Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Hiroshima and Nagasaki Remembrance Days

On 06 and 09 August, respectively, will be the 64th anniversaries of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,  Japan. Many churches use the Sunday nearest these anniversaries for a peace emphasis.  Here in Louisville, there is an annual service of remembrance for those who died in all the wars of America on Hiroshima Remembrance Day at Christ Church Cathedral (Episcopal). It is an ecumenical/interfaith service sponsored by Interfaith Paths to Peace.

I think these anniversaries are excellent opportunities to rededicate ourselves to working for a world without nuclear weapons–even a world without war.

August 5, 2009 Posted by | interfaith, nuclear weapons, peacemaking | 6 Comments

Fight Savage’s Anti-Muslim Hate Speech

It’s time to stop the anti-Muslim hate speech. We begin with super-bigot demagogue Michael Savage. Yes, I believe in freech speech. Yes, I love Voltaire’s dictum, “I may disagree with everything you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” But we don’t have to pay for it. Hate speech creates an atmosphere of fear that leads to crimes created by a mob mentality.  In the 1930s, Henry Ford bought a newspaper and used it to spew anti-Jewish propaganda–that was so vindictively anti-semitic that Adolf Hitler praised Henry Ford in Mein Kampf and later gave him a medal. The renegade Catholic priest, Fr. Joseph Coughlin, used a radio show to spew such anti-semitic bigotry across the airwaves. So successful was this anti-Jewish propaganda here in the land of the free that, even as the Nazis began their anti-Jewish campaigns in the ’30s, polls showed that 50% of Americans believed Jews brought at least some of this treatment on themselves! (Source for that statistic: The Jewish Americans series on PBS.  It is worth watching.)

Now, this same kind of bigotry campaign is targetting Muslims. We cannot stand back and let it happen.  Those of us who are Christians have specifically religious obligations to stop it: including the commands against bearing false witness, the commands to love neighbors and enemies, the command to treat others as we would want to be treated.  Some of us come from traditions that have known our own persecution–and in that history we would have wanted others to speak out on our behalf. Now our Muslim sisters and brothers need that kind of courage from us.  This is not about whose religion is right or wrong. This is not about questions of soteriology (exclusive, inclusive, etc.), but about simple truthtelling and defending the rights and dignity of our neighbors and fellow citizens.

We begin by taking on the demagogue Michael Savage.  See the following video. Then go to NoSavage.org and take action: email him and call his talk show to protest. Contact his sponsors and urge them to pull out or we boycott their products–we do not have to pay for his hate speech. (One major sponsor has already pulled out.) Does Savage have free speech? Absolutely. In this country, he can spew whatever bile he wants without fear of arrest. But we DON’T have to give him a microphone. Do something. Fight back against this bile, now.

January 18, 2008 Posted by | civil liberties, interfaith, Islam, peacemaking, prejudice, religious liberty, U.S. politics | 6 Comments

Interfaith Peace Summit in Naples

The pope kicked things off with an open-air mass, but, for some reason that escapes me, refused to be a formal delegate. Once more he shows less competence in interfaith peacemaking than his predecessor, John Paul II.  Read the story here.  Let’s all add our prayers for the summit. With politicians doing little or nothing for peace and justice, we need religious leaders and persons of faith and conscience to do all they can. 

 Among the heavy hitters attending the conference as delegates were: Bartholemew I, Orthodox Patriarch; Rowan Williams, Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury (titular head of the global Anglican communion and a leading ecumenical theologian); R. Yona Metzger, Chief Rabbi of Israel, and Imam Ibrahim Ezzedin, senior imam of the United Arab Emirates.  I hope some major Protestant figures were there, including representatives of the historic peace churches.

October 22, 2007 Posted by | interfaith, peacemaking | Comments Off on Interfaith Peace Summit in Naples

NRCAT Seeks Exec. Director

I considered applying for the following, but they are asking for more years of experience in certain areas than I have. So, I am passing on the information to others.   I have highlighted the work of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture since Princeton theologian (and fellow Barthian-pacifist!) George Hunsinger started it last year in order to mobilize the U.S. religious community against torture globally, but especially that torture sponsored by the U.S. government in the so-called “war on terror.”  Now, the organization is ready to hire its first Executive Director. The press release, including how to apply, is below.  BTW, for non-U.S. readers, 501(c) 3 organizations are tax-deductible non-profit organizations under the U.S. tax code. _________MLW-W.

NRCAT Executive Director Job Description


NRCAT description:  The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) is a growing membership organization of over 100 U.S. religious organizations, formed in January 2006 to end U.S.-sponsored torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.  NRCAT is incorporated in the District of Columbia, and pending completion of the application process for independent 501(c)3 status, its fiscal agent is the Churches’ Center for Theology and Public Policy, a 501(c)3 organization. 


NRCAT is governed by a Board of Directors and Participating Members Council.   The Executive Director is responsible to the Board of Directors for NRCAT’s effective operations and well-being.  NRCAT is an equal opportunity employer.



  • A minimum of fifteen years’ experience in administration of faith-based agencies.
  • Senior management experience for at least three different faith-based agencies.
  • Graduate degree in theology or religion. 
  • Proven ability to manage finances and personnel, develop media strategy, coordinate communications and resource planning, and raise funds.
  • Knowledge of and experience with U.S. religious networks of numerous faiths and belief systems, including (at minimum) Roman Catholic, Orthodox, evangelical Christian, main-stream Protestant Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities.



  • Mission:  Oversee efforts to implement NRCAT’s goals and objectives.
  • Develop national moral consensus about U.S.-sponsored torture:  Will work with NRCAT staff and volunteers to create awareness in the general public about NRCAT’s position on the issue of torture.
  • Liaison with religious leaders:  serve as NRCAT’s primary liaison with influential religious leaders from a wide variety of faiths in the United States, sufficient to activate their participation in a variety of NRCAT projects and events.
  • Member relations:  instill and provide leadership for a organizational culture reflecting NRCAT as the embodiment of the highest values of our member religious communities – within and among NRCAT’s various projects, councils, committees, and the Board of Directors.
  • Media:  Develop, expand, and maintain media relations and communications.
  • Outreach:  Plan and implement strategies for increasing NRCAT membership, including inclusion/organization of state and regional affiliates, as well as single-faith leadership councils (e.g. Jewish Leadership Council).
  • Resources:  Encourage development and use of a wide variety of anti-torture materials suitable for use in the various religious communities that NRCAT draws from and serves.
  • Personnel: Hire and supervise senior and administrative staff.
  • Fund-raising:  manage grant proposals and reporting, major donor cultivation, individual donor rolls, and annual contributions from member organizations.


Salary:  $55,000 per year plus benefits.

Starting date:  May 1, 2007


Application packet:

  • Deadline for applications:  April 4, 2007.
  • Application packet:  include cover letter, resume, and at least two references.
  • Email packet to NRCAT c/o Suzanne O’Hatnick, suzanneohatnick@comcast.net

March 26, 2007 Posted by | economic justice, human rights., interfaith, nonviolence, torture | 4 Comments

NPR: The Partisans of Ali

National Public Radio’s Morning Edition news program has been running a series on the deepening Sunni-Shi’ia divide in Islam and its modern history beginning in 1979. The series, called “The Partisans of Ali,”is definitely worth hearing. The series shows how Western policies in the Middle East, especially the U.S.’ role, has deepened this divide, though we are not the sole cause for the intra-Islamic violence. This is the kind of reporting the media should do more often. Had this kind of reporting been done prior to the Iraq war, the public and Congress would probably have been more opposed, if not the administration of George W. Bush. Understanding “what’s going on” is the first step to figuring out, “what do we do now?”

February 15, 2007 Posted by | interfaith, Islam | Comments Off on NPR: The Partisans of Ali

Petition: A Call for Interfaith Reconciliation

“[N]o religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. ” Article VI, U.S. Constitution.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” religion clauses of The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The U.S.A. is not the only nation by far with religious liberty, nor the guaranteed protections of such by separating the institutions of religion from the institutions of government–which we usually refer to by the shorthand phrase “church-state separation.” But we were one of the first nations, if not THE first nation, to formerly disestablish all faiths–insisting that government (not society) be secular in the sense of neither promoting nor inhibiting religious faith. We believe that it has spared us some religious wars and that it has led to the flourishing of religious faith (especially Christianity, but never ONLY Christianity) here. Unlike almost every other industrial democracy, the U.S. has not experienced much secularization.

All this seems elementary, but it needs to be reviewed, apparently, by Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA), of Virginia’s 5th Congressional District. He has objected (beforehand) to freshman Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), an African-American adult convert to Islam, using a copy of the Qu’ran in his private “swearing in” ceremony yesterday. Goode has called this a threat to “Judeo-Christian values,” and to democracy itself, and made other alarmist and bigoted remarks. Meanwhile, Ellison has responded with tact, grace, and diplomacy. And the copy of the Qu’ran that Ellison chose to use for his ceremony once belonged to Thomas Jefferson himself. (For some international readers not up on U.S. history, Jefferson drafted the U.S. Declaration of Independence from the U.K. and was later the 3rd President of the United States. He is considered one of the architects of the U.S. form of government.)

To clarify: No religious text is used in the annual oath of office itself. Members of Congress elect stand, raise their right hands, and either swear or affirm (since some of us object to swearing oaths) to uphold the Constitution. The phrase “so help me God” is not part of the affirmation itself, but was added by George Washington and most members repeat it, but none are required by law to do so. The use of Bibles or other religious texts, such as the Qu’ran, are done in private, re-enactments of the mass oath/affirmation and are strictly voluntary. Those of us Anabaptist or Quaker types (assuming any are in Congress) who find it hypocritical to swear on a book that forbids swearing oaths would NOT be required to do so–Goode to the contrary.
But Goode’s remarks have created a storm of controversy as he has tried to stoke U.S. Christian fears of other religions and also used this fear-mongering to stir up fears of immigrants (even though Ellison is a “home-grown” Muslim).

For this reason, I have joined others in signing a petition calling on Rep. Goode to apologize to Rep. Ellison and for interfaith reconciliation. I urge you to join me. The text of the petition is below:

As religious people from diverse traditions, we call upon Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode to re-examine his opposition to newly-elected Representative Keith Ellison, a Muslim, taking his unofficial oath of office using the Qur’an, and to apologize for his statement that, without punitive immigration reform, “there will be many more Muslims elected to office demanding the use of the Quran.”

Mr. Goode insinuates that having more Muslims in the United States would be a danger to our country. As people of faith, we reject such ill-considered words.

An attack against one religion is an attack against them all. Next week, it could be Jews. Next month, it could be Christian fundamentalists or evangelicals. Right now, it is Muslims. It is they who feel targeted by repression and abuse, and they who live among us in a growing climate of fear.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once implored us: “No religion is an island! We are all involved with one another. Spiritual betrayal on the part of one of us affects the faith of all of us.”

We hold it to be self-evident that all Americans have the right to practice their faith, whatever it may be, and that any Americans – regardless of race, color or creed – may be elected and sworn into office holding whatever book they consider sacred.

We would point out that there are some five million Muslims in the US. Many have been here for generations. They are every bit as American as Rep. Goode. Some Americans have also converted to Islam, including Rep. Ellison. We call for a renewed unity among people of conscience and of faith.

We would further point out that just as it was appropriate for the late President Ford to be honored by a profoundly Christian memorial service, so it is equally appropriate for Rep. Ellison to be sworn into office, in a private ceremony, holding the book representing his deepest religious convictions.

Above all, we urge all Americans to stand up for religious freedom and to deplore the hurtful words of any public figure who would disparage a particular religion. In a spirit of reconciliation and peace, we invite Rep. Goode to join with us in an inter-religious delegation to visit a mosque in his district, in order that the healing may begin.

Signed (Organizations listed for identification purposes only):

Rev. Dr. George Hunsinger Princeton Theological Seminary

David A. Robinson, Executive Director Pax Christi USA: National Catholic Peace Movement

Rev. Robert Edgar National Council of Churches

Stephen Rockwell, Director Institute for Progressive Christianity

Jeffrey Boldt Wisconsin Christian Alliance for Progress

Katie Barge, Director of Communications Faith in Public Life

Rev. Debra Hafner Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing

Rev. Peter Laarman, Executive Director Progressive Christians Uniting

Rev. Dr. Rick Schlosser, Executive Director California Council of Churches

Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs The Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs Progressive Faith Foundation

Elizabeth Sholes, Director of Public Policy California Council of Churches

Rev. Rita Nakashima Brock, Ph.D. Co-Director, Faith Voices for the Common Good

Jesse Lava, Co-founder and Executive Director FaithfulDemocrats.com

Rev. Jennifer Butler, Executive Director Faith in Public Life

Rev. Dr. Larry L. Greenfield, Executive Minister American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago

Rev. Cedric A. Harmon Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Rev. Chuck Currie Parkrose Community United Church of Christ, Portland, OR

Joseph C. Hough, Jr., President Union Theological Seminary, New York

Mary E. Hunt, Ph.D., Co-director Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual

Rev. Harry Knox, Director of Religion and Faith Program Human Rights Campaign Foundation

Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, Chair Department of Religion, Temple University

Vincent Isner, Executive Director Faithful America

Frances Kissling, President Catholics for a Free Choice

Rev. Timothy F. Simpson Christian Alliance for Progress

January 5, 2007 Posted by | church-state separation, interfaith, peace | 1 Comment

Jewish Rabbi Defends Former Baptist President

Rabbi Michael Lerner says that Jimmy Carter was the best presidential friend Israel ever had.

“Jimmy Carter was the best friend the Jews ever had as president of the United States.He is the only president to have actually delivered for the Jewish people an agreement (the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt) that has stood the test of time. Since the treaty, there have been bad vibes between Israel and Egypt, but never a return to war, once Israel fully withdrew from the territories it conquered in Egypt during the 1967 war.

To get that agreement, Carter had to twist the arms of Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. Sometimes that is what real friends do—they push you into a path that is really in your best interest at times when there is an emergency and you are acting self-destructively.

When the U.S. government is following a self-destructive policy, even a policy backed by people in both major political parties, its best friends are those who try to change its direction and are not afraid to offer intense critique. That’s why a majority of Americans, and 86 percent of American Jews, voted in the 2006 midterm elections to reject Bush’s war in Iraq and his policies suspending habeas corpus and legitimating wire-tapping and torture. Not because we were disloyal, but precisely because we love America enough to challenge its policies even when Vice President Cheney questions our loyalty. We know that critique is often an essential part of love and caring.”

Rabbi Lerner goes on to defend Carter and his new book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, from attacks by both Jewish and Evangelical Christian organizations. Last week, President Carter was in my adopted home town, Louisville, KY, for a reading and book signing. The line stretched around the block, but there were also protests. So, I find Rabbi Lerner’s defence very refreshing. See the rest of it here.

Cross-posted from Mainstream Baptists’ Group Blog.

December 7, 2006 Posted by | interfaith, Jews, Jimmy Carter | Comments Off on Jewish Rabbi Defends Former Baptist President

A Sign of Peace?

Belief.net has posted a story about Muslims in Florida who have sent $5,000 (and are raising more) in seed money to Palestine to rebuild burned Christian churches. The Muslim group notes that, according to the Qu’ran, churches are to be protected. This is a wonderful example of the Just Peacemaking practice of taking independent transforming initiatives for peace. Now, how can Christian groups reciprocate? Can this start a snowball downhill that will generate numerous interfaith independent initiatives that undermine both non-state terror groups and imperialist military machines? Please God, may it be so. Amen.

September 26, 2006 Posted by | interfaith, Islam, just peacemaking | 11 Comments

Christian/Muslim Interfaith Dialogue

I consider interfaith dialogue to be both a genuine way of witnessing to the gospel of Jesus Christ (a way of conversation that listens and expects to learn and doesn’t just drown out the other), and a necessary part of peacemaking. In our current context the most urgent need is for greater Christian/Muslim dialogue and understanding. This needs to go on at the grassroots level with groups from local mosques and churches gathering to inform each other about beliefs, customs, rituals, etc. Only by truly knowing our Muslim sisters and brothers can we keep from bearing false witness against them.

When I have made such statements on other blogs, I have been accused of either believing in universal salvation (that is for God to decide, not me), in believing that “all religions are equal,” whatever that would mean, or in denying the Good News of Jesus Christ. This is not true. I am a Christian. I would be overjoyed if every Muslim became Christian–just as every Muslim I know would be overjoyed if we Christians (whom they consider to have some truth, but to be imperfectly worshipping and serving God) would convert to the “Straight Path.” As far as I can understand, Islam and Christianity, though holding to several common beliefs, also hold mutually incompatible ones. We disagree over some very important things: Although Muslims believe in Jesus’ virgin birth, they deny that he was God incarnate and deny his Sonship (“God has no sons.”). They deny both the crucifixion and the resurrection. They deny the Trinity and, like our Jewish sisters and brothers, suspect that the Trinity either means that Christians cannot do math or that we aren’t really monotheists.

These are significant areas of disagreement. I don’t want to minimize them. Nor do I wish to avoid discussing them–although sometimes it helps to build relationships of trust before tackling really strong differences.

My concern is to defend the religious liberty of Muslims, to avoid bearing false witness against Islamic neighbors by sweeping generalizations that compare the best of Christianity against the worst exemplars of Islam, and to work together with Muslims for justice and peace in the world.

Currently, I see a debate going on WITHIN the major world religions over whether the pursuit of justice (as each sees it) or the advance of their faith can use violent means. The question of whether Islam is or can be nonviolent is something only Muslims can decide. I know which side of that debate to cheer for; I’m pulling for my friends in the Muslim Peace Fellowship and similar organizations and for the heritage of Khan Abdul Gaffer Khan, “the Frontier Gandhi” who led a nonviolent army of Pathans along the Indian Afghanistan border (in the area now between Afghanistan and Pakistan) that was the most disciplined part of Gandhi’s nonviolent movement. But I cannot, as a Christian, say which group is heretical according to Islamic teachings. I can say that, from the inside, about Christianity. The nonviolence of Jesus and the early church was RIGHT and the abandonment of this nonviolence and embrace of “just war theory” by the later church constitutes a massive heresy. Yes, for 16 centuries now, the MAJORITY of Christians have been heretics. I work to call the church universal to repent and re-embrace the nonviolence that Jesus taught and practiced.

We Christians have an advantage in seeking to reform our faith: Throughout much of the Christian world, there is widespread literacy. People can read the New Testament and see that they violent false preachers like John Hagee are blowhards who don’t have a clue. By contrast, illiteracy is widespread in the Islamic world, making the average Muslim even more vulnerable to manipulation by fanatics posing as scholars. Considering how widely Christians confuse militaristic nationalism with the gospel, I believe we should spend less time criticizing Muslim violence and more time criticizing our own compromises with violence–and praying for the success of reform movements like the Muslim Peace Fellowship.

Meanwhile, we need to continue to seek better understanding among all faiths, especially the three monotheistic faiths.

September 21, 2006 Posted by | evangelism, interfaith, Islam, religious liberty | 6 Comments

2nd Annual 9/11 Interfaith Unity Walk

Ethics Daily has a great article on yesterday’s 2nd Annual 9/11 Interfaith Unity Walk in Washington, D.C. Check it out.

I find especially helpful that yesterday’s walk included Richard Cizik, VP for Government Affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals. Cizik admitted that evangelicals haven’t usually been deeply involved in interfaith dialogue, but said our post-9/ll world demands such.

I agree. I think evangelicals fear that if they become involved in interfaith dialogue, it will somehow lessen their commitment to evangelism. Can one believe, as I do, that Christians have “Good News” for others but still believe in learning about the other’s faith and looking for common ground? I think so and I am glad that someone with Cizik’s influence seems to agree.

September 12, 2006 Posted by | interfaith | Comments Off on 2nd Annual 9/11 Interfaith Unity Walk