Category Archives: Ecumenical & Interfaith

Breaking: Barber Goes National – Updated

Rev. Dr. William Barber to transition from North Carolina NAACP to join the leadership of the “New Poor People’s Campaign” [Update below.]

The Kairos Center [an organization created by Union Theological Seminary inNew York City] is excited to announce that the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II will be transitioning out of his role as the president of the North Carolina Conference of the NAACP in June, in order to join the growing leadership of the New Poor People’s Campaign. [The New PPC is a project of the Kairos Center.] The North Carolina NAACP announced the news in a press release this morning . . .

“Rev. Barber will focus attention on the new Poor People’s Campaign co-led by the Kairos Center at Union Theological Seminary, where Rev. Barber is a distinguished professor of public theology. Throughout 2017 and early 2018 he will lead trainings and organize alongside moral leaders, including poor black, brown and white communities.

The forthcoming report, ‘The Souls of Poor Folk,’ co-developed by the Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Rev. Dr. Barber, and noted economists, historians and public policy experts, will explore why issues of poverty have changed or remained the same since the Poor People’s Campaign of 1967/68.

In early 2018, moral activists will lead 40 days of simultaneous direct action and civil disobedience in state capitols, Washington D.C. and the U.S. Congress.

‘Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King called for a radical ‘revolution of values’ inviting a divided nation to stand against the evils of militarism, racism, and economic injustice. In the spirit of the Poor People’s Campaign of 1967/68, we are calling for a national moral revival and for fusion coalitions in every state to come together and advance a moral agenda,’ said the Rev. Dr. Barber.

‘There is a need for moral analysis, articulation of a moral agenda, and moral activism that fuses the critique of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and national morality in a way that enables organizing among black, brown, and white people, especially in regions where great efforts have been made to keep them from forming alliances and standing together to change the political and social calculus ,’ he said.”

The story has already broken in several mainstream media sources, including ABC News and the Winston-Salem Chronicle. ABC reports [And this blog].

“Barber also leads a nonprofit called Repairers of the Breach and said that group, along with the Kairos Center, Union Theological Seminary and others will lead a movement that will concentrate on 25 states and the nation’s capital where voter suppression, poverty and other problems are prevalent. The groups plan major actions next summer, which would mark the 50th anniversary of the start of King’s campaign in 1968.”


Late on May 11, Barber sent out a letter. Here are excerpts:

I write with gratitude for each of you who have entrusted me to serve in leadership and with appreciation for the broad coalition of black, white, and brown; Christian, Muslim, Jewish and those who believe in a moral arc of the universe; young and old; gay and straight; Republican, Democrat, and unaffiliated who have joined our work over the past 12 years.

I am writing to let you know that I am stepping down from leadership of the NC NAACP in order to accept an invitation from moral leaders across the nation to serve and help lead a new Poor People’s Campaign & National Call for A Moral Revival. I feel this is a deeply spiritual call in this moment, so I’m stepping down but not stepping away from our work together in this movement.

When I first ran for State Conference President on the platform of moving “From Banquets to Battle,” my family, church and I committed to this work. In our first eight years together we were able to build a people’s coalition with strength to push reluctant Democrats to raise the minimum wage, win same day registration and voting, push back against re-segregation of schools in one of our largest districts, and free innocent black men from prison.

As a result of the work we were able to do together in that time, a foundation was laid for “Moral Mondays,” which emerged in the spring of 2013. Through sustained moral fusion organizing, with a race and class critique rooted in our deepest moral values, we pushed back against extremism for four long years to see the defeat of an extremist Republican governor, the election of more progressive members to the state Supreme Court, and the overturning of the monster voter suppression law that targeted African-Americans, according to a federal court, “with almost surgical precision.”

Our work is not over here in North Carolina. But, as you know, extremism is at work in other states and has gained power in all three branches of our federal government, much as it did here four years ago. This moment requires us to push into the national consciousness a deep moral analysis that is rooted in an agenda to combat systemic racism, poverty, war mongering, economic injustice, voter suppression, and other attacks on the most vulnerable.

This is why in this moment I am entrusting the NC NAACP to other strong leaders who can continue its work; I am not stepping away from the NAACP or from you, my NC NAACP Moral Movement family. I will continue to pastor Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro [NC], to support the NAACP’s work here in North Carolina and to serve on the national board of the NAACP. As we expand our moral fusion coalition model to over 20 other states as well as the nation’s Capitol, I am committed, as ever, to moving forward together, not one step back. . . .

Visit and learn more about how you can be involved in the Poor People Campaign’s National Call for a Moral Revival.

He Spoke Against Anti-Semitism & Racism. Some Aren’t Satisfied.

After issuing a Holocaust Memorial message that didn’t mention its Jewish victims; and after very awkward comments about the Congressional Black Caucus at a marathon news conference last week, the president seems to have discovered these concerns; but not all are convinced.  Here’s the latest:

NBC News:

President Donald Trump on Tuesday denounced the recent rise in bomb threats against Jewish community centers across the country, saying the anti-Semitism and racism that is troubling America must be addressed.

“Anti-Semitism is horrible. And it’s gonna stop and it has to stop,” Trump told NBC News in an exclusive interview, after touring the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Federal authorities have been investigating a wave of phoned-in bomb threats at least 10 Jewish community centers, including in Alabama, Ohio, Illinois, Texas and New York. No one was injured, and the threats appeared to be hoaxes, the Jewish Community Center Association of North America told NBC News on Monday.

“I think it’s terrible,” Trump said of the threats. “I think it’s horrible. Whether it’s anti-Semitism or racism or any — anything you wanna think about having to do with the divide. Anti-Semitism is, likewise, it’s just terrible.”

He added, “You don’t know where it’s coming from, but I hope they catch the people.”

The president at the Museum of African American History.

Well, it was something. But not enough for one dissatisfied observer:


The director of the Anne Frank Center rebuked President Donald Trump’s statement denouncing a spate of anti-Semitic crimes, calling it a ‘Band-Aid on the cancer of Antisemitism.’

“The president’s sudden acknowledgement is a Band-Aid on the cancer of Antisemitism that has infected his own administration,” Steven Goldstein, the executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect in New York, said on Tuesday in a statement.

“His statement today is a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting Antisemitism, yet day after day have refused to apologize and correct the public record,” Goldstein said. “Make no mistake: The Antisemitism coming out of this Administration is the worst we have ever seen from any Administration.”


Similar sentiments, expressed with more restraint, had been voiced late last week by Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO/National Director of the anti-Defamation League, in the Washington Post: 


Emboldening Bigots from the White House

“Simply put, dismissing this issue as a political distraction or partisan concern does not change the fact that there has been a surge in anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions. Trump’s repeated failure to denounce anti-Semitism has consequences, emboldening bigots.

So it is honestly mind-boggling why Trump prefers to shout down a reporter or deride the concerns of the Jewish community. It is shocking to us that in this day and age, the president will not acknowledge — much less condemn — the rise in anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions.
The issue of anti-Semitism is not a political one. But it is potentially lethal.

With the president’s leadership, it can get better. With his neglect or instigation, it can get worse.

In light of the rise of hate, there is a simple question that Trump should answer, not only for American Jews but to assuage Americans of all faiths — what will his administration do about the surge of anti-Semitism? What concrete steps will the White House take?”


Anti-semitism and racism. Very serious charges against a national administration. Looks like they’re not going away, despite the statement on Monday. And saying “it’s gonna stop and it has to stop,” isn’t the same as actually doing something to make it stop.

Racism and anti-semitism. They’re like the ghosts at his fancy table at Mar-a-Lago, and around the desk in the Oval Office. 

Except they aren’t ghosts.

Free Speech, Islamophobia & The Murder of Innocents

Free Speech, Islamophobia  & The Murder of Innocents 

About a week ago, the struggle over free speech landed in my email inbox.

I’m mindful of, and disturbed by the steady stream of articles I see decrying the decline of free speech on and around U.S. universities. Many of these come from rightwing pundits; but others come from worried but otherwise progressive observers.

A Carolina memorial to three victims of anti-Muslim violence, February 2015.

I’ve held back from joining the fray, mainly because it’s almost twenty years since I worked on a college campus, and it’s way too easy to succumb to hand-wringing fads and facile generalizations about “kids these days”; to moan about how academia is abandoning rational discourse, and its millennial occupants are all going to hell in a handbasket woven from organic fair trade dried kale.

Perhaps it’s so; but how would I know that? I live near some large campuses, but don’t hang out there. 

Then a week or so ago, an advocacy group I’m part of was asked to sign on to a letter. The missive, written by Manzoor Cheema, for the Movement to End Racism and Islamophobia, called for a lecture series in Chapel Hill NC, to be shut down. The letter’s money quote was:

“we urge Extraordinary Ventures to say no to the voices of hatred and bigotry. We request Extraordinary Ventures to cancel Diana West’s upcoming speech and the future lecture series by ICON.”

At this point, for the record: “Extraordinary Ventures”  is a local non-profit that mainly works with youth and adults who have autism; as part of their fundraising, they rent out a sizable community room.

ICON stands for “Issues Confronting Our Nation,” which is a very conservative association that sponsors a lecture series, which uses the Extraordinary Ventures room for the talks. ICON’s lineup of speakers is solidly, some would say rabidly rightwing: climate change deniers, dead-ender opponents of the Iran nuclear agreement, fans of Trumpian curbs on immigration — and denouncers of allegedly massive Islamic infiltration and terrorist-oriented subversion of American society, pushing for sharia and the whole nine yards.

american-betrayal-coverThe protest letter’s particular target was a lecture by Diana West, an author whose major work is American Betrayal, which according to reviewers (I haven’t read it) argues for a drastic reinterpretation of American diplomatic history since World War Two. West asserts that FDR, Eisenhower and other top officials over several decades were essentially tools of the Soviet Union.

I remember this argument, made by the ultra-right John Birch Society in its heyday. Numerous scholars, including some quite conservative, consider it, and West’s book, rubbish. Nevertheless, West uses this theme to insist that the U.S. government is once again being taken over by subversive, deadly aliens, in this case radical Muslims and their repressive, terrorist vanguard.

It was this “Commies then, Muslims now” trope that the letter I was sent wanted to shut down — along with the entire lecture series it was part of.

The basis for the letter’s demand was straightforward:

“Hate speech has real life consequences for marginalized communities. Muslims and immigrants in general have been demonized and dehumanized by the forces of hate. Laws and policies have have been introduced against them, including in North Carolina, as a result of concerted efforts by these forces. Diana West has contributed to the hysteria against Sharia law, which has led to anti-Sharia movement throughout the country, including in North Carolina. NC General Assembly members passed anti-Sharia law that was signed into law by Governor McCrory in 2013. There is an increased level of attacks against Muslims as a result of hate speech and institutional Islamophobia. Three Muslim students were murdered in execution style in Chapel Hill in early 2015, an incident that many believe was an anti-Muslim hate crime.”

Here I note one point of agreement: “hateful speech” does contribute to social hostility, and increases the odds of violence; that’s why it’s called “hate speech.”

Three North Carolina victims of anti-Muslim murder: Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, all outstanding university students. They were shot by a neighbor, Craig Hicks, on February 10, 2015. As of late October 2016, Hicks is still awaiting trial for first-degree murder.

But I part ways with the author as to the remedy, or at least the response. And here my view is that of a pretty old-fashioned First Amendment, ACLU-supporting liberal.

(The ACLU  sets out their view in “Hate Speech on Campus”; and while the ICON lecture was not a campus event, it was held in the heart of Chapel Hill, the quintessential college town community in our region, and the letter was penned by a university researcher. By “the heart” I mean, of course, the venue’s location hard by the local Whole Foods store.)

ACLU: “Many universities, under pressure to respond to the concerns of those who are the objects of hate, have adopted codes or policies prohibiting speech that offends any group based on race, gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.

aclu-logoThat’s the wrong response, well-meaning or not. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects speech no matter how offensive its content. Speech codes adopted by government-financed state colleges and universities amount to government censorship, in violation of the Constitution. And the ACLU believes that all campuses should adhere to First Amendment principles because academic freedom is a bedrock of education in a free society.

How much we value the right of free speech is put to its severest test when the speaker is someone we disagree with most. Speech that deeply offends our morality or is hostile to our way of life warrants the same constitutional protection as other speech because the right of free speech is indivisible: When one of us is denied this right, all of us are denied. . . .”

I couldn’t have said it better, though I have one point to add: if we let self-appointed groups insist that certain words or subjects be banned from public spaces as “offensive,” we are encouraging the forces of totalitarianism in our society, and dabbling with a remedy that’s worse than the disease. I was raised in such a repressive religious atmosphere, and know whereof I speak. Furthermore, what’s right on campus should be right off-campus as well.

Yet are there no limits at all to free speech? Yes there are. Here I agree with the Supreme Court, in a 1969 decision that declared

Brandenburg v. Ohio, 1969:   

“the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”

In the case of Diane West’s lecture, the difference would be between her arguing that infiltration by Islamic radicals will ruin the country, and a call to her hearers to gather weapons, attack the nearest Muslims, and summarily execute them as happened in the horrible, haunting triple murder the previous winter. In the latter case, I’d call 911 right away for serious help. [But I’ve seen no indication that West is ready to jeopardize her presumably lucrative career as a propagandist writer and lecturer by crossing that line.]

So what to do? Here I again defer to the ACLU:

“Where racist, sexist and homophobic speech is concerned, the ACLU believes that more speech — not less — is the best revenge.”

So vigorous peaceful protest is fine, as would be a counter-presentation. And I note that ICON itself says on its website that:

“[The] ICON Lecture Series is committed to free speech, diversity of thought and improving the balance and quality of the Triangle’s political conversation.  . . . We welcome people of all political points of view at our events and invite them to participate enthusiastically in our question-and-answer sessions.”

I’d be willing to take them at their word and send some well-prepared, articulate dissenters into the program, to dismantle a racist/Islamophobic presentation with forcefully-argued facts and values.

So that’s what I said to the others in my group: I’d support a vigorous peaceful protest, but not a call to shut down the lecture and the series, unless either called for imminent violence.

Others said much the same thing, and we did not sign on to the letter.

In the event, West’s lecture was held as scheduled. A group of protesters gathered outside the building “with signs and chants” (the sponsor reported 15). There were no reports of arrests or violence, and life here in North Carolina goes on.

So does my encounter with this call to shut down free speech show that the campus and its environs are fatally infected with the virus of speech repression?

I can’t jump from one case as far as that conclusion. But the risk certainly seems to be there. Yet at the same time, the letter’s author is quite right that anti-Islamic agitation can have violent and even fatal consequences, as citizens of our community know to our sorrow. So the struggle against such agitation is real and ongoing; and debates over ways to engage it will likely be ongoing as well.




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Michelle & Larycia: Two Remarkable Women Speak

Michelle & Larycia: Two Remarkable Women Speak


The New York Times Magazine has a very striking & powerful profile of Larycia Hawkins, the former tenured professor at evangelical Wheaton College in Illinois. She was abruptly fired last year after publicly wearing a hijab “in solidarity” with Muslims facing Islamophobia.
For the record, she wasn’t converting to Islam, but this gesture of “solidarity,” especially by an articulate black woman intellectual was way too much for both Wheaton’s white male rulers & its mostly white constituency.

Continue reading Michelle & Larycia: Two Remarkable Women Speak

Peering Into the Heart of Darkness — And Its End

Adapted From Meetings — A Religious Autobiography

Late 1959: During my senior year, at St. Mary’s High in Cheyenne Wyoming, it was announced one day that we would be treated to a field trip, all the way to Denver, to visit the nearest Catholic colleges: Regis, for men, run by the Jesuits; and nearby Loretto Heights, for women, operated by the Sisters of Loretto.

Index-Book-BurningThe trip’s short-term goal was to persuade us to attend a Catholic college; longer term, they expected we’d marry someone we met at one or the other, then produce more Catholic children, to fill the future pews, collection plates, and polling places.

It’s the Catholic 2,000-Year Plan; and it works. Continue reading Peering Into the Heart of Darkness — And Its End

“Meetings” – Small Is Beautiful – But Is It Buddhist?

“Meetings” – Small Is Beautiful – But Is It Buddhist?

An excerpt:

1976:  I was working essentially full time, for the weekly San Francisco Bay Guardian, but was on a freelance basis. Paid by the published article, I was seriously poor.

Cover-FRONT-Meetings-SM-RockwellYet I was not unhappy with my lot: the Bay Guardian was a journalistic legend; the editors respected my work and kept wanting more. I’d been meaning to demand a regular gig, but had been too busy. 

My “beat” was the offbeat, story ideas outside the paper’s weekly regimen of muckraking about politics and other public corruptions, all plentiful in the region. 

Instead I wrote the stories readers wanted but no one else had thought of: Continue reading “Meetings” – Small Is Beautiful – But Is It Buddhist?

Quakers Stand With Muslims in Carolina

Signs of the Times: Quakers Stand With Muslims in Carolina

Fayetteville NC — Fayetteville Friends Meeting is small; and Quaker House, the peace project that’s been here, near sprawling Fort Bragg,  since 1969, is also small. But they count. And they counted on December 18 when a rally was called to show support for the Masjid  Omar Ibn Said, a Muslim mosque there.

Muslims-WE-Are-Friends-Sign-12-18-2015-SM Continue reading Quakers Stand With Muslims in Carolina

“Spotlight”: A Movie About Reporters: A Treatise On Evil

“Spotlight”: A Movie About Reporters: A Treatise On Evil

Just watched “Spotlight.” The reviews are right: it’s a taut journalistic thriller about how the Boston Globe’s legendary Spotlight investigative reporting team blew the lid off the system of pedophile priest protection in the city’s Catholic archdiocese. And through that, opened the door to exposure of a worldwide criminal conspiracy that is still being dismantled, and still being protected.




Yeah it’s a fine film: terrific acting, suspenseful even though we know
how it turns out. It has multiple Oscars written all over it, but wears its excellence without flash, much the way the real-life Spotlight team operated. Continue reading “Spotlight”: A Movie About Reporters: A Treatise On Evil

Memorial Minute for Katharine “Kat” Royal

Memorial Minute for Katharine “Kat” Royal:
January 28, 1982 – October 23, 2015

[Read at her memorial service in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, October31, 2015.]


I’m a Quaker, and at our memorial meetings, Quakers have a custom of preparing and reading what’s called a Memorial Minute. These sound in one way like biographical sketches, and so they are.

But there is a deeper dimension to them for us than simple chronology or the succession of dates and facts. That’s because of an advice that has come down to us from our founders; that advice is to “let your life preach.” 


Continue reading Memorial Minute for Katharine “Kat” Royal