Sunday, January 29, 2012

Why Pagans should participate in interfaith

Dear All,

As Don pointed out there have been a couple of discussions recently predicated on why Pagans should participate in interfaith and what we, as Pagans, get out of it. The recent article in which I am extensively quoted is actually a specific response based on an article that Chas Clifton wrote in Patheos asking that very question. I think that between Don's “larger picture” and my more practical responses we pretty much covered the gambit of reason and purpose.

Recently I posted an open letter from Chief Lyons asking the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly  to speak out against the Doctrine of Discovery. The UU's are considering this move just following, though not necessarily in response to, the fact that the Executive Council of the World Council of Churches is also considering adopting a resolution to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. I asked if we, the Covenant, could consider educating ourselves on this topic and perhaps do something similar. Would it help?

Let me give you another concrete example of interfaith cooperation in response to a very driven Pagan organization, The Hindu American Foundation. For a small group of people this is an incredibly organized and potent organization. It recently posted a plea for all of its newsletter recipients to email the Norwegian Ambassador in Washington DC in outrage over the fact that two young children were removed from the home of Hindu immigrants because this couple fed their children with their hands and allowed them to sleep in their bed. I looked into this and indeed the Norwegian Child protective services has a habit, much like a few of our state governments, of removing immigrant and indigenous children from their homes under some pretty loose criteria. The worst of it was not that the protective services felt that the children's welfare was somehow being so threatened, that the parents were totally forbidden to have any contact with the children more than once a year. And so I clicked on the link, filled in the information, which included my name, address and some other bits, and added my voice.

I added my own voice, not that of the Covenant nor even on your behalf, just mine. Imagine my surprise to discover that I was one voice in 6000 to respond within 24 hours. Shortly after that the Ambassador was in contact with HAF representatives and word, not confirmed at this time, is that the government has agreed to release the children to an uncle who still lives in India. HAF reports:

On Monday evening, a representative from the Norwegian embassy called the HAF office and acknowledged their receipt of thousands of emails on this issue. Our Associate Director, Jay Kansara, pressed the official for additional information on the case, as there are still a number of questions left unanswered.

 Jay met with Norwegian Ambassador Strommen himself. Although the Ambassador was unable to reveal the details of the case while it is still pending, he indicated that he was encouraged by the open discussions and communication between all parties involved.

The latest media reports suggest that an agreement has been reached between the Indian and Norwegian governments allowing the children to return to India and live with their uncle, Arunabhas Bhattacharya. But even as of this morning, the Norwegian Embassy is still unable to confirm such an agreement.

I am still outraged that the children must be deported and estranged from their parents in order to live with family. You are all parents. How would you feel if come social worker demanded entry into your house simply because they can, and because you had not been shopping yet for the week, or did not have enough of a particular item that they felt was somehow mandatory for a healthy child, they just gather up your children and leave. No word on when or if you will ever see your children again. This is happening on Reservations right here in the US right now in part due to the attitudes and laws that have resulted from the Doctrine of Discovery.

Now imagine that this has happened and 6000 people stand up with you and say, this is wrong and we want, we demand redress! You never met these people and they never met you, most of them don't know each other; but through the networking of interfaith, they have heard of your plight and responded; one voice 6000 times strong.

CoG and Lady Liberty League and several more of us put together don't have the clout that HAF has. In part this is due to the fact that a much larger section of that community are in professional positions that allow them to leave their work for a year or more and donate their time and MONEY to serving their community in Washington DC and other parts of the country, working tirelessly for their people. A comedian once said that there were only four acceptable professions open to a young American Hindu, Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer, failure. I am often reminded of this when I attend predominantly Hindu or Hindu sponsored events. Much of the work that they and other organizations like theirs do reflects directly upon our own practices and social freedoms and bears support. Further they welcome that support and in turn are very open to sharing through the interfaith network the power of that political engine with us.

As I said in my response to Chaz, it pays to have friends. I might...could...will even say it pays to have friends in well connected, high places.

Chief Lyon's Letter
UN study - Impact on Indigenous Peoples of the international legal construct known as the Doctrine of Discovery

R Watcher, National Public Information Officer
National Interfaith Representative

Monday, January 23, 2012

Workers' rights campaign from Unitarian Universalists

The Unitarian Universalist denomination is starting an interesting social justice campaign for workers' rights. I am posting an announcement from the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. -M. Mueller

With the launch of our Choose Compassionate Consumption campaign this fall, UUSC supporters joined together to form a powerful block of consumer advocates.

In October, we targeted Hershey and the use of child labor in chocolate production, sending more than 1,100 letters to Hershey, along with samples of a competitor’s fair-trade chocolate. In November and December, UUSC supporters generated approximately $15,000 in sales for the Southern Agricultural Alternatives Cooperative, a socially responsible pecan-processing cooperative that creates jobs in southwest Georgia.

Now let’s use our power to make a positive difference in the lives of restaurant workers, by choosing where to eat based on how restaurants treat their employees!

The U.S. restaurant industry employs over 10 million workers nationwide and is one of the largest and fastest-growing sectors of the U.S. economy. But sadly, the restaurant industry also has a very high rate of workers’-rights violations.  

That’s why the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United), a UUSC partner organization, has released the ROC National Diners’ Guide 2012: A Consumer Guide on the Working Conditions of American Restaurants. The guide rates restaurants throughout the country based on how they treat their workers, listing responsible restaurants where you can eat knowing that your server can afford to pay the rent and your cook isn’t working while sick.

Download the restaurant guide today --— and use it to choose compassionate consumption when you dine out!

Kara Smith
Associate for Grassroots Mobilization

Monday, January 16, 2012

What do Pagans Get From Interfaith Activities?

In his recent blog Chas Clifton writes in response to several previous comments revolving around the idea of Interfaith, and Intrafaith when he asks the question “ What do Pagans Get From Interfaith Activities?” Those of us involved in Interfaith up to our...well lets just say I'm still looking for the plug to the swamp...tend to forget that not everyone is aware of what Interfaith involves or seeks to attain and I am delighted to have this opportunity to add a bit of elucidation.

Ecumenism is an interaction that takes place between members of one religious group no matter how fissured it might be. For instance right now on the “Pagans” Facebook page we are having an ecumenical discussion on the various merits (or lack thereof) of Pantheism vs. Panentheism. We are all Pagans of various traditions. In the larger picture of religious discussion many would prefer to call this type of dialogue “Intrafaith vs. Interfaith. In this growing world of religious exchange the current popular theory is that Intrafaith is oh-so-much more difficult than Interfaith. My own experience tends to confirm this opinion; not to mention the question of whether it serves any useful purpose at all (provided the goal is not to convert). Well perhaps it answers to the pure joy of (intellectual) argument for its own sake.

A more pertinent question is “What DO Pagans get from Interfaith Activities?” (emphasis mine) The very most succinct answer that I can offer is legitimacy, respect, a place at the table. If this doesn't matter to you stop reading here...

If it does, there are three major paths to that goal: The first is the work that Chaz and others are doing in the academic arena. When we started out, Paganism was regarded as a sideshow of cultists and goddess worship at such distinguished conferences as the American Academy of Religions (this year with over 10,000 people in attendance). Now, due to the work of these intrepid academics Pagan studies has its own tract. This is Interfaith work at its most subtle and important; working with and among academics of the world's religions to earn that place at the table. Certainly the Covenant of the Goddess, a national organization of Witches, recognizes the value of this work and its place in Interfaith by supporting M. Macha NightMare as a national Interfaith representative to the AAR.

Still others are earning our silverware through their work with the Parliament of the World's Religions. People like Andras Corban-Arthen, Angie Buchanan, and Phyllis Curott, have been or are on the staff of that august body. In fact Pagans probably represent a far larger percentage of staff proportionately, than do any of the Abrahamic traditions. Working (and looking) as regular professionals doing the job of organizing one of the largest religious gatherings in the world. They are not proselytizing for our beliefs. They are simply walking their talk and making it clear in so doing that they are no different than any other professional with a set of specific religious beliefs.

Many are serving the dinner and washing the dishes at this table. I have done so for the last ten years (in many cases literally) and as a result of service was recruited for the board of the North American Interfaith Network, one of the oldest Interfaith organizations in the United States. Personal interaction is the third though hardly least path of which I spoke above. The interaction and work between and among professional clergy and other religious professionals who will form opinions and influence their own people in Intrafaith dialogue has made major inroads into bringing us into respectability and acceptance.

If you think that this does not make a difference consider a comment from one United Church of Christ minister when told that individuals from a local Interfaith organization in Las Vegas had threatened to leave if Witches (In this case a full professor at ULV) were allowed to join. He wrote to the organization and then followed up with a call that boiled down to: “if they want to quit let them. You will loose nothing and gain a group of sincere people who are always the first to arrive (to be available for set up), the last to leave (to assure that everything is clean). They are not interested in trying to convince you of how important they are. They are simply involved to serve and share.

When Lady Liberty League and others were fighting for the right of Pagan Vets to have the pentacle on their grave stones, we were shoulder to shoulder with Ministers, Priests, and other Professional clergy who wrote letters and in some cases occupied the offices of the of the Veteran's Administration. These religious leaders know who we are and respect us because of our long tradition of service. When Pagans are faced with violations of our civil rights, we are now supported, often by very well known and prestigious religious leaders. It pays to have friends.

In Her service and yours
R Watcher, National Interfaith Representative