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Religious liberty is under threat around the world

One of the indications that religion is a powerful force is that governments around the world try to suppress or control it, thus violating a foundational human right, religious liberty.

Uscirf-logoTo keep track of all those violations, each year the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and the U.S. State Department issue reports listing the ones they know about. (The most recent State Department report, issued last June, can be found here.)

The USCIRF report covering 2020 was just released a few days ago. Read it and weep.

While taking note of the special circumstance due to the coronavirus pandemic, the commission reported that "in some countries, already marginalized religious minorities faced official and/or societal stigmatization, harassment and discrimination for allegedly causing or spreading the virus." 

When suppression of religious freedom gets particularly ugly in a country the commission recommends that the State Department designate it as a "country of particular concern," or CPC. The new report recommends that designation be applied to these countries not currently on the list: India, Russia, Syria and Vietnam. The list already includes Burma, China,
Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Although noting a bit of progress in a few places, the commission report about 2020 is bleak and disheartening. A few examples:

-- Burma (Myanmar): "religious freedom conditions in Burma remained poor. The government continued to commit widespread and egregious religious freedom violations, particularly against Rohingya Muslims."

-- China: "Religious freedom conditions in China deteriorated. The government intensified its 'sinicization of religion' policy, particularly targeting religions perceived to have foreign connections, such as Christianity, Islam and Tibetan Buddhism."

-- India: "Religious freedom conditions in India continued their negative trajectory. The government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), promoted Hindu nationalist policies resulting in systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom."

-- Iran: "Religious freedom conditions in Iran deteriorated, with the government escalating its severe repression of religious
minorities and continuing to export religious extremism and intolerance abroad."

And on and on.

But things will never improve if the world doesn't know of the conditions on the ground. So even if these annual reports are painful to read, they contain information that should make it impossible for our government and all American citizens to be bystanders when it comes to promoting religious freedom.

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AN  INTERFAITH EFFORT AGAINST HATRED

Bigotry against religious groups has been a problem almost since religion started. And it's apparently not going away. In just the last few days, as this RNS story reports, four synagogues in one New York City neighborhood have been targets of vandalism. But an interfaith group has formed there to protect houses of worship. As the story says, "clergy from 20 New York congregations, including Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and Christians, met as the Interfaith Security Council" recently and it is determined to protect sacred spaces of all religious traditions in the area. Good. As one of the pastors involved says, “With a heightened level of white supremacy and a heightened level of hatred we can benefit from the research, information and training that these Jewish organizations have and that can then trickle down to our organizations so we can protect ourselves as well." (And as this opinion piece via NBC news points out, the Covid pandemic hasn't stopped antisemitic acts.)

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P.S.: If you missed my latest Flatland column when it posted Sunday (it's about the slow return of congregation members to sanctuaries), you can find it here.

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Healing-Corporon Cover-lle-hi-resANOTHER P.S.: To watch the online conversation I had yesterday with Mindy Corporon about her new book, Healing a Shattered Soul, go to this YouTube link. A domestic terrorist, a neo-Nazi, murdered Mindy's son and father in 2014, while international terrorists murdered my nephew in 2001 in the 9/11 attacks. I write about that in my own new book, Love, Loss and Endurance: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety. So we had a lot to talk about.


Why authoritative, not authoritarian, religion is needed

Some religious traditions -- or, more accurately, some branches of some religious traditions -- are more authoritarian than others. Which means those others tend to allow for more open discussion of difficult questions and aren't quick to declare someone a heretic.

ProdigalsIt's the authoritarians who usually cause the trouble.

This Patheos.com blog unpacks this dichotomy in a helpful way. Its' written by Roger E. Olson, a professor of Christian theology of ethics at George Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University. He calls himself an evangelical Baptist.

In the essay to which I've linked you, Olson is responding to a new book called Embracing Prodigals: Overcoming Authoritative Religion by Embodying Jesus' Nurturing Grace, by John Sanders.

Olson makes the valid point that Sanders picked the wrong word for the title -- "authoritative." He should have chosen "authoritarian," Olson says.

"I think religious leaders should be authoritative," Olson writes, "without being authoritarian." Correct. So the two styles he wants to explore are "authoritarian" and "nurturing."

As an example of authoritarianism, Olson describes the Christian college he attended: "Most of my classes were taught in authoritarian style; most of the chapel speakers were authoritarian. There was a general atmosphere of oppression of students and teachers who dared to question anything preached in chapel or done by the administration. And many of the teachers spiritually abused students who dared to ask any questions that implied doubt about what was being taught."

Sounds like fun, eh?

But he argues that religious leaders and institutions can be both authoritative and nurturing. And, in fact, unless religions are going to throw out all the rules, beliefs and traditions, someone has to know, fairly authoritatively, what they are and be able to explain them.

Being "authoritarian," he writes, "is usually problematic, while being authoritative is sometimes justified."

Cover-lle-hi-resWhat happens when certain branches of religion become almost exclusively or entirely authoritarian? You get the results that we saw in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, results I describe in my new book, Love, Loss and Endurance: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety. You get people who have no room for sincere questions or doubts. You get people who think God has deputized them to smack the world into shape.

That's the last thing this world needs.

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FUNDING CHURCHES IN A POST-COVID ERA

One way churches have raised money is by passing the collection plate at weekly services. But as this RNS story notes, "passing the offering plate, once a staple of worship, has largely halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And given the rise of a cashless society — and the popularity of electronic giving — the days of passing the plate may soon be over." So congregations will have to pivot in one more way. All of this reminds me of the old joke in which a $50 bill, a $20 bill and a $1 bill were describing their lives to each other. The $50 and $20 had exciting stories of great restaurants, travel and big tips. The $1 said the only place it had ever been was from one collection plate to another. (I didn't say it was a funny joke.)


Ramadan is a chance to learn about Islam in the U.S.

In this month of Ramadan, it's helpful to think about the history of Islam in what eventually became the United States and about how this ancient religion (ancient, but younger than Judaism and Christianity) is negotiating its place in the American religious landscape.

RamadanOne way to start that would be to visit the online exhibit of religious artifacts at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture to see the Muslim artifacts. Here is an RNS story about that. It includes a link to a blog post that displays some of the items.

As the story notes, "More than a tenth of the 1,093 religion objects at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture are Muslim artifacts. And as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins, the currently closed museum is highlighting these artifacts tied to Islam on its website’s blog."

Many Americans think that this country began almost exclusively with Christians. Well, Christians clearly were a vast majority of among the first European invaders. But the first Muslims arrived as slaves before the U.S. was even founded -- to say nothing about the Indigenous people who, with their native spirituality, were present before anyone else was here.

You can read about the history of Islam in this land in this VOX story. As that story reports, "In the early years of America's founding, the vast majority of Muslims weren't citizens but slaves. Scholar Richard Brent Turner explains that researchers disagree over the number of Muslim slaves that were brought to the Americas, and estimates range from 40,000 (in just the US) all the way to 3 million across North and South America and the Caribbean."

Today there the best estimate of the number of Muslims in the U.S. is just under 3.5 million and includes two primary categories -- immigrants and African-American converts (along with a few others).

Cover-lle-hi-resIt was not, of course, until the 9/11 terrorist attacks that most Americans began to think very much about Islam. And, as I note in my new book, that's sort of like non-Christians first beginning to think about Christians because of some news about the Ku Klux Klan or current Christian white nationalists.

But Ramadan gives all of us a chance to get a better understanding of Islam, and particularly about how it is finding its way in the U.S. -- after being here all these centuries.

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FALLOUT FROM  THE VATICAN'S ANTI-GAY STATEMENT

When the Vatican recently reaffirmed it wouldn't allow priests to do same-sex weddings because "God cannot bless sin," some Catholics, in anger, frustration and sorrow, left the church, this RNS story reports. The result of that Vatican statement, the story says, is that "some have decided to leave their Catholic identities behind, while others remain hopeful the church will eventually become more accepting." The sad thing about any branch of Christianity that condemns homosexuality in that way is that such a view is based on a misreading of scripture, as I argue in this essay. The Bible, in short, should not be used as a weapon in this discussion. Rather, its message of God's unconditional love for all humanity should be the guide. Any time you find a religious rule that makes anyone a second-class citizen, you can bet that the religion promoting that rule has gotten things wrong.

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P.S.: The guilty verdict on all counts in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin yesterday would not have been possible had many individuals not chosen to stand up for what's right. (I'm particularly thinking of the people who recorded the death on their cell phones.) They tried to protect life. They tried to stop violence. They tried to get the criminal justice system to behave. They called the police on the police. All the world's great religions teach people to chose right over wrong every day, every hour. Had Chauvin himself chosen right on that fateful day, none of this would have happened -- at least not at that spot on that day. So, yes, the Floyd case involved a series of individual decisions. But let's also remember that those decisions were made within the context of a policing system that needs reform. We ask police to do things that social workers, mental health professionals and others with special skills not requiring being armed should be doing. It's long past time to fix that. We need the police for situations of actual or potential violence. We don't need armed officers to use violence on motorists with a back light out or on shoppers passing counterfeit bills or on delirious and obviously deranged people shouting and behaving bizarrely in the streets. In the meantime, thank goodness for people who refuse simply to be bystanders when they see evil deeds in front of them. It's the job of all of us in this time of new beginnings.


A story that challenges a stereotype

National Public Radio's religion reporter, Tom Gjelten (pictured here), is retiring. Before he wrapped up his long NPR career (the last six years covering religion), he did an interview with Michel Martin for the "All Things Considered" show.

Tom-GjeltenPrimary questions were what changes he has seen in the American religious landscape and what was a favorite story he covered.

It probably was no surprise that Gjelten devoted much of his time covering various aspects of how faith communities were dealing with an increasingly open LGBTQ+ community.

As Gjelten noted, "LGBTQ people have become more open about their sexual orientation, their gender identity. I think one result of that has been that LGBTQ people have faced increased hostility, especially from religious people."

I have maintained for several decades that one reason for such hostility from some branches of Christianity is a misreading of scripture. You can read my argument about that here. In some ways that hostility is waning and gay people are finding welcome homes in some congregations and denominations, but that struggle is far from over.

I was most interested in Gjelten's story of how a young Muslim woman found welcome in the American South.

He told the story of  "Aqsa Mahmud, born in Pakistan, raised in Georgia. Some of her closest friends there were born-again, Jesus-believing Baptists."

Gjelten quoted Aqsa this way: "I am so grateful to have been a Muslim growing up in the South. Only in the South could you say to your friend and be like, hey, you know what? I've got to pray. And they'd be, like, of course. Like, they talked about God in a very personal way. Like, their relationship with Jesus made me want to have a closer relationship with God."

Gjelton concluded this: "We have this stereotype of Southerners, evangelicals being intolerant. Here was a Muslim girl who actually felt more comfortable in the South because her friends there were more open talking about faith. It really challenged those stereotyped ideas."

That's a good lesson. It's not to say that you can't find irrational Islamophobia in the South and elsewhere in the U.S. and the world. But making assumptions about what people believe based on where they live is a foolhardy business and is itself a form of bigotry.

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CAN A DIVIDED EVANGELICALISM BE HEALED?

The American Christian evangelical world -- like the American political world -- is badly divided. As this article in Christianity Today notes, "One group within American evangelicalism believes our religious liberties have never been more firmly established; another that they have never been at greater risk. One group believes racism is still systemic in American society; another that the 'systemic racism' push is a progressive program to redistribute wealth and power to angry radicals. One is more concerned with the insurrection at the Capitol; another with the riots that followed the killing of George Floyd. One believes the Trump presidency was generationally damaging to Christian witness; another that it was enormously beneficial. One believes the former president attempted a coup; another that the Democrats stole the election. One believes masks and vaccines are marks of Christian love; another that the rejection of the same is a mark of Christian courage." It's an article worth reading because it sets up a framework that might lead to a narrowing of these divisions. As the author of the piece, Timothy Dalrymple, writes, "Information comes through three sources: media, authorities and community. One reason for our disunity is that these three sources are in crisis in American evangelicalism." Maybe if evangelicalism can lessen its divides there might be a model for the rest of America.


Returning to the cross of Good Friday

Since Good Friday almost two weeks ago, I've been thinking about something familiar that Jesus is reported as having said from the cross:

Easter-2021"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" You can find it in Matthew 27:46. As many others have pointed out, Jesus is quoting Psalm 22:1, which begins with those very words but which ends with a deep sense of hope.

I knew all of that, as no doubt many of you do. I also knew that Christianity, a monotheistic religion, insists that God comes to us in three different persons -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit or creator, cross-bearer, comforter. There are various ways like that to refer to the Holy Trinity.

The eternal mystery is that the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, making a total of one God.

So when God as Son accuses God of forsaking him, one way to think about it, I've decided, is to say that God was forsaking God's own self. God was abandoning God's own self. God was turning away from who God is.

And that is where we begin to understand what was happening on the cross. It's one of those cases in which there are multiple truths that don't constitute a paradox. Perhaps like the ancient story of blind men describing an elephant by touch.

There are, I think, two ways (at least two ways) of thinking about how we forsake ourselves. One way is to walk away from our true selves and participate in something that diminishes us. We forsake ourselves when we do what we know to be wrong. That can be something as small as butting in line at the grocery store or as huge as committing murder.

The other way to forsake or abandon ourselves is to give up our fear, our reluctance, our insecurities and give ourselves instead to something larger than ourselves. In a sense, we go beyond ourselves. That, says Christianity, is what Jesus was doing on the cross. He was doing something he no doubt would have preferred to avoid, but doing it for a larger cause -- to reveal to humanity the ways in which it was going astray by choosing violence, to point people instead toward the path that could and would save them from such destructive choices.

But at the moment of crisis, as death approached, Jesus the human being felt somehow so alone in that work that he needed to cry out against the abandonment he felt. So he returned to his Jewish tradition and brought forth the start of Psalm 22. It was both an acknowledgement that in the instant he felt he was in this alone but also that he had chosen the higher road of not clinging to his humanity so tightly that he would be unable to experience abandoning himself to the care of God.

There is much to explore here about when and how we forsake ourselves -- for ill or good. How we prepare for that moment. How we live through it, if we do. How we come out on the other side still somehow whole, still somehow a beloved child of God. I do not and cannot pretend to grasp all of that but I have a sense now that both kinds of forsaking, of abandoning were going on at Calvary that Friday afternoon.

And now I think it's well worth our while to remember both types of abandonment so that we ourselves may be prepared to enter into it in redemptive ways.

(The photo here today is one I took the day after Easter on the front lawn of my church, Second Presbyterian of Kansas City. Our custom each Easter is to decorate the cross, a symbol of death, with flowers, symbols of life. The next days the flowers already had begun to fade, reminding us of both the beauty and the fragility of life.)

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CAN 'CIVIL RELIGION' HELP AMERICANS COME TOGETHER?

Soon after Joe Biden was sworn in as president, I wrote this blog entry about what scholars call "civil religion." NPR's Tom Gjelten explores that subject more deeply in this piece, which asks whether our American civil religion might play a role in helping to unite our divided nation. America, Gjelten writes, "is not defined by a common ancestry, nor is it tied to an official faith tradition. But it does have a distinct identity and a quasi-religious foundation." And: "For these beliefs and principles to give definition to a nation, scholars argue, they may need the power that a religion holds for its believers. Characterizing them as a faith system elevates them beyond mere personal philosophy." The question is whether we can understand our founding documents and later traditions in a way that presents a vision of a nation that most of us can accept or whether we have become so divided that even those traditions and visions can't heal us.

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P.S.: The annual Give Seven Days events in the Kansas City area started yesterday. Click here for a list of what's happening and when. I especially hope you'll join me on Monday, April 19, when I will moderate an interfaith panel. Sign up for that here.

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ANOTHER P.S.: Sometimes it's helpful to view our country through the eyes of people who don't live here. In that spirit, here is a column about the U.S. written by Markandey Katju, a former justice on India's Supreme court. Markandey and I attended school together for a time in India in the 1950s. In his column, he cites individual examples of Black Americans who have succeeded in life in various ways. And we all should celebrate that. What he doesn't directly address, however, are the various systems still at play that keep many people of color from being full, welcome and equal participants in the American experiment. The wording in our founding documents about all people being created equal is still aspirational.


Preaching must be political -- just not partisan

In some ways the jobs of opinion columnists and preachers are quite similar: Both must try to find what is -- or at least seems -- true and share it with readers, listeners or viewers.

Faith-politicsColumnists, however, are rarely obligated to test what they find to be true and worth sharing against sacred scripture. Preachers, however, fail themselves, their religious tradition and those who listen to them if they don't do that.

But preachers who simply recite scripture without using it as a light to expose what is going wrong in the world are simply wasting everyone's time. Which means preachers in all traditions must be in some sense political. Not partisan, but political.

In Christianity, the history of being political in proclamations goes back to Jesus and to the very first creed of the infant church: "Jesus is Lord." What that said to the Roman rulers of the Holy Land at the time was that Caesar was not lord. There could be nothing more political at the time than concluding that and announcing exactly that.

Today Christian preachers also must find ways to expose idolatries using both the Bible and their own God-given eyes and brains.

But as this excellent piece about preaching by a preacher who teaches homiletics shows, that's no easy task.

"Some evils and injustices," writes Casey Barton, "are so embedded into our stories of our society, our relationships or our churches that we rarely even think to hold them up to critical examination. Tragedy and trauma, however, have a way of rooting these out and forcing us to face them. The pulpit is one place for the church to face them. . .Preaching occurs at the intersection of Scripture and this moment of God’s story. The act (of preaching) itself takes courage and discernment."

One of the task of preachers from any tradition is to use what are called their prophetic voices. This doesn't mean prophecy in the sense of predicting the future. Rather, it means taking a role similar to that of the old Hebrew prophets who told the world what God wanted and who pointed out when people were failing to live up to that.

As Barton writes, "To speak prophetically is to tell hard truths to those God has placed in our care. This calling is easy to forget because confrontation is hard."

As an old joke has it, people in the pews are all in favor of preachers who denounce the sins of others, but when it comes to denouncing our own sins, the response tends to be: "Now you're just meddling."

Barton correctly declares this: "Political power is not, has never been and will never be the means to achieving the kingdom of God (Mark 10:41-44). No political party or politician will save us — we place our faith only in God (Exodus 20:2-3). The use of, or incitement to, violence in the service of achieving any aim is sin (Proverbs 10:6-7, 11).

"Especially in this moment in history, our congregations need to hear that white nationalism, Christian nationalism and the preservation of oppressive racist systems is sin, anti-gospel, anti-Christ and oppressive and hurtful to our brothers and sisters of color (I’m speaking centrally to my white brothers and sisters who speak in predominantly white churches, for whom it may be most important to say this)."

The major world religions teach that every human being is of ultimate, infinite value, no matter color, sex, nationality or any other category. If preachers don't point out examples of thoughts and actions that violate that basic teaching, they fail -- as some of them failed when they said scripture justifies slavery or that scripture requires LGBTQ+ community members always and everywhere to be thought of as sinners and kept as second-class citizens.

Preachers who equate voting for this or that particular party with God's desires are violating their trust. But Christian preachers who understand that preaching inevitably is political now must figure out how to preach in that way without degenerating into partisanship.

Barton's piece should be a good guide for them -- and us.

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DO TERRORISTS REALLY BELIEVE SUCH NONSENSE?

Cover-lle-hi-resIn this year of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorism attacks, the world continues to struggle with the religious roots of terrorism and with ideas about how to prevent such extremism. This Patheos.com column, for instance, raises questions about whether terrorists really, truly, deeply believe that they will go to paradise if they die in the radical cause they've chosen. The author suggests they may not. And yet, in the moment, they may need such a conviction to allow them to go through with suicide and the murder of others. Ideas, it turns out, have consequences. As for how to unplug extremism, the last chapter in my new book offers several suggestions, and I commend it to you. The book is Love, Loss and Endurance: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety, just published in mid-January.


Is religion slowly disappearing in the U.S.?

The American religious landscape, once a landslide for Christianity, especially Protestant versions of it, continues to change, and only God knows what it will look like in 50 or 100 years.

Shrinking-churchWhat we do know is that the number of Americans who now claims a membership in a Christian church has slipped below 50 percent, as recent Gallup data shows.

At the same time, we know that the number of people who identify as religiously unaffiliated -- the so-called "nones" -- continues to grow, and there's a new book out that looks at all that, The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are and Where They're Going, by Ryan Burge.

Burge says that "churches are a leaky vessel by nature. They lose people through death, and an aging population is so acute for several traditions in the U.S. — mostly mainline Protestantism, but evangelicals are also aging rapidly now. And defections are up. You’ve got to add people into the cup to see the water at the same level."

And not enough of that is happening to keep churches growing or even stable in many cases.

The story about church membership reports that "Forty-seven percent of Americans now say they belong to a house of worship, down from 70% in the mid-1990s and 50% in 2019. The decline is part of a continued drop in membership over the past 20 years, according to Gallup data."

It was pretty obvious 20-plus years ago that this was beginning to happen, and I asked my Kansas City Star editors for permission to travel around the country to document both that and the spread of other religious traditions. But it didn't happen, so I can't pull out old clips today and claim to have told you so.

What faith communities from various traditions face today -- especially after a year of Covid -- is whether they can offer anything to stem the tide of decline. The old answer from 50 or 75 years ago was just to keep the doors open, keep preaching the same message in the old style and expect people to show up.

It's now clear that doesn't work. So should churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship throw in the towel and become social clubs, charities that focus on some of society's needs or tennis clubs? Uh, no.

Instead, of course, they must reinvent themselves to be true to their traditions even while finding new ways to share their core convictions and the actions that flow from those convictions with others.

Which is much more difficult than many people imagine because within settled religious traditions there is a tendency to resist change, especially among those people who imagine that any change compromises their faith. So they can remain on their sinking boat or find ways to sail on in new ways.

I have no plans to be around in 50 or 100  years, so one of you may have to bring me news then of what the American landscape looks like by then -- wherever I am. I'll keep the light on for you. And, if some of you get your wish for me, maybe the heat, too.

(By the way, Religion News Service has done this interesting analysis of what the Gallup figures really mean.)

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AN 'ALERGIC REACTION' TO CHRISTIAN NATIONALISM?

To add to the subject started above here today, here is a piece in The Guardian suggesting that an "allergic reaction" to the so-called Christian right and to Christian nationalism has turned many people off, and that accounts for at least some of the decline in church membership. The article quotes David Campbell, professor and chair of the University of Notre Dame’s political science department, as saying this: “Many Americans – especially young people – see religion as bound up with political conservatism, and the Republican party specifically. Since that is not their party or their politics, they do not want to identify as being religious. Young people are especially allergic to the perception that many – but by no means all – American religions are hostile to LGBTQ rights.” Whenever religion oppresses people or treats them in other degrading ways, it should be rejected.

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Cover-lle-hi-resP.S.: I spoke via Zoom yesterday to a church-based book club about my new book, Love, Loss and Endurance: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety, and it occurs to me that you may be part of such a book club either through a congregation or just with friends. I'd be happy to consider an invitation from you to address your group about this book, which describes that many traumas that my extended family went through because of the murder of my nephew in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and that also raises the question of how people get attracted to extremist ideas and what we can do to unplug extremism. Just email me at wtammeus@gmail.com whether you want me to speak or just want an autographed copy of the book. Thanks.


Can the Abrahamic faiths lead to Middle East peace?

Easter/Passover weekend -- which this year come just a week after Muslims celebrated Shab-e-Barat and about a week before Ramadan -- is a good time to think about what it will take, finally, to reach something like a peace agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbors, including the Palestinian people.

Abrahamic-faiths.jpgOne thing it will take, says the rabbi who wrote this RNS column, is to not be so foolish as to imagine that peace will be possible if the diplomats and other negotiators trying to make it happen simply ignore the reality that three major world religions must be considered in any solution.

"(I)t will be important not only to advance normalization as a strategic objective," says Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s Jerusalem-based international director of interreligious affairs, "but to bolster interreligious bonds in the specific and deeply significant name of Abraham. Such ties are an essential feature of sustainable peace."

In other words, diplomats must pay special attention to the reality that Judaism, Christianity and Islam all trace their roots back to Abram, who later became Abraham.

To ignore that aspect of this volatile situation will be to invite what we've seen now in so many ways for the past 70-plus years, a failure to find a peaceful solution acceptable to the major parties in the Middle East.

Religion, in other words, matters. And it matters a lot.

Rosen again: "Excluding faith from diplomatic processes marginalizes peace-loving religionists and their leadership, who represent the overwhelming majority, and cedes the public square to extremists, allowing them to be seen as the authentic voice of religion. Concealing the presence of moderate religious communities intensifies the impression that peace initiatives are inimical to the interests of the devoutly religious. If we do not want religion to be part of the problem, it must be part of the solution: the more visible faith is, the better."

This is certainly not to say that Jews, Christians and Muslims must give up or even water down their religious traditions and beliefs. Rather, it is to say that they must respect the differences between and among the Abrahamic faiths and to insist that everyone participating in the peace process also respects those differences -- and the considerable common ground.

There are, of course, extremist voices coming from all three traditions, but they can be, if not silenced, at least marginalized so that they don't drive the negotiating process.

The Abrahamic Accords that the Trump Administration helped to produce (credit where credit is due) can, in fact, be a good starting point for the sort of remember-religion process that Rosen advocates. And perhaps that might lead to a more bipartisan approach to Middle Eastern foreign policy in the U.S. government. I know that sounds like wishful thinking, but how about if we try it before we discard it?

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THE 'FREEDOM' TO PUT OTHERS AT RISK?

What keeps many people who identify as Christian nationalists from getting vaccinated for Covid-19? This RNS opinion piece offers some answers. Including: ". . . skepticism among evangelicals has a background. Suspicion from religious conservatives regarding the COVID-19 vaccine is built on the back of their growing distrust of science, medicine and the global elite." The author also adds this: "Vaccine hesitancy is not restricted to immunization over COVID-19. In 2017, the Pew Research Center found that more than 20% of white evangelicals – more than any other group – believed that 'parents should be able to decide not to vaccinate their children, even if that may create health risks for other children and adults.'” It's weird. Christians (and others) wear masks, practice social distancing and get vaccinated not only to protect themselves but also to protect others because they're called to love those others. How is it that so many "white evangelicals" don't get the latter reason, when it is at the core of Christian faith?