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Ecumenical and Interfaith News – April

(Submitted by the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee of the Pacific Southwest Region, DOC, and the Southern California/Nevada Conference, UCC)

UCC Awaits Guests, Adopts Disciples Pattern

     The Southern California/Nevada Conference of the UCC  holds its 2012 Annual Gathering at Chapman University in Orange on June 8 and 9, under the theme, “Showers of Blessing”.  Taking a leaf from its sister denomination the Disciples, the UCC will welcome an ecumenical and an interfaith guest into its midst.  The ecumenical guest will be Father Steven Tischlis.  He is the Senior Priest at St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church in Irvine.  Prior to this appointment, Father Tischlis served the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption in Seattle.  With a doctoral degree from Fordham University, Father Steve also served on the faculty of the Northwest Theological Union, an interdenominational, interfaith, and interracial seminary.  He taught courses in theology, spiritual formation, and New Testament.

     The interfaith guest will be Mei-Yu Lin.  She is an ordained bhikkuni, or nun, in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition.  Many who were present at the 2011 gathering of the Pacific Southwest Region at University Christian Church in San Diego met Mei, who as our interfaith guest on that occasion made a great hit with her outgoing friendliness, her gray robe, shaved head, and diminutive form.  Mei’s given Dharma name is Shuyu Shi.  She was born in Taipei City, Taiwan. The name of her order of nuns is Ling Yan Shan.  She is currently working on a dissertation on Buddhist understanding of the mind, at University of the West in Rosemead.

     It is ever more important that our people come to know and appreciate members of other faith traditions, both within and outside the Christian Church, so that we can learn from and strengthen one another, and model peace and mutual respect even in the face of deep differences.

Religious Freedom, and the U.S. Constitution

     Keith Clark of the UCC Conference staff, and Jeff Utter, chair of EIRC,  were invited to participate in the “Religious Freedom & U.S. Constitution”  conference, hosted by the Islamic Shura Council of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University on April 18, 2012.  The day began with three presentations on “Shari’a:  What it means to Muslims, how it is often falsely perceived, and how some are using it to instill fear and use it as a political device.  Like so many Muslim words (e.g. “Jihad,” “Fiqh,” etc.) Shari’a is a term that is unfamiliar to most Americans.  We learned that Shari’a means literally “Way”, or also” explanation” or “clarification.”  It is what Allah prescribed for how  Muslims should live and conduct themselves in the various spheres of life.   Shari’a  derives from the Qur’an and is the ethical orientation, values, and broad principles a Muslim is to follow.  It offers few detailed rulings; these are left to the Islamic legal authorities dealing with specific cases.

     In civil legal matters involving people of the same faith tradition, if both parties agree, the court will allow the parties to resolve the case according to the traditions of their faith as long as those faith traditions do not violate any state or federal law.  In the past few years, a movement has developed in the United States to create “anti-Shar’ia” laws.  These anti-Sharia laws were originally being proposed to specifically prohibit courts from considering Islamic law in disputes involving Muslim people.  It quickly became apparent that this was a purely imaginary worry, stemming perhaps from the discomfort or even fear of some Americans caused by the presence of people practicing this “alien” faith in our midst.  

     After several defeats, the proponents of these “anti-Sharia” laws have taken a new tactic to propose laws that prohibit the court from considering international or foreign laws that supposedly would discriminate against non-Muslims!   If anything, the reality is the opposite: fear, perhaps engendered especially by the September 11 catastrophe, has motivated some Americans, some advertising their Christian faith, to try to create laws which discriminate against our Muslim brothers and sisters.  The American Civil Liberties Union has demonstrated that the “threat to the American way of life” that these Anti-Shar’ia law proponents would have you believe exists, in fact, has been disproved using the very cases these groups have cited[i]   

     The day continued with presentations from Loyola Marymount University professors, civil rights attorneys, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian leaders; each providing insight to the understanding of religious laws, their role within the faith community and their role within the larger society.  There were discussions of the American principle of separation of church and state which demonstrated how complex and subtle a matter it is to apply this principle in a multitude of specific cases.

     At the end of the day, Keith and Jeff were more aware than ever that as Christians in America, we must work to build relationships with our brothers and sisters in other faith traditions.  We must not let fear, stemming from ignorance, guide us in our relationships.  Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, is an “Abrahamic” religion.  We have much in common in our general understanding of God and God’s will for humanity.  Yahweh and Allah are after all the same God!   There are also basic differences of theology and practice among us, but those differences are also included in God’s plan.  Above all, we must guard against assumptions of superiority or feelings of being threatened which have no place in Christian faith and can lead to the prejudice which we know can be so destructive.

[i] http://www.aclu.org/blog/religion-belief/aclu-lens-truth-behind-anti-sharia-movement


One Response to “Ecumenical and Interfaith News – April”
  1. Keith Clark says:

    Here is a great resource produced by the ACLU called “Nothing to Fear: Debunking the Mythical “Sharia Threat” to Our Judicial System: http://www.aclu.org/religion-belief/nothing-fear-debunking-mythical-sharia-threat-our-judicial-system

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