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Insights into Religion Understanding our Similiarities and Differences

Through studying the religious and spiritual practices of other religions we can learn how to grow our own communities, how to live in peace with our neighbors and learn more about our own traditions spiritual practices.

Why Communities Grow
 
The number of Americans identifying themselves as Christian is declining, while other religious affiliations are slightly increasing, according to a recent survey. 
 
Understanding other faith traditions can help us understand why congregations and faith communitites grow. In Meet Your Neighbors: Interfaith FACTs,”  by Faith Communities Today, offers a comparative look at the beliefs and practices of Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations across the United States. 
 
The study, conducted by researchers at Hartford Seminary’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research, shows that Muslims place more emphasis on abstaining from both alcohol and premarital sex than any of the other faith groups. The booklet, which draws on data gathered as part of the “Faith Communities Today 2000” project, is not intended to provide positive or negative evaluations of the different faiths. Instead, it is supposed to flesh out similarities and differences between the traditions and increase sensitivity to the nation’s diverse religious landscape.
 
The data collected here — mostly in charts and graphs — gives a picture of where each of the seven faith families is located and when it was founded. For example, the booklet shows that Jewish, African-American and Muslim congregations are predominantly urban, while the majority of white Protestant congregations are rural. For purposes of the study, the U.S. religious scene is split up into seven faith families: Old-line Protestants, Evangelical Protestants, Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, African-American Protestants, Reform and Conservative Jews, and Muslims.
 
Among the study’s more intriguing comparisons are the similarities between different religious groups. Muslims, Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics, for example, place a high emphasis on family devotions, fasting and holy day observances.  Muslims and Evangelical Protestants encourage abstinence from premarital sex. The study shows that the majority of congregations, regardless of tradition, are involved in community service, with food pantries and soup kitchens the most common service offered. The information gathered for this booklet was culled from questionnaires with 14,301 pastors, rabbis, imams and lay leaders who were asked what practices their congregations emphasized most.
 
The study suggests minority faiths are growing fastest — perhaps because their numbers were relatively small to begin with.  Seventy-two percent of Muslim respondents said their mosques had grown by 5 percent or more since 1995. And 68 percent of Jews said their synagogues and temples had grown by 5 percent or more. In contrast, the majority of Old-line Protestants reported their churches did not grow, and both Old-line and Evangelical Protestants reported that 19 percent of respondents said they had lost 5 percent or more of their members during the final half of the 1990s.
 
The study also shows that religious groups reach out differently to new members. Liturgical churches, such as Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian congregations, have the hardest time designing special services intended to attract nonmembers, while Jews and Protestants are more flexible in creating worship services specifically geared toward potential newcomers. [Full Article
 
Understand Ourselves in Community
 
David A. Roozen, one of the authors of the Meet Your Neighbors: Interfaith FACTs,”  by Faith Communities Today, said he hoped the comparisons would allow congregations to find similarities in faith practices, even if the doctrines remain different. These results suggest, in learning about others, religious groups may ultimately arrive at a keener understanding of themselves. 
 
The U.S. Congregational Life Survey's "What makes us special: The magic balance," reports that congregations with the greatest sense of connectedness to their surrounding community are also places where worshippers feel a strong sense of belonging and feel empowered to become leaders.
 
For additional suggestions on ways to engage with others in community improvement, see the links to parachurch organizations and research and information sites collected by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research
 
Delving Into Our Own Spiritual Practices
 
Silence is not very well known as a Christian practice. Most people associate it with Buddhism or other Eastern religions. If they associate it with Christianity at all, they usually think of Roman Catholic monks in monasteries.
 
Bill, executive vice president of the Indianapolis Center for Congregations, is a lifelong Quaker and devotee of what is perhaps its signature spiritual practice. He wrote a book on the subject (Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality, Paraclete Press, 2005) and regularly counsels congregations interested in learning more about silence and other spiritual practices.says Quaker silence is different. In Buddhist meditation, particularly Zen, practitioners work to empty the mind of all thought. If a thought comes up, the practitioner is supposed to look at it in a detached way and let it go.
 
Roman Catholics have the prayer of the “examen,” developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola. In this brief prayer ¬– which is not supposed to take more than 10 minutes – a person silently reviews the day that has passed for moments of desolation and consolation.
 
Quaker silence is also about a certain kind of discernment, but it is not tied to an intake of the day’s events. Boiled down to its essence, the practice is a way of listening to the inner rumblings of the soul and sifting through it to hear what is of God.
 
The Quaker tradition, which evolved from the Reform movement of 17th-century England, calls for fellow believers to sit in a circle for a “meeting,” which for Quakers is another word for worship. Except at this worship service, there is no minister, no ritual, no liturgy and no recitation. Anyone may speak if so moved, but the expectation is that a person will only do so if compelled by God.
 
Most meetings last an hour. And Quakers are expected to use silence as a component of their daily spiritual practice too.
 
Bill said many Protestant denominations are attracted to the idea of silence, even as they’re afraid to really indulge it.
 
St. Paul says Christians are to “pray without ceasing.”  Bill says holy silence — a way of listening to God — is one way to do that. [Full Article
 
Drawing on Sociology, Anthropology, and Ethnography
 
Learning to recognize the theological claims behind seemingly ordinary church practices is the realm of lived theology studied by James Nieman, president of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Chicago.
 
In the case of one church he investigated, leaders spent an extraordinary amount of time-fighting over line items in their annual budget. In examining the document and interviewing the leaders, he discovered that church members felt a lack of control over the world around them. Their fears and insecurities led them to obsess over the one document they could control.
 
By developing basic observational skills, some borrowed from sociology, anthropology and ethnography, pastors can better recognize the theological claims that underlie the everyday workings of a congregation, Nieman argues.
 
“Theology is not supposed to be done only by specialists elsewhere,” Nieman says. “It’s the natural and distinctive language of churches.” [Full Article
 
 
Insights Into Religion has compiled these resources to help faith communities understand one another and reach across cultural, racial, ethnic and faith divides, with an emphasis on the Muslim-Christian dynamic. The relationship between Christians and Muslims is of increasing importance. Questions are also raised about the range of faiths practiced in the United States. Here is a list of resources with which to gain perspective, deepen your understanding, and share ministry with other faiths.
 
Gain Perspective On Christians & Muslims: A 2010 national survey of American faith communities conducted by the Cooperative Congregational Studies Project, a consortium of more than two dozen faith communities and religion scholars, showed that since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, there's been an increase in interfaith activities — interfaith worship events have doubled and interfaith service projects have tripled. It also appears that Christian interfaith activity is anchored in the theological outlook of the involved churches, according to the "Interfaith Findings" report, posted on the partnership’s Faith Communities Today (FACT) website
 
Anti-extremist perspectives and movements are also vital overseas, as demonstrated by a Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly video story, "Pakistani Humanitarian," that detailed the work of 84-year old Abdul Sattar Edhi of Karachi, who challenges his warring fellow Muslims with a question and reminder. “Why have we lost touch with our humanity?” he asks. “God doesn’t love just Muslims. He loves human beings.”
 
Meanwhile, the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center, located near Falls Church, Va., opened its nightly iftar – the traditional feast to break each day of fasting during Ramadan – to anyone who needed a meal. Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, the center’s director of outreach, noted, “The Qur’an says that the food of the Muslim is lawful for the Jews and the Christians and that food of the Christians and Jews are lawful to Muslims. This way we can all sit at the same table to break bread from the same God who has provided for all of us.” This short Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly video, "Ramadan Iftar," can be used as a conversation-starter or sermon illustration. 
 
 
As American society becomes more diverse, it is important to understand the various faith practices found in any neighborhood. A set of mapping tools on The Association of Religion Data Archives website permits the creation of maps that visually display the social, economic, demographic and religious landscape of neighborhoods, cities and states; the creation of localized reports reflecting a variety of factors; and a tutorial that guides novices on how to complete a demographic, social and religious profile of a community. The ARDA also offers profiles of faith traditions in the United States; a section of archives, indexes, research and data, that connect to additional information about the diverse faiths practiced in the United States and around the world; and an online dictionary of religious terms that links to The ARDA’s store of nearly 500 sets of survey data
 
The Religion Newswriters Association developed the Religion Stylebook, an easy-to-use, authoritative reference to inform journalists on religious beliefs, traditions, organizations and terms. Extensive research and consultation with experts assures accuracy, currency and credibility. 
 
Face to Face/Faith to Faith is a program for youth offered by Auburn Theological Seminary. This international interfaith experience is designed to help teenagers aged 16 to 18 develop leadership and conflict resolution skills through dialogue. 
 
 
 
Fostering Peaceful & Just Communities
 
Q. What do pastors need to offer their congregations today that they didn’t, let’s say, 20 or 30 years ago? Or to focus more closely, before 9/11, the Afghan and Iraq wars, the new consciousness of Islam in our
country and world?
A. It is shocking how little we all know–and this includes pastors–about the history, beliefs and practices of other faiths that are rapidly growing in the United States. This is especially true of our lack of understanding of Islam, whose practitioners are often labeled as potential terrorists. So, what specifically can Christian pastors do? First, they teach themselves about other faiths so that they can teach their congregations to understand their new neighbors whose faith and practices may be different. Rather than dismissing other faiths as false, we need a theology for understanding and appreciating other religions in relation to our own. Moreover, teaching about other religions is not enough. Pastors should find ways in their communities for themselves and their members to have broader contacts with members of other religions, other ethnic groups that are growing in our midst. Interacting with and understanding the needs and culture of Hispanic peoples (most of whom are fellow Christians) or of Buddhists or Muslims, for example, can go a long way towards breaking down walls of suspicion and hostility and promoting peace and justice in our communities and beyond. 
 
Religion Resources for Clergy and Lay Practitioners
 
Lilly Foundation funds the Center for Interfaith Cooperation in Indianapolis, IN in support of the Festival of Faiths project; the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago, IL; National Interfaith Cable Coalition in New York, NY, which supports the “ON Scripture”, Christian lectionary-based commentaries project; and the Samaritan Interfaith Counseling Center in Naperville, IL . The Foundation also funds interfaith programs or education through a number of Christian based organizations including Insights Into Religion. the Lilly Foundation provided the seed money for SpokaneFavs, a religiously diverse news organization.  
 
The Wabash Center supports teachers of religion and theology in higher education through meetings and workshops, grants, a journal and other resources to make accessible the scholarship of teaching and learning.
 
Our "Internet Guide to Religion" is a searchable annotated taxonomy of over 3,000 Web pages on a wide variety of religious topics that might be valuable for faculty. In addition, we have a growing database of web-based and published scholarship on teaching in higher education. 
The Wabash Center has links to Religions - By Faith Traditions, Geographical Areas, or People Groups including 
Africa — Religion
African Americans — Religion
Asia — Religion
Bahai Faith
Buddhism
Canada — Religion
Caribbean Area — Religion
China — Religion
Confucianism
Cults
Europe — Religion
Hinduism
Hispanic Americans — Religion
India — Religion
Islam
Jainism
Judaism
Judaism — Holocaust
Latin America — Religion
Mormon Church
Native Americans — Religion
New religious movements
Religions
Religions — Statistics
Shinto
Sikhism
Taoism
United Kingdom — Religion
United States — Religion
Zoroastrianism
 
Interfaith Funding
 
Funding for the Interfaith Movement (May 15, 2014) by Rev. Bud Heckman: There is the old story about the preacher who goes before his church’s capital campaign committee to say he has “good news” and “bad news” about the campaign situation. The good news, he reports, is that “the campaign has more than enough money to meets its objective!” The bad news, he reports to the committee, is that “all of the funds are still tied up in your possession.” [Full Article
 

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