As much trouble as the U.S. is experiencing in terms of governance at the federal level, you might think we could just focus on Washington and not worry so much about other nations for a time.
A prime example of another country that is struggling to find a new way of being in the world and that matters a great deal when it comes to world religions is Saudi Arabia.
Earlier this month I wrote here about some of the turmoil happening in the Saudi kingdom. I concluded then that "the kingdom seems to be sitting on tenuous ground, and it's in the interest not just of Muslims around the world but of everyone to be encouraging a peaceful transition of power to the younger generation there and to a much more democratic and religiously open society."
A few days ago I read this excellent analysis of current conditions in Saudi Arabia. It's written by Raj Bhala, a really smart law professor I know at the University of Kansas who has also written a huge and understandable book called Understanding Islamic Law (Shari'a). Raj is an expert in the field of international trade, so naturally he puts a fair amount of emphasis on that in the Bloomberg Quint piece to which I've linked you.
But he doesn't ignore questions of religion, in part because when it comes to Saudi Arabia, which is the location of Islam's holiest sites, you simply can't ignore religion and make sense of things the House of Saud is doing or not doing. Raj, who is Catholic by faith and Indian (India, not American Indian) by ethnicity, notes that Saudi Arabia's new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS), has an opportunity to create better relations between Saudi Arabia, which is primarily Sunni, and Iran, which is heavily Shi'a.
"Yet," he writes, "trapped by yesterday, Saudi Arabia and Iran fear tomorrow." The "yesterday" of which he speaks are historical events from the Seventh Century that created the Sunni-Shi'a split and that are kept hot and alive even today.
"Christianity knows from bad experience," Raj writes, "something of schisms, and of the hope for reconciliation after centuries of bloodshed that engulfed Shakespeare’s England. Reformation Day, October 31, 2017, was the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing up his Ninety-Five Theses at All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The top Catholic and Protestant scriptwriters, Pope Francis’ Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation, gave thanks for the 'spiritual and theological gifts received through the Reformation.' Then came their most humbling line: 'Likewise, we begged forgiveness for our failures and for the ways in which Christians have wounded the Body of the Lord and offended each other during the five hundred years since the beginning of the Reformation until today.' This reconciliation is still a work in progress.
"Can MBS co-author with Iran an ecumenical script for Islam?"
That's just one of several matters the crown prince, given lots of leadership responsibilities by his aging king father, is facing these days. It's vital that Americans understand what's happening in Saudi Arabia and that we have a diplomatic corps that can advance the interests of the U.S. and the free world generally through its connections with the Saudi government. But, as we know now, the State Department is being ruinously deconstructed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Perhaps the best that most Americans can do is to stay up on Saudi developments, tell our elected representatives our hopes for American policy there and then find ways to be in constructive relationships with Muslims in America. Today's a good day to start that process if you haven't already.
* * *
THE STATE DEPARTMENT FAILS
The law requires the U.S. State Department to release (by Nov. 13) its list of countries guilty of religious freedom violations. But as of yesterday the list still wasn't available. This should surprise no one, given what I said above about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Still, it's maddening.