20 March, 2013

A new pope----A new Church ??

INTRODUCTION:  Interview with Fr. Han Kung

First of all, here is a comment on the election of Pope Francis from Hans Kung on CBC radio. It is instructive that Fr. Kung, the last remaining peritus of Vatican II, and who was highly critical of Pope John II and his own classmate and fellow professor, Benedict XVI, has a real but slightly guarded optimism for the reign of Pope Francis. Listen to the interview here:


First impressions of the new pope seem to be unusually positive. Surveys show that the vast majority of American Catholics have a positive attitude toward him. There are a number of immediate reasons for this: First is his projection as a very humble man who is aware of the People of God. How many times have you witnessed a pope, a bishop or even a priest asking lay people not just to "pray" for them but to "bless" them. Second, is the way he tries to express his own connection to the People of God, by paying his own hotel bill, riding on  the bus with other cardinals like he rode the bus "to work" in Argentina, walking freely among the crowd kissing so many babies and personally visiting a cardinal who is ill. Finally, the manner in which he has already taken small steps to simplify papal protocol.

Social Ethics. Much has been made of the Pope's Mother Teresa style concern for the poor. But it seems to me the foundation of his concern for the poor rests in what might be called a historical-contextual approach to theology. Francis seems not only to consider eternal abstract principles and their universal application to all situations. Rather, he seems to approach theology after the "modern" tradition of social ethics as initiated by Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarm and continued in the great social encyclicals almost all later popes. This has been part-and parcel of the  modern and contemporary Jesuit Jesuit approach to theology with their emphasis on social justice and the "Preferential Option for the Poor."

Personal Ethics. With regard to personal ethics, the hierarchy and popes have generally been "conservative." This was the public stance of Francis when he was Archbishop in Argentina  especially in the period of the conflict with secular authorities. During this time, especially, he adhered to, preached and defended the "traditional" teachings of the Church. He opposed abortion, contraception, gay marriage and even said the adoption of children by same-sex partners was equivalent to "child abuse."  Whether Francis' position as pope will be to continue the active political, financial and PR opposition to these issues as Benedict did or to let these issues rest on the "back burner" so to speak, is unclear. Whether he might tolerate or even encourage dialogue over these issues (as well as priestly celibacy and the ordination of women as deacons and priests) is still unclear. But he has the reputation of being a mediator.

For too long the Church has insisted that the only way to discuss controversial issues related to personal morality, especially those in any way touching on sexuality is through the classist approach. In this objectiveness view there are certain principles and actions that are intrinsically wrong or evil. This is an "act centered" morality where the acts themselves are always and forever evil and sinful without regard to person, circumstance or context. For example, masturbation is always mortally sinful except that at times lack of  freewill consent may lessen culpability in performing an intrinsically gravely evil act.  There are a number of  contemporary serious theologians in the Catholic tradition (a number of them under censure by the Vatican and/or the American Bishops) who bring to bear the principle of justice into the discussion of personal morality, especially related to heterosexual and homosexual morality. In this approach, justice, love, persons and context become necessary elements in the attempt to understand the morality of personal behavior (and, BTW, the social and public nature of even the most intimate behavior). The deep origins of this approach can be seen in Pius XI's Encyclical  Casti Cannbubii. And even Pope Benedict "read the Signs of the Times" when he said that condoms might, at times, be used to help reduce the spread of AIDS. Were he not aware of and had not taken into account what has been happening with actual, real people during this epidemic, he most likely would never have offered the possible use of condoms.


It is still too early to know how and where Pope Francis might lead the Church. By and large he must contend with a conservative, entrenched Vatican bureaucracy. He is being hailed as a "reform" pope. If he is successful, he will remain a straight-forward, humble man of the people and be able to garner the support of more progressive bishops, theologians and the Laity. He will most undoubtedly aim the bark of Peter in the direction of serving the poor and marginalized where he will receive the support bishops in the Southern hemisphere and resistance from conservative Catholics in the U.S.A. and other highly industrialized Western Nations which may base their positions on conservative political ideology more than their Faith and social justice within and among nations.

The power of the "current tradition" and "creeping infallibility" plus the support of the hierarchy in developing nations, especially in Africa, may make it difficult for Francis even to allow, tolerate or encourage discussion of issues related to sexuality, ordination of women, celibacy etc. I, as well as most Catholics, accept the dictum that public opinion polls do not form the basis for Catholic doctrine. However, with the legal actions in many countries to decriminalize  same-sex behavior, approve "gay marriage," and give more protections to women's equality, it behooves the Church to at least take into account the results of polls as one factor in "reading the Signs of the Times" to determine how the Church will deal with these issues. For example, in the United States almost 2/3 of of American Catholics accept the legitimacy of same-sex marriage (higher than any other Christian denomination in the U.S.) and the vast majority of married Catholics have or do practice artificial birth control. The real hope is that Pope Francis will come to use and apply the same principles  to personal morality that he and the majority of theologians apply to social issues.


21 November, 2010

Condoms May Be Used to Prevent AIDS, Pope Says

A press release by Reuters News yesterday at 1:10 PM EST announced that in a new book-length interview of Benedict XVI by Peter Seewald, that the Pontiff has approved the use of Condoms to prevent AIDS in special circumstances. The full interview will be published as, Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times.
The book is to be published Tuesday 22 November and will be available on Amazon on 24 November, 2010
The Pope does not say that the use of condoms is moral, but that their use is able to be justified in limited circumstances, for example use by prostitutes to prevent AIDS, “as a first step toward moralization” but that they are, “not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection.” The Holy Father says that a focus on condoms is in danger of becoming, “… a sort of a drug that people administer to themselves” and loss of attention to sexuality as an expression of love.
I have not read the full text of the interview or even the entire section on condom use, but the official Vatican newspaper has already published significant excepts of the interview and given direct quotes from the Pope himself. What does all this mean? Why is the Pope’s statement making such a stir? It seems to me that:
  1. The announcement itself signals a development in papal teaching about condom use. Previously the popes have taught that condom use could never, ever be justified. In that teaching, the assumption was made that condom use was essentially a method of “artificial birth control.” The development here relates to the realization that condoms can help prevent AIDS, a fatal disease.
  2. It is interesting that the example of condom use was by prostitutes. (edit: Further investigation shows that the Pope was speaking of male prostitutes, contrary to what I posted yesterday). No mention was made of the use of condoms by a heterosexual married couple where one partner already has AIDS. This may well have been to avoid a facing off of procreative intercourse against against the fact that even when used to prevent AIDS, condoms are considered artificial birth control when used by a married couple.
  3. we can rest assured that confessors and spiritual directors will seek “pastoral solutions” for a wide variety of cases. Although it has nothing to do with sex or disease, Once communion under two forms was allowed only in very limited cases, the custom has grown and is now tolerated or accepted as something to be available at all Masses with a congregation. The gay community that is still plagued by AIDS will believe and realize that it could be possible that the regular use condoms during gay sex might be moral, at least where there is a permanent, monogamous relationship.
  4. It certainly will increase debate over the “new” allowance for use of condoms in special cases to prevent AIDS. There have been years of debate among Catholic moral theologians over whether the justification for the use of condoms can be based on the “principal of double-effect..” This argument never won the day with Church leaders. There was solid teaching, that all use of condoms was always immoral. The late Cardinal O’Connor said that suggesting condoms as a preventative of AIDS was “The Big Lie.” The Holy Father himself, on his trip to Africa said that condom use might help spread AIDS rather than prevent it.
  5. The Popes “new” position can be seen as an instance in which Church leaders are actually taking into account the “historical circumstances” when dealing with personal moral issues. A historicist and personalist approach approach to moral decision-making has grown and been accepted in the area of “Social Ethics.” This may well be another step toward its application in individual / personal ethics (as was recently discussed at a worldwide meeting of 600 theologians in Trent Italy).
  6. Some conservative / traditional / traditionalist theologians and similar-minded laity will be concerned that, “the Church is changing (not developing a deeper understanding); and in a way that appears to damage or destroy the assurance that the Church is always correct in its teachings. There might be a fear that this is just a hole in the dike leading to more secularism. On the other hand liberals or progressives, will be encouraged to press for continued developments in seeking to discern, “the signs of the times” and the search for greater insight into Truth through open dialog with other groups, not the least of whom will be gays, women, and immigrants.
It is no wonder that this apparently simple statement by the Holy Father may, in fact, be a blockbuster statement that will cause ripples through the whole Church and the whole world. But all depends on how this moral declaration is understood and implemented. Personally, I wonder if the the Vatican bureaucracy will desire or attempt to block this meaningful development and implementation of the Holy Fathers insight.
Please note that this post is subject to revision and/or editing once the entire text is available.
The interview / book is published by a conservative press and has been praised by Fr. Fessio, a very well-known conservative priest. Although much of the book will seem conservative to many, I urge all thinking Catholics to read and ponder what is in these pages. I can’t wait to read the entire book.

I encourage you, dear reader, to comment, raise questions, make suggestions or initiate a dialogue over the acceptability or unacceptability of the Pope’s position on condom use and the implications it raises for Church understanding of it’s relationship to this increasingly post-modern world.

11 October, 2010

Same-Sex Marriage and Religion: Support Increases (Corrected 10-20-10)

On 6 October 2010, the Pew Research Center released a new report on the amount of support for “Gay Marriage” in the United States. Data presented include current (Collected July21-August 5 2010) statistics and comparisons back to 1996 for some characteristics. This post will speak about support or opposition among religious categories in the nation. Looking at the nation as a whole, 42% of Americans support gay marriage and 48% oppose gay marriage.  Support  for same-sex marriage rose from 27% in 1996 to the current 42%. and opposition fell from 65% in 1994 to the current 48%.  Greater detail on the population as a whole will be discussed in a later post. (NOTE: The only correction is in the first paragraph. The original data reported for the nation as a whole was for support (60%) / opposition (30%) for gays serving in the military. The data for "gay marriage" above is now correct)

Religion and Same-Sex Marriage 
I will present data on All Protestants, including three sub categories: White Evangelicals, White Mainline, and Black Protestants. There are Data for Catholics, including: White Catholics and Hispanics. Some information on religious Jews is presented. The final category includes All the Unaffiliated. The data for all religious categories are based on self-identification of “member” status.
When data are available for frequency of attendance (Attend Weekly or Attend Less [than weekly]) they are presented. Frequency of attendance is just about the best predictor of religious beliefs, behavior and position on many issues.

ALL Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and the Unaffiliated.
+ Among all Protestants, 31% support gay marriage, an increase of 4% over 2008-09.
+ Among all Catholics, 46%  support gay marriage, an increase of 4% over 2008-09.
+ Among all Jews, 75% support gay marriage,  an increase of 1% over 2008-09.
+ Among all Unaffiliated, 62% support gay marriage, a decrease of 1% over 2008-08.
It is clear that the greatest support for gay marriage is by the Jews and the Unaffiliated. What is more interesting in light of the Catholic hierarchy’s very strong opposition to same-sex marriage is that 46% of the Catholic people support gay marriage and this is 15% higher than among Protestants. Of course when we look within each category we will find great variation. Finally, the greatest growth over the past year in support for gay marriage is among Catholics and Protestants, at 4% for each.
The variation within Protestants is well indicated by the fact that that three-quarters (74%) of White Evangelicals oppose  gay marriage as well as 62% of the members of predominantly Black Protestant churches. Half (49%) of Mainline Protestants support gay marriage. This shows a real chasm between types of Protestants.
The data on Catholics are presented for White Catholics and Hispanic Catholics, who are thought to be more “conservative” or “traditional.” The gap between White (49%) and Hispanic (42%) support for gay marriage is much smaller than within Protestantism. More White Catholics than Hispanic Catholics support same-sex marriage, by 9 percentage points. It is quite noteworthy that nearly half of both Mainline Protestants (49%) and White Catholics (49%) support gay marriage. Among the “traditional” Christian groups, then, White Catholics and Mainline Protestants are the most supportive same-sex marriage.
Jews and the Unaffiliated.
Jews are more supportive of gay marriage than any other religious group. In fact, 76% of religious Jews support, and only 18% oppose, marriage for Gays. The data for Jews does not permit any further analysis.
The Unaffiliated may or may not be “religious” or “spiritual” but none of them claim membership in one of the “standard” religious groups like Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, etc.  Among all the unaffiliated, 62% support gay marriage. Looking only at those who say they are agnostic or atheistic, 80% support gay marriage. Based on “religious beliefs” this category is more supportive of gay marriage than any other category or sub-category studied here. Among those who say they are “Nothing Particular,” (some of whom are generically Christian without claiming membership in a particular church or denomination) support gay marriage (57%).

Church Attendance.
In the sociological literature “church attendance” at Sunday worship and other services (E.g. Wednesday Prayer Services, Daily Mass) is considered one of the best predictors of religious beliefs, values, norms and of behavior itself (E.g. support or opposition to abortion). Many conservative Christians define “true Christians” by their attendance or not at religious services. For example there is debate in the Roman Catholic Church over who are “good Catholics” or “practicing Catholics.”  More conservative Catholics tend to believe that “good” Catholics are only those who go to Mass every Sunday, strictly follow all the teachings of the Pope, and support the hierarchy’s positions on “hot-button” issues like birth control, abortion, homosexuality and gay marriage.
These data are presented only as “Church attendance” and do not include references to beliefs or other behaviors. For the nation as a whole:
24% of those who attend church one a week or more frequently support gay marriage. (Opposed: 68%).
49% of those who attend church “monthly to yearly” support gay marriage. (Opposed: 40%).
59% of those who “seldom or never” attend church services support gay marriage. (Opposed: 29%).
Denominational Church Attendance,
When the sample sizes allow it, data are presented for the larger religious categories, including:
+ White Evangelicals Weekly+ 14% support.  Less often 31% support (Opposed: 81% and 61%).
+ White Mainliners Weekly+ 35% support. Less often  53% support  (Opposed: 57% and 33%).
+ Black Protestants Weekly+ 22% support. Less often 37% support  (Opposed: 69% and 53%).  
+ White Catholics Weekly+ 34% support. Less often  59% support  (Opposed: 55% and 31%).
It is clear that over one-third of Mainline Protestants (35%) and Catholics (34%), who regularly attend church the most, support gay marriage in 2010. In each religious category, those who attend church the most frequently are less supportive of gay marriage than those who attend less frequently. In rank ordering opposition to gay marriage, Evangelicals (81%) are most likely to be in opposition and Roman Catholics (55%) are least likely to oppose gay marriage whether or not they are regular attenders. It is clear that the majority of those who attend church are significantly more opposed to gay marriage  than is the general population (48%). But to me it is important to note that as many churches as do, support gay marriage, from 14% for Evangelicals to 59% among Catholics (even in light of the persistent opposition to gay marriage from the Pope, Vatican Congregations, national hierarchies and individual bishops).

Generational support for gay marriage.
Age is an important factor in explaining attitude toward same-sex marriage. Between 1996 and 2010, if we look at the entire US population aged 18 and over, we can note that support for gay marriage has increased for each generation as shown below:
Millennials: born 1981 - 
51% support to 53% support gay marriage.
Gen-Xers: born 1965-1980 
40% to 48% support gay marriage.
Baby Boomers: 1946-1964 
26% to 38% support gay marriage.
Silent Generation: 1928-1945  
20% to 29% support gay marriage.
Greatest Generation: Born before 1928
16% to 15% support gay marriage.
Every generation (except the “Greatest Generation”) has become more supportive of gay marriage. For each generation born between 1928 and 1980, the increase in support for same-sex marriage has been approximately ten percentage points. Those born before 1928, and who are well into their 80s, are the least supportive of gay marriage. Of greater interest are the Millennials. Between 2003 (when they began to turn 18) and 2010  their support for gay marriage increased by “just 2%”, in a relatively short time span; it will be very interesting to see what the percentage change will be in the next 10-15 years.

Religious “Younger Generations” and Support for Gay Marriage.
In the general population, among those 18-29 we find over half (53%) support gay marriage in 2010. This is a one percent increase over 2008-2009. Among those 30-49, not quite half (46%) support gay marriage (This is an astounding 7% increase in one year). Because of sample sizes the break down of age categories makes it impossible to speak of these two categories separately. Thus, the data by religious categories will be presented from the most accepting of gay marriage to the least accepting for those 18-49 years old:
66% of the unaffiliated favor gay marriage. This is 10 points higher than those 50+
58% of Catholics favor gay marriage. This is 19 points higher than those 50+
54% of Mainliners favor gay marriage. This is 10 points higher than those 50+
26% of Evangelicals favor gay marriage. This is 11 points higher than those 50+
Clearly the younger generations of the Unaffiliated are the most in favor of gay marriage. Noticeably well over one-half of Catholics (58%) and Mainline Protestants (54%) support gay marriage. On the other hand only about one-quarter (26%) of Evangelicals support same-sex marriages. Among all groups, except Catholics, the increase in acceptance in one year was about 10%. The increased acceptance of gay marriage by Catholics over a one ear period was almost double (19%) that of the other three categories. Understanding those in the 18-29 age group, and those soon to became 18, is critical. The questions is: Which religious groups actually are meeting the needs of these young persons? How are they doing it? What are the messages and programs that meet young people in terms of their own concrete lives?

A Summary and an interpretation, of Sorts.
The descriptive statistics presented here suggest a number of questions to ponder.
To what extent do religious groups face the actual lived reality of gay people in their congregations / parishes, local communities and the nation? It seems especially, that Black Protestants, Evangelicals, and Catholic leaders have great difficulty understanding the real lives of their LGBT adherents.
White Evangelicals have yet to see an extreme gap between the leadership and their people regarding gay marriage. But the gap between what is officially taught by Catholic leaders and the attitudes of the bulk of Catholics is quite severe. As mentioned, even one-third of “good Catholics” who attend Mass weekly or more often support gay marriage. A question is, can this gap be reduced? Catholic leaders often say, “Catholic doctrine and moral issues are not determined by ‘opinion polls’.” I agree with this statement. But I argue that public opinion polls do tell us “where the people are” and that where the people are must be taken into account as one of the sources which help determine the development and application of moral decision making in concrete situations.
How do each of the different religious groups meet the immediate needs of LGBT persons? How much compassion is shown to gay persons in general and where are programs or ministries at the congregation or parish level that receive LGBT persons with acceptance and love for the human beings they are?
Whether or not homosexual behavior is perceived as due to “secularism,” the “Devil” or as a grace from God, religious groups must come to understand that gays are human beings born gay and that an attitude of tolerance and acceptance is growing over the years. Why do so many churches, synagogues and other religious institutions neglect to speak about and to gays with compassion?  Why do they only preach how homosexuality is evil and/or homosexual behaviors or gay marriage are evil, rather than face up to the reality that gays and gay behavior is human and exists? Can’t religious groups at least listen, really listen to LGBT persons and admit dialogue about gay life in the context of justice and love?
How can and will religious institutions deal with the youth of today, especially those 15 or 16 to 20 or 22, who increasingly take for granted that there simply are gay people, that gay people are just like themselves except in sexual orientation and sexual behavior, that many of their good friends are gay, and they just do not understand why gays are not left alone to become who they are meant to be.
On the other hand, how can and will religious institutions deal with those (and not just teenagers) who are harassed, bullied, subject to violence and even death from ignorant, misguided or fearful individuals who attack LGBT persons?  And if religious leaders could admit and accept the reality of GLBT life, they might do better forming their own members to be more accepting of gays rather let them, perhaps, fall into the hatred of a Fred Phelps and  Westboro Baptist Church.
Gay marriage is but one facet of how we live together with each other in justice, peace and love. But the data from this study indicate at least one thing, support for gay marriage is increasing and neither “this issue” nor other “gay-related issues” are going to just “go away.”

See this significant article: Gay Bullying and Death: Are Believers the Problem of the Solution?

 See also: What is a Catholic Response to Gay Suicide?

See also:  Are We Complicit?
I encourage any one who wishes to leave a comment, pro or con, or questions!!!!

16 September, 2010

Interfaith Leaders Denounce Bigotry Against Muslims.

FLASH- UPDATE Benedict speaking in the UK about freedom of worship, and strongly supports the call to ecumenical dialogue and for respect for other religions and faith communities. 0-17-10.

After nine years, the 9-11 memorial in New York remains unfinished. Apart from any technical difficulties, there have been many kinds of disagreements, squabbles, even fights over the memorial. All of these differences and disagreements pale in light of the polarization that characterizes this nation today over plans by Muslims to build a Muslim Center (which will contain a Mosque and prayer space for those of other religions).
It is very understandable that some, perhaps very many, of the survivors, their families, and close friends would carry resentment, even hatred, toward the terrorists and by extension Muslims or Islam. All of us are human after all.
The question is, why have so many other Americans become so upset and angry over building the Center; even to the point of willingness to abrogate key portions of the US Constitution?
It seems to me that the “causes” are many and complex. Some of the things that have affected this outpouring of opposition and even hatred include:
  1. A general frightening feeling that “America,” has or is loosing it’s preeminent status as the “world power.”
  2. Confusion and frustration over two “wars” that have produced partial military solutions but without viable political solutions even after the deaths of thousands of people and spending millions and millions of dollars prosecuting these “wars.”
  3. The tremendous US and international economic collapse we are suffering, with loss of jobs, many of which will never return, the inadequacy of healthcare reform, and gridlock resulting in a lack of faith in the recovery and re-attainment of secure jobs.
  4. The seeming exploitation of the economic “recovery” by politicians and media for their own political gain or increased ratings.
  5. Woefully inadequate knowledge of the history of the Middle East and even a more abysmal lack of understanding of Islam.
  6. and perhaps most of all the development and use of extreme “Christian” anti-Islamic attitudes and actions against Islam. Think of “burning Korans” or marches with nasty signs in Murfreesboro, TN. 

An Interfaith Response.
On September 7, 2010 representatives of Mainline Protestant (Eg. Methodists and Episcopalians, the Orthodox) Christians, Roman Catholic Christians, Evangelical Christians, Jewish, and Muslim religious leaders met to present a very strong and positive message, calling all religious people witness to their one God of Love, justice, and mercy.
The statement begins with these strong words:
As religious leaders in this great country, we have come together in our nation’s capital to denounce categorically the derision, misinformation and outright bigotry being directed against America’s Muslim community. We bear a sacred responsibility… to promote a culture of mutual respect and the assurance of religious freedom for all… we announce a new era of interfaith cooperation. (Emphasis in original).

The statement continues to make several points:
  1. There is support for the Constitutional and traditional Freedom of Religion. They claim the right to, “give witness to our own moral convictions in the public square as well as individual, “freedom to worship in congregations of our own choosing.
  2. That rather than give in to, “the anti-Muslim frenzy that has been generated over the plans to build an Islamic center and mosque… near Ground Zero,” the Interfaith group proposes that we, “…not… debate the the Park 51 project [center and mosque] anew, but rather respond to the atmosphere of fear and contempt for fellow Americans of the Muslim faith that the controversy has generated.
  3. That as Americans and people of faith, “We stand by the principle that to attack any religion in the United States is to do violence to the religious freedom of all Americans.”
  4. Realizing that in a globalizing world religious differences must not “…lead to hostility or division between communities… that no religion should be judged on the words or actions of those who seek to pervert it through acts of violence… that bearing false witness against our neighbor – something condemned by all three of our religious traditions – must be counteracted by truly seeking to understand “the Other” and building on our common belief in a God of love, justice and mercy.
  5. That, “Leaders of local congregations have a special responsibility to teach with accuracy, fairness and respect about other faith traditions” and to discover ways to extend interfaith collaboration into common action through interfaith, “education, inter-congregational visitations, and service programs that redress social ills…”
  6. That as the diligent work of our scholars has shown, “Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all see an intimate link between faithfulness to God and love of neighbor; a neighbor who in many instances is the stranger in our midst.” It is by beginning at the point we all can agree on –love of God and neighbor- that we can live in harmony in a diverse, global world.

A few observations.

This document was signed by 35 religious leaders (See last 3 pages of the statement) by a goodly number of Jewish and Muslim leaders and Evangelical, Orthodox, Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic leaders (including Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, DC; Fr. James Massa representing the USCCB; and Mr. Nicholas Richardson, Communications Director of the Archdiocese of New York).
In light of this charged situation, these leaders spoke as prophets arising out of the best of their traditions.
They made the very wise decision to condemn violence and hatred. They went on to emphasize that the beginning of dialogue and action must arise from what we hold in common –Love of God and neighbor- and not from our differences (only a few of which are very serious and difficult to deal with).
Pope Paul VI, in Evangelii Nuntiandi, asked why do we send out missionaries? His answer effectively said not to “convert” others but to live the joy of the Gospel in such a way that some others would be attracted to the Faith by the action of God in their hearts. We might ask, “Why care about the Muslims? Isn’t our Christian task to proselytize them and convert them to Christianity? I would say, at this moment, we Christians ought to live our Gospel and love our Muslim Neighbor. We can leave the “converting” to God.

These leaders correctly, in my judgment, linked their religious message to the legal and Constitutional rights that Americans possess: the freedom of religion and freedom of speech. I have seen time and again pleas or demands by conservative Evangelical Leaders and the recent popes that their missionaries and religious communities be allowed to live, worship and otherwise practice the Christian faith in other more closed societies (E.g. Saudi Arabia, Iran). But it behooves us to practice what we preach and what we desire from other countries, not only because it is the morally right thing to do, but because it will help Christians who want access to other countries.

Finally, the Leaders who signed this document were, again, wise to emphasize the need for dialogue and action at the level of the local congregation or parish. The bi-lateral and multi-lateral high level dialogues at the national and international level between and among denominations (Catholic, Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Southern Baptists [with Catholics terminated by a decision of the SBC], has borne much fruit, although there remain many tensions within and between some groups.

However, “the rubber [really] hits the road,” so to speak, when actual people, people who live in the same or nearby communities, come together face-to-face and begin to listen to and learn from each other; when people of different religious traditions actually interact with each other, come to understand each others’ ways, act together, and, perhaps, come to trust each other, healing may occur to all, so that we become more faithful, Jews, Christians, and Muslims (and those of other faith traditions also).

Please feel free to comment on this or any other of my blog posts.