Young evangelicals speak out

Alexandria Beightol (one of six young evangelicals featured in the New York Times) writes:

I was pulled out of Smith College in 2015 when I told my parents that I was rethinking the legitimacy of anti-gay theology. I thought, “God is going to have to forgive me. I am not going to die in this culture war.”

I was Republican like them. Before, I supported whatever my church told me about candidates and issues. I never questioned or read outside material on these subjects. I secretly started borrowing books from the library.

I gave a communion message in 2016 — it was, “Our God chooses to die the death of all these marginalized people. He dies like Matthew Shepard, like a kid at the hand of the state. He was a refugee.” My church reprimanded me for “abusing the pulpit.” Other members used it to openly stump for Trump and say hateful things about Muslims and L.G.B.T. citizens.

The world I was dreaming about was not the world my church was dreaming about. The world liberal evangelicals want to see is the one conservative evangelicals hope doesn’t happen. [Continue reading…]

Muslim groups raise thousands for Pittsburgh synagogue shooting victims

The New York Times reports:

Two Muslim organizations have raised more than $130,000 to help victims and their families following the shooting massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday.

The online fund-raiser was part of a broad outpouring of assistance in response to the anti-Semitic attack, which killed 11 people and left six others injured, including blood drives, vigils and a separate crowdfunding campaign that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Tarek El-Messidi, a Chicago-based activist, said he learned of the synagogue shooting in a call Saturday morning from a friend who runs the Muslim fund-raising website LaunchGood. His friend asked Mr. El-Messidi if he could do something to help the victims, and he agreed.

Within two hours, he had created an online campaign with the backing of two Muslim groups, CelebrateMercy, where he is the founding director, and MPower Change. He set an initial goal of $25,000, which was promptly shattered as donations flooded in.

Mr. El-Messidi said he was able to jump-start the campaign and bring in donations so quickly because he has unfortunately done this before. He created a LaunchGood fund-raiser last year that collected $136,000 to repair hundreds of Jewish headstones vandalized in St. Louis and Philadelphia.

“Putting our religious differences or even your political differences aside, the core of all of us is that we have a shared humanity,” Mr. El-Messidi said in an interview. “We really wanted to reach out as human beings to help.” [Continue reading…]

Pittsburgh synagogue shooting is a moment of reckoning for American Jews

Jay Michaelson writes:

After the 9/11 attacks, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said that countries now had to choose between fighting terror and abetting it, that there was no neutral ground. In his metaphor, you were either sitting in the smoking section, or the no-smoking section.

In the wake of the worst attack on Jews in American history, all of us, but especially American Jews like me, face a similar decision. We either support Donald Trump and the movement of hate he has unleashed, or we oppose it. There is no neutral ground, no justification that the benefits outweigh the costs. You’re in the smoking section, or the no-smoking section.

For American Jews in particular, this is a moment of reckoning. In the Jewish community, support for Trump is lower than it has been for most Republican presidents, but it’s still around 21 percent. The majority of Jewish Trump supporters are either Orthodox or right-wing on Israel—in most cases, both. Among Orthodox Jews—who comprise about one-fifth of American Jews—support for Trump runs as high as 90 percent.

For two years, Jewish Trump supporters have said that the anti-Semitic alt-right isn’t Trump’s fault; that the president is not personally anti-Semitic (after all, his daughter and son-in-law are Jewish); and, most importantly, he has been a staunch supporter for Israel.

This, they say, outweighs whatever reservations we may have about Trump and the bigotry of his most ardent supporters.

As of October 27, 2018, that jig is up.

No amount of pro-Israel policies—no embassy in Jerusalem, no encouragement of settlements, no increased aid—outweighs the existential danger to Jews of the Trump movement’s coddling, or even overt encouragement, of anti-Semitism, racism, and nativism. Even those Jews not motivated by solidarity with Muslims, Mexicans, the media, and others singled out by Trump for opprobrium must now recognize that we Jews, ourselves, are at risk. [Continue reading…]

Why the Tree of Life shooter was fixated on the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society

Masha Gessen writes:

A couple of hours before opening fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue, Robert Bowers, the suspected gunman, posted on the social network Gab, “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” HIAS is the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and Bowers had posted about it at least once before. Two and a half weeks earlier, he had linked to a HIAS project called National Refugee Shabbat and written, “Why hello there hias! You like to bring in hostile invaders to dwell among us?” Another post that most likely referred to HIAS read, “Open you Eyes! It’s the filthy evil jews Bringing the Filthy evil Muslims into the Country!!”

Bowers isn’t the only person apparently obsessed with HIAS. The extreme right has been vilifying the organization for some time. The anti-Semitic right has accused HIAS of bringing immigrants to the United States in a scheme that is somehow designed to benefit Jews. On the Jewish far right, the Zionist Organization of America has attacked hias and other Jewish organizations for lobbying to admit Syrian refugees to the U.S. and has accused HIAS of doing so for profit.

I am unlike most Americans—but like many, if not most, people who came here as refugees or asylum seekers—in that I was familiar with the HIAS acronym before the Pittsburgh shooting. I heard “He-ahs,” as it was pronounced in Russian, when I was fourteen and my family was about to leave the Soviet Union. I suspect no one in my family knew what the acronym stood for, but we had somehow learned that HIAS would take care of us once we crossed the border. Back then, the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee would help the newly stateless Jewish émigrés from the U.S.S.R. to pay for housing and expenses while they stayed in Italy on their way to the United States. HIAS would process the paperwork, obtaining visas that eventually allowed my family and tens of thousands of others to enter the United States as refugees.

The year my family came to the United States, HIAS turned a hundred years old. It was founded in 1881 to help Jews fleeing the pogroms in the Russian Empire. In the second half of the twentieth century, it also aided Jews leaving Hungary, Cuba, Iran, and Ethiopia, and non-Jews from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. In the two-thousands, HIAS reshaped its work to help displaced people all over the world. [Continue reading…]

George Washington’s letter to the Jewish congregation of Newport, Rhode Island

On August 18,1790, during his second year in office as America’s first president, George Washington wrote:

If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good Government, to become a great and a happy people.

The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my Administration, and fervent wishes for my felicity. May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.

As America has become an insult to the vision of its founders, it’s time to remember the bedrock of this country’s foundation: that all people, irrespective of religion, race, nationality, gender, or sexual orientation, are created equal with the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Somewhere along the way, the pursuit of happiness got displaced by the pursuit of personal wealth — a desire sustained by the fiction that happiness can be found in isolation and exclusion.

And yet Washington was clear in his hope that this would become the land of a happy people, recognizing that by its nature happiness is something that must be shared.

We either become a happy people embracing our diversity and caring for each other, or the fissures already fragmenting this society will continue to widen until there is no society at all.

What’s a Muslim to do about Hajj?

Aymann Ismail writes:

As excruciating details have leaked over the past two weeks about the killing and reported dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi government agents, the most high-profile public backlash has come in the form of defections from a glittery upcoming conference, the Future Investment Initiative, planned by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, along with dozens of other politics, business, and media figures, have pulled out of the so-called Davos in the Desert because of scrutiny around the case and the crown prince’s likely involvement. They don’t want to be associated with an event designed to bolster the image of (and enrich) a brutal regime and prince that might kill a dissident and barely try to hide it. Go figure.

But for me, there’s another annual gathering in Saudi Arabia that comes to mind. It’s an essential and religiously required journey for Muslims: the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, one of the five pillars of Islam. My mom told it was the greatest moment of her life when she went. In Arabic, my father asked me to pray for him when I make it. At 29, I still haven’t been able to afford it, but I remember the look in my parents’ eyes after I told them I was saving my money for the expensive trip. It was pure emotion—a clear affirmation of their parenting. Personally, I’ve always dreamed of converging with fellow Muslims on the location believed to be the birthplace of our final prophet, and where the first words of the Quran were revealed: Iqra. Read.

Now I’m starting to wonder how I can go at all. And I’m also wondering why more Muslims don’t question the powers that control our most sacred site—and how the Saudis have already twisted it to their own political and financial ends. [Continue reading…]

Pat Robertson cares more about money than murder

Vox reports:

A major evangelical leader has spoken in defense of US-Saudi relations after the apparent killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate, saying that America has more important things — like arms deals — to focus on.

Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, appeared on its flagship television show The 700 Club on Monday to caution Americans against allowing the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia to deteriorate over Khashoggi’s death.

“For those who are screaming blood for the Saudis — look, these people are key allies,” Robertson said. While he called the faith of the Wahabists — the hardline Islamist sect to which the Saudi Royal Family belongs — “obnoxious,” he urged viewers to remember that “we’ve got an arms deal that everybody wanted a piece of…it’ll be a lot of jobs, a lot of money come to our coffers. It’s not something you want to blow up willy-nilly.” [Continue reading…]

Tariq Ramadan: The rock star scholar and the rape claims

 

Evangelical leaders are frustrated at GOP caution on Kavanaugh allegation

The New York Times reports:

Worried their chance to cement a conservative majority on the Supreme Court could slip away, a growing number of evangelical and anti-abortion leaders are expressing frustration that Senate Republicans and the White House are not protecting Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh more forcefully from a sexual assault allegation and warning that conservative voters may stay home in November if his nomination falls apart.

Several of these leaders, including ones with close ties to the White House and Senate Republicans, are urging Republicans to move forward with a confirmation vote imminently unless the woman who accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexual assault, Christine Blasey Ford, agrees to share her story with the Senate Judiciary Committee within the next few days.

Dr. Blasey’s lawyers told the committee Thursday that she was willing to testify next week, pending negotiations over “terms that are fair,” but not on Monday as Senate Republicans had wanted.

The evangelical leaders’ pleas are, in part, an attempt to apply political pressure: Some of them are warning that religious conservatives may feel little motivation to vote in the midterm elections unless Senate Republicans move the nomination out of committee soon and do more to defend Judge Kavanaugh from what they say is a desperate Democratic ploy to prevent President Trump from filling future court vacancies. [Continue reading…]

#MeToo in the monastery: A Chinese abbot’s fall stirs questions on Buddhism’s path

The New York Times reports:

Over the past two decades, religion in China has boomed, and no faith has benefited more than Buddhism. The number of temples has tripled, monks and abbots have become well-known public figures, and China has used the faith to build ties around the world, sending out nuns and monks on good-will missions.

The person most closely associated with this revival is the Venerable Xuecheng, a charismatic monk who was fast-tracked for success. He became abbot of his first temple at 23 and head of the Communist Party-run Buddhist Association of China at 49.

His use of social media and emphasis on compassion attracted the sort of bright, white-collar professionals who once spurned traditional Chinese religions. Many rank him as the most important Chinese Buddhist reformer in a century.

But over the summer, all of these worldly successes vanished.

Accused of lewdness toward nuns and financial misconduct, Xuecheng, 52, has in recent weeks been stripped of his titles and banished to a small temple in his home province of Fujian. Government investigators now occupy the cleric’s main temple in Beijing, have purged his cadre of loyal monks and are scouring his books for financial wrongdoing. [Continue reading…]