Peacemakers in Our Midst by Joyce Dubensky, CEO

A lot of my work at Tanenbaum involves our Peacemakers. Men and women who are driven by religion to pursue peace and confront violence, hate and horror, even when doing so puts them at risk – either because they may be injured or because their freedom may be circumscribed. These Peacemakers are a special breed, coming from places where the world’s most violent crises often play out. Perhaps because this is my perspective, I have been particularly moved by the tragic deaths of unarmed black men in Ferguson and Staten Island, and I have also been touched by the local peacebuilders in our midst, who are trying to help us move beyond the pain and toward justice.

These are very difficult and complicated times. Community members question the seeming intractability of racial tension in America, the use (and abuse) of power by police officers and the fairness (and unfairness) of the judicial system.  Many are angry and frustrated, moved by a profound sense of injustice. And yet, we see police in New York who have shown restraint and significantly upheld our freedom to protest. Additionally, there are those who seek to capitalize on the unrest – by perpetuating the divide, looting, and menacing law enforcement and community members alike.

Standing amid all this tension are anti-racist religious and spiritual leaders, who are working locally and tirelessly to promote peace.

In Ferguson, religious leaders called on their community to respond peacefully to the grand jury’s decision in the Michael Brown case, and to take positive action such as by working collectively and voting. In New York City, spiritual leaders across many faiths have also united to pursue justice following the death of Eric Garner during an arrest by police. Some of them have protested and watched as members of their communities were incarcerated, while others have called on their congregations to speak with one voice for equal treatment for all

In response to the death of Eric Garner, a coalition of NYC religious and spiritual leaders are calling on our political leaders to make changes that they hope will help rebuild the community’s trust with police officers and government officials. In a signed letter, they delineated a series of actions they hope will move us forward, including a call for NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to appoint Special Prosecutors to investigate and prosecute incidents when there is a question of excessive force and wrongful death involving police officers.  Whether in response to their voices or otherwise, I am delighted to note that Mr. Schneiderman has now asked Governor Cuomo to take state action to enable such a process to move forward, subject to subsequent legislation.

These generally unknown anti-racist religious and spiritual leaders in New York are not household names like Martin Luther King, Jr.  But even though they are not widely acknowledged, they are active in our midst, seeking to heal our communities and to restore trust.

So, while we always support the Tanenbaum Peacemakers working in places like Iraq, Nigeria, El Salvador and Israel, we also pause today, and thank those who are working at home, striving to make our communities safer for all of us.

– Joyce S. Dubensky, CEO

The Administration Adjusts Middle East and Muslim Relations Policy: News Roundup

In the news this week:  the Obama administration shifts Muslim and Middle East practice and policy, new trends in higher education religious studies, and more:

Changing the White House’s Approach to Middle East and Muslim Relations
President Obama’s Middle East speech is the most apparent evidence of a shift in Middle East policy. NPR interviewed Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nation, to discover the key learnings from the speech. His call for a restoration of pre-1967 borders between Israel and the Palestinian Territories is the most striking departure from current policy. This shift has garnered a wide range of reactions, some of which are chronicled in The Huffington Post.
On a practical level, Federal agents displayed a different approach in dealing with three Florida Muslims arrested this past week. The men are accused of providing funding and resources to the Pakistani Taliban. 
The raids were conducted under new national rules of engagement intended to show more sensitivity toward religious practices and tamp down the flames of haters after a series of outreach meetings in South Florida this year among federal law enforcers and Muslim leaders.   Miami Herald
Since the arrests, federal authorities have consistently spoken out against generalizing the local and national Muslim community. They have also staunchly supported Muslims as valued citizens of the United States.
New Religious Studies Trends
It seems that institutions of Higher Education have caught the interreligious bug. We’re seeing more and more colleges introduce curriculum, majors, or entire schools devoted to new areas of religious study. 
A Methodist couple and long-time trustees of the Claremont School of Theology (California) gave $50 million to establish Claremont Lincoln University, the nation’s first interreligious university, which will share a campus with Claremont School of Theology starting this fall. Patheos
The school will also work with the Islamic Center of Southern California and hopes to integrate schools in Buddhist, Hindu, and other traditions in the future. 
Each participating institution will contribute to the curriculum at Claremont Lincoln, which will offer such graduate programs as interreligious studies, comparative religions, and conflict resolution.  The Jewish Journal of Greater L.A.
Pitzer College, also in California, will be the first in the nation to offer a degree in secularism. 
This fall, Pitzer will inaugurate a department of secular studies. Professors from other departments, including history, philosophy, religion, science and sociology, will teach courses like “God, Darwin and Design in America,” “Anxiety in the Age of Reason” and “Bible as Literature.”   New York Times
In order to make this program a reality the department chair fought to show that studying non-belief is just as legitimate as studying belief. He stressed that the program will not demean religious individuals/religions just as religious programs don’t demean non-religious individuals/entities. 
In other news: