News & Notes

Interfaith Space
Information and commentary on interreligious issues and beyond in Silicon Valley, the San Francisco Bay Area, Nationally, and Worldwide.

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Do your actions belie your faith?

Double Standard on Religious ViolenceA study released by the Public Religion Research Institute in Washington this week suggests that Americans bring very different standards to how they evaluate religious violence. People were asked “when people claim to be ______ and commit acts of violence in the name of ________, do you believe they really are __________, or not?”

The responses showed a sharp difference in how people answered the question for Christians and Muslims. 75% agreed that someone committing acts of violence in the name of Christianity was not Christian, while only 50% said the same for Muslims.

On one level, we might wonder about the role that ignorance about Islam might play in the responses. 37% felt that Muslims who engaged in violence in the name of Islam were still “really” Muslims, while 13% were unsure. This might reflect a lack of understanding or experience with Islam and Muslims.

There is a very real likelihood that political and religious factors affect attitudes. While the numbers for Christianity stayed roughly parallel, there were significantly more Republicans than Democrats who believed that violence did not disqualify a person from being “really” Muslim (55% to 30%).

Likewise, there is a difference related to the background of the respondent. Only 33% of Catholics felt that violence was “really” Islamic, while 45% of white evangelical Protestants held that view.

I suspect that the prevailing narrative about Islam in both the Republican and White Evangelical worlds is rooted in misconceptions and distortions being promoted by the anti-Muslim echo chamber. And in the year since the survey was done, those voices have gotten louder. It’s important to reach out and educate our neighbors.

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Religion in San Antonio

I find myself this week in San Antonio, Texas, at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion. Some 5,000 or so scholars of religion meet every year for sessions on hundreds of themes relating (sometimes in difficult  to discern ways) to the study of religion and/or the Bible.

Its an interfaith gathering of a different type- there are Hasidic Jews and Buddhist monks, Catholic priests in a variety of habits and clerics, professorial-looking men in tweeds and beards, young scholars with tattoos and mohawks. What brings them together is a shared interest in the life of the mind, applied to the multi-faceted manifestations of religion in this country and around the world.

Visiting the Alamo (a pilgrimage almost required in these parts), I found myself sitting on a wall across from the legendary chapel. Standing a few feet away was a street preacher, delivering his understanding of the Word of the Lord to the crowds milling around the courtyard. I pondered how the folks just down the road at the conference would interpret and analyze and challenge this street preacher’s understanding of Christian teaching and the interpretation of the Bible. But what surprised me was the number of people who would come up to him, not to heckle or challenge, but to thank him for “witnessing to the Gospel in this place.” One young man with his family wound up trading favorite Bible verses with the preacher, who was encouraged by the support. They huddled in a prayer circle and the preacher prayed a long prayer that seemed more oriented to affirming the rightness of their faith in the face of such unbelief all around than to a relationship to the addressee of the prayer.

Some brought together by mind; some by heart, but the scholars and the preachers were bound together by shared language (I was in another session about jargon) and shared purpose.

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UCC celebrates Muslim Community

From the United Church of Christ newsletter:

UCC Clergy support California’s ‘Muslim Appreciation and Awareness Month’

August 08, 2016
Written by Connie Larkman

Parkside_banners.jpgUnited Church of Christ congregations and clergy in California are celebrating the Golden State’s bold show of support for their Muslim neighbors, as the California State Assembly has declared August 2016 as Muslim Appreciation and Awareness Month.

“I’m really impressed with the California State Assembly resolution,” said the Rev. Diane Weible, conference minister of the Northern California, Nevada Conference United Church of Christ. “For me, it goes along with what I believe the church should be—a people of faith who join together to speak out and walk with those who are being attacked or oppressed.”

House Resolution 59, which quickly passed with bipartisan support on Aug. 1, is a visible witness against Islamophobia in a state that is home to 240 mosques, more than any other state in the country.

“As a third-generation Californian, I have long been proud of my state’s diversity and inclusiveness,” said the Rev. Elizabeth Griswold, pastor, Parkside Community Church UCC, Sacramento. “We need to continue to lead the way and set the example for the rest of the country about how to live in appreciation of one another.”


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Muslim Appreciation and Awareness Month

Muslim Appreciation and Awareness Month

cake from celebration of Muslim Appreciation and Awareness Month (photo: Moina Shaiq)

On Monday, the California State Assembly voted to approve House Resolution 59, officially declaring the month of August as “Muslim Appreciation and Awareness Month.”

The resolution, introduced by Assemblymember Bill Quirk of Hayward,

… respectfully acknowledges the rich history and guiding virtues of Muslim Americans, and commends Muslim communities in California for the lasting positive impact they have made, and continue to make, toward the advancement of the state and the nation…

Assemblymember Quirk said, “It is appropriate to acknowledge and promote awareness of the myriad invaluable contributions of Muslim Americans in California and across the country, and extend to them the respect and camaraderie every American deserves.”

The resolution comes at a time when anti-Muslim rhetoric in the public arena seems to be supporting anti-Muslim actions. A recent report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) noted that attacks on mosques have more than tripled- 78 incidents in 2015 as compared with 20 in 2014 and 22 in 2013.

The California Assembly has previous made similar proclamations of Awareness and Appreciation months for the Hindu and Sikh communities that help to make up our diverse California population.

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Pluralism Sundays

labyrinthFor the past four years, the First Lutheran Church of San Francisco  has celebrated “Pluralism Summer,” a time to hear from leaders and followers of religious traditions beyond the Christian Circle. This year’s theme is “How Does Your Religious /Spiritual /Philosophical Tradition Inform How You Think About Politics?”

Pluralism Summer was inspired by the “Pluralism Sunday” project of the Center for Progressive Christianity. Pastor Susan Strouse (author of The IntraFaith Conversation) and her congregation decided to extend the spirit of that one day through the whole Summer. Continue reading

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Turkey and the Gülen Movement

Turkish flagNews reports from Turkey have noted that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly blamed the Hizmet (“Service”) movement and its exiled leader Fethullah Gülen for being a “shadow” subversive organization, and the instigators of the recent attempted coup. Erdogan has declared a state of emergency, arrested thousands of Turkish citizens, including Gülen’s nephew, and called for the closure of 1,043 private schools, 1,229 charities and foundations, 19 trade unions, 15 universities and 35 medical institutions over suspected links to the Gulen movement.

Those of us, however, who have known and worked for many years with local members of the Hizmet movement remain highly skeptical about Erdogan’s motives and characterization of Gülen and the movement. Hizmet is a loosely-organized movement comprising hundreds of local groups who have devoted themselves to service in the best sense- education, multicultural relationship-building and emergency relief projects serving disaster victims, the homeless, the hungry, and beyond. In the north and south Bay Area, we have been fortunate to work cooperatively with the members of the Pacifica Institute. Continue reading

Posted in International, Islam, Local, Uncategorized | 1 Comment


Interfaith SpaceInteresting synchronicity at work: as I mentioned in a recent post, I decided to return to the News & Notes blog after an extended and frustrating time with The reasons for changing were piling up:

  • every time I tried to log into my account to write something, the site refused my password and I had to go through the rigamarole of changing it. The next time, rather than accepting my new password, it would send me through the same process again.
  • it was clear that the overall interest of writers at did not extend much beyond celebrity gossip, consumer goods, sports, and popular culture. Even among those who wrote about issues of religion, the quality of contributions was spotty.
  • there was big pressure to include photos and/or videos with articles, accompanied by stringent rules about copyright (justified) and format (sometimes difficult). They provided a resource of Getty images, but I soon realized that interfaith news generally does not get much coverage. Unless I was looking for a picture of the Dalai Lama or an example of interreligious violence, appropriate visuals were hard to find.

So I quit. And now I see that has shut down as of two days after I decided to give it up. The URL now takes you to, a site for tickets to live concerts and sports events. Farewell to several years of articles on things interfaith, but hello to a bit more freedom to write about what I want to.

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