Category Archives: Religion

The Threat to American Greatness

SEABROOK SAYS: Maybe you have been attempting to form your conclusions on this subject.  It is very difficult. Now, it would seem to be an imperative that you give study to Mark Epstein’s comments.  Do more than “think” them – write them.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

My family were once refugees, some of them long ago, some of them just a few generations past; true of most all reading this post.  They were once immigrants to the United States, most of them legal, some probably not; many were children when they made a journey unfathomable to most of us today (my grandfather came from Poland at age 17, with only his sister, 14).   Some just wanted to improve their lot, others were fleeing for their lives.   Of my family, their immigration to the United States was once prohibited because they were perceived as a grave threat to American sovereignty and its way of life (1924 Immigration Act; in the 1930’s under pressure from the America First movement).  Elsewhere they were once forced to register as a member of a religious minority.   They were blamed by their country’s leadership as the source of its problems, a fearful but false narrative that was nevertheless embraced by its citizens.  Laws were passed restricting their liberties; they became a focus for law enforcement. Their houses of worship were defaced; some were attacked.  Some were rounded up, taken from their homes, and deported.  Some were sent to internment camps, or locked into certain neighborhoods of towns and cities.  Some died there.  Isaac, his wife Chaya, and their 4 children Herschel, Yeshianu, Kraysal, and young Miriam were gassed at Treblinka on a cold November morning, 1942.  My mom’s great-aunt/uncle, and her cousins.  May their memory be a blessing.

Sympathy not sought; they were victimized yet no victim mentality here.  But:  in an era when one would think the lesson of history has been learned, nevertheless a religious registry, surveilling “certain” neighborhoods, “national stop-and-frisk,” a Deportation Force, and internment camps are being brought to the national dialogue by serious-minded and influential people with the ability to influence if not create actual policy.  The first step, an immigration ban focusing on religious affiliation, has already been undertaken.  In the public domain, mere mention and discussion of these things makes it tempting to consider them passably normal and worth considering – when in actuality such talk – much less actual policy – is a corrosive national poison that violates the most inviolable of American values.  That no one predicts it ends in industrialized murder here, doesn’t mean that where it starts is not insidious and destructive to who we are, and what this country is, what makes this country great, what Has. Always. Made. America. Great.

Arguments that such steps may be necessary in the name of national security and public safety should make the American hairs stand up on the back of our American necks, and send a collective shiver down our American spines.  To consider these things is not just to be afraid, but to be governed by fear, when famously it is fear itself that is most dangerous of all.   When any act of government, any act at all, can be justified in the name of security and safety, “to save even one life,” history is clear about the outcome, and it isn’t pretty, and it isn’t the United States, and in the extreme there is a word for it:  Police State.   History should make us know better than to even consider this path.  But by God if we have not stepped on it.

My faith tradition is not only very clear about how to consider those amongst us who are different (not only to love them, but to accept them as a native, to share my lot with them, to not wrong them, nor oppress them, nor detest them), it is also clear about WHY…even if in history they may have once wronged me.   It is because I myself have been seen as different; my family was once oppressed and considered the stranger, not native, and detested (and still is by some, sad to say).  Ex 22:21, Lev 19:34, Deut 23:7,  Ez 47:22-23, many more.

Thus should a religious registry come to the United States, register me first, as Jew or Muslim, I’ll take either one.   If there are internment camps, find me there as my family once was.  Deportation Force?  I will aid DACA or Muslim children, just as courageous Righteous Gentiles (Christian and Muslim), at their far greater peril, once aided children in my family.

It is clear the 2016 election was about much more than these issues, but these issues are nevertheless a consequence of the election.  Agree or disagree as we might on many things, as Americans, and people of faith, it is required of us to be vigilant against the corrosive forces of fear that can inadvertently, but without diligence invariably, decay moral and legal violations of our Constitution and our Scripture and the values both encode.

Mark E. Epstein

 

Tri-Faith Open Letter

SEABROOK SAYS: Mark Epstein is brilliant – and a superb writer.  He has been a very active member of the Interfaith Trialogue (a group of Christians, Jews and Muslims in Gaston County) for many years.  Read with interest his thought-provoking words.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

A Tri-Faith Open Letter to Our Fellow Citizens of Gaston County

Whereas recently and all too often we are witness to senseless tragedies in the name of religious faith, we the undersigned and many others issue this statement to calm, to ease fear, and bring us closer to a world filled with love and peace, where swords have been bent into plowshares, and the lion has laid down with the lamb. To this end we proclaim, and hope all will likewise proclaim, that WE:

    • Believe that faith in God gives purpose and meaning to human life, and is a force for good in the world; that all people are created in God’s image and thus equally deserving of human dignity.
    • Hold that God’s greatest desire is for his creation to live in joy and peace, with forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
    • Understand that evil exists in the world, but believe God extended to humankind grace and the ability to discern right and wrong, to be used in the pursuit of righteousness, to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him.
    • Acknowledge that although fear may at times draw close, it should not and need not govern us, and we will not be bound by it. It is within our human capacity to transcend and overcome fear, from which too often anger, discord, and spiritual weakness inevitably flow. It is together, resolute in cooperation and not divided in fear, that we will prevail over those who wish us harm.
    • Hold that Truth of Holy Scripture does not mean its most difficult, even violent, language and passages are a prescription for violence today, nor arrogance of faith, nor demagoguery, nor disdain of other faith traditions.  
  • Reject and disavow violence in the name of God or select scripture, or to advance one’s faith and precepts. WE JOIN OUR MUSLIM COMMUNITY IN RENOUNCING ALL SUCH VIOLENCE.

 

  • Yet recognize the unfortunate fact that any faith tradition will have its misguided fringe, unrepresentative of and rejected by nearly all of its worldwide adherents.
  • Affirm and embrace timeless American values: Liberty, Life, Inclusiveness, Religious Freedom, the democratically-established Rule of Law, and urge all to stand by them no matter how difficult our challenges.
  • Embrace and rededicate our lives to the universal ethics of our traditions: Justice, Kindness, Good Conduct, Charity to care for the least amongst us. Conversely, our traditions commonly hold that God forbids injustice, immorality and oppression.
  • Affirm that our traditions each embrace God’s most important directives: to love Him, to love our neighbor, and also to love the stranger. We thus oppose any effort at discrimination – socially, religiously, or politically – directed towards any faith tradition.
  • Are grateful to the men and women of all races, ethnicities, religious backgrounds who work tirelessly and often at risk to their own lives, to protect our freedoms and liberties.
  • Issue a call for Interfaith dialogue, understanding, and acceptance – for when people of good will gather together in the study of scripture, God is present among them.   And as it enriches each other and our community, it is the same as enriching the whole world.

With these avowals, we and many more are proud to call Gaston County home, and a beacon and stronghold of interfaith diversity and strength.   We join hands to put aside fear, to engage and make our corner of the world better, and to continue our daily work of bringing peace on earth and good will toward all men and women.

 

SIGNED,

Members and Friends of the Gaston County Interfaith Trialogue

(Meeting for 14 years with the purpose of fostering understanding and harmony among the three Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam)

  • Dr. Mark Epstein, Temple Emanuel, Gastonia
  • Charles Gray, First United Methodist Church, Gastonia
  • Sam Shoukry, Islamic Society of Gastonia
  • Rev. Sydnor Thompson, Myers Memorial Methodist Church Gastonia
  • Charles Brown, Temple Emanuel, Gastonia
  • Rafat Hamam, Islamic Society of Gastonia
  • Rev. David Christy, First United Methodist Church
  • Hassan Ebrahim, Islamic Society of Gastonia
  • Bill Gross, Temple Emanuel, Gastonia
  • Rev. T. Steven Bolton, ret.
  • Mark Hanna, Trinity United Methodist Church
  • Linda Gibbons, Queen of the Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
  • Rev. Richard Boyce, Union Presbyterian Seminary
  • Jason Shiflet, First Presbyterian Church Gastonia
  • Cindy Buckley, Queen of Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
  • Rev. Joan Martin, Gastonia
  • Cam Tracy, Queen of the Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
  • Chuck Duncan, First Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church, Gastonia
  • Rev. Vic Wilfong, Covenant & Trinity United Methodist Churches
  • Dr. Bob Blake, First Presbyterian Church, Gastonia
  • Sally Williams, Queen of Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
  • Andi Brymer, The Christian Church Disciples of Christ, Gastonia
  • Geof & Judy Planer, First Presbyterian Church, Gastonia
  • Steve Knight, Open Hearts Gathering Disciples of Christ
  • Jeremy Whitener, Open Hearts Gathering Disciples of Christ

 

 

GO OUTSIDE!

SEABROOKS SAYS: Our churches have been in decline for decades.  Do we really want this?  Dwayne Burks draws an interesting conclusion of churches and the “Go Outside” campaign in Gaston. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

Recently our community rolled out a new branding slogan that encourages us to GO OUTSIDE. It seems to be having an impact. In fact, last week I found myself referencing the slogan when I shared our county’s many outdoor attractions with an out-of-town customer service operator who took my refrigerator repair call. Before we hung up, he was convinced to visit the U.S. National Whitewater Center and Crowder’s Mountain State Park. GO OUTSIDE is catching on!

I thought about this new slogan in relation to the plethora of churches scattered across our county. The local Economic Development Commission reports that we have over 700 houses of worship right here in Gaston County.  If my math is correct this means we have a church positioned every half mile for every 297 individuals.

The reasons for so many churches is perhaps another story for another day. But the question for today is what is it that causes certain churches to thrive while others seem to falter or barely get by? Why do some churches pack the pews, while others have more pews than people?  Could it be that some of our churches starting grasping the GO OUTSIDE message long before it was enlisted as community catchphrase?

Christ charged the church to GO OUTSIDE over 2000 years ago by challenging us to, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.”  In fact, Christian churches routinely refer to Christ’s instruction to GO OUTSIDE as the church’s Great Commission.  Furthermore, we couple the Great Commission to GO OUTSIDE with the Great Command to love our neighbors as ourselves.

This sounds an awful lot like the philosophy of First United Methodist’s Rev. David Christy who sums it up using all the sophistication of his Duke Divinity degree when he says, “It ain’t rocket science. We are here to love God and love people.”

Growing, thriving churches seem to GO OUTSIDE, motivated by their love God and their love for others.   Healthy churches do not wait for people to come to them. Instead they GO OUTSIDE their doors and engage their communities.  It may be as simple as greeting neighbors on the street or getting to know homeless in the street. But times are different and traditions die hard.  A generation ago we could open the doors and people would show up.   Churches were the centerpieces of community communication, activities, and recreation.  But times have changed. Communication channels are not limited to a weekly meeting down at the church.  Today we communicate instantaneously.  What once required hours, days, or sometimes weeks to filter down is literally in the palms of our hands.  Likewise, people are more mobile than ever before. Church has become just one of the many options on our map of weekly things to do and places to visit.  But that does not mean the church needs to fade into obscurity. It means we have the greatest opportunity ever to open our doors the other way and GO OUTSIDE.  The world is abuzz with activity where we can do what Jesus told us to do a long time ago – GO OUTSIDE!

While programs coordinate and support this going outside; programs do not dictate it. Healthy churches GO OUTSIDE not with out of a sense of obligation or forced outreach.  Rather, both pastors and parishioners GO OUTSIDE fueled by the genuine desire to love their neighbors as themselves. So the challenge for churches is clear.  How will we move from merely coming to church to actually being the church?  How will we love our neighbors as ourselves if they are not coming to us?  What if we take our lead from Christ and from the growing churches around us and GO OUTSIDE?

Dwayne Burks serves as the Chaplain and Director of Social Responsibility for the Gaston County Family YMCA.
Phone or text: 704.860.2957.
Email: dburks@gastonymca.org

Interfaith Trialogue

SEABROOK SAYS: Quietly and effectively, the Interfaith Trialogue has been working for the future of Gaston County. Who are they? Better find out!  The issues this group tackles are becoming more important every day.  If you do not know, start to learn right now.   NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

You may or may not know this, but Jews, Muslims and Christians have been meeting in Gastonia on a regular basis since the months following 9/11.

Also, you may or may not know that we have not only a synagogue, but also a mosque right here in Gastonia, too.

This group of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in Gastonia (we call ourselves the Interfaith Trialogue) have been gathering for the purposes of better understanding one another’s beliefs and practices (and hence our own), to remove barriers of misinformation and distrust, and to build strong relationships within our community.

Meetings are held the third Monday of every month, taking turns at various houses of worship throughout the community, including the Islamic Center, Temple Emanuel, and at a variety of churches around Gaston County.

A main study method used is called “Scriptural Reasoning”, whereby passages are chosen from the holy texts of each faith, comparing and contrasting the verses to learn the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian perspective of each reading.

Significant outcomes of Trialogue have been personal spiritual growth for participants, and the development of close relationships built on mutual respect and trust. We do not proselytize or attempt to convert one another to our respective faiths, nor to homogenize our differences, but rather gather in the spirit of mutual deference and understanding.

Over the past few years, the media has highlighted the Islamic faith, both in a good, but mostly bad, light. Meeting with local Muslims in a posture of learning serves, among many other things, to counter the negative narrative.  Our last meeting at the Mosque drew 35 people, and, on a positive note, our numbers continue to grow.

In the interest of community awareness, members of Gaston Trialogue have organized a “Walk for Peace” starting at 8:00 am on Saturday, July 9th.  We will begin at First United Methodist Church on Franklin Boulevard and walk to the Temple, various churches in Gastonia, and then end at the Islamic Center to enjoy an “Abrahamic meal” to celebrate.  Fellowship, prayer, refreshments and transportation will be available along the way.  If you have more interest in our group and/or the “Walk for Peace”, please feel free to send an email to gastontrialogue@gmail.com.

Rev. Dr. Joan C. Martin
Chaplain
Covenant Village