2018
December
26
Wednesday

Today Japan announced that it would resume commercial whaling in 2019, breaking with a global ban in effect since 1986. The move brings international condemnation, so it is logical to ask: Why is Japan doing it?

That question is curious in light of a 2006 poll that shows the Japanese people don’t really like whale meat. Some 95 percent very rarely or never eat it. The move becomes even more curious when considering that Japan props up its whaling industry economically.

So why do it? An agronomy professor told Wired “The strong condemnation of whaling by the foreigners is taken as harassing the traditional values.”

Interestingly, that same argument appears to hold sway in Iceland, one of only two countries to permit whaling now. (The other is Norway.) “It’s a nationalistic thing,” a documentary filmmaker told National Geographic. “They consider whales their resources, and they don’t want people telling them what to do with their resources.”

These countries see whaling as a part of a cultural tradition. The rest of the world has concluded that it is barbaric and humanity has advanced beyond it. “Whaling is an outdated and unnecessary practice,” said New Zealand’s foreign minister. In short, the debate has become something more than the logic of economic or environmental arguments. It has become a statement of principle.

Now on to our five articles for the day, including a mounting pushback against authoritarianism in one corner of Africa, a different kind of religion story from the Middle East, and a question: What would Norman Rockwell paint today?

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Democracy under strain

1. The deep roots of America’s urban-rural divide

Rural voters are an often-mentioned base of support for Donald Trump and Republicans generally. But there's a deeper story behind the rural-urban divide in US politics – and a danger in oversimplifying it. Fifth in our “Democracy Under Strain” series.

Mark
John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal/AP
Opponents of a special session bill submitted by Wisconsin Republican legislators hold "Stop Lame Duck" signs at a rally outside the Wisconsin state Capitol in Madison on Dec. 3, 2018.

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The chasm of misunderstanding between rural and urban voters is one of the oldest divisions in US political life. It was there when Thomas Jefferson envisioned a nation of yeoman farmers, and as cities grew in population, their residents returned the suspicion. States tilted electoral power toward rural areas, and it took a 1964 Supreme Court ruling to affirm the concept of “one person, one vote.” Still, the gap remains a defining feature of polarized politics. Rural voters tend to be white Christian Republicans. Urban voters tend to be minorities or more-educated whites, and younger and Democratic. “The divides are not just about politics but who we are as people,” writes political scientist Katherine Cramer. The geographic tensions persist in debates over gerrymandering, or controversial attempts by Republican state legislators to strip power from incoming Democratic officials – justifying their actions by arguing they represent all parts of the state, not just urban liberals. But historian Nathan Connolly, citing extensive migration between urban and rural areas, warns against oversimplifying geography into a “hard box” to explain US politics. “Our sense of this bifurcated country, it doesn’t really hold up once you start to bear down and ask basic questions.”

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The deep roots of America’s urban-rural divide

The chasm of misunderstanding and animosity between rural and urban voters is one of the oldest divisions in American political life.

From the beginning of the United States republic, farmers and other country dwellers have viewed cities with political suspicion. Cities were filled with immigrants, the poor, and other people who didn’t fit the Jeffersonian yeoman ideal. Here’s Henry J. Cookingham, delegate to an 1894 New York state Constitutional Convention, disparaging urban voters and municipal corruption: “I say without fear of contradiction that the average citizen in the rural district is superior in intelligence, superior in morality, superior in self-government, to the average citizen in the great cities.”

As urban areas exploded in size and power, urban voters increasingly returned such disdain. Rural residents were rubes or hicks. Urban agglomerations were the economic future, country roads the past. In 1921 the acerbic Baltimore journalist H.L. Mencken envisioned new Republican President Warren Harding giving rural speeches to “small town yokels ... low political serfs.”

Today, almost 100 years later, the place-based insults are shriller than ever. The divide is getting wider. Polarized US politics – and politicians who exploit that polarization for their own gain – are pulling urban and rural voters farther and farther apart.

Take Wisconsin. Are the state’s rural voters more “real”? This December a Republican-controlled state legislature voted to strip powers from an incoming Democratic governor. One reason the move was legitimate, they said, was because Democratic voters are concentrated in Madison and Milwaukee. Republican votes came from all over the state. “If you took Madison and Milwaukee out of the state election formula, we would have a clear majority,” said Robin Vos, the GOP speaker of the Wisconsin state house.

Not that those same rural voters necessarily feel more real. Many feel downgraded, ignored, and despised by the urban elites. They remember what candidate Barack Obama said of voters in struggling small towns at a 2008 fundraiser (in a city of course, San Francisco). “They get bitter,” said Mr. Obama. “They cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.”

Perhaps the problem is that too many social and cultural aspects of personal identity are becoming aligned with politics and geography. Rural voters are predominantly white Christian Republicans. Urban voters tend to be minorities, or more-educated whites, and on the whole younger and Democratic.

When the voters in a particular area are alike in so many ways, their attachment to their fellows becomes stronger than ever. The other side becomes just that, “other,” not fellow voters at all. That gap grows.

“The divides are not just about politics but who we are as people,” writes University of Wisconsin political scientist Katherine J. Cramer in the introduction to “The Politics of Resentment,” her book about rural consciousness and the Wisconsin rural-urban political divide.

From an agrarian to an urban nation

In the beginning, of course, rural areas were dominant, in the sense that they were where most people lived.

Founding father Thomas Jefferson famously thought this the principle on which democracy should be based. To Jefferson, a small farmer and his family represented virtue and wisdom (he said much less about the slave labor that worked much of the Southern countryside). Cities were evil, dirty, and perhaps monarchist.

“The strong allurements of great cities to those who have any turn for dissipation, threaten to make them here, as in Europe, the sinks of voluntary misery,” wrote Jefferson to David Williams in 1803.

When Jefferson penned that letter about 94 percent of the US population was rural-based, leaving 6 percent in cities. This dominance of numbers was backed by a political system that gave disproportionate influence to large, thinly populated areas of land. Under the Constitution, every state is guaranteed two senators and one representative, no matter its population. Thus Wyoming, with 580,000 people, is as powerful in the Senate as California, with 40 million residents.

But cities grew as fast as corn. Jefferson was right about “strong allurements.” The urban population marched up with the nation’s industrial might, with the tipping point reached in 1920. That’s when a census first showed a majority of Americans living in urban areas.

Unsurprisingly, this set up a conflict. Rural voters did not want to give up their political power, says historian Doug Smith, author of “On Democracy’s Doorstep: The Inside Story of How the Supreme Court Brought ‘One Person, One Vote’ to the United States.”

The cities were full of immigrants, people who spoke different languages and practiced different religions. They were Italian, German, and Irish. Were they really entitled to the franchise?

“There was definitely a sense that the cities had attracted the mobs, lower classes, the people were somehow different, not real Americans at that particular time,” says Dr. Smith, whose book contains the pointed Cookingham quote that starts this story.

Before ‘one person, one vote’

So rural powerbrokers turned to malapportionment. The Constitution said congressional districts should be divided by the census, but gave no specifics. States governed state legislative districts. State legislatures controlled by rural interests simply drew lines that gave rural areas more representation.

The disparity worsened and grew entrenched from the 1920s through the middle of the century, when virtually every state in the nation was malapportioned to some degree. In some states 20 percent of the population could elect a majority of the state legislature. Business often lined up with rural interests, seeing them as more stable and conservative. Spending projects that benefited cities – school funds, infrastructure, overtime and minimum wage rules – were often bottled up.

In an egregious example cited by Smith, in California at one point one state senator represented the 6 million residents of Los Angeles County. And one state senator represented 14,000 residents of three counties on the east side of the Sierra Mountains, effectively giving those residents 450 times the political power of their urban counterparts in state Senate voting.

After World War II this situation became legally and politically less tenable. Cities continued to grow, and frustrated urban leaders fought back in the courts. (Christian Science Monitor Boston State House reporter George B. Merry was then one of the leading voices on the abuses of malapportionment, notes Smith.)

Civil rights were intertwined with the anti-malapportionment movement in many ways, and the Supreme Court began to consider and move on both these huge issues in the early 1960s. Finally, in June 1964, the Court ruled that state districts needed to be drawn on the basis of one person, one vote. It was a momentous decision.

“We are really talking about a system of minority rule. With malapportionment that was happening,” says Smith.

But there is more than one way to manipulate electoral systems. A cousin of malapportionment, the venerable practice of gerrymandering, survives.

Gerrymandering, the manipulation of political boundaries in favor of one party or class, is practiced by Democrats and Republicans for their own purposes. Essentially it’s used to protect entrenched power. Increasingly for the GOP that means power in rural areas.

In Wisconsin, for instance, unified control under a Republican legislature and outgoing GOP Gov. Scott Walker produced a state map so favorable to Republican candidates that the GOP won 63 of 99 assembly seats – though Democrats won 54 percent of Assembly votes cast. (This map has faced court challenges and will undergo another federal judiciary review in April.)

Rural Republicans also benefit from the simple fact of geographic clustering. Democratic votes are increasingly concentrated in big cities. Former President Obama famously got all votes cast in 59 Philadelphia precincts in 2012.

That “wastes” lots of votes, since a candidate only needs a majority to win. Republicans are scattered less densely across rural and suburban areas. This doesn’t matter much in statewide votes, such as for governor. But it does matter in legislative races. It’s a sort of natural gerrymander.

Rolled together, these reasons help explain the enduring power of the Republican coalition of rural and suburban whites. For 20 years, Democrats have been looking at demographic projections of fast-growing minorities and younger voters tipping red states blue. Yet that never quite seems to happen, as Democrat Beto O’Rourke found in losing his Senate race in Texas to the GOP’s Ted Cruz in November.

“What Democrats have failed to take into account fully is just how much geography is privileged over population in our political system,” says Steven Conn, a professor of history at Miami University of Ohio and author of “Americans Against the City: Anti-Urbanism in the Twentieth Century.”

Divide widened in 2016

The political choices of rural and urban Americans have moved farther apart than ever in the age of President Trump.

As a candidate Donald Trump appeared to make little effort to win city voters. Instead, he painted a bleak picture of burnt-out cities dominated by poverty and crime. In response, urban counties from Austin to Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles produced record-low numbers for a Republican candidate in 2016. Trump’s childhood county of Queens gave him 22 percent. Washington, D.C., one of the most Democratic cities in the country, gave him 4 percent.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s decline among rural whites in the Midwest might well have been the deciding factor in her Electoral College loss, as Trump turned Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania red. Overall, the least-dense counties in America voted at a significantly lower rate for Mrs. Clinton than they did for Obama in 2012.

The rural-urban trend continued in the 2018 midterms. Some Democratic candidates faced huge rural vote deficits. In 2012, Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri won rural Saline County by 22 points. In 2018, she lost it by 21.

Democrats rolled up a 40-seat gain in the House, not by winning back rural whites, but largely by winning big in suburbs with large percentages of educated voters. Add the 2016 and 2018 results together and they begin to suggest that the real divide in US politics is between geographic areas based on population density, not on states sorted between red and blue.

The Wisconsin power struggle brought this divide into the open. Having lost a governor’s seat held by Mr. Walker for eight years, the GOP legislature decided to use a lame duck session to try and trim some power from incoming Democrat Tony Evers, the state school superintendent.

To critics, this seemed overreach, a norm-breaking use of power to the utmost. But state GOP legislative leaders argued that they were the more representative branch of government, given that their members represented voters from all areas of the state, and were thus closer to the will of the people.

They emphasized that Mr. Evers’s support was more geographically circumscribed, since much of it came from cities. Scott Fitzgerald, Wisconsin Senate majority leader, said that legislators should stand “on equal footing with an incoming administration that is based almost solely in Madison.”

Thus breadth of land was turned into something equal, and perhaps superior, to number of votes.

Backlashes follow a shift in power

“What’s happening in Wisconsin is what has already happened in a lot of other places. The whole center of gravity of the state is shifting towards these urban corridors,” says Dr. Conn of Miami University of Ohio.

As that happens, social and political trends follow. White rural voters may feel threatened by that, he says. They begin to worry that their way of life is slipping away. They want to make their state great again. So they and their representatives flex the power they have.

“How do you respond? Right now we have backlash,” Conn says, pointing to Wisconsin, and other states such as Michigan and North Carolina, where Republicans have moved to strip power from positions right after they were won by the other party.

Walker signed bills on Dec. 14, limiting his successor in Madison. The legislative package will, among other things, curb the governor’s authority in the rule-making process and transfer the authority to appoint members of an economic development authority to lawmakers. It will also limit early voting and allow lawmakers to intervene in lawsuits filed by the incoming state attorney general, Democrat Josh Kaul.

Walker said the controversy surrounding the action was all “hype and hysteria.” He noted that the legislature had left untouched the governor’s powers in other important areas, such as the ability to veto bills.

A fight over who ‘real’ voters are

What is the foundation for the estrangement between rural and urban America? Perhaps it is the belief on both sides that the other does not care about them.

This is a feeling well-documented among rural voters, at least. In her book, Professor Cramer in Wisconsin recounted her years of fieldwork traveling outside urban areas to get the political pulse of her state. Rural voters felt disrespected by Madison politicians and city elites, she concluded. They felt like outsiders, their world grounded in a rural consciousness others did not understand.

Though they themselves often stood to benefit from government services, they vehemently opposed big government. They felt like they were standing still while others – minorities, outsiders – cut in front of them to get undeserved help.

And both sides of this divide feel resented.

Among urban residents, 65 percent said other communities don’t understand their problems, in a Pew Research poll this year. Sixty-three percent said others see them in a negative light. Those numbers were similar to those posted by rural residents – with 70 percent and 57 percent answering the same way, respectively, on those questions.

By way of contrast, people living in the suburbs scored substantially more positively on both these measures.

Much of today’s polarization is rooted in social identity, argues University of Maryland political scientist Lilliana Mason in her book “Uncivil Agreement.”

This overlay results in a powerful political group attachment, according to Professor Mason. Politics becomes more than a means to govern ourselves and handle disputes about proper actions. It becomes tribal: “us” versus “them.”

In that context the divide between Republican rural America and urban Democratic America is indeed a fight over who the “real” voters are.

A real rift, but also blurry lines

But Nathan Connolly, an associate professor of history at Johns Hopkins University and co-host of the “BackStory” history podcast, has a different take on the divide’s foundations. He says it is important to remember that this spatial divide is real in some important ways, but it is also a narrative we tell ourselves to try to understand any number of other divides and problems, from racial prejudice and slavery to economic injustice. He calls it a “hard box” we put people in to explain election cycles, culture wars, and so forth.

For one thing, there has always been extensive migration between urban and rural areas, from the Great Migration of southern African-Americans to northern factory jobs, to retirees returning to their roots.

For another, there are Democrats in every rural space and Republicans in every city. Only the mix is different. Some of the nation’s most famous radicals came from the farm. Some of the strongest voices for “fly-over country” and the heartland on conservative media have lived in Manhattan all their lives.

There are transsexual police officers in San Francisco who grew up in Nebraska and rural homesteaders in Maine who went to Harvard. Who, Dr. Connolly asks, is more connected to the world than a soybean farmer following the global markets for his crop from his tractor?

“There are broad examples of the diversity of America around the country,” he says.

Provo, Utah, is by any measure a small place with conservative values. But the language training available there is on par with any in New York City, says Connolly. That is because it is predominantly Mormon, and young Mormons serve as missionaries, and thus benefit from immersion training in Mandarin or Portuguese.

“I think our sense of this bifurcated country, it doesn’t really hold up once you start to bear down and ask basic questions,” Connolly says.

Other parts of the "Democracy Under Strain" series:

Part 1: A system under strain: Is US democracy showing real cracks?

Part 2: Neutral no more: Can Supreme Court survive an era of extreme partisanship?

Part 3: Amid complaints of a rigged system, one woman’s effort to end gerrymandering.

Part 4: Risk of a new civil war? Today ‘us’ and ‘them’ differs from the 1850s.

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2. Vowing to bulldoze corruption, Tanzania’s president bulldozes dissent

It’s a familiar pattern: Populist leaders pledging to clean up government wind up taking an authoritarian turn. In Tanzania’s case, some international donors are starting to push back.

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When Tanzania imposed an annual fee of $930 on bloggers and news websites this year, it was enough to shut many down. Another law threatens anyone who contradicts official government statistics with jail time or a hefty fine. Space for opposition and criticism have shrunk alarmingly, activists and critics say, since John Magufuli became president in 2015. Promising to clean up government, he slashed the size of his cabinet (and his own salary), cut “ghost workers” from government payrolls, and sacked a hospital director during a surprise inspection. But his administration has pivoted toward authoritarianism, observers warn. Many of Mr. Magufuli’s proclamations seem crafted to assert Tanzania’s independence from foreign institutions that provide it aid. But some of those donors are now pushing back, as are some clergy. “Before I think we were sleeping on the job of protecting our democracy,” says Risha Chande, a senior communications advisor at Twaweza, a civil society organization. “We saw problems here and there, but overall the situation looked OK. Now, I think, we have really woken up.”

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Vowing to bulldoze corruption, Tanzania’s president bulldozes dissent

On a December day three years ago, two months after he was elected president of Tanzania, John Magufuli walked out of the presidential palace here and began scooping handfuls of dried leaves and torn plastic bags into a trash bin.

The symbolism of his participation in the nationwide cleanup could not have been more pointed.

Mr. Magufuli had run a campaign promising to clean up government in Tanzania, weeding out corruption and bureaucratic bloat. His supporters called him “The Bulldozer.”

They meant it as a compliment, and he took it as one. Magufuli, whose party, the CCM, has ruled Tanzania in various iterations since independence, quickly slashed the size of his cabinet, cut government travel spending and his own salary, and sacked the director of the largest public hospital in the country during a surprise inspection. He slashed 16,000 “ghost workers” collecting salaries from government payrolls and slapped higher taxes on international mining companies extracting the country’s precious metals.

“Magufuli has proved to be immensely popular not just because Tanzanians have suffered under the yoke of corruption for many years, but also because his actions seemed to say that he was a different kind of leader — someone who understood that the role of the president was to make sacrifices for the people rather than the other way around,” writes Nic Cheeseman, a political scientist at the University of Birmingham, in a recent analysis piece.

His brash efficiency has also taken a darker turn. His administration has passed a succession of laws that it routinely uses to harass and arrest journalists, activists, and critics. Opposition political gatherings have been banned. His bold proclamations on the economy have spooked investors. And his statements against pregnant teenagers, members of the LGBT community, and users of birth control have frustrated Western donors – some to the point of cancelling aid to the country.

But if the president’s authoritarian pivot surprised some, many observers say his efficiency and silencing of those he disagrees with are two sides of the same coin, part of a strategy of governing that delivers results in return for quiet allegiance.

“Magufuli’s crusades have always been personal; he doesn’t feel the need to work within the framework of the law or within institutions,” says Dewa Mavhinga, the southern Africa director for Human Rights Watch. “And that has created many of the problems we’re now seeing.”

'Watch it'

For many Tanzanians the chill under Magufuli’s administration descended slowly, like a changing of seasons. In the first two years of his presidency, as his cleanup projects in government dominated the headlines, his administration began developing legislation that fenced in the activities of local media and research organizations. One law slapped a $930 registration fee on news websites and bloggers, forcing many to shut down. Another threatened anyone who disagreed with official government statistics with jail time or a hefty fine.

“Media owners, let me tell you: Be careful. Watch it. If you think you have that kind of freedom – not to that extent,” he warned last year.

When protestors against the president held a rally in June 2016, police broke it up with tear gas, and then banned all opposition demonstrations until the 2020 elections.

Emmanuel Herman/Reuters
Opposition politician Zitto Kabwe, leader of The Alliance for Change and Transparency, sits inside the Kisutu Resident Magistrate court in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania Nov. 2, 2018. Mr. Kabwe, a frequent critic of President John Magufuli, was charged with sedition and incitement after saying that dozens of people were killed in clashes between herders and police.

“The government has made clear that it wants civil society to be quiet, to stay in line,” says Mchereli Machumbana, a human rights activist. “The civic space is shrinking all the time.” (Several other activists in Tanzania interviewed for this story asked not to be quoted out of concern it could jeopardize their work.)

Meanwhile, in a kind of society-wide echo of his campaigns to clean up government, the president began pushing a moral agenda. He promised that teenage girls who became pregnant would never be allowed to return to school (“After getting pregnant, you are done”) and said that “even cows disapprove” of LGBT rights. Women who used birth control were “lazy,” he said at a rally reportedly attended by a representative of the UN Population Fund, and so was anyone who asked for food aid.

The comment on birth control, like many of the president’s other statements, did not provoke an immediate change of policy. But they helped create a climate of deep fear among many groups. In October the commissioner of the Dar es Salaam region, Paul Makonda, encouraged citizens to report LGBT individuals so that a government task force could round them up. Magufuli’s government distanced itself from the remarks, but many observers point to a rise in anti-LGBT rhetoric during his presidency. Ten men were arrested on the island of Zanzibar, and untold numbers disappeared into hiding. (Gay sex is illegal in Tanzania, but the law has been rarely enforced.)

Pocketbook pushback

Many of Magufuli’s proclamations on morality seem crafted to assert Tanzania’s independence from the Western governments and institutions that provide it aid, says Mr. Mavhinga of Human Rights Watch. The country is the third-largest aid recipient in sub-Saharan Africa and has long been a darling of donors.

Those same donors have begun pushing back. On Nov. 13, the World Bank withdrew a $300 million education loan over the prohibition on pregnant girls returning to school (an old rule, but one the president vowed to protect), and the next day the Danish government announced it was cancelling about $10 million in aid over the crackdown on the country’s LGBT community.

A few days later, however, the Bank announced that it would reinstate the loan after Tanzania’s government agreed to make a provision for pregnant girls’ education.

China, meanwhile, has become another major aid player in Africa, including Tanzania, and may help cushion the government against disapproving Western critics.

“The thing that makes you happy about [Beijing’s] aid is that it is not tied to any conditions,” Magufuli said in November, as he opened a library built with Chinese assistance. “When they decide to give you, they just give you.”

Domestic activists say they see flickering glimmers of resistance to many of Magufuli’s policies.

The country’s courts, for instance, have sided with several activists’ challenges against new laws, including in several cases against the founder of a popular website, Jamii Forums – sometimes compared to WikiLeaks – which the government has repeatedly attempted to shut down.

And church leaders in several denominations have used their own moral authority to challenge the president’s.

‘There is a group of people whose duty is to instill fear in people who speak the truth,” said Fredrick Shoo, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, during his Christmas sermon in 2017. “This is wrong. Jesus was born to enable us to live in truth and not in fear.”

Shortly after his statement, along with others by Catholic and Pentecostal leaders, the permanent secretary in Tanzania’s Department of Home Affairs warned that churches who waded into politics were breaking the law and would be deregistered.

It never happened, however, and churches continued to speak out. Other activists also refused to be bowed.

“Before I think we were sleeping on the job of protecting our democracy,” says Risha Chande, a senior communications advisor at Twaweza, a civil society organization. “We saw problems here and there, but overall the situation looked okay. Now, I think, we have really woken up.”

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3. Tiny Jordan’s outsize role fostering interfaith understanding

Mention religion in the Middle East and what often leaps to mind is conflict: Muslim vs. Jew, Sunni vs. Shiite. But from Jordan, a religious crossroads, comes a forceful call for interfaith harmony.

Mark
Courtesy of the Royal Hashemite Court/File
Jordan’s King Abdullah (center l.) and Pope Francis (center r.) visit Bethany Beyond the Jordan, the site on the Jordanian banks where many believe Jesus was baptized, on May 24, 2014. King Abdullah was awarded the 2018 Templeton Prize for the country’s interfaith work, becoming only the second Muslim recipient of an award previously granted to the Dalai Llama and Mother Theresa.

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Jordan’s first call to interfaith action was in the wake of 9/11 and the sectarian violence and terrorism triggered by the Iraq War. King Abdullah's response – the Amman Message – clarified the central tenets of Islam, rejecting terrorism, extremism, and violence. In 2007, after successive controversies surrounding satirical cartoons in Denmark and remarks from Pope Benedict XVI, King Abdullah penned an open letter from Islamic leaders to church leaders. “A Common Word Between Us and You” invokes the common values of “love of God” and “love thy neighbor” – Biblical injunctions that underpin the centuries-old interfaith model in Jordan. “ ‘A Common Word’ was an eye-opener,” says Miroslav Volf, a Protestant theologian and director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. Hundreds of Christian leaders and Jewish figures have since signed “A Common Word,” launching a global dialogue that continues to this day. Jordan’s interfaith activism is being recognized: Last month King Abdullah was awarded the 2018 Templeton Prize for the country’s interfaith work. Mohammed Abed raises money to help feed refugees in Amman. “We are all people of the book, no matter what happens in politics,” he says. “Muslims, Christians, and Jews have common values.”

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Tiny Jordan’s outsize role fostering interfaith understanding

Every month, Christians and Muslims from Milan to Mecca, Kansas to Kuala Lumpur find common ground in an unusual place: a desert country the size of Maine surrounded by war zones.

In Jordan, a royal family recognized as descendants of the prophet Muhammad, and a citizenry of Christians and Muslims who have lived side by side for centuries, have been playing an outsized role in fostering dialogue and common understanding among the world’s faiths.

Participants and observers say Jordan’s interfaith drive is not political expediency or a PR stunt; rather it is the continuation of a unique homegrown tradition of celebrating faiths’ common bonds and values that the kingdom has taken to the world stage as an answer to growing polarization and sectarianism.

Jordan’s first call to action was in the wake of 9/11 and the sectarian violence and terrorism triggered by the Iraq War next door.

King Abdullah crafted and promoted a response – the Amman Message, a document clarifying the central tenets of Islam; rejecting terrorism, extremism, and violence; and denouncing the practice of declaring other Muslims as “apostates.”

Jordan’s decade and a half of interfaith activism is being recognized: Last month King Abdullah was awarded the 2018 Templeton Prize for the country’s interfaith work, becoming only the second Muslim recipient of an award previously granted to the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa.

Upon receiving the prize, the king said he is merely the messenger.

“Everything you honor me for simply carries onward what Jordanian have always done, and how Jordanians have always lived – in mutual kindness, harmony, and brotherhood,” he said.

Unique composition

At first glance Jordan, a desert country of 6.5 million, 97 percent Sunni Muslim and around 3 percent Christian, is not the most obvious candidate for a global epicenter of interfaith dialogue.

But the kingdom, which links the Levant with the Gulf Arab countries, has been the crossroads of Abrahamic faiths and prophets; Abraham is said to have crossed Jordan, as did Muhammad, while Jesus is believed to have been baptized in the Jordan River.

Courtesy of the Royal Hashemite Court/File
Jordan’s King Abdullah presents the King Abdullah II World Interfaith Harmony Week Prize to several recipients from across the world at the Husseniya Palace in Amman, Jordan, on April 30, 2017.

This legacy has left behind mixed communities of Christians and Muslims who have lived and celebrated together for centuries.

“Jordan has created space for different communities and religious groups to gather without any trouble, and this has been an integral part in shaping the modern Jordan,” says Daoud Kuttab, a journalist and observer based in Amman.

Under Jordan’s social mix, Christians and Muslims here say there are no truly segregated communities, and that they are united by a common culture where community, not sect, comes first.

Common values are celebrated while differences in beliefs are acknowledged and respected.

“The philosophy of our model isn’t found at universities, research centers, or think-tanks – you find it in our villages, neighborhoods, and homes,” says Father Nabil Haddad, a Melkite Catholic priest and co-founder of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center. “That is what makes Jordan different.”

Polarization and clashes among Muslims and between the Christian and Muslim world at the turn of the 21st century led Jordanians and their leaders to go one step further: take their model global.

With the Hashemite monarchy presenting the Amman Message after 9/11, 500 Islamic leaders signed on, agreeing on clear guidelines on the authority to issue fatwas, or religious edicts, and denouncing intra-Muslim violence and acts of terror.

For the first time in 1,000 years, the greater Muslim community, or Islamic umma, had spoken in unison over the message of Islam.

In 2005, the publication of Danish cartoons satirizing Muhammad had inflamed the Muslim world; in September 2006, Pope Benedict XVI quoted, and seemingly endorsed, an address by a Byzantine emperor admonishing the Muslim prophet for promoting “things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

‘A Common Word’

With the Christian and Islamic worlds on a collision course, and negative perceptions of Islam spread by violent terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda, the Hashemites once again, led by King Abdullah, responded, penning an open letter from Islamic leaders to church leaders.

This October 2007 letter, “A Common Word Between Us and You,” calls for peace and love between the world’s two largest faiths on the common values of “love of God” and “love thy neighbor” – Biblical injunctions that underpin the centuries-old interfaith model in Jordan.

Many Christian thinkers and theologians who received the message say it was the first time they carefully considered the bonds between Christianity and Islam.

“Before reading this document, if you asked even educated people including me, whether the love of God and the love of neighbor is central to Islam, I would have said no,” says Miroslav Volf, a Protestant theologian and director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, one of the first to endorse and pen a response to the letter. “ ‘A Common Word’ was an eye-opener.”

The extended hand of interfaith fellowship reaches beyond Christians and Muslims; Jewish leaders along with Druze and Bahai take part in Jordanian initiatives.

Hundreds of Christian leaders and Jewish figures have since signed “A Common Word” – the chief rabbis of Israel issued a communique with the Archbishop of Canterbury endorsing the letter – responding with their own perspective on the bonds between the three Abrahamic faiths, and launching a global dialogue that continues to this day.

Jordan’s interfaith centers also have produced publications on prominent Arab Christians and the bonds between Judaism and Islam, and have been translating Jewish texts and the writings of prominent Jewish theologians into Arabic, such as the works of Moses ben Maimon, a renowned Sephardic Jewish scholar from Cordoba – then Muslim Andalusia.  

“A Common Word” led Professor Volf to write a book on the Christian view of “Allah,” concluding that Christians and Muslims indeed refer to and worship the same god.

‘We are all people of the book’

In 2010, the country pushed for the establishment of the United Nations’ World Interfaith Harmony Week. Interfaith harmony became more than a talking point; it became Jordanian foreign policy. At home, interfaith forums, conferences and dialogues take place nearly weekly.

“We are not promoting an ideology, it is about creating a common venue and safe space where people can communicate, celebrate common values, and acknowledge and respect our differences,” says Wajih Kanso, director of the Royal Institute of Inter-Faith Studies, one of three interfaith institutes in the capital.

“This is not for a political agenda or to gain power or benefits, it is just to get the message of interfaith harmony out there.”

At the individual level, Jordanians say they find themselves attuned to interfaith work.

While studying for a graduate degree in peace studies in Spain, Renee Hattar says she found herself drawn to researching the interfaith origins of music – namely Eastern Christian hymns and mystic Sufi music.

Through her research she learned more of the Jordanian-led initiatives, and suddenly found herself returning to her homeland and, as part of the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies, working to unite young Christians, Sunni, Shiite, Druze, and Bahai through music, drama, and storytelling.

“Interfaith harmony is not an invented context, it is natural for us Jordanians as we are used to having different religions around us,” says Ms. Hattar.

Mohammed Abed raises money with his Muslim and Christian friends and neighbors to distribute food for refugees in Amman.

“We are all people of the book, no matter what happens in politics; Muslims, Christians, and Jews have common values,” Mr. Abed says. “We must respect that we worship the same God and we love our neighbor as a fellow man.”

The Hashemites

Jordan’s interfaith drive has a huge supporter. The Hashemites have used their symbolic status as Muhammad’s descendants to give weight to the interfaith message.

King Abdullah has carried Jordan’s interfaith message to the UN General Assembly, the Vatican, and capitals across the West. Prince Hassan and Prince Ghazi crisscross the globe as ambassadors for Jordan’s message; Hassan, who heads the institute that is translating the works of Jewish theologians, reaches out to and meets with Jewish, Buddhist, and other faith communities in the West.

“To have someone steeped historically in the tradition of Islam all the way back to the prophet Muhammad send this message, it made us as Christians stop and look deeply at the common values and respond enthusiastically,” Professor Volf says.

Jordan’s efforts go beyond linking East and West, but also in healing intra-Muslim rifts. The Hashemites’ legitimacy and symbolic authority are recognized by Muslims of all sects and schools.

Indeed, Jordan remains one of the few meeting places in the world where Shiite clerics, hardline Salafist preachers, Christian pastors, and rabbis can gather and freely discuss their views.

Jordan has also leveraged its internationally recognized custodianship of Christian and Islamic sites in Jerusalem to promote coexistence. While maintaining Islamic sites such as Al Aqsa Mosque, Jordan has also helped fund the renovation of the Church of Ascendance on the Mount of Olives and the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

The Hashemites have also donated land at Bethany, widely recognized as the Baptism site of Jesus, to various denominations.

Accepting the 2018 Templeton Prize in a ceremony attended by the UN secretary-general at the National Cathedral in Washington, Abdullah announced he would donate prize proceeds to renovations of both the Holy Sepulcher and Islamic sites in Jerusalem.

It was a long overdue recognition, Jordanians say.

“Celebrating each-others’ shared values, respecting [our] differences, and taking active roles in society – that is our recipe,” says Father Haddad.

“Every day, we tell the world, come and try our recipe.”

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4. ‘Four Freedoms’: Artists put own spin on Rockwell’s classics

Rockwell's paintings represent freedoms most Americans agree on. What happens to the discussion when the World War II-era images are updated for a modern audience?

Mark
Jeff Scroggins/Courtesy of For Freedoms
The iconic ‘Four Freedoms’ art of Norman Rockwell gets reimagined in this Topeka, Kan., billboard of the same name by artists Hank Willis Thomas and Emily Shur. Billboards are just one of many ways artists have been putting their contemporary twist on Rockwell’s portraits.

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Norman Rockwell’s now iconic paintings from the 1940s are being reimagined by artists aiming to show their relevance to public discourse today. The originals were inspired by a 1941 speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. They represent “Freedom of Speech,” “Freedom of Worship,” “Freedom from Want,” and “Freedom from Fear.” Originally published in The Saturday Evening Post, they were later used to promote the purchase of war bonds during World War II. While some of the new works touch on hot-button issues such as police brutality or deportation, more broadly they represent an intersection of art and civic engagement that challenges the binary national dialogue. Whatever their political views, people can often unite around basic human desires to worship and speak freely, to be free from fear and want. Gina Belafonte, co-director of an arts and social justice initiative founded by her father, Harry, helped recruit people to pose in some of the new photographs. To her, they show that even with greater diversity in the United States, “we can get along, and we can be respectful, and we can make space and time for each other in our hearts and in our minds.”

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‘Four Freedoms’: Artists put own spin on Rockwell’s classics

On Thanksgiving weekend, 75 years after Norman Rockwell took brush to canvas to create his famous Four Freedoms paintings, they sprang to life again – in song. 

With dissonance and syncopated rhythms embodying the diverging voices of democracy, a chorus at the Norman Rockwell Museum here sang a verse from “Freedom of Speech”: “You know that We the People agree to disagree/ and that’s Okay, we like it that way!/ A little bit of chaos creates the space for a healthy democracy…” 

Inspired by a 1941 speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the paintings – which also include “Freedom of Worship,” “Freedom from Want,” and “Freedom from Fear” – were originally published in The Saturday Evening Post and then used to promote the purchase of war bonds during World War II.

Lately, many artists have been putting their contemporary twist on Rockwell’s iconic aspirational portraits – and reaching a wide audience through political billboards, re-posed modern photographs, sign-making events, and even a ballet performance.

While some of the new works touch on hot-button issues such as police brutality or deportation, more broadly they represent an intersection of art and civic engagement that challenges the binary national dialogue. Whatever their political views, people can often unite around basic human desires to worship and speak freely, to be free from fear and want.

“The paintings seem so dynamic and relevant,” says John Myers, the composer who began creating the Four Freedoms songs in 2015. His compositions are not “overtly political,” but in the wake of the 2016 election, “I felt that [these freedoms] were now under threat, and somehow that also made them more precious,” says Dr. Myers, a professor of music and cultural studies at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in nearby Great Barrington, Mass.

For Freedoms - Hank Willis Thomas and Emily Shur (l.)/KRT Newscom (r.)
The original Norman Rockwell painting of Freedom of Worship (r.) is reimagined by artists Hank Willis Thomas and Emily Shur.

Complicated issues (think health care or immigration) are often oversimplified into partisan camps on 24-hour cable news and social media, but artists can play a role in prompting more nuanced conversations through “radically creative thinking,” says artist Eric Gottesman. Along with Hank Willis Thomas, he co-founded For Freedoms as an artist-run network to encourage public discourse through art.

The goal is to have “creativity [be] seen as an essential patriotic American value,” he says.

Earlier this year, Mr. Thomas and Emily Shur collaborated with For Freedoms to produce a series of photographs – mirroring Rockwell’s compositions by posing celebrities, activists, religious leaders, and everyday people. The images clearly signal we’re not in the 1940s anymore, yet they bear the same timeless expressions of hope, reverence, concern, joy.

The new “Freedom of Worship” photographs, for instance, include a woman wearing hijab, a Native American man holding a feather, and a man wearing a turban.

They show that even with greater diversity in the United States, “we can get along, and we can be respectful, and we can make space and time for each other in our hearts and in our minds,” says Gina Belafonte, co-director of Sankofa.org, an arts and social justice initiative founded by her father, Harry Belafonte. She helped recruit and coordinate people to pose in the photographs.

Jeremy Rafter/Courtesy of For Freedoms
This Lansing, Mich., billboard called 'Human Being' is by artist Jamila El Sahili, who collaborated with For Freedoms, an organization that helped mount billboards and host civic events in advance of midterm elections.

The musical composition based on “Freedom to Worship” was “the hardest one,” says Myers (his project was supported by the Norman Rockwell Museum and is not affiliated with For Freedoms). Myers included Middle Eastern scales and a lyric mentioning the Quran, to include Islam alongside Christian and Judaic references and Renaissance techniques.

At the November concert, a little girl waved her arms like conductor Christine Gevert as the Crescendo Vocal Ensemble sang “My faith means more to me than life itself./ And yet we must respect the heritage and decisions of our neighbors.” 

“It’s very exciting to see that artists of all kinds really still identify the Four Freedoms and particularly Rockwell’s work as being relevant today,” says Stephanie Plunkett, the museum’s chief curator. 

The Rockwell paintings are traveling in the US and France until September 2020 as part of the museum’s exhibit “Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms.” The exhibit includes 40 contemporary works selected from among 1,000 entries. They run the gamut – from a painting of a homeless woman and child in the doorway of a fancy bakery to a piece combining drawing and digital media as a comment on “fake news.”

It also includes context from Rockwell’s later works on subjects like racial integration. Many “have thought of him as an artist who painted hometown scenes, scenes of everyday life, often with a touch of humor. To see him take on some very important social concerns in a strong way is very surprising to people,” Ms. Plunkett says. 

This year, For Freedoms partnered with hundreds of galleries and colleges on a 50 State Initiative, mounting billboards and hosting civic events in advance of midterm elections.

One black-and-white billboard displayed the Arabic words for “human being.” Created by artist Jamila El Sahili, it towered over voters in Michigan, one of two states that went on to elect the first Muslim women to the US Congress. 

The Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier hosted a For Freedoms sign-making event, inviting people to fill in templates with words that showed appreciation for, or concerns about, their freedoms. Some sign-makers marched in the Fourth of July parade.

“If you start a conversation about the things you appreciate about being an American, you can get a lot of people to weigh in on that who have varying political opinions,” says Brittany Powell, associate director of a graphic design program at the college.

The For Freedoms projects are “expanding the civic vocabulary of viewers of art,” Mr. Gottesman says. Analysis of a large survey to measure the impact is pending.

As politicians around the world focus on a variety of perceived threats, Gottesman says he and his For Freedoms partners hope it’s possible "to motivate people without stoking their fears. Artists often do that by creating alternative structures, alternative language to engage.”

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5. Best of 2018: The Monitor’s favorite fiction

Monitor reviewers’ favorite works of fiction this year include reimaginings of ‘Beowulf’ and ‘Circe’ and the latest from Kate Atkinson and Anne Tyler.

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Best of 2018: The Monitor’s favorite fiction

Books can be a haven, an escape, and a window into lives that are not our own. Monitor book critics were delighted by many this year, and these are the cream of the crop, perfect for a gift for a loved one or a treat for yourself. We hope you enjoy. To read the full reviews of many of these books, check out CSMonitor.com.

Transcription, by Kate Atkinson

Little, Brown, 352 pp.

“Life After Life” author Kate Atkinson returns with a novel about a young woman who works during World War II to transcribe MI5’s surveillance of British fascist allies. 

Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen, by Sarah Bird

St. Martin’s Press, 416 pp.

This novel tells the true and almost forgotten story of Cathay Williams, a former slave who became part of a regiment of black “buffalo soldiers” after the Civil War. 

Becoming Mrs. Lewis, by Patti Callahan

Thomas Nelson, 432 pp.

The novel focuses on the real-life romance of authors C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman, who started their relationship as pen pals and eventually married. 

The Cloister, by James Carroll

Knopf, 384 pp.

In James Carroll’s tale, a priest and a Jewish Holocaust survivor encounter each other at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Cloisters in New York. As their separate tales unfold, each recognizes the need to forgive themselves for the past.

The Mere Wife, by Maria Dahvana Headley

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 320 pp.

“Beowulf” is reimagined in Maria Dahvana Headley’s novel, which takes place in a suburb where the sons of two very different women become acquainted. 

Our Homesick Songs, by Emma Hooper

Simon & Schuster, 336 pp.

Emma Hooper’s novel takes place in a struggling fishing village in Newfoundland. Aiden and Martha Conner have remained in the town, but they find themselves facing a difficult choice when the government says anyone remaining should go. 

Greeks Bearing Gifts, by Philip Kerr

Penguin, 528 pp.

“Greeks Bearing Gifts” is Philip Kerr’s latest (and one of his last, as Kerr died earlier this year) about Bernie Gunther, a detective working in Nazi Germany. In this story, Bernie becomes involved with a case about a former Wehrmacht soldier who may have been trafficking treasures taken from Jews. 

Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver

HarperCollins, 480 pp.

Vineland, N.J., in the 19th century and in the present day are the dual settings of Barbara Kingsolver’s new work. In the present, Willa inherits an old house. In the 19th century, a couple lives in what appears to be that same house with the wife’s mother and sister. 

Circe, by Madeline Miller

Little, Brown, 400 pp.

Madeline Miller’s newest novel, following the acclaimed “The Song of Achilles,” retells the story of Circe, who meets familiar figures including Odysseus.

Gateway to the Moon, by Mary Morris

Knopf, 256 pp.

“Gateway to the Moon” charts the story of a family, from members who escape the Spanish Inquisition and travel to America to their contemporary descendant, Miguel, who is intrigued to find out that a Jewish family he works for has similar traditions to his own. 

All the Lives We Never Lived, by Anuradha Roy

Atria, 288 pp.

Anuradha Roy’s latest centers on Myshkin, who as an adult looks back on his earlier life during the late 1930s and early 1940s in India and his mother leaving the family. 

Clock Dance, by Anne Tyler

Knopf, 304 pp.

Anne Tyler’s lovely new work tells the story of an older woman who is seeking purpose in her life and becomes a temporary caregiver to a mother and daughter. 

The Map of Salt and Stars, by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

Touchstone, 368 pp.

Two trips take place in this novel – one is an expedition in medieval times that aims to map the Arabic world using the stars and the other is that of 11-year-old Nour, who travels to Syria, the country of her mother’s birth. 

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The Monitor's View

Those tiny flying intruders

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The huge disruption of air travel at Britain’s second-busiest airport caused by small unmanned flying drones has brought new attention to a growing risk to public safety, privacy, and security. British authorities remain unsure of the culprit and have offered a reward for information. For years futurists have theorized about the wonders of a world of drones, perhaps most famously presented in the promise by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in 2013 that delivery of packages by drone was only four or five years away. That hasn’t happened but unfortunately misuse of private drones has grown. Drones have secretly delivered drugs or other illegal items to prison inmates and have been used by a professional soccer team in Germany to spy on a rival club. But defenders are making progress too. Devices can shoot netting at drones to bring them down without resorting to gunfire. Electronic countermeasures can jam GPS to drop drones from the sky. And in the Netherlands, police are trying a low-tech solution, training eagles to snatch drones with their talons to bring them to earth. After Gatwick, it seems certain more attention will be paid by both government and private industry to counter these tiny intruders before they cause any more serious harm.

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Those tiny flying intruders

The huge disruption of air travel at Britain’s second-busiest airport caused by small unmanned flying drones has brought new scrutiny to a growing risk to public safety, privacy, and security.

The incidents began Dec. 19 and over three days affected more than 1,000 flights and 140,000 passengers, with drones spotted at least 40 times. British authorities remain unsure of the culprit and have offered a reward for helpful information.

Small flying drones don’t need to carry any kind of explosive or weapon to pose a danger at airports. They could be sucked into a plane’s air intake and cause an engine failure, for example. Police and security teams are reluctant to shoot them down in populated areas because of the risk from stray bullets or the falling drones themselves.

Simple hobbyist drones can cost less than $100 and more sophisticated versions sell online for under $1,000.

Some 200,000 drones are sold for civilian use around the world every month, according to a study from Oxford Research Group’s remote control project. Nearly a million private drones were registered with the Federal Aviation Administration as of October 2017. 

For years researchers and futurists have theorized about the wonders of a world of drones, perhaps most famously presented in the promise by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in 2013 that delivery of packages by drone was only four or five years away. 

That hasn’t happened but unfortunately misuse of private drones has grown: For example, in November a commercial aircraft approaching Boston’s Logan Airport spotted a drone flying just below it, one of a number of reported incidents near airports. 

Drones have also secretly delivered drugs or other illegal items to prison inmates and have been used by a professional soccer team in Germany to spy on a rival club. Drones have even tried to look down on and capture the secretive filming of the popular TV series “Game of Thrones.” (The production company supposedly employed high-tech “drone killers” to fend off the nosy intruders.)

While industrial espionage remains a real concern, researchers have considered even more sinister uses. “Think of nearly any worst-case scenario, and you can probably do it with a drone,” says Kunal Jain of the drone security company Dedrone.

Tiny drones can be hard to detect and can operate even at night. But defenders are making progress, too. Devices can shoot netting at drones from the ground or from friendly drones to bring them down without resorting to gunfire. Electronic countermeasures can jam GPS or other onboard systems to drop drones from the sky. And in the Netherlands, police are trying a low-tech solution, training eagles to snatch drones with their talons to bring them to earth.

After Gatwick, it seems certain more attention should and will be paid by both government and private industry to counter these tiny intruders before they cause more serious harm. 

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Interfaith interactions that counter fear and hate

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Inspired by a meaningful experience at a local temple shortly after the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue this fall, today’s contributor considers how God’s limitless, universal love breaks down barriers of hostility.

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Interfaith interactions that counter fear and hate

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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The recent shooting at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh during a baby-naming ceremony once again put a spotlight on hatred and prejudice that beg for healing in our world. Following this atrocity, the American Jewish Committee issued an invitation to people of all faiths across the United States to #ShowUpForShabbat.

My city in the suburbs of Boston, which has a large Jewish population, hosted an interfaith Shabbat at our local temple. It was full to capacity for the evening service, and I was among those gathered with my neighbors to pray and sing in support of our common goal to promote peace and goodwill in the fight against extremism. Though there were several others from my local Christian Science church attending, we each chose to sit with new friends.

There was something incredibly powerful about worshiping with strangers. The man next to me spoke Hebrew as we went through the evening’s readings. At one point we were all asked to hold hands and look into one another’s eyes, acknowledging our common humanity. At the end, we lifted our voices in the well-known song “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” What a beautiful reminder of God’s care and love for all regardless of faith or ethnicity. I drove home with a lighter heart.

I’ve learned in Christian Science that God is Love and that our true relation to Him is as the spiritual sons and daughters of a common divine Father-Mother. That isn’t just a beautiful but abstract idea. To know God as Love, and to understand that we are Love’s spiritual offspring, awakens us to the need to express love to others and to see it expressed in others. You could say our capacity to love our neighbor is limitless, because we are the limitless reflection of limitless divine Love. As the offspring of the one universal divine Parent, we each naturally express divine qualities – including the kind of love that is pure, tender, impartial, and expressed in a right desire to promote peace and harmony in our homes and communities.

This is a powerful basis for supporting our neighbors of all backgrounds. I’ve seen time and again that striving to see others as divine Love sees us all – not as mortals prone to hate but as the spiritual expressions of God’s unending love – counters the kind of fear and animosity that can result in harmful actions.

I had the opportunity to share some thoughts about that the afternoon before I attended the Shabbat service. I ran into a friend at the dog park where I take daily walks. He told me he had grown up in the same Pittsburgh neighborhood, and he even knew one of the women tragically murdered that day. Our city has a large and supportive Jewish population, and yet he confided he didn’t feel safe even stepping into a temple. As we lingered at our cars, he asked how I would address this issue. He knows I am a Christian Scientist, so I shared with him that I believed prayer was a key solution. He wasn’t convinced of prayer but said he wanted to do what he could to fight for peace and against fear. I told him that I felt that was a form of prayer – to insist on love, not hatred, based on the Scriptural wisdom “Perfect love casteth out fear” (I John 4:18). He said he’d never thought about prayer like that and appreciated that perspective.

The perfect love that casts out fear is divine Love, God, and as we grow in our understanding of Love’s ever-presence, we gain a deeper sense of safety and refuge in His care. This passage from the biblical Psalmist speaks to that and has been an inspiration to me as I pray for the safety of my global neighbors today: “Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalms 124:7, 8).

As we work to break down barriers of hostility, divine Love will move us to find common understanding and peace with our brothers and sisters of all faiths.

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Viewfinder

Seeking safe harbor

Jorge Silva/Reuters
People are evacuated in Sumur, Indonesia, Dec. 26, after a tsunami killed more than 400 people over the weekend. Part of a volcano slid into the ocean, causing the tsunami, and officials have warned Anak Krakatau is still active. The country’s tsunami warning system has been broken since 2012 because of a lack of money, ships damaging the warning buoys, and vandalism. Indonesia’s president has promised a new early warning system by next year.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( December 27th, 2018 )

Thank you for joining us today. We hope you’ll come back tomorrow for the end of our two-month series on migration, which has spanned a dozen countries. From Canada, our last installment looks at the kindness that has sprung up to help those in need.  

Monitor Daily Podcast

December 26, 2018
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