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

International Trends in Interreligious Relations: News Roundup

In the news this week:  Belgian lawmakers pass a burqa ban and Algeria orders all Protestant churches closed. In other news, many of the stories we’ve been following have taken new turns or produced new stories. Additional headlines posted below.

Belgium Adopts Burqa Ban

A burqa ban similar to the one adopted in France has been passed in Belgium’s lower house of parliament. The law is slated to be debated in the Belgian senate, and may be held up over wording, but is expected to pass later this summer. As with the French burqa ban, the argument for the law is improved security, while opponents argue that it is religiously discriminatory. The ban would be effective in all public places, with possible provisions for cultural festivals. (BBC)

Anti-Christian Trend Grows in North Africa

Some areas in North Africa and the Middle East are experiencing increased conflict with their Christian communities, such as Egypt and Syria. We can now add Algeria to the list. Twenty years ago, Algeria enacted a law prohibiting houses of religious worship that had not received a permit from the state. As a result, half of the countries Protestant churches closed their doors permanently. The remaining churches have attempted to apply for permits without success. Just this past week, the Protestant church was notified that the law would be actively enforced again, prompting a concern that Protestants are about to be severely discriminated against. (Christianity Today)

Updated Stories

  1. The Student Body President of a Connecticut high school respects the board’s decision to keep the standing graduation date despite it causing him to miss the event for religious reasons. (Hartford Courant)
  2. The Sumner School District in Tennessee defends the interaction of church and state in their schools. (Tennessean)
  3. The two Imams removed from a Memphis flight last month address the experience and their concerns. (Faith in Memphis)
  4. An Archbishop speaks out against the proposed circumcision ban in San Francisco (Catholic San Francisco) and Santa Monica considers adopting a similar ban. (LA Times)
In other news: