Filtering by Category: Interfaith Dialogue

  •   Poverty, Interfaith Dialogue   •  

Iconic pastor comes to Apopka on a mission to eradicate homelessness

Iconic pastor comes to Apopka on a mission to eradicate homelessness - The Apopka Voice

By Reggie Connell/ Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice Hurricane Irma slammed into Apopka last week with unexpected fury and jarred the community to its core. Streets flooded, trees fell, and the vast majority of residents lost power at their homes, but when the wind and rain subsided, Apopka came together and began the process of recovery from the devastation that Irma inflicted.

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  •   Interfaith Dialogue, Poverty, Reconciliation   •  

Churches recruited for battle against homelessness

Churches recruited for battle against homelessness

Charles Pitts, a retired Lake Mary executive, was attending service athis Longwood church late last year when his pastor launched a recruiting mission for foot soldiers in the battle against homelessness. "I knew immediately I wanted to join," said Pitts, 72, who has lived at both ends of the rags to riches spectrum.

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  •   Interfaith Dialogue, Peace   •  

Joel Hunter joins other faith leaders against terrorism

Joel Hunter joins other faith leaders against terrorism Joel Hunter joins other faith leaders against terrorism Central Florida’s religious community will be conducting a joint event to build compassionate communities on Saturday, Feb. 28, from 1 p.m.-3:30 p.m. The event will take place at the American Muslim Community Center, located at 811 Wilma Street, in Longwood, Fla.

Participants include Dr. Joel C. Hunter of Northland, A Church Distributed; Atif Fareed of American Muslim Community Centers; Rabbi Steven W. Engel of Congregation of Reform Judaism; Pastor Jim Mory, Longwood Hills Congregational Church; Ustadh Ali Ataie of Zaytuna College and other individuals and faith leaders. Together, they will focus on how to build compassionate communities and speak out against those seeking to tear down the human family.

"We strongly condemn violence against any innocent victims in the name of God, national or international interests. This shall include the murder, beheading, burning, rape or bombing of innocent people, whether Christians, Jews, Muslims or adherents of any other faith. Acts of domestic or international terrorism and the desecration or bombing of any church, mosque, synagogue or any house of worship are violations of divine principles and will not be condoned by any of the three Abrahamic faiths."

Central Florida Muslim leaders will also sign the Judeo-Christian-Islamic Peace Covenant. The Judeo-Christian-Islamic Covenant is an agreement between the three Abrahamic faiths and its leaders to adhere to common universal principles in a spirit of mutual respect, love and indiscriminate compassion for all innocent victims worldwide ... to stand against bigotry, hate, intolerance and cooperate in a spirit of brotherhood through dialogue and love, mutual trust and understanding.

The event is free and open to the public. Please RSVP by emailing

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  •   Interfaith Dialogue, Peace   •  

'We Have Something In Common' -- Obama's Spiritual Adviser On Iran Trip

'We Have Something In Common' -- Obama's Spiritual Adviser On Iran Trip

Joel Hunter, a spiritual adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama, recently spent about a week discussing religious tolerance with officials in Iran, a country often singled out by rights groups for its intolerance toward its religious minorities.

Hunter, a senior pastor of Northland Church in Florida who led a delegation of U.S. religious leaders to the Islamic republic, says he was invited by Iranian religious leaders and scholars to attend a conference.

The conference titled "World Free of Violence and Extremism from the Perspective of Abrahamic Religions" was held in Tehran on May 25.

Hunter, who describes himself as someone who helps Obama get closer to God, says he will brief the U.S. President on his trip, which included a visit to the holy city of Qom.

Hunter's visit to Iran is likely to be castigated by hard-liners in the country as well as critics in the United States who oppose engagement efforts with an Islamic establishment that has been accused of serious human rights abuses.

A conservative Iranian website questioned the trip on June 2 and asked authorities whether it had been coordinated with the country's security and intelligence bodies.

"Is this trip part of the project to make 'America look good' by the pro-Western faction to send positive impulses to U.S. officials?" asked.

Despite the criticism, Hunter says the trip was worth it.

"That's part of how we make progress, is that those of us who know we're going to be blamed by some of the hard-liners, for even having these conversations," he said. "We believe it's worth the risk because we're not going to make progress as countries or even as religious communities for not talking to one another."

Path To Peace

Hunter said he met with Iran's parliament speaker, advisers to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, officials of Iran's academy of science, Christian and Jewish leaders, and Grand Ayatollahs in Qom.

He added that religious extremism and violence as well as a faith-based path to peace were among the main topics he discussed with Iranian officials.

Asked whether he raised the issue of Iranian state pressure on religious minorities, including Christian converts, Hunter said those subjects were discussed in "sidebar conversations".

In his latest report, Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, noted that religious minorities in the Islamic republic, including Baha'is and Christians, face violations entrenched in law and practice. Sufis are reportedly also coming under increasing pressure by the Iranian establishment and hard-line clerics who describe the Sufi interpretation of Islam as deviant.

"We didn't go over there to confront people on certain issues," said Hunter. "But...we have built enough of a relationship to address those specific conversations and we talked through those together, and what steps we could do to build a better environment."

Pastor Hunter also said that he was aware that his trip could be used for propaganda purposes by Iranian officials who often claim that all the country's citizens enjoy the same rights.

"Everybody will use our trip for propaganda purposes," he said. "It's the nature of the beast, that's what politics is."

Decreasing Tensions

Hunter said he believes religious leaders can play a role in decreasing tensions between the United States and Iran.

Washington broke its diplomatic ties with Iran following the 1979 revolution and the hostage-taking of U.S. diplomats in Tehran. In the past 35 years, the two countries have been at odds over a number of issues, including Iran's support for terrorism and its controversial nuclear program.

In recent weeks, Iran and the United States, as well as other world powers, have been engaged in talks aimed at finding a lasting solution to the crisis over Iran's sensitive nuclear work.

According to Hunter, certain areas, including religious violence and persecution, can only be solved through dialogue among religious leaders.

"We believe that we have something in common and out of the commonality of our religious communities, we can build the kind of relationship and trust that politics simply can't," he said. "Only through religious leadership or the exchange of religious leaders, we believe peace is going to be successfully built between our two countries."

In an email to RFE/RL, a State Department official said that the United States is aware of independent initiatives by various U.S. religious figures to foster interfaith dialogue with Iranian religious scholars.

"We commend such efforts to promote interfaith tolerance and religious freedom, a foreign policy priority for the Department," the official said.

The official added that Washington was also aware that a small delegation of U.S. Catholics visited Iran in March, entirely independent of the U.S. government.


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  •   Interfaith Dialogue, Justice   •  

Evangelicals At The Crossroads

The Jewish Week

Evangelicals At The Crossroads A younger generation is pushing a more nuanced analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; should Jews be worried? 2/19/14, THE JEWISH WEEK, by Jonathan Mark, Associate Editor

Last December, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sent Christmas greetings recalling the ancient birth of a holy child, a Palestinian child: Jesus, the “Palestinian messenger” of hope. Some in the West surely thought Abbas’ words as meaningless as a popular Arab song referring to Tel Aviv as a Palestinian city, or claims that a Jewish Temple was never on the Temple Mount. But in the little town of Bethlehem, the Bethlehem Bible College, an Evangelical institution, is preparing for “Christ at the Checkpoint,” a four-day conference that begins on March 10.

The conference will address, says its website, “the injustices in the Palestinian territories.” The previous conference, in 2012, issued a “manifesto” that turned Evangelical support for Israel on its head: “Any exclusive claim to land of the Bible in the name of God is not in line with the teaching of Scripture,” it read. The statement continued, “[The] suffering of the Palestinian people can no longer be ignored,” and “Christians must understand the global context for the rise of extremist Islam.”

For those asking, “What would Jesus do?” the answer, according to the conference website, is that Jesus would be alongside the “oppressed” Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints, and that’s where Evangelical support should be, as well.

This is not just the talk in Bethlehem. A December 2011 article in Relevant, a Florida-based magazine aimed at young American Evangelicals, gave a similar twist to the Gospel: There’d be no Three Wise Men if you “place an eight-meter-high wall between the Magi and Baby Jesus. … He’d be without citizenship. …

Considered to be a security threat from birth, he’d receive his green Palestinian ID at the age of 16. ... He would be prohibited from crossing the wall into Jerusalem only 15 minutes away.”

And yet the lineup for the “Checkpoint” in March is attracting some of the most influential Evangelicals in the West: William Wilson, president of Oral Roberts University; Geoff Tunnicliffe, secretary-general of the World Evangelical Alliance; and Joseph Cumming of Yale University’s Center for Faith and Culture. What happened to all that unquestioning Evangelical Zionism we thought we knew so much about? With the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement gathering steam, it’s a question that takes on added urgency as Israel becomes increasingly isolated on the world stage.

Evangelical Zionism, the political and spiritual heart of U.S. support for Israel, may have peaked, with an internal schism threatening to erode Israel’s most important foreign alliance, observers are beginning to say. Though Christian Zionists are still the dominant majority among America’s 50 million Evangelicals, a new wave of Evangelicals, the “millennials,” more interested in “social justice” than geopolitics. And they are advocating an “even-handed” approach to the Israel-Palestinian problem, with some more sympathetic to the Palestinians.

David Brog, executive director of Christians United For Israel (CUFI), an Evangelical Zionist group known for being enthusiastically supportive of Israel, told The Jewish Week that he sensed the left’s growing strength. “The last three or four years I’ve started to get that sinking feeling, they were making inroads …. influencing Evangelicals well beyond the extreme left. ... They are finding an interested audience" among the young. The “anti-Israel" message, said Brog, “is resonating. This generation is in play.” (CUFI, chaired by Pastor John Hagee, has ruffled some feathers in parts of the Jewish community for at times staking out positions to the right of Israeli and U.S. policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.)

Jews, said Robert W. Nicholson, an Evangelical writer, should know that what drives traditional Christian Zionism is not messianism or conversion but Scripture, “belief in the truth of God’s eternal covenant” with Israel; that God will “bless those who bless” Israel and “curse those who curse.”

However, younger Evangelicals are reportedly less “text-oriented” than their elders, so Israel — whose Evangelical support is driven by biblical text, with past and future promises — is at a disadvantage when juxtaposed with the Palestinian claims for social justice in the here and now.

In Mosaic, the Tikvah Fund’s online journal of Jewish ideas, Nicholson warns that some at the “Checkpoint” conference may express a concern for “peace, justice, and reconciliation.” But what this actually translates to, he says, “is unceasing criticism of perceived Israeli injustice, racism and occupation, peppered with special disdain for Evangelical Zionists who allegedly exacerbate the conflict” by supporting Israel.

The 2010 inaugural “Checkpoint” conference (held every two years) featured Palestinian Rev. Naim Ateek, who once sent out the Easter message, “Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him. ... The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily. Palestine has become the place of the skull.”

Rev. Joel Hunter is among the more centrist leaders in the “Checkpoint” camp. Pastor of an Evangelical megachurch called Northland, with 20,000 congregants at several locations in and around Orlando, Fla., he serves on the board of the World Evangelical Alliance (representing 600 million) and the National Association of Evangelicals (representing 30 million). Indicative of those Evangelicals who don’t want to be considered interchangeable with Republicans, he is the author of “A New Kind of Conservative,” advocating a nonpartisan approach.

A speaker at the 2012 “Checkpoint,” Rev. Hunter told The Jewish Week, “I’m well aware and regret the insecurities that this conference has brought about, some of it justifiable because of some of the participants, and we all get that. But the point of the conference is to identify and hear from Arab Christians. While I was there [at the last conference] I spoke to many people and did not hear one word about Israel as an enemy.” (Ateek didn’t speak at the 2012 conference.)

Everyone agrees, said Rev. Hunter, about the need for “the security and ongoing prosperity of Israel, which is our very good friend and important to our scriptures. But there has been a long theological strand that has been predominant in the loudest voice of the Evangelical movement, identifying the modern-day State of Israel with the [prophecies of the] Hebrew Scriptures. … Anything that would present a more balanced, more compassionate view for all those living in the land, and telling all of their stories was seen as a threat, as a heresy. As we learn more and more about the complications of the peace process, and of the legitimate and significant sufferings of those who have been limited for the sake of security, we want to include them. It doesn’t at all diminish our loyalty to Israel, but it does help us see the other side of the story.”

However, after the 2012 conference defended by Rev. Hunter, the Evangelical magazine Charisma magazine had its doubts, and headlined: “Did Christ at the Checkpoint Conference Undermine Israel?”

The home page for next month’s “Checkpoint” features a graphic depicting Israel’s security wall as a high, dark and foreboding prison wall. Dwarfed by the wall, a Palestinian is planting an olive tree, symbol of peace.

Lee Smith, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, feared the negativity. He warned in Tablet, “If the ‘Christ at the Checkpoint’ camp wins out, the pro-Israel Jewish community that once looked warily upon evangelical support may come to regard that movement with nostalgia.”

And “bitter regret,” adds Nicholson; regret for the way Jews have been dismissive of Evangelical Zionists. “Christian Zionism cannot be taken for granted.”

Other than Orthodox Jews, American Evangelicals are still the leading supporters of Israel. A 2013 Pew survey found that 82 percent of Evangelicals believe that Israel was given to the Jewish people by God, but 18 percent are no longer certain; 42 percent of Evangelicals now believe that Israel and a Palestinian state can coexist peacefully; a minority opinion but a substantial one.

Among the advocacy groups linked to the new Evangelicals is the Telos Group, founded in 2009 by Todd Deatherage and Gregory Khalil. Deatherage, an Evangelical Republican, worked as chief of staff for Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.) and later for the George W. Bush state department; Khalil, a Christian Palestinian, is, according to the Telos website, a “longtime Democrat and a former adviser to Palestinian leaders on peace negotiations.”

Telos, on its website, states that peace would be more likely if Evangelicals were to “pursue the common good for everyone in the Holy Land,” Palestinians as well as Israelis.

Telos’ Deatherage told The Jewish Week, “People try to put us — and the whole situation — in a box, that you can’t be pro-Israel if you’re pro-Palestinian. I do think there can be another way that could encourage a positive difference, as long as it doesn’t devolve into a zero-sum approach. I see that as a dead end — for both peoples.”

Trips to Israel, sponsored by Evangelicals on both sides of the divide, underline the different narratives that have taken hold. The Evangelical Zionists, for example, promote the idea that the Israeli Christian population is the only one in the Middle East that is growing, whereas the Christian population in the Islamic-dominated Gaza and West Bank is shrinking.

On the other end, one of the “new Evangelicals,” who asked not to be named, told The Jewish Week, “I have met with a lot of Palestinian Christians through the years and I have never met a Palestinian Christian who said, ‘My family left here because of Muslim pressure or persecution. Never once. I’ve heard many of them say, ‘We left because it’s too hard to live here. I can’t get from here to there without going through checkpoints. I don’t have educational or economic opportunities. We only have water once a week in our home. That is the reason that Palestinian Christians have stated to me why they’ve left. Christians are not fleeing Bethlehem because of Muslim persecution.”

Yes, polls show that the Evangelicals, as a whole, are still very pro-Israel, but CUFI’s Brog warns, “I’m worried that what we’re seeing could translate, in a generation, to a real shift in the community.”


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  •   Interfaith Dialogue, Public Square   •  

Orlando Sentinel: Interfaith prayer service honors Joel Hunter

Interfaith prayer service honors Joel Hunter

One by one, members of different faiths and beliefs stepped forward Tuesday night to light candles in remembrance of loved ones they had lost.

In the procession of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists, Northland Church Pastor Joel Hunter and his wife Becky lit a candle for their son, Isaac Hunter.

In the end, some 70 candles flickered in a small sanctuary of the St. James Catholic Cathedral in downtown Orlando during the hour-long Interfaith Prayer Service for Peace.

"Many of us faced losses this past year or unresolved losses," said Rev. Bryan Fulwider, a Congregational minister. "We are strengthened, we are healed, by standing together, walking together, being together."

Leaders of the major religions as well as representatives of the Sikh, Unitarian and Baha'i faiths, also said prayers.

The service was both an act of empathy for all who lost friends and relatives and a public show of support for Hunter, whose son died by suicide in December.

"This is a service designed to bring comfort to all that have had losses, but it's also a collective embrace of him and his family for their loss of Isaac," said Pastor James Coffin, executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.

Coffin said the idea of focusing on personal peace following a private tragedy came from Orlando Catholic Diocese Bishop John Noonan, who started the annual interfaith prayer service about three years ago.

Hunter is widely respected within the faith community for his commitment to building relationships with leaders of different religions.

One of his longest friendships is with Imam Muhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida.

"He is an evangelical leader who got a lot of flak for going out and meeting with Muslims and other communities," said Musri, who sat beside Hunter.

"The least we can do is be with him and lift up his spirit."

That willingness to join in with other religions might have cost Hunter friends among evangelicals, but his commitment to interfaith cooperation is the natural extension of his Christian faith, said Fulwider, president of Building US, a nonprofit diversity consulting and training organization.

"He has become a friend to those in other faith communities because this is who Jesus calls him to be," Fulwider said.

"He is not a person who cuts off relations because you have a difference of understanding or belief or thoughts. To me that is the heart of the Christian gospel." or 407-420-5392.


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  •   Interfaith Dialogue   •  

World Evangelical Alliance condemns the burning of the Qur’an

Terry Jones, minister of a 25-member congregation in Gainesville, Florida publicly burned a copy of the Qur’an today — as he had warned he would do — an act strenuously condemned by the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA). The WEA is the global association of evangelicals, representing some 600 million Evangelical Protestants around the world. “The burning of a sacred text is wrong and unwarranted. The burning of the Qur’an is especially grievous to Muslims and does not reflect the biblical values nor the spirit of the Lord Jesus whom we serve," said Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, Secretary General of the WEA. "We appeal to Islamic leaders worldwide to understand that this self-proclaimed antagonist does not represent Christians. Indeed he violates the call of Jesus to love people everywhere. Such violence does harm to us all. ”

Jones' public burning followed a personal meeting and intense conversation just one day earlier with representatives of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), including Tunnicliffe.

Tunnicliffe had personally challenged Jones to listen to fellow Christian leaders from North America — and if not them — at least hear concerns of a Christian pastor from an Islamic country. Rev. Daniel Ho of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was at the meeting requesting that Jones divert from this course of action, along with Dr. Joel C. Hunter, pastor of Northland Church in Orlando and Dr. Brian Stiller, Global Ambassador for the WEA. The group met with Jones for approximately 90 minutes.

Jones first came to public attention in September, 2010 when he threatened to burn a Qur’an. He eventually withdrew his threat, but staged an online mock trial on Islam and burned a copy of the Qur’an in April 2011. Within days, 22 UN workers and nine protesters were killed in Afghanistan, two were dead in Pakistan, with churches attacked and Bibles burned in Hyderabad.

Jones’ current campaign is directed at the Iranian government around the issue of imprisoned pastor Youcef Naderkhani, who has been tried and convicted of apostasy and attempting to evangelize Muslims. Naderkhani is under sentence of death, a matter strenuously objected to by the US State Department, the Canadian government and other countries.

However, Jones admitted during the meeting with WEA members that the case of the Iranian pastor was simply a current opportunity to object.

In meeting with Tunnicliffe and associates, Jones said that after spending 30 years in Cologne Germany, he returned to find his beloved America awash in moral corruption, weakened by a failing church, diminished by a “gutless” government and overrun by Islamic clerics and their threat of Sharia law. Jones said: “God spoke to me” about defacing Islam in desecrating its Qur’an and doing what he could to “wake up America.”

Operating under Stand Up America Now, an organization whose purpose, according to its website is "is to encourage Americans and the Church to stand up." Jones concedes this had nothing to do with Christian love or evangelism, but are “acts of resistance or revolution.”

Because love and evangelism were weak, “unable to make a dent,” Jones believed it was time to cause a stir. He says that he had no idea of the public interest in the public burning of Islam’s holy book: “I didn’t realize it would create such a stir.”

But he took that very stir as a sign: “God wanted me to get involved.”

The Friday, April 28 meeting was a tough, no-holds-barred conversation. The dialogue was respectful, direct and civil. The WEA group focused on biblical values, living as Jesus would have us live, caring for consequences of Christians in other lands and reviewing Jones’ logic that he was the courageous one.

Jones confusion over love for America – as he thinks it was and should be – and the Gospel was obvious. While reminding the delegation that he followed Christ, he no longer believes loving others is a fair and workable strategy.

“Would you be willing to come to Malaysia and look into the faces of my family and tell them why you burned the Qur’an, if your action caused my death?” asked Malaysian Pastor Ho. Jones had no answer.

Asked if he had ever met a Christian leader from a Muslim-dominated country, he laughed. When asked if he ever had concerns over what his actions and words did to Christians in such countries, he said, “I bear no responsibility.”

Pressed to line up his actions with biblical values and the call of Jesus, he referred to Abraham and Moses, examples of “biblical characters that have done crazy things.”

“God told me to do it,” is his central mantra.

The WEA group pressed him with his own logic: if his end game was to get the attention of the American government, why not do some outrageous act that would really get them to listen? And if he wanted to point out the errors of Islam, why not go to an Islamic country and burn a Qur’an there?

He laughed: “They’d kill me.”

Jones was reminded that by standing behind the defenses of free speech laws in the United States — aware that what he is doing may very well get others killed —was an alarming demonstration of cowardice. If he really wanted to show courage, one member noted, then he should go to where his actions will get him killed. Then he would be courageous.

His response? “Yes but I’d be killed.”

Geoff Tunnicliffe closed our meeting with the story of William Wilberforce, an English Member of Parliament who chose to give his life to end slavery.

In the recent movie, Amazing Grace, a government minister rose in the British parliament after the passing of the anti-slavery legislation and said in effect: "When we think about heroes our minds go to people like Napoleon. Yet when his head lay on a pillow at night, he dreamt about death and violence. Mr. Wilberforce when your head lies on the pillow tonight, you will think about those you had part in freeing across the world."

At the meeting, Tunnicliffe asked, “Pastor Jones when you put your head on the pillow what kind of images do you want to see?”

Tunnicliffe noted: “As I travel the world, I recognize the tensions between Muslims and Christians. However, it is critical that we find respectful way of dealing with our differences. Not only is it important that we learn how to live with respect and in peace. For us as Christians, it is our calling Jesus’ to follow in his ways and in the spirit of his love.”


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