have raised their voices to condemn racial bias in the justice system while discouraging violence in response to the killing of Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck. Those words of solidarity, for many clergy, came as their worship routines remained upended by a virus that has forced them to rely on digital or outdoor gathering.ADVERTISING

At Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, which has provided relief and medical help to demonstrators this week as protests roiled the city, associate pastor Angela T. Khabeb said the shared pain caused by Floyd’s death was exposing the brutal double toll being exacted on people of color.

“There were other pandemics we didn’t always talk about that faced black communities, indigenous, Latinx” before the virus outbreak, Khabeb said, citing “institutionalized racism” and poverty. “And then we layer on COVID-19, which disproportionately affects black, indigenous, Latinx communities.”

Khabeb acknowledged that she felt challenged by the task of tending to her congregation during the current crisis when the latest police killing of a black American had caused “a crisis of my own that’s very personal.”

Among the religious leaders in Minnesota organizing for spiritual care since Floyd’s death was Bernard Hebda, the Catholic archbishop of the Twin Cities. Hebda held a Friday online prayer service “for racial justice and peace” alongside Rev. Erich Rutten, the priest of a historic African American parish in St. Paul. The Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton also traveled to Minneapolis on Thursday, with Jackson speaking at a local Baptist church.

Imam Asad Zaman, the Muslim American Society of Minnesota’s executive director, outlined multiple law enforcement reform proposals in response to Floyd’s death. Zaman noted in an op-ed this week that “the Qur’an teaches us that to save a single life is to save all of humanity.”

But as the frustration sparked by Floyd’s killing scorched dozens of other cities, religious denominations nationwide began speaking out to sympathize with the pain that brought protesters into the streets. White Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been charged with murder in connection with Floyd’s death, which follows the highly-publicized killings of two black Americans this year — Georgian Ahmaud Arbery, shot while running, and Breonna Taylor, shot by police in her Louisville, Kentucky home.

Seven senior members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement calling racism “not a thing of the past or simply a throwaway political issue,” adding: “While it is expected that we will plead for peaceful non-violent protests, and we certainly do, we also stand in passionate support of communities that are understandably outraged.”


A Muslim In Rural, White Minnesota On How To ‘Love Thy Neighbor’

Dr. Ayaz Virji was a Muslim living in small-town, white America.

He had left a good job in a leadership position at a successful hospital in Harrisburg, Penn., in order to practice medicine in a rural, underserved area.

Virji says he “had the BMWs, the nice house, but it wasn’t enough for me, I wanted to do more.” Rural America faces a shortage of doctors, with many residents forgoing care and saying locations are too far away. “So I felt like I should do something about that. And it was back to the idea: If not me, then who?” he says.

He moved with his family to Dawson, Minn., in 2014. As far as he knew, they were the only Muslims in town. Virji describes the small city — population 1,500 or so — as filled with “very gracious” people who welcomed the family to the community.

“People there are kind, you know, many of them are far better than I am as a person.”


Remembering lives lost: Interfaith virtual memorial service honors COVID-19 victims

The numbers appear mind-numbing. More than 100,000 deaths in the United States alone.

Nearly 350,000 worldwide.

A local group aims to find a way to bring those statistics to a more personal level and take a moment to ache for all who have died from COVID-19 in the pandemic.

The four-member Columbus Interfaith, plus four other local houses of worship, will join in hearts to remember and honor the world’s COVID-19 victims in a virtual service via Zoom to be posted online Sunday.



(Note: While this pertains only to religious sites in Wisconsin, it may provide a template for how others may choose to re-open)

After the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the “Safer at Home” policy on May 14, and ordered that the state must “reopen” amid the COVID-19 pandemic without a comprehensive safety plan, every industry and community has struggled under the chaos since to discern how that ruling would be applied – especially within the faith community.

The Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee released a roadmap of policies from its diverse collection of members on May 19, addressing how different faith organizations would hold in-person worship services and protect the community from the coronavirus.

“As faith communities either prepare to cautiously open up faith sanctuaries for in-person gatherings or remain closed, we wanted to present examples of what some interfaith partners are doing to strategically and safely resume in-person gathering,” said Pardeep S. Kaleka, Executive Director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee. “The plans by our interfaith partners continue to invite input from the CDC, WHO, Medical Providers, Governmental Agencies, Interfaith religious organizations, community coalitions, and the congregations themselves – the greatest importance for our leadership remains to preserve life and human dignity.”

Milwaukee Jewish Federation

The MJF, working in collaboration with its local, state, and national partners will be convening a working group that will coordinate the safe “reopening of facilities, including synagogues, community centers, schools, senior centers, camps, and workplaces.” The resumptions of operations plan. Miryam Rosenzweig, President and CEO of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation stated that “determining how to resume or more fully open our operations can be overwhelming. The Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s internal task force, in planning our own reopening and strategizing how to assist the broader community, has had one guiding principle: the sanctity of life, Pikuach Nefesh. The safety of every human being is paramount and drives every decision.”

American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin

Regional Executive Minister, Rev. Dr. Marie Onwubuariri explained that each church is autonomous in their decision to reopen and conduct services. Some of the considerations of church activities regarding close proximity will need to be altered such as, ordinations, the laying on of hands, communion, post-service meals, baptisms, and choirs. Within the communion ritual there is a flexibility to the items shared for this purpose. Crackers, juice, water, or items of everyday sustenance can be used. There will also be and adjustment to the “sign of peace” within the services once churches open up again. Rev. Dr. Marie Onwubuariri recommended that churches practice extreme caution, follow CDC guidelines and pay attention to local orders.

Catholic Church

The Archdiocese highest priority is to keep the faithful community safe during these times and while information is changing rapidly, the leadership provided directives to begin by May 31, 2020. Some key points are that communion will not be distributed by the cup, it will only be received in the hand. Also, communion will only be distributed by the priests, or vested permanent or transitional deacons. Holy water fonts should be emptied, and there will be no physical contact during the sign of peace. Social distancing of those not living in the same house will also be followed. Catholic Comeback Plan.

United Church of Christ

The UCC expressed its gratitude to its congregation for honoring the “Safer at home” order as it helped to “reduce illness, suffering, and loss of life” over the past two months. Now that the order has been lifted by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, it has put a lot of pressure on individual pastors and leadership to open. However, despite the political challenges, UCC leadership will trust guidelines to maintain communal health. UCC will be working with Rev. Kerri Parker, Wisconsin Council of Churches, as they continue to monitor and assess health guidelines set out by public health officials to create a plan consistent with the Badger Bounce Back Plan. Rev. Jane Anderson states that “our main priority is the health of our communities, so we will trust science and data.” The plan developed by the Wisconsin Council of Churches was informed by the Badger Bounce Back plan to open up churches in a phased approach. This plan allows for a gradual, measured, and cautious approach which takes into account public health guidelines and data driven decision making. Wisconsin Council of Churches (WCC) plan.

Hindu Temple of Wisconsin

Prayer services at the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin are primarily autonomous. Devotees can visit to pray during regular hours of operation or at times when longer events are scheduled. Shoes are removed before entering the sanctum sanctorum. Priests are available continuously through the day for prayer services. Devotees bring flowers for the priests to lay on statues for them. The priest pours fragrant blessed water into their hands, used as a vessel to drink from, and nuts are shared after being blessed. For the reopening of the temple, Sarvesh Geddam explained the temple hours would be restricted. The blessed water and nuts would be prepackaged, and Devotees would be asked to wear masks and maintain social distancing.

Islamic Society of Milwaukee and Brookfield

The Islamic Society will implement a phased approach to returning to in-person attendance at the Masjid in mid-June, 2020 if conditions permit. This plan is in accordance to the guidelines recommended by the CDC. Imam Noman Hussain stated that “it is of the utmost importance that the community’s safety be the highest priority. This includes the Muslim community and the broader community.” The ISM will be implementing the use of facemasks, social distancing, disinfecting, and sanitizing to mitigate the threat of spread. During the 1st Phase, there will be no Friday prayer, however there will be daily prayers in respect to allotted capacity, with adults over 65 strongly discouraged because of risk to elderly. Capacity requirements will be in place for the entire premises and social distancing will be the priority.


An overlooked answer to COVID-19

A global day of prayer on May 14 reflected an upsurge of prayer as a healing response to the coronavirus.

1102258_1_prayer_standardOf all the responses to the coronavirus, one of the most overlooked by journalists and national leaders has been prayer. Yet take note: On May 14, tens of thousands of Christians, Muslims, and Jews around the world held a day of prayer for healing. It was sponsored by a newly formed interfaith group called the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity.

“Let us face this challenge with patience and composure,” said Indonesian President Joko Widodo at a mass prayer service in his Asian nation on Thursday. “Panic is half of the disease, equanimity is half of a cure, and patience determines recovery.”

Or note a day of prayer held in Israel April 22. Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze religious leaders gathered online to lead people in their respective prayers. Or note a day of interfaith prayer in the Philippines April 8 to address the virus crisis.

In the United States, the National Day of Prayer, held every year on the first Thursday in May, focused this year on helping Americans cope with COVID-19. At the local level, interfaith groups have also held days of prayer – on Facebook, Zoom, or similar online platforms.

During the COVID-19 emergency, “Americans have become significantly more likely to say that religion is increasing its influence on American life,” according to the results of a mid-April Gallup Poll. A March survey by Pew Research Center found 24% of Americans say their faith has become stronger while 55% said they had prayed for an end to the spread of the coronavirus.


National Day of Prayer features Latter-day Saints, evangelicals, Catholics, Muslims, Jews and Hindus

“We are united in prayer today to ask a special blessing of deliverance, deliverance from this pandemic that has covered the earth in a devastating sickness,” said Debbie Marriott Harrison

prayerSALT LAKE CITY — It was obvious the 2020 National Day of Prayer was different a few hours before the representatives of six faiths offered prayers in an eerily empty White House Rose Garden on Thursday.

Each arrived alone, took a rapid COVID-19 test and wore masks, said Debbie Marriott Harrison, who prayed on behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Other men and women represented evangelicals, Catholics, Muslims, Jews and Hindus.

Each sat separated from the others in an awkward-looking formation of folding chairs. The chairs were spread apart across the lawn of the Rose Garden, which normally is packed shoulder-to-shoulder for the event. Even after Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, stood together and prayed at the podium, they sat in chairs separated for social distancing.

The pandemic also dominated the comments and prayers.

“In recent weeks and days, our country has endured a grave hardship,” President Donald Trump said during the ceremony.

“I ask all Americans to join their voices and their hearts in spiritual union as we ask our Lord in heaven for strength and solace, for courage and comfort, for hope and healing, for recovery and for renewal,” he said.