Gay Marriage & Religion: Let’s Not Make Another Scapegoat

With the Supreme Court rulings that are happening today, a lot of attention is being given by the media to the one group who is assumed to be against it: religious people. There is always a picture being painted of the religious using their faith as a weapon to bully the LGBT community with. An editorial in the New York Sun entitled “Prejudice or Religion?” gives an interesting perspective, coming to the defense of the religious in some cases.

Photo Credit: upi.com

Read “Prejudice or Religion?” here.

It is clear that this issue is surrounded with a lack of exploring new or opposite perspectives, like most political issues people are passionate about. I think that is why I enjoyed reading the editorial so much; even though it had made points that I don’t agree with, it made me look at the whole situation through a different perspective. Even though I’m Christian, I didn’t think about how this cause could be seen as alienating the religious groups who are following their religious doctrine.

“It will be no triumph if due process and equal protection are extended to same-sex couples at the expense of those who regard as sacred the laws brought down from Sinai and the religious rulings that have been made by the sages.”

How easy is it for us to be so focused on one oppressed group that we don’t even think about how what we say might affect another? When comments are made about how the Bible is wrong and insinuate that those who follow it are prejudiced, isn’t that doing what the LGBT movement is protesting? I myself am part of a population of people of faith who believe in equality for people regardless of sexual orientation. We are out there, we exist! In short, we need to respect each others beliefs and experiences, be open to conversations instead of debates. If we want equality and tolerance we need to show that towards all people, even those who we might not agree with, and not isolate entire groups of people who we feel embody these opinions.

While watching the events of today unfold, I am going to encourage myself and others to be sure to continue to work towards equality and respect for all people, including the religious. Demonizing entire religions for their teachings, like demonizing groups of people for their sexual orientation, is not what equality is all about.

Let’s not pass the torch of oppression from one group to another.

Interested in watching the events of today unfold? Listen or read the arguments on the Supreme Court website.

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“Is the Book Better than the Movie?”: Hollywood and the Bible

Photo: History Channel

Rising in popularity is the show “The Bible,” where different episodes are different stories from the Christian text. I’m finding this phenomenon of Hollywood recreating the Bible to be very interesting, and am reminded of the controversy surrounding the film “The Passion of the Christ” when it was released. It seems that film adaptions of the Bible are becoming more and more popular as time goes on. What does this mean for religions in general?

Watch the video on ABC News here!

Religions around the world have sacred texts, believed by the followers to be divinely inspired and crucial to following the religious doctrine. Christianity is one of these religions, and we see the Bible being used to condemn movements and groups of people in our country as well as inspire people to do incredible good. Although we are a country who prides itself on separation of church and state, it is obvious that Christian ideals are woven into our society.

That being said, I find it interesting that the show “The Bible” has been getting so many views and (according to the ABC clip) positive attention. My instinct would tell me that there would be a lot of resistance and a lot of negative press for it. Is our society having a change of heart?

In the clip, someone was describing how great it was to be able to watch the show and then look it up in the Bible. Let’s be honest though, how many times have students watched the movie instead of reading the book for class? I know I personally just saw the movie “The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” and so I don’t really feel the need to go and compare it to the book. Could this be a new way that people could start to treat the Bible, just watching the movie?

Now is the Hollywood takeover of the Bible something that could happen to other religions? I have a feeling that a film adaptation of the Quran is not in our future, but what about film adaptations of Hindu texts? The story of the Buddha? Maybe one will be the next History Channel miniseries…

One positive thing about the show is that it brings the content and spirit of the Bible to non-Christian viewers. Someone who isn’t Christian would probably be more apt to watch a television show than sit down and read the whole Bible. Could this promote more interfaith cooperation? I guess time will tell.

Since the show is so new, I think all we can do right now is speculate. But I’m really curious as to whether the age old statement will ring true: “The book is always better than the movie.”

 

What’s in a Name? – Pope Francis I

Just over a month after the Pope’s resignation and my very first blog post, the story finally comes to a close with the election of Pope Francis I. After reading about his background in Argentina and seeing his humble and endearing nature during yesterday’s ceremonies, I must say that I personally am impressed with the choice made.

Photo Credit: The Guardian

Read a CNN article here.

Personally, I absolutely love the fact that he chose the name Francis after the good ol’ St. Francis of Assisi. Now I may seem a little bias because I attend a Franciscan university, but it really speaks to the character of the Pope as well as his intentions for his papacy. For those of you unfamiliar with Francis, not only was he the first person to have an interfaith dialogue (which I briefly discussed in a different post), but he dedicated his life to serving the poor and ill as well as completely reformed the way people see the church through his radical lifestyle and practices. Francis didn’t just talk the talk, he walked the walk. (Usually barefoot, preaching love and the word of God through the streets.)

The fact that Pope Francis is known for his simple lifestyle as well as his compassion for the poor is a great sign for the direction of the Church. Also, since St. Francis is known as a reformer, one must wonder if this is part of the Pope’s intention for his papacy as well, to “rebuild the church.” Quite frankly, I think a little bit of change would be a good thing for the Church, especially regarding the grandiose nature of the Vatican. The simple living of Francis would be a breath of fresh air indeed.

Of course, this being an interfaith blog, I do also hope that Pope Francis emulates our dear saint in his interfaith work as well. I think that the new pope could mend a lot of wounds and build a lot of bridges between Catholics and other faiths. If such a strong leader like the Pope could do that, it would make cooperation that much more obtainable.

I have faith in Pope Francis, especially because of his unique nature and name. As the CNN article said, “The willingness by Francis to dispense with tradition was interpreted by a Vatican spokesman as a sign he will be willing to chart his own path in other ways.”

I like the sound of that.

Sikh Wedding Crashers Against Multi-Faith Marriages

After a week off for Spring Break, I was sitting at home perusing the news to try to get back into the habit of blogging. I came across this article describing an issue becoming more and more prevalent: Sikh wedding protests. Throughout the UK, protesters are barricading themselves in Sikh temples to prevent  mixed faith marriages, which are technically not approved by the faith but until now have gone by without problems.

Protest outside Swindon gurdwara

Photo Credit: BBC

Read the BBC article.

I think that this conflict brings to light an issue which interfaith stumbles upon: at what point does acceptance of a faith go against one’s religion? Is it possible to accept another religion’s values too much to the point of going against your own?

In my own conversations with people about religious pluralism, I often get asked the question, “Does that mean that I have to acknowledge that all other religions are right too?” The answer is no, you don’t have to believe in all of the religions in order to believe that they are important. Now, if I am Christian and my fiance is Sikh, and we want to get married, does getting married in a particular religion  mean that we forgo the other faith? Or does our marriage mean that the faith that we get married in has to accept both religions beliefs? Those are the questions that the Sikh church is struggling with right now.

Now I don’t have the answers to the questions surrounding this issue in the Sikh faith. This issue is something that has many layers and a lot of emotions surrounding it which cannot be answered in one blog post. However I think that it is important to bring attention to the fact that this problem can be solved in a way more peaceful than the protests that are happening.

A statement by the security general said the following: “I would say there is no place in a modern Britain for any community to resort to violent threatening behaviour.”

Overall the impression is that those in authority positions in the Sikh faith agree with the sentiments of the protestors and why they are protesting, but do not agree with the threatening behavior which is quite uncharacteristic for the normally passive faith.

My hope is that the protests will end and the Sikh faith will come to some sort of agreement on what should be done. Right now the agreement is that no one should be afraid to be married on their wedding day or be worried for their safety. Weddings should be a joyous day and celebration with the community, not a day where one is being rejected by the community.

“Simply A Pilgrim:” The Pope’s Last Day

Today marks a historic day: the final day of Pope Benedict’s papacy. This is the first (and quite possibly the only) papal resignation in our lifetime and that is something that I feel is worth recognizing.

Photo: theatlanticwire.com

Read the BBC article here!

One must admit that the Pope left with style, taking a helicopter out of the Vatican earlier today. The pomp and circumstance shows how important this occasion is and how important he is as a leader. However one thing that I truly find admirable is how gracious he is about leaving the church to his future successors. “Among you there is also the future pope to whom I promise my unconditional obedience and reverence.” The fact that the Pope is willing to step aside and take the last years of his life as his own reflection I think is amazing. After having so much power for so long one could still feel the need to have the control, but Benedict really understands what he needs and the Church needs.

In my first post I discussed how other religions are affected by the decisions of the next pope and who the next pope will be. However the resignation of the Pope can teach us all something about the humility of leadership. When being a leader for something as great as a religion or as small as a group on a college campus, there always comes a time when a leader needs to step aside and let the future generations take charge. If we all looked at different aspects of our lives with the gratitude and humility that Benedict has displayed, I think that there would be a positive change in the future of leadership, giving us capable new leaders who learned from their predecessors and then had the confidence from them to continue to do great things.

In the meantime, I wish the Pope all of the best on his last journey through life. As he so eloquently put it, “I will simply be a pilgrim who is starting the last phase of his pilgrimage on this earth.”

Last LGBT Mass: A Reflection on the Hardships of Interfaith Work

One of the most difficult things about interfaith dialogue is talking about the issues that people disagree on. It can be so easy to sit down and find the commonalities between you and someone else, but to sit down and talk about the things you don’t agree on can be painful. It is for this reason that I feel it is important to talk about the last LGBT mass held in Soho, an area in Westminster, England.

Read the BBC article from Sunday.

Photo credit: Pink News

I stumbled  across this article today when looking through the Religion articles on BBC, and quite frankly it made me sad. It is disheartening to see a community of people who support each other, and in this case have been doing so for six years, have to disband. Reading the article I felt the sadness of this community who supported and embraced each other in their faith over the past six years now have that support system taken away because who they love and are attracted to “contradicted the teachings of the church.”

Now I am not ignorant of the Church’s teachings. I know that the Catholic Church has some pretty strong statements and teachings regarding homosexuality and how it is believed to be wrong. But personally I really struggle with this. How is it that a religion which is so welcoming of all different people can throw out this entire community of people who embrace their Catholic faith in Soho? Why is there hate instead of love? I’ve been asking these kinds of questions for years and I still don’t have any answers.

Despite all this article says, I don’t see this as the end of the road for LGBT Catholics. Yes it’s a setback, but there has to be a way for these groups of people to coexist and for LGBT people to be able to practice their Catholic faith. I want to be respectful of the Catholic Church and all that it believes, because there are so many things about the faith that work to accept and help the marginalized in the world. However I really think that this is something they got wrong. I feel that if the people of the Vatican got to talk with someone who went to this specific church they might see things differently. Maybe they would see the community as a welcoming place of worship like so many other churches across the globe. That’s something amazing about dialoguing: even when talking about stark differences between two people or groups, you still end up finding something in common.

Now there are a lot of unknowns and uncertainties surrounding this issue, but what I do know is that I’m not giving up on the Church. I believe that someday people from all different walks of life can come together to practice the faith that speaks truth to their hearts and work together to make the world a better place.

And that my friends will be a great day for religious pluralism.

Elementary School Yoga: Religious Education or Just Plain Exercise?

At Paul Ecke Central Elementary School in California, yoga has become part of the curriculum for all of the students. Children practice meditation, flexibility, and improve self esteem. While kids are repeating positive statements like “I am strong! I am brave!” while doing the warrior pose, a group of parents are protesting the class, saying that it is  forcing Hindu beliefs on their children. What really is happening is a whole lot of misunderstanding.

Read New York Times article here.

Photo credit: New York Times

Reading the article I tried to understand the other side’s perspective. I understand that our society prides itself on “separation of church and state,” but at what point is removing religion from schools removing the ability to learn from other perspectives? And what constitutes religious education as in conversion and education of religions that exist in the world?

Here is a statement from one of the mothers who protested:

“They’re not just teaching physical poses, they’re teaching children how to think and how to make decisions. They’re teaching children how to meditate and how to look within for peace and for comfort. They’re using this as a tool for many things beyond just stretching.”

Now, this could just be me, but I’m trying to figure out what in that statement is a bad thing. Last I checked, the purpose of education was to teach children how to think and how to make decisions. Creative problem solving, reason, and logic are all things that we teach children in school so that they can go on to be successful. Secondly, what is so terrible about peace and comfort? Religious or non religious, isn’t that something that we are all looking for? So I guess the real question is what is it that is causing all of the protest?

Fear and ignorance. There is clearly a lack of understanding about the Hindu religion, and for many the knee-jerk reaction to something that they don’t understand is to get rid of it completely. Rather than learning about something foreign, people just want to pretend to it doesn’t exist. However sheltering their children from an opportunity to learn about other cultures is not the answer.

Now to say that this is a situation that could benefit from some sort of dialogue would be a vast understatement. If I were on the school board at this particular school, I would spend one of these meetings talking to the parents explaining more about Hinduism. Granted that’s easier said than done, but I firmly believe that education is the way to combat ignorance such as this. All of that being said, the school board currently is doing a pretty good job with being accepting of multiple faiths:

“If your faith is such that you believe that simply by doing the gorilla pose, you’re invoking the Hindu gods, then by all means your child can be doing something else.”

If only the religious tolerance went both ways in this situation, maybe we’d see the parents doing the gorilla pose side by side with their young kids.

Flowers and Picket Signs: Valentine’s Day in Pakistan

In Pakistan, Muslim activist groups protested the holiday of Valentine’s Day, saying that it “is imposing Western values and cultures on an Islamic society.” While the majority of people there support the holiday in a secular manner, the Islamist groups spoke out through protests and billboards that read “SAY NO TO VALENTINE’S DAY”.

Read the Reuters article here.

Coming across this article really surprised me. Growing up in the United States, Valentine’s Day is seen as just a way to express your love for another person and one more reason for Hallmark to sell you cheesy cards. Never would I have looked at this holiday and thought of how upset someone who is Muslim (specifically in another country) would be about it. Is there something so wrong about giving someone chocolates and saying I love you?

Photo credit: REUTERS-Zohra Bensemra

As mentioned in the quote earlier, I think this is less about religious differences as it is the perception of “Western values.” These groups have associated the holiday of Valentine’s Day with all of the negative things about American culture. But is that really a reason to boycott the holiday? This idea of protesting Valentine’s Day seems so silly until we take a closer look at what it is that they are protesting:

“Look at the West – people love their dogs but throw their parents out when they get old. We don’t want to be like that.”

Wow. Well, they certainly have a point there. But Valentine’s Day doesn’t mean all of that to us. It isn’t the day when we lovingly throw our parents in nursing homes and worship our dogs (well… not all of us). So how do we fix this?

The way I see it, this is just one more example of why dialogue is important. If we could get some of the protestors and some Americans to sit at a table and discuss what love means in their respective cultures and religious traditions, the hostile edge could be taken off. Now I’m not saying that the Muslims will start celebrating Valentine’s Day or Americans will stop, but there would at least be an understanding of where the other is coming from.

Maybe there would even be a new billboard: “UNDERSTAND VALENTINE’S DAY.”

Tragedy Strikes Hindu Festival

 

With the resignation of the Pope, people everywhere yesterday were tuned into the front page story of the church leader’s resignation. However, in India, tragedy struck the Kumbh Mela, the Hindu celebration which is known as the largest human congregation on Earth. Hindus from across the globe gather in Allahabad to take a dip in the Ganges River, which is said to turn to nectar and cleanse people of their sins. (Learn more about the Kumbh Mela by exploring this site.)

It was reported that 36 people died from stampedes in the religious chaos, and many blame the police and city, saying that the city should be more prepared for the largest gathering of people in the world. It is truly saddening that such a beautiful ritual has suffered such a loss.

Today I think it is important to keep in our thoughts those people – men, women, and children – who lost their lives celebrating such a joyous occasion.

Pope Benedict’s resignation – Will the faith line change?

My first post is well timed with today’s big news: Pope Benedict’s shocking resignation at the end of this month.

Read the New York Times article.

I, like many people (religious and non-religious) around the world found this to be very shocking. Since it’s been 600 years since the last resignation, clearly this doesn’t happen everyday. Due to his poor health, the leader of the Catholic Church decided to resign, but his resignation left me with more questions than answers. One of the biggest questions is the one I think is on everyone’s minds: What does this mean for the church?

Having Benedict resign so abruptly makes it so that the church has a bit more time to start finding a replacement pope. But the decision they make can really affect the future of the church. Will the church choose a more liberal pope, or continue with the conservative theology of Benedict, known as “God’s Rottweiler?” From an interfaith perspective, Benedict did not have the best relations with other faiths, making different comments and actions over his 8 years to offend different religious groups. (This Toronto Star article gives a brief synopsis of some of these conflicts.) This is an opportunity for the interfaith work started in the Vatican II council to really move forward, if the right pope is picked to oversee it.

In essence, I see this as an opportunity to change the course of history, especially regarding interfaith cooperation. This could be a great change in favor of interfaith or it could become another hurdle that the movement jumps over. I am holding my breath until Easter, hoping that they make the right choice. But regardless of the pope, religious pluralism will still continue and Catholics will still have a space at the table.