August 2020

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Last Surviving Speaker of 1963 March on Washington Dies
“John Lewis, the longtime civil rights activist, congressman and ordained Baptist minister who preached about getting in ‘good trouble,’ died Friday (July 17) at the age of 80. . . . A founding member and former chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Lewis was among the demonstrators beaten by police after walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. At 23 years old, he was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which he helped to organize, stepping to the microphone shortly before the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. . . . The Congressional Black Caucus announced the death of its longtime member in a statement . . . : ‘The world has lost a legend; the civil rights movement has lost an icon, the City of Atlanta has lost one of its most fearless leaders, and the Congressional Black Caucus has lost our longest-serving member.’” So begins an article posted on the Religion News Service website—which is an article well worth reading. A recently released movie about Lewis’s life—John Lewis: Good Trouble—can now be viewed at home. Click here for more information.

Does Government Have Right to Close Church for Pandemic?
The United States has about 200 Christian denominations—or 44,000, depending on the elasticity of the criteria a group must meet to qualify as a denomination. So it probably will come as no surprise that there’s considerable divergence of thought about whether the government has the right to close churches completely—or limit the number of people who can attend—granted the current Covid-19 pandemic and the risk of transmission within the congregation and subsequently to those outside the congregation. Does the church have an “unalienable” constitutional right to be free from government control in all circumstances? More significantly, does the church have a mandate from God not to obey the government when it seeks to restrict any activities whatsoever? Is it an either/or situation? And is it possible that the church should put restrictions on itself so the government doesn’t even need to become involved? Maybe that’s the mandate from God? As already noted, there’s disagreement. For those who enjoy comparison and contrast—plus theological argumentation—here are links showing how two megachurch pastors have responded. Click here to read: “Christ, Not Caesar, Is Head of the Church.” Click here to read about a pastor who has resigned himself to keeping his services virtual until 2021.

Interfaith Council Leaders Write About Racial JusticeJames Morris
Jim Coffin 2018-1 3Rev. Dr. James Morris (photo, right), Pastor of the Carter Tabernacle Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, who’s also the CME’s Presiding Elder for its Central Florida District and the Vice Chair of the Board of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida, co-authored a recent guest column for the Orlando Sentinel with Pastor James Coffin (photo, left), Executive Director of the Interfaith Council. Their article, titled “Don’t Let Extremists Distract Us from Issue of Injustice,” appeared in the print issue of the newspaper on Sunday, August 2, urging readers not to let the inappropriate behavior of a relatively small percentage of protesters keep us from recognizing the need to properly address the very real issue of racial injustice. The article can be accessed at the Orlando Sentinel website and at the Interfaith Council website.

Abolition 2020 Hiroshima/Nagasaki Commemoration Aug 6
The Abolition 2020 Commemoration is going virtual this year. People of all faiths and no faith are invited to participate on Thursday, August 6, from 7:00 to 8:30 pm in the event, which is titled: “Sunflower Ghost Dance Poetry Circle: A Poetic Response to the Nuclear Age.” Please note the following: 1. The event’s organizers are asking people from around the world to recite or read a poem that speaks to the creation, effects and abolition of nuclear weapons. 2. The poem may be one you wrote yourself or one by another author. 3. You may read it in the original language, followed by its English translation. 4. The organizers are allowing up tp three minutes (if needed) per poem. 5. Once everyone has had a chance to recite or read their first poem, a second and third round will follow, as time permits. Please register by email. As Pablo Neruda has said: “Poetry is an act of peace. Peace goes into the making of a poet as flour goes into the making of bread.”

Racial Justice, Political Correctness in Black Lives Matter EraLevitt
Zak 3The Stono Institute for Freedom, Justice and Security is partnering with the African American Council of Christian Clergy to bring you a Zoom seminar titled: “Race Paradoxes: Racial Justice and Political Correctness in the Black Lives Matter Era.” According to the event’s organizers: “Our ideal audience is good white folk, then good black folk and others. We want business leaders, professionals, community advocates, church leaders and members, and hospitality workers—everyone! The purpose of the seminar is to examine and discuss how political correctness, fear and apathy inhibit Americans and our institutions from having wholistic conversations about racism and racial justice.” This Zoom seminar will be held Thursday, August 6, from 7:00 to 8:30 pm. Leading out will be: Dr. Jeremy Levitt (photo, right), President of Stono Institute and Distinguished Professor at FAMU College of Law; and Pastor Roderick Zak (photo, left), President of the African American Council of Christian and Pastor of Rejoice in the Lord MinistriesClick here to to fill out the Police Conduct Survey (please do so ahead of the meeting). And click here to get access to details for the Zoom link.

Baha’is of the U.S. Issue Statement about Racial Justice
“The Baha’is of the United States join our fellow-citizens in heartfelt grief at the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others whose lives were suddenly taken by appalling acts of violence. These heartbreaking violations against fellow human beings, due only to the color of their skin, have deepened the dismay caused by a pandemic whose consequences to the health and livelihoods of people of color have been disproportionately severe. This has come to pass against a backdrop of longstanding racial injustice in virtually every aspect of American life. It is clear that racial prejudice is the most vital and challenging issue we face as a country. . . . Yet, amidst these tragedies, there are also signs of hope. Countless citizens have arisen to proclaim the truth that we are one nation, and to demand specific actions to address the pervasive inequities that for too long have shaped our society. We have remembered who we aspire to be as a people, and are determined to make a change for the better. This moment beckons us to a renewed commitment to realize the ideal of E Pluribus Unum—out of many, one—the very ideal upon which America was founded. . . .” Click here to read the entire statementLearn more about the Baha’i faith by going to their worldwide website.

New Book Analyzes Systemic Christian Advantages
PrivilegeFrom the website of Religion News Service: “In Khyati Joshi’s new book, White Christian Privilege, Joshi brings religion into the conversation about privilege, arguing that our perception of whiteness suffers from an ‘optical illusion’: that religion is one place where there is equality in America. . . . Because it is enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution, we presume that religious equality is manifest in our society as well. Yet any analysis that neglects white Christianity’s role in creating and upholding whiteness, Joshi argues, fails to capture the full picture. . . . Joshi upends our usual approach to these questions by focusing not on marginalized communities’ experiences, but the other side of the equation: how the dominant group has created, sustained and framed its distinct advantages. In helping us to see ‘the rules of society that have been constructed to benefit Christians,’ Joshi connects the dots of just how this privilege functions.” Read the full article here. And view a video interview between Simran Jeet Singh, a Sikh, and Professor Khyati. (Courtesy photo, Khyati Joshi)

Is Belief in God a Prerequisite to Individual Morality?
What is the connection between belief in God and morality? And how important are God and prayer in people’s lives? The Pew Research Center posed these questions to 38,426 people in 34 countries in 2019. Across these countries, which span six continents, a median of 45% say it is necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values. But there are large regional variations in answers to this question. For example, people in the emerging economies included in this survey tend to be more religious and more likely to consider religion to be important in their lives, and they are also more likely than people in this survey who live in advanced economies to say that belief in God is necessary to be moral.

Holocaust Center Hosting Lunch-and-Learn About RaceLubin
Shannon GreenIn response to the racial tensions sweeping our country, the Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center of Florida last month launched a virtual program called Strategies For Action (SFA). This series of Lunch-and-Learn events seeks to help equip people with real strategies that can help them determine what they can do to be part of the solution. SFA sessions have already introduced participants to a dynamic group of facilitators, covering important issues and topics needing to be explored. The Holocaust Center is inviting you to join them online for lunch (you provide your own lunch, of course, and the Holocaust Center facilitates the learning!) by registering today for one or all of the upcoming free online events. Click here to learn about all the Lunch-and-Learn events—as well as numerous other events addressing a range of other subjects. The remaining Lunch-and-Learn noon events are scheduled for August 7, 21 and September 2, 14, 30. The August 7 presenters are Shannon Green (photo, left) and Revel Lubin (photo, right).

Interfaith Discussion to Be Held via Zoom on August 12
On Wednesday, August 12, the monthly Interfaith Discussion sponsored by the Interfaith Council of Central Florida will be held on Zoom from 7:00 to 8:30 pm. Topic for the evening’s discussion is: “How does my faith tradition influence what concerns me—as well as how I respond to such concerns?” For example, what during the past two weeks has riled you up? Did you faith tradition play any role in why you were upset? And did your faith tradition play any role in how you responded to your upset? Those questions—and others generated by them—will be the focus of the evening’s discussion. Please log in a few minutes early. Here are the details of the Zoom Interfaith Discussion, which is being hosted by Baha’is of Orange County East on Wednesday, August 12, at 7:00 pm:
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 834 6828 6041
Password: 537979
Dial by your location
+1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)
+1 929 205 6099 US (New York)
The monthly discussions are respectful, open and candid, and the participants represent a variety of faith traditions as well as those who question the validity of faith altogether. For more information, phone 321-228-4599.

Orlando Mayor: Send in Your Census Forms! They’re Needed!Census 2
Excerpted from an email sent to community leaders: “As our country and community continue the battle against COVID-19, it’s more important than ever that every person who calls Orlando home completes the U.S. Census. We need your help to ensure that each and every resident is counted. . . . An accurate count will help Orlando get its fair share of billions of dollars in funding from the federal government that will be used for schools, public safety, transportation and infrastructure. Much of the funding helps the most vulnerable among us, going to healthcare, early education, food and nutrition, affordable housing, childcare programs and college scholarships for low-income families. With the impacts of COVID-19 reaching so many here in Central Florida, federal funding will play a key role in providing relief to families, small businesses and non-profit organizations. . . .The Census also determines our state’s representation in Congress and helps the City of Orlando make decisions like where to build fire stations and parks. . . . Encourage your family, friends, neighbors, coworkers and everyone in your network to complete the Census. This is the first time that responses can be submitted online, and it takes just a few minutes to complete. . . . You can tell them why the Census is important for Orlando and also that by law, the Census Bureau cannot share their information with any other government agency, including immigration or law enforcement officers. They can get counted by visiting . . . Thank you for helping ensure that Orlando is counted in the Census.” Breaking news: The Census Bureau has announced that the deadline for receiving the census forms has been moved up to September 30. So don’t delay. An accurate 2020 census can make a huge positive difference in Central Florida for the next 10 years! The follow group-specific videos may be of help. Faith CommunityAfrican American CommunityHaitian Community in Haitian CreoleHispanic Community in EnglishHispanic Commercial in SpanishCounting Kids.

Government Offering to Make Houses of Worship Safer
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security sent out a letter on July 29 confirming CISA’s commitment to help faith groups maintain safe and secure houses of worship and related facilities, thus fostering an open and welcoming environment for both members and visitors. The letter reports that CISA recently launched a new webpage specifically dedicated to providing information that bolsters local efforts to secure houses of worship. Click here to access the resource page. CISA maintains a nationwide presence through regional offices that consist of personnel, including Protective Security Advisors (PSAs), who can assist in enhancing security at houses of worship and related facilities through “assessments, exercises, training and other tangible capabilities.” To find out more about CISA’s resources, please check out CISA’s newly released online Services Catalog. Or reach out to CISA Central via email with your questions. The letter concludes: “Please always remember that you have a committed partner in CISA; together, we can enhance our collective capabilities and develop innovative solutions. . . .”

Vehicle of Local Sikh Leader Sprayed with Hateful Graffiti
Sikh Food DistributionFrom the website of “On Saturday, July 25, Oviedo, Florida, resident Dr. Amit Pal Saini’s car was vandalized with the words “Sikh F—- U,” outside his home at approximately 4:00 pm. . . . Local police were called to the scene, and after seeing the vandalism, discussed pursuing the investigation as a hate crime. There are currently no suspects, but investigators are continuing to look for video footage and interview neighbors of Dr. Saini. . . . If you have any leads please contact the Seminole Crimeline: 1-800-423-TIPS (8477). . . . ‘SALDEF [Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund] takes all incidents of hate seriously. While the investigation is still pending, the continued vandalism of Sikh property across the country is disturbing,’ said Kiran Kaur Gill, SALDEF Executive Director. ‘We will continue to monitor the situation and follow up with the Seminole County Sheriff’s office, the FBI and the Department of Justice, and will be sure to update the community on developments.’ . . . Dr. Amit Pal Saini, Chairman of Sikh Society of Central Florida has been involved in social work for a number years, but most recently has been in the public eye for his part in the Sunday Free Kitchen meal—Covid-19 relief set up by the Sikh Society Of Central Florida under his guidance. Singh set up the drive-through relief that prepared and distributed fresh meals in a drive-through manner to those in need. The impact of the work was picked up by all local news media as well as the New York Times and Orlando Sentinel.” (The photo is of the food-distribution program at the Sikh gurdwara (temple) in Oviedo.)

Casselberry Churches Conducting Converstions on Race
On August 2, several congregations in the Casselberry area—Divine Truth Christian CenterCommunity United Methodist ChurchWillow Creek ChurchRedeemer Presbyterian, and Church Together—along with the Casselberry Police Department—began a three-part series of conversations on race and reconciliation. “No one person or institution can defeat things that are historic and systemic,” say the events’ organizers. “Rather, it takes a unified effort to face down evil and achieve transformational change. A group of partner churches in Casselberry believe this to be true and are inviting the community to join them in the journey towards restoration.” Already conducted on August 2: “How Did We Get Here?” Coming August 16: “Where Are We Now?” August 30: “Where Do We Go from Here?” It’s not too late to still get in on two of the three events. Limited ticketing is available to take part in-person at one of the upcoming events. But each session will also be broadcast live, so you can view it at your greatest convenience. For more information or to register, click here.

U.S. Department of Justice Sets Two New Executions DatesFADP
The U.S. Department of Justice has announced September execution dates for two more people on Federal Death Row, which will be the sixth and seventh federal executions this summer, after a 17-year hiatus. Three executions were carried out by the federal government in July, and two are scheduled in August, in addition to the two recently scheduled for September. According to a recent news release by Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, “Every execution, whether state or federal, is a blatant political stunt to appear ‘tough on crime’ without doing the hard work to prevent violent crime or help crime victims and their families in real and immediate ways.” For the past 18 months, Florida has led the nation in the number of new death sentences. Go to the FADP State Attorney Action Page for ideas on how to make your voice and your vote count in lobbying against this practice that an ever-increasing number of nations around the world have abandoned as barbaric. FADP is a non-profit and non-partisan statewide Florida organization of individuals and groups united to abolish the Death Penalty in Florida.

Interdenominational, Interracial Panel Discusses RacismZak 2
Joel Hunter 3Some 185 viewers logged on to an online event titled: “An Honest Conversation: A Discussion about Race & Racism with Central Florida Faith Leaders.” The event, held on July 30, was collaboratively convened by Dr. Joel Hunter (photo, left), long-time area pastor and Founder and Chairman of the Community Resource Network, and Pastor Roderick Zak (photo, right), Founder and Pastor of Rejoice in the Lord Ministries and President of the African American Council of Christian Clergy.. Pastor Zak moderated the discussion with a panel of pastors: Pastor David Jacques of The Kingdom Church; Rev. Jennifer Stiles Williams of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church; Pastor Tim Johnson of Orlando World Outreach Center; and Dr. David Swanson of First Presbyterian Church of Orlando. Panelists spoke with conviction and urgency as they outlined things they knew both from study and from personal experience. Books for further reading that were recommended during the event are: White Fragility—Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, by Robin Diangelo. Stamped—Racism, Antiracism, and You, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. Biased—Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice that Shapes What We See, Think, and Do, by Jennifer L Eberhardt. Stony the Road—Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates Jr. The New Jim Crow—Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendri.

A Chance for Some Non-Political Action about Politics
Here’s the first piece of the story. You decide if you want to learn more. “With passions still high following the [2016] election, we assembled 10 Trump supporters and 11 Clinton supporters in South Lebanon, Ohio. This would become our first Red/Blue Workshop. The goal was simple. We needed to see if Americans could still disagree respectfully—and just maybe, find common ground. Some thought it wasn’t likely. . . . We proved our skeptics wrong. . . . Republican and Democrat, native-born and immigrant: these Americans liked each other. But first they had to hear one another’s stories. Black and white, Christian and Muslim: these Americans could appreciate each others opinions. But first they needed to see where these opinions came from. They could listen to each others points of view once they saw one another, not as stereotypes, but as neighbors in a country they shared. . . . The first gathering was successful. Everyone agreed: this needed to be just the beginning. . . . And it was. This was the beginning of the organization originally called Better Angels [now called Braver Angels], and of a powerful new approach to political depolarization that would soon sprout across the country.” To learn more about the Braver Angels movement/organization, click here.

Calling All Artists to the Wekiva River Artwork Competition
Wekiva 2Does the Wekiva River inspire your artistic side? If so, whether you’re young or old, put your creativity to work and submit your masterpiece to Wekiva Wild & Scenic River System 2020 Artwork Competition! Click here’s to get all the details about age categories, themes to be depicted and an array of prizes—which range from a new pair of binoculars to $150, depending on age. But the biggest prize may be the chance to get out and enjoy one of Central Florida’s truly natural wonders. Hurry. The deadline for submitting your entry is August 31.

Religious Freedom Group to Address Race and Reconcilation
This must-not-miss event still has some not-yet-nailed-down details, so you’re just being given a teaser and enough information to take you to “the rest of the story,” which should be available within the next couple of days. But, in principle, here’s what’s going to happen. The Central Florida Commission on Religious Freedom is set to host a Zoom presentation and panel discussion titled: “What should be the role of faith and community thought leaders in bringing about racial reconciliation?” The event will be moderated by local attorney Ben Friedman. The presenter/panelists will be Rev. Dr. Gary Mason from Belfast, Northern Ireland, who’s the founder of an organization called Rethinking Conflict, which grew out of his decades of work to bring about reconciliation in the case of Ireland’s Catholic-Protestant conflict; Rev. Katrina Jenkins, the Dean of Religious Life at Rollins College; and Imam Hatim Hamidullah, the Imam at Masjid Al Haqq in downtown Orlando. The event will take place at 5:00 pm on either Thursday, August 20, or Tuesday, August 25 (still to be determined). To find which date won the competition and to get the log-in information, click here.

United Against Poverty Seeking Food-Distribution Partners
Mobile MarketUnited Against Poverty, which has a track record of partnering with other Florida organizations to get nutritious food to those most in need, is looking for more host locations for food distribution. For everyone’s safety, such distributions must be drive-through events, with staff and volunteers wearing masks and gloves and placing items directly in the trunk of the recipients’ vehicles. The host site will help United Against Poverty by: providing a location that can function as a drive-through event that will have minimal traffic impact on the surrounding area, assisting with getting out the word about the event, lining up volunteers and supplying tables and chairs (if such are available). Staying true to their model of “a hand up, not a handout,” United Against Poverty collects a nominal fee for the items purchased by the recipients. Typical prices might be: 20 pounds of mixed produce, $5; a flat of 30 eggs, $1; a gallon of 2% milk, $1; and free bread when available. Sales are cash only. The food products are brought to the event in a refrigerated truck. Events typically run from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, while supplies last. The mobile market is conducted rain or shine. For more information or to schedule your mobile market, phone 407-341-9610.

2020 Hasn’t Been a Good Year for a Pilgrimage to Mecca
This year’s hajj was like no other in collective memory—as only a thousand people were permitted to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca, a ritual that normally attracts 2-3 million people from around the world. By limiting attendance during the pilgrimage, Muslims played their part in preventing the further spread of COVID-19, placing the sanctity of human life above that of even the holiest of places and rituals in the Islamic tradition. This is a reflection of religious teachings that privilege human life above other priorities, and emphasize taking measures to preserve the common good. Similarly, many Muslim communities across America didn’t perform Eid prayers out of concern for the health of the most vulnerable and upholding the common good. As Muslims celebrated Eid under these unusual circumstances, many saw it as an opportunity to appreciate and show gratitude for the many blessings they still can enjoy. [The foregoing was adapted from a press release by the Islamic Networks Group (ING), which is a peace-building organization providing education and engagement opportunities that foster understanding of Muslims and other misunderstood groups to promote harmony among all people.]

Summary of Major Values at Hindu University of AmericaHUA
JnanaKnowledge—A Love of Inquiry and Learning. Ancient India generated the largest textual tradition in humanity, in its multitude of languages. Hindu University of America regards these texts as the common heritage of humanity and seeks to engage with this vast repository of texts and traditional knowledge systems of Hinduism not merely as the archives of a past era, but out of a commitment and concern for the wellbeing and future of humanity. DharmaResponsibility—Committed, Purpose-driven Lives. Grounded in the belief that Knowledge must enable a socially relevant, fully cultivated life, and, ultimately, awaken philosophical piety and an awareness of the inherent divinity of all living beings, Hindu University of America explores the Hindu worldview as a source of values, spiritual practice, and ultimate realization for millions around the world. YogaTransformation—The Elevation of Consciousness. The Hindu University of America encourages students to see human life as a yoga (i.e. a creative) intellectual and spiritual encounter between the individual, the world and the divine, and seeks to bring Vedic Hindu wisdom in service of healing and transformation to a world in need. SamvadaDialogue—Engaging Diversity. The Hindu University of America values diversity, both within the traditions of the Hindu community and in other religions and traditions of this world. Hinduism encompasses a vast range of practices and traditions and avoids the pitfall of asserting that a single creed, church or temple possesses the absolute truth, which leads inevitably to antagonism and objectification of “other” cultures and traditions. challenges in the light of the insight of the ancients. MokshaFreedom—Breaking Through Our Limitations. Students of the Hindu University of America emerge with greater freedom, clarity and confidence through their education, and are enabled to grow into responsible agents of positive transformation in the world around them i.e. in their relationships, families, communities, institutions, and society. Click here to learn more about the academic programs and events for the general public at HUA, which is based right here in Orlando.

Interfaith Council Asking for Your Help With Funding
If you appreciate what’s being achieved by the Interfaith Council of Central Florida, we would welcome your support. Please send your contribution to: Interfaith Council of Central Florida, PO Box 3310, Winter Park, FL 32790-3310. Thank you for your assistance.

Christian Reflection
“The most powerful statement the church can make as to the value of human life, the dignity of human persons, and the sacred task we each have to care for our siblings as if we are their keeper, is to stay closed long after all other entities have opened. The most essential business imaginable is the protection of human life, and by staying closed the church pays witness to these values in the world when all others forget and move on and pay the price in blood.”— Madison Reid McClendon, University of Chicago’s Divinity Schoo


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  James Coffin, Executive Director
PO Box 3310, Winter Park, FL 32790-3310
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