‘Hurting the Feeling of Muslins’

UPDATE.  After this original blog post was published we learned that the story of a video being the provocation of the attack on our embassy in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Stevens and three others was not the truth.  As you read this update you know this issue has been the focus on Congressional hearings and is part of the 2016 presidential campaign rhetoric.  I left the original post below as written but read it now in the newer context of what you know about the truth of this sad tale. 

Protesters in Libya killed the US Ambassador and three embassy staff members as they fled the US consulate building in Benghazi which had been stormed and set on fire allegedly by al Qaeda-linked gunmen blaming America for a film that they claimed insulted the Prophet Mohammad. In Egypt protesters broke into the US embassy and burned the US flag.

The US State Department put out this press statement prior to the embassy attacks but it has been subjected to fierce criticism for continuing to convey a sense of moral equivalence first laid out in President Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo in what is widely now called his ‘apology tour’ for suggesting that there is a linkage between American values and policies and Muslim violence.

U.S. Embassy Condemns Religious Incitement

September 11, 2012

“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

We have our Priorities Wrong!

While we recognize the sensitivities that Muslims have about the depiction of the Prophet, that is no excuse for storming our embassies let alone killing the US ambassador and his staff.  The decision by the US State Department to blame this on Coptic Christians who are regularly persecuted by Muslims in Egypt and elsewhere is unbelievable.

Never mind the starker reality is that these incidents are not mere protesters out of control but the work of terrorist groups seeking to exploit the sensitivity to create the incident in hopes of provoking a crisis suited to their destabilization goals.  Never mind that this is standard modus operandi in the thousand year old tensions between Sunni and Shi’a and that the killing of Muslims by other Muslims is common place. Never mind that it is no coincidence that these attacks happened on September 11th, yet the State Department announcement completely ignores these realitities as it seeks to avoid hurting the feelings of Muslims.

The State Department statement and our Government’s policy and reaction to this incident is shameful.  Our blame of the Coptic Christians for also wanting to practice their religion is shameful.  Our government’s willingness to abandon our own principles to avoid hurting the feelings of Muslim terrorists is shameful.

We pray for Ambassador Stevens and his three staff members killed in the Benghazi attack.

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New Pew Forum Report on Asian American Faith Experiences

Asian Americans are contributing to the rich diversity of America’s changing religious experience. In 1965 Asian Americans comprised less than 1% of the total U.S. population.  Today they have grown to 5.8% or 18.2 million according to the U.S. Census).  While growth has taken place in non-Abrahamic faith traditions especially Buddhism and Hinduism most Asian Americans are either Christians (42%) or say they have no particular religious affiliation (26%).

The Pew Report says Asian Americans offer a ‘mosaic of many faiths’ with the six major subgroups reflecting different choices of faith tradition.  A majority of Filipino Americans are Catholic, a majority of Korean Americans are Protestant. While about half of Indian Americans are Hindu, half of Chinese Americans are unaffiliated.  A sizable number of Vietnamese Americans are Buddhist, and Japanese Americans are a mix of Christians, Buddhists and the unaffiliated.

In the work of the Church Growth Program analysis of census data will found this diversity offered plenty of opportunity among the ‘unchurched’.

Check out this new Pew Report on Asian American faith experiences.

There is No Religious Test for President

Timothy Dolan, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Ne...
Timothy Dolan, Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The day after evangelical pastor Rick Warren said that his followers would have trouble voting for Mitt Romney because Mormons do not believe in the Trinity, Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan said Sunday on Face the Nation that Republican front-runner Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith should not be an issue in the presidential campaign.

There may be reasons not to vote for Mitt Romney as president of the United States. That he’s a Mormon cannot be one of them.“I don’t think Catholics would have any problem voting for a Mormon at all.”                      —Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York

Dolan has reminded his followers that it was not too many years ago that Catholics felt the sting of such discrimination in the election of 1960 that saw John F. Kennedy win the presidency.  During the Republican primary season dominated by conservatives, Romney’s religion has been a recurring subplot in the strategy of his opponents.

For Cardinal Dolan to called out the discrimination for what it is was admirable, but it was also subtle, delicious political payback for President Obama’s action to force the church to support health care practices in opposition to its teaching.  The Cardinal is reminding the White House that the church is not without its influence in these matters .

Dolan brought up religion us prejudice in a speech to the Jewish Anti-Defamation League when he was asked how the Jewish and Catholic communities could cooperate better. He got a standing ovation after he told them

we Catholics and we Jews have felt the sting of the other side. And now, one of the ways we can cooperate is to see that religious prejudice, religious bigotry doesn’t enter the campaign.”

“It is like you were sent by God”

“It is like you were sent by God”, that was the simple thank you message from freed Iranian fisherman Fazel ur Rehman after American sailors rescued him along with other distressed and adrift in the Persian Gulf after their vessel broke down and was taking on water.

It probably was not the headline the Mullahs wanted to see in the New York Times, but there is was for all the world to see. 

What are the odds that twice in one week Americans would rescue Iranians, feed them and send them home in a matter of hours with God speed wishes.

Now compare that to the Iranian decision to sentence to death an America in Iran to visit his elderly grandmother on charges that he is a spy for the Great Satan.  The ex-Marine Amir Hekmati had the permission of the Iranian interests section–the U.S.-based diplomatic representative for Iran in Washington D.C. to travel to Iran in August to visit his elderly grandmother. He was arrest on August 29 and Iranian officials initially urged the family to keep quiet in order to facilitate his release. But in December, Iranian media showed a video of Hekmati allegedly confessing to working for the CIA a charge his family denied.  Iran has used this same tactic to torment the US since the days our embassy staff was held hostage for 444 days.

Maybe there is a sign from God somewhere in these intertwined stories. As tensions rise between Iran and the US over nuclear weapons and other issues and it looks like it will get worse before it gets better suddenly something completely unexpected happens—not once but twice.  The Great Satan rescues Iranians in need, offers them food and hospitality and gets them safely home.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—maybe the Iranian Mullahs should study their lessons!

God, Beer and Big Questions for 35’s and under at Service 731

Now here is an example of church collaboration to satisfy your thirst for new ways to do church!

The Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Pleasant Hill, Our Savior Lutheran Church and the Diocese of California announced they will launch an alternative, monthly evening service at Pyramid Alehouse in Walnut Creek.  The service will be called 731 because it will begin promptly at 7:31 pm each time.

December 18th and January 29th @ 7:31pm, Pyramid Alehouse Downtown Walnut Creek

The new service uses provocative questions, popular music guest speakers, video and beer & food to help people 35 and younger combine the Christian tradition with their own individual experiences of God and the world.  Designed not to be the “churchy stuff you grew up with” this alternative service seeks to be relevant in the lives of this age group and build community in new ways.

Nielsen Study of Optimism and Opportunity for Women

I have not written much about our 20/20 Vision process lately.

It has been dormant while St. Timothy’s searches for a new rector believing that whoever God calls to be the shepherd of our flock should be an active participant in framing our parish vision for the future.

But that should not stop us from research and examination of useful information when that 20/20 Vision process picks up again hopefully next year.

So here is a good news story to keep your attention focused on our 20/20 prize.

Nielsen is out with a very interesting new study of the attitudes of women.  What makes this study useful for our work in the Church Growth Program is the breakdown of the data from the survey results across ethnic and other demographic lines that make it a good resource for planning mission and ministry programs.

We’re learning from the 2010 Census data about the profound changes in demographics reshaping our country.  Those changes are not just ethnic they are also being reshaped by the changing role of women in the workplace and in our society.  Hispanics are the fastest growing ethnic group and their attitudes about optimism and opportunity will have major impacts on media, retail and manufacturers now and in the years ahead—and provide lessons about of message of hope and opportunity for an optimistic role for woman in the Episcopal Church.

The Nielsen study offers good news for our mission and ministry work in the vineyard over the next year working congregation by congregation to help each devise a church vitality and growth strategy that works for them.  Its focus on attitudes about optimism and opportunity are very important benchmarks for our church vitality and growth work ahead.

So what are the headlines from this Nielsen study?

  • Optimism was highest among African American and Hispanic women, especially how they viewed the opportunities they have had compared with those of their mothers.
  • Women of today are not only optimistic for themselves, they expect their daughters to have more opportunity than they do.
  • American women are heavy users of technology – even if they aren’t early adopters. Women of all ethnicities use media in similar ways, with one key exception: smartphones. Just 33 percent of Caucasian women have a smartphone in their household, compared to penetration rates in the 60s for women of other ethnicities.

I recommend this Nielsen Report to you:  Women of Tomorrow: U.S. Multicultural Insights.

Doing Church on Facebook

SOURCE: CNN Belief: Doing Church on Facebook at Liberty UniversityLiberty University may be a little too conservative for your inclinations, but the story I ran across this week on CNN Belief teaches us the lesson of not stereotyping.

The story is written by Johnnie Moore who describes himself as an author, pastor, professor and a vice president of Liberty University. He is a board member of World Help and the author of Honestly: Really Living What We Say We Believe. You can keep track of him on Facebook and Twitter.

His article tells the story of how his 1,000 member student congregation could not find a place to meet for their Wednesday worship service since their usual university venues had been reserved by others. 

No problem, let’s do church on Facebook.

Why? Because that is where we are anyway was the response.  So for some time that is what they have done.  The logic goes like this:  Facebook is a community, we like being in community.  The church is supposed to be a community, we like church too.  Let’s do both together!

There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach:

ADVANTAGES

  • Facebook is cool, now, virtually ubiquitous.
  • Facebook is where 800 million users are anyway.
  • It free and easy to use
  • It requires no commitment except to show up.
  • Virtually anything you can do in church you can do in virtual church on Facebook.

DISADVANTAGES

  • Facebook is drop in, not sign up so if that is all you are doing is dropping in you could be missing the best part of being in community which requires active participation more than once a week.
  • Facebook is one size fits all which may work fine if you are doing a structured worship service, but in a multi-generational, multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-language community you may need more than one ‘flavor’ to satisfy the hungry.
  • Facebook could be a good place to pray, to worship together even in the virtual sense, but it may be tougher to satisfy the service to others trilogy of our faith journey unless we actually go out in the vineyard and pull weeds and water the plants.

My point is not to criticize Johnnie Moore and his colleagues at Liberty University but to thank them for giving us ideas we can try ourselves.  But I’m waiting for Johnnie’s next article that tells me how he used Facebook to arrange his social service ministry program of gathering food for the food bank; or that Habitat for Humanity project, or the flash mob trash pickup project that ends up meeting for dinner at a neighborhood hang-out.

My point is that community is about more than showing up—-but given the church decline reality we face—showing up is REALLY GOOD NEWS!  Being in community is about giving of ourselves to serve others and in doing so finding Jesus in our lives and enriching our personal faith journey.

I believe the Episcopal Diocese of California needs a presence on Facebook—but we need more than that—we need a social network of our own that connects our congregations, connects our mission and ministry programs, connects our people in ways that unite us, empower us, celebrate our community connections so we feel like family—-the Body of Christ.

We need a social network that make it easy for us to show up, easy to participate, easy to be part of important events across our faith community—but we need more.

  • We need to learn about the call for volunteers to tutor ten kids in math, science and English in our neighborhood this semester sponsored by another denomination with whom we have chosen to share our social network.
  • We need to discover that we can help 80 year old Mrs Jones down the street get to her doctor’s appointment she otherwise would miss because someone thoughtful in our neighborhood posted the HELP WANTED request on our neighborhood page.
  • We need to hear the call for help from Monument Crisis Center when their food pantry is running low and there are many hungry to feed and by TXTing YES to the number listed we can instantly give $10 to allow the Center to go shopping to meet the need.

Do you see what I mean about the power of doing more than showing up?  A true social network unites us as a family and helps us truly be the Body of Christ by praying, worshiping, serving and loving each other as Jesus loved us.  It is like our neighborhood call list on steroids.  It not only allows us to drop into the conversation around our ‘community kitchen table’ but to be fed by the Holy Spirit by responding to the needs of others as we are able, when we are able, as often as we are able.  That is more than showing up!

Our social network is more than a party line, it is more than a Facebook place to hangout—it is our place to get involved, to help others, to discover Jesus in our lives and drink deeply from all the blessings our community presents to us each day to learn, to pray, to discover, to support others in their time of need.

Our social network empowers EACH OF US acting on our own to BE THE BODY OF CHRIST in ways we might not otherwise every hear about.  But our social network does something else—something more powerful and satisfying—it builds community, makes us feel like family, like we belong and it feeds our soul and brings us back to the Table eager for renewal, thankful for the blessings in our lives, joyous that through service to others we have found true peace.

Be in community!