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Promote Cultural Literacy & Respect for Differences at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan!

Zanzibar exhibit Anomie Photography 03 At the exhibition – America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near and Far
Photo: Aoommie Photography

Dear Educators,

If you teach in the New York metropolitan area, we hope you will check out the new exhibit at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan: America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near and Far. Tanenbaum is pleased to recommend this immersive, interactive exhibit, which gives children of all ages the opportunity to explore the great diversity of Muslim cultural and artistic expression.

To help you get the most out of America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near and Far, we’re proud to offer free, downloadable resources that can be used in conjunction with the exhibit to deepen elementary school students’ understanding of Islam and other religions:

Exploring Beliefs about Religious Differences
Rituals and Traditions about Light: Hopefulness and Waiting
Recommended Reading for Preschool & Elementary Students

Finally, we’re excited to extend an invitation from the Children’s Museum to a special event at the exhibit:


    Educators, join us for a free anti-bullying workshop on Monday, May 2nd!Print

The Children’s Museum of Manhattan is pleased to invite you to a free educational, interfaith program facilitated by The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom on Monday, May 2nd from 4pm-6pm.
(Registration begins at 3:30pm.)

This special workshop will take place in our new exhibit, America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near and Far. Facilitator Dr. Nadia S. Ansary will share the tools to help you identify, address, and prevent bias-based bullying or persistent peer victimization based on one’s appearance, perceived identity, culture, race, ethnicity and/or religion.

Click here to learn more and RSVPZanzibar exhibit Anomie Photography 02
Free entry to the Children’s Museum and light refreshments are included!

*Space is limited to 50 participants and participation will be on a first-come, first-served basis. RSVP is required by April 15.*

 

All photos: Aoommie Photography

Lessons from Wheaton College

The very public drama that unfolded at Wheaton College over the past few months revealed stark divisions within the evangelical community, and how they view the responsibility for living in Christ’s footsteps. Even more poignantly, it revealed some truths about more widespread societal divides that ripple far beyond Wheaton.

At the heart of the conflict was the first tenured, female African-American professor at a highly regarded evangelical Christian school, Professor Larycia Hawkins. Two months ago, she posted a statement on Facebook to stand in solidarity with Muslims after the San Bernardino slaughter.  In addition to wearing a hijab (the head covering that many Muslim women wear) during Advent, she described Christians and Muslims as worshiping “the same God.”

Almost immediately, she was placed on administrative leave from Wheaton, triggering a heated debate and the initiation of termination proceedings. The college community split, arguing whether Hawkins’ actions and words had violated the faith statement that she (and all faculty and students) sign as a condition of involvement with the school. That statement reflects the institution’s theological convictions, including belief in the holy trinity, and signature is a requirement of employment. Even today, Hawkins maintains that her personal Facebook post fit within the school’s statement of faith.

The Hawkins-Wheaton controversy raised multiple issues starting with a theological debate, but also including charges of Islamophobia, racism and gender bias. Then, last week, the widely debated dispute ended with a “mutual agreement” that the professor and the institution part ways. A joint decision had been made and whether it was right or wrong is now a question for the Wheaton community to unravel.

For those of us outside the Wheaton drama, however, there is a lot to learn. That is, if we pay attention to the lessons it can teach.

In particular, Wheaton reminds us that religious diversity is not limited to the different traditions that exist in the world. It is also within traditions – and reflected in those who share an affiliation and even attend the same house of worship – but who do not share identical beliefs. Wheaton reminds us of this truth, by dramatically proving that evangelical Christians are not a monolith, but rather, a complex and diverse group of people.

Ultimately, the school was unable to speak with one voice because, even in a small religious community, there is no such thing. Intuitively, we know this. But Wheaton proves that among evangelical Christians there are those who stand in solidarity with others in particular ways, and others who believe those types of solidarity nullify their faith. For the many Americans who view evangelicals through one lens, Wheaton reminds us that such stereotypes have no basis in reality. And that no one person can speak for an entire group. After all, though they parted amicably, Professor Hawkins and Wheaton’s President Ryken are both evangelical Christians. And they disagree on what it means to put the school’s foundational creed into practice.

Wheaton’s lessons don’t stop there. Another is that identity matters. Sixty years ago, the Wheaton contro-versy would predictably have centered on one question, whether Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.” It would have been a purely theological inquiry, a debate for clergy and academics. Today this theological question remains important at Wheaton, but equally important (if not more so) is the role of identity. There, questions of Muslim identity and how evangelical Christians can properly stand in solidarity with them exploded, along with questions about racism and gender bias.

None of us can say with certainty whether Islamophobia played a part in Wheaton’s decision to sever ties with Professor Hawkins. We can, however, say with confidence that given our current climate, this question matters. Anti-Muslim rhetoric and suspicion of all Muslims pervades the media (even though there is great diversity with Islam, too). Professor Hawkins knew this, of course, when she posted her comment. Her aim was to show solidarity with Muslims during a time when many people stereotype the entire community, fail to acknowledge diversity within Islam, and instead, lay blame at the feet of an entire religion. As we consider Wheaton, therefore, it is legitimate to ask whether Islamophobia helped drive the admin-istration’s decisions.

Wheaton’s faculty diversity committee also opposed the move to fire Hawkins, claiming it was discriminatory based on her race and gender. Again, none of us really know the motivating factors, but these challenges need answers. After all, Professor Hawkins was the first tenured Black female professor. So we should ask, what would have happened if she had been a white male? Would she have been suspended so quickly? Would a termination proceeding have been considered? We have passed the point when this story could have been “just” about theology. It is inevitably about identity as well – just like so many other stories in the media.

A third lesson involves questions of Christian identity, and the experience of being an evangelical Christian in the U.S. today. Simply, the Wheaton controversy suggests the isolation that many Christians feel today. This may not sound right to those who think of the U.S. as a Christian majority nation, which it is. After all, the majority of Americans (about 71%, according to Pew) affiliate with some form of Christianity. And that has resulted in our society often following Christian norms such as closing most businesses on Christmas (an example of a phenomenon sometimes described as “default Christianity,” which privileges the practices of Christians over Americans of other faiths or no faith). But does all that mean that Christians do not face bias and discrimination in the U.S.? The answer is no.

In fact, in Tanenbaum’s Survey of American Workers and Religion, almost half of white evangelical Protestants surveyed had personally experienced or actually seen religious bias or non-accommodation affect a colleague at work. This is at the same rate as people in minority religious traditions within the U.S. Additionally, 40% of white evangelical Protestants report that they face “a lot” of discrimination in American society.

To those who are skeptical of these numbers (not of the data’s validity but of the sentiment behind it), I invite you to think differently and try to sit with the fact that many evangelical Protestants at the very least, have the experience of discrimination. This is real. Many Christians in America, and certainly many evangelicals, feel under attack.

Certainly, this sense of isolation, division and being victimized is not unique to evangelical Christians. What is important to understand, however, is that they are among those who can feel alienated in our society. And this is likely to persist, especially as the rates of affiliation continue to decline (while the numbers of Americans who affiliate with non-Christian traditions, or no tradition at all, rise, according to Pew).

In essence, the Hawkins-Wheaton story is a mirror. It calls on us to recognize the power of our multiple identities and of the diversity of our beliefs and practices – and how the challenge of the 21st century is to acknowledge and respect these differences. These are important lessons. And I’d like to think that as educators, Professor Hawkins and President Ryken would approve of us making this a teachable moment.

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO

Turn the December Dilemma into an Opportunity – Resources for Teachers

Dear Educators,

December is a time of celebration and family togetherness for many Americans – and not just those who celebrate Christmas as a sacred holiday or cultural event. Jews celebrate Hanukkah, Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day, many African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa, and cultures across the world celebrate the Winter Solstice.

For educators, however, the convergence of so many holidays can create The December Dilemma: how to acknowledge and respect the wide variety of traditions students and their families hold dear without implying that some are more important than others.

Turn this dilemma into an opportunity for promoting inclusion and religious literacy. Teach your students about the many ways people celebrate in December – and throughout the year. Use our holiday planning template to create a yearlong schedule of holidays to explore in your classroom.

To learn more:
• Read our information-packed blog post, Teaching the Holidays: The December Dilemma
• Listen to Addressing the December Dilemma in Schools, a webinar created in partnership with Teaching Tolerance. (Complete the free registration to access the full recording)

• Download an elementary-level lesson on the Winter Solstice.

• Download an elementary-level lesson on Rituals and Traditions about Light: Hopefulness and Waiting.

• Check out Tanenbaum’s curricula for all grade levels.

Image credit: Painting by Manuel D. Baldemor

Protests Against the HHS Mandate Around the U.S.: News Roundup

In the news this week: countrywide protests against the HHS mandate, the history of tension between the Vatican and U.S. clergy, the first black leader of the Southern Baptists, and other stories.

Hundreds gathered on Capitol Hill and at rallies across the nation on Friday (June 8) in a double-barreled attack on President Obama’s health care law and a mandate to require employers to provide insurance coverage of birth control.
 
Speakers such as Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and anti-abortion activist Lila Rose rallied conservatives in one of 160 coordinated noontime rallies across the country.
 
Bachmann, a former GOP presidential candidate, emphasized that the fight over the insurance mandate is not about birth control or women’s rights, but the freedom to practice religion without government involvement.   Washington Post
 
A conflict that has entangled the Vatican, American bishops and the largest umbrella group for U.S. nuns may seem to have erupted suddenly, but it actually has its roots in decades-old disputes over Roman Catholic teaching.
 
The headlines came in April, when the Vatican orthodoxy watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, concluded that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious had strayed far from authentic doctrine and gave three American bishops the authority to overhaul the organization.
 
But the contretemps can be explained in the context of long-simmering differences that have also divided the broader church into opposing camps of theological liberals and conservatives — with many Catholics caught in between. Each side is acting consistently according to long-established priorities. Associated Press
 
NEW ORLEANS – Baptist pastor Fred Luter Jr. once preached the Gospel through an amplifier on street corners in this city's Lower 9th Ward.
 
Tuesday, he's set to become the first black president of the Southern Baptist Convention— a group created more than a century ago to support slavery — at the group's annual meeting here.
 
The rise of Luter, 55, from street preacher to religious leader is more than a tale of personal fate. It's a historic moment in the denomination's 167-year history, a history tainted with racial segregation and human bondage, historians and convention leaders say. USA Today
 
A Massachusetts judge has found that the rights of an atheist couple and their children aren't being violated when the words "under God" are recited in the Pledge of Allegiance in Acton schools.
 
The Boston Globe reports that Middlesex Superior Court Judge Jane Haggerty also ruled there was no violation of state law or the school's anti-discrimination policy.
 
The judge ruled Friday that including "under God" in a voluntary patriotic exercise doesn't "convert the exercise into a prayer." She said the case presented a "familiar dilemma" of balancing conflicting interests in a pluralistic society. Masslive.com