Category Archives: Interfaith

Shifts seen in support for death penalty

Electric chair

Electric chair (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By KEVIN JOHNSON
c. 2012 USA Today
Reprinted with permission

WASHINGTON (RNS) The campaign to abolish the death penalty has been freshly invigorated this month in a series of actions that supporters say represents increasing evidence that America may be losing its taste for capital punishment.

As early as this week, Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, is poised to sign

a bill repealing the death penalty in Connecticut. A separate proposal

The Gas Chamber at New Mexico Penitentiary, Sa...

The Gas Chamber at New Mexico Penitentiary, Santa Fe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

has qualified for the November ballot in California that would shut down the largest death row in the country and convert inmates’ sentences to life without parole.

Academics, too, have recently taken indirect aim: The National Research Council concluded last week that there have been no reliable studies to show that capital punishment is a deterrent to homicide.

That study, which does not take a position on capital punishment, follows a Gallup Poll last fall that found support for the death penalty had slipped to 61 percent nationally, the lowest level in 39 years.

Even in Texas, which has long projected the harshest face of the U.S. criminal justice system, there has been a marked shift. Last year, the state’s 13 executions marked the lowest number in 15 years. And this year, the state — the perennial national leader in executions — is scheduled to carry out just 10.

Capital punishment proponents say the general decline in death sentences and executions in recent years is merely a reflection of the sustained drop in violent crime, but some lawmakers and legal analysts say the numbers underscore a growing wariness of wrongful convictions.

In Texas, Dallas County alone has uncovered 30 wrongful convictions since 2001, the most of any county in the country. Former Texas Gov. Mark White, a Democrat, said he continues to support the death penalty “only in a select number of cases,” yet he says he believes that a “national reassessment” is now warranted given the stream of recent exonerations.

“I have been a proponent of the death penalty, but convicting people who didn’t commit the crime has to stop,” White said.

“There is an inherent unfairness in the system,” said former Los Angeles County district attorney Gil Garcetti, a Democrat. He added that he was “especially troubled” by mounting numbers of wrongful convictions.

A recent convert to the California anti-death-penalty campaign, Garcetti said the current system has become “obscenely expensive” and forces victims to often wait years for death row appeals to run their course. In the past 34 years in California, just 13 people have been executed as part of a system that costs $184 million per year to maintain.

“Replacing capital punishment will give victims legal finality,” Garcetti said.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment, said California’s referendum marks a potentially “historic” moment in the anti-death-penalty movement in a state that houses 22 percent of the nation’s death row prisoners.

“Repeal in California would be a huge development,” Dieter said. “Just getting it on the ballot is big.”

Nationally, Dieter said, fading arguments for capital punishment as a deterrent to homicide and mounting numbers of wrongful convictions are “turning a corner” in the debate.

Democratic state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, a sponsor of the bill to repeal Connecticut’s death penalty, said capital punishment’s “promise to victims and taxpayers is hollow.” In Connecticut, only one person has been executed in the past 52 years.

Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association, said the country’s system of capital punishment is in need of change, but not elimination. He said there is “strong motivation,” though, to fix a system that can take 20 years for offenders to reach the death chamber following conviction.

“The vast majority of states (33, not counting Connecticut) still have the possibility of the death penalty,” Burns said.

“I don’t see a blowing wind that will dramatically change that,” he added.

(Kevin Johnson writes for USA Today.)

Good Shepherd Center video walks the talk; shows Wilmington’s homeless in new light

Andy Lee

By Blogger Andy Lee
Walk the Talk

This is a great video. Very well done about our local homeless shelter Good Shepherd Center and the work they do.

BRIEF: UNCW lecturer to speak about N.C. eugenics and Nazi eugenics Thursday

Anthropometry demonstrated in an exhibit from ...

Anthropometry demonstrated in an exhibit from a 1921 eugenics conference. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New York Times bestselling author and investigative journalist Edwin Black will speak about eugenics programs used against blacks and mentally disabled people in North Carolina as well as the eugenics programs of the Nazis at 7 p.m. Thursday (April 26) in the School of Nursing McNeil Auditorium, Room 1005 on the campus of the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

His speaking tour is based on his book War Against the Weak and is sponsored by UNCW’s History department, the Block & Rhine Fund for Jewish Studies in association with The American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.

The lecture is free and open to the public.

Details: 910-962-3308.

– Amanda Greene

Newspaper series focuses on clergy’s role on both sides of Amendment One debate

David Scott

By Blogger David Scott
Politics + Religion

The Durham Herald-Sun is running a three-part series on how clergy are involved in the Amendment One debate.

Starting on Sunday (April 22) and continuing Monday (April 23) and Tuesday (April 24), the Durham Herald-Sun newspaper is running a series about how clergy are involved on both sides of the debate about Amendment One, North Carolina’s proposed change to the constitution for marriage between one man and one woman.

I recommend these articles to our readers.

WilmingtonFAVS: 910-520-3958

VIEWPOINTS: What’s more important to your faith – believing, behaving or belonging?

By AMANDA GREENE
Amanda.Greene@ReligionNews.com

A new survey out last week from the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs has some sobering figures about millennials leaving Christianity behind.

“A Generation in Transition: Religion, Values and Politics Among College-Age Millennials” said while only 11 percent of the millennials surveyed were religiously unaffiliated as children, now 25 percent identify as religiously unaffiliated. Catholics and mainline Protestant denominations lost the most footing among millennial membership.

At the same time, some Americans in middle age are returning to the faiths of their youth.

So this week’s Viewpoints deals with a human’s core desire when involved in a belief system or no faith at all:

What’s more important to your faith- believing, behaving or belonging?

David Scott

David Scott

I assume, in this context, that believing means religious belief or faith. If that’s the case, believing is not that important to me. In my case, I would prefer to define believing as having confidence that the spiritual and social beliefs I had were moral, logical and best for the common good. Without this type of belief system, my life would seem empty, meaningless and without purpose.

My first impulse to this answer is to reply “Behavior is by far the most important,” and I guess that comes close to what I think. What good is a religion or faith if it allows its adherents to behave poorly? What good is a belief system that allows its followers to justify criminal means to reach a selfish, misguided, or even a noble end? In modern society, we observe a series of perennial “holy jihads” fought by religious fundamentalists of all stripes who are convinced that his god is on his side. If a god condones this type behavior, what good is he?

Belonging is important to most people in that it helps to affirm one’s worth, gives identity, and provides many social advantages. Conversely, belonging can also have a corrupting influence on an individual, if that person finds himself belonging to a group that adopts a doctrine that is immoral, unenlightened, or counter to achieving the common good. In my observation, many groups, religions, political parties, or cults have seduced good individuals and indoctrinated them to become robotic monsters—puppets of groupthink or mob psychology.

Steve Lee

Steve Lee

In short, Buddhist practice values all three: belief, behavior, and belonging. Belief, behavior, and belonging: belief in Buddha and the example of his awakening; clarity of thought and behavior in and through the Dharma; and “being one—a “Buddhist”, that is—through refuge in the Sangha. Read Steve Lee’s expounded post on how Buddhist texts inform the values of believing, behaving and belonging later today on WilmingtonFAVS.

Philip Stine

Philip Stine

In the stream of Christianity where I grew up, right belief was all important. You had to believe in certain things, e.g. the resurrection, the need for personal salvation, or a triune God, to be a “real Christian.” I learned later that right belief is hardly even biblical. What is required is right relationships: we are to love God with our whole being, and we are to love what God created, specifically, our fellow human beings. Behaving and belonging are natural results of the these relationships. If we love others, we will act in certain ways, and instead of creating divisions, we will see how we are joined together.

Christine Moughamian

Christine Moughamian

In the context of faith or no faith at all, it seems belief would determine behavior and belonging.

A friend of mine once told me about a tragedy that happened a decade earlier to her son, then in his early twenties. When he was at a large public event, a young man stepped out of the crowd and held him up at gunpoint.

Her son was so shocked, he cried: “Are you going to shoot me?”

The mobster hesitated a fraction of a second; then shot.

Although he gravely wounded my friend’s son, he missed killing him, by a fraction of a… doubt?

The police later reported the mobster was required to kill four people that day, in cold blood, to gain admission in a street gang.

The mobster’s hesitation proved to me that he was not motivated by belief in a certain set of values but by a desire to belong.

A desire so strong that it drove him to attempt murder.

At the other end of the spectrum, I attended a retreat in August 2009 with Thich Nat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who founded the Unified Buddhist Church. He gave a lecture on the Three Jewels of Buddhism: The Buddha (the teacher), The Dharma (the teaching), The Sangha (the community of believers). He emphasized the importance of belonging to a community of believers. That tenet echoed everything I’d heard before in my Yoga training.

Swami Satchidananda put it this way: “Associate yourself with like-minded people.”

In the two Christian churches I’ve belonged to in Wilmington, studies showed “fellowship” was the number one reason people became members.

Discrimination of belief is paramount since it dictates behavior. Without belief, behavior and belonging balanced as a solid tripod, we might be condemned to play musical chairs.

Amanda Greene: 910-520-3958 or on Twitter @WilmFAVS

BRIEF: Two locations scheduled for National Day of Prayer next week

Prayer Mormon

Boy praying (Photo credit: More Good Foundation and Wikipedia)

The Wilmington citywide observance of The National Day of Prayer will be in two locations at noon on May 3: in downtown Wilmington in the courtyard beside the Main County Library on the corner of Third and Chestnut street, and the second location is Hugh MacRae Park on South College Rd. Each observance will include music and prayer and will last until approximately 1 p.m. There will be prayer for national leaders, local leaders, communities, military, families and many more topics. There will also be opportunities for attendees to pray.

Details: contact Dale Miller at 910-763-2452.

– Amanda Greene

BRIEF: Temple of Israel plans an “Invite your neighbor” service

The Temple of Israel is planning its first Invite Your Neighbor Shabbat service at 8 p.m. on May 4 at 1 S. 4th St. The service will include explanations of Jewish prayers and customs and a “Torah Roll” (a close-up look at and explanation of the Torah scroll).

Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky, courtesy StarNews file photo by Paul Stephen

“Many people are curious about Judaism and often aren’t sure if they are even allowed to enter a Temple or attend a service,” said Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky, spiritual leader of Temple of Israel, Wilmington’s reform Jewish house of worship. “Of course they are always welcome, and this is a great chance to reach out to people, both unaffiliated Jews and those who are not Jewish.”

Details: 910-762-0000.

– Amanda Greene

My FAV Word: Rev. Cheryl Walker and the “Freedom from Fear”

Samantha Freda

By SAMANTHA FREDA
WilmingtonFAVS news intern

Before meeting with the Rev. Cheryl Walker, I knew very little about Unitarian Universalists, beside a vague understanding of the belief system’s liberality and tolerance of many different forms of spirituality.

An image from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship foyer. Photo by Samantha Freda

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Wilmington is a humble-looking building on Lake Avenue. In its foyer is the symbol of  the flaming chalice (the primary symbol of Unitarian Universalism) within two overlapping circles, signifying the union of different faiths and acceptance of nontraditional religious concepts or interpretations.

The organization of Unitarian Universalism was in the combining of both the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America, which existed separately of one another until May 15, 1961, when the Unitarian Universalist Association was formed.

Universalists, whose belief in universal salvation—that a loving God would not eternally damn anything it created—came into conflict with some traditional Christian concepts. Unitarians exercised faith based in reason, living by a principle that one should not have to believe in something they can not reasonably find to be true. Both came out of the Christian faith, though their beliefs and teachings are drawn from many different sources.

Walker, spiritual leader of UUFW for the past three years, led me into her office where we quickly fell into a casual conversation on the nature of this fellowship.

“I didn’t always do this,” Walker said, speaking of her days working in applications development at Merrill Lynch on Wall Street.

“During the day I was helping to make people more money who had enough but wanted more. Then at night, I was volunteering to feed homeless people. I finally just realized that, these two things I did every day were opposing each other. It had to be one or the other,” she said.

The Rev. Cheryl Walker. Photo by Samantha Freda

Though she was raised as a Muslim and still values many aspects of Islam, Walker found both her logical side and her spiritual yearnings were satisfied by the Unitarian Universalist philosophy.

“We’re a model for how religious pluralism goes,” she told me as she read off some of the texts from which she writes sermons: the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible, the Quran, the Upanishads, The Book of Mormon, even a text on aboriginal ideas.

Walker is currently teaching from a book called “Freedom From Fear: Finding the Courage to Act, Love, and Be” by Forrest Church. Church recognizes how guilt, worry, anxiety and dread are associated with the body, intellect, conscience, emotions and soul.

Besides the natural instinct inherent in physical fear, the book says the rest of the effects connected with fear cause distortions in perspective that limit our quality of life. Church attempts to encourage readers to realize their own strength and overcome their fears.

Walker has given sermons based on this book.

“We need not think alike to love alike,” Walker said, concluding our meeting with a quote from 16th century Unitarian preacher, Francis David. The simple phrase captures an essential aspect of Unitarian Universalism, a belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, while maintaining a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

House of Mercy grows; looks to become a community center

House of Mercy volunteers pray with a guest. Photo courtesy of Global River Church.

Andy Lee

By Blogger Andy Lee
Walk the Talk

Global River Church’s entire ministry is based on Ezekiel 47. In this chapter, the prophet describes a river flowing from the threshold of the temple of God. Ezekiel experiences the water deepening into a river that flows into the Dead Sea, instantly purifying the sea into fresh water where fish can swim and live. Everything that touches the flowing water thrives. Trees line the border of the river, and the trees contain healing in their leaves.

This is the vision that constitutes GRC’s mission to bring healing, both physical and spiritual to those in need. One way the church fulfills this mission is through its House of Mercy. They not only give monetary assistance, they also pray for physical and emotional healing, and they have witnessed miracles.

When I interviewed Pastor Michael Satorre, the pastor of GRC’s benevolence ministry, I was struck by Satorre’s humility and gentle spirit. He is a man who has given his life to service for others and the God he believes in. But the House of Mercy did not start with Satorre. In fact, he never planned to be a pastor.

A former pastor named David Green and another member of the church, Annie Shaw, started House of Mercy. His experience of living in poverty as a child made him passionate about helping people.  They counseled and assisted those in need the best they could with a small monthly budget of $500.

Not long after Green started this ministry, he died of a heart attack. His funeral was filled with people from all walks of life who shared testimonies of how Pastor Green had helped them. They told stories of him buying groceries for their families, giving away air conditioners, and bringing Christmas presents to children. The testimony of his generous heart made an impact on the leadership of the church who knew this ministry must continue.

Since his death, Green’s ministry has more than tripled in size. It has a much greater budget, more volunteers and serves a wider demographic. People from three surrounding counties come to House of Mercy for assistance.

The House of Mercy’s doors are open 10 a.m.- 3 p.m. Fridays. It is

House of Mercy volunteers work with guests. Photo courtesy of Global River Church.

located in the Global River administration building behind the church. Participants can call ahead to schedule an appointment, but appointments are not necessary. Volunteers are available to counsel and pray with each client, and participants are provided a $20 Food Lion card and other assistance if needed.

Beyond their Friday ministry, the House of Mercy also prepares for hurricanes and disaster situations with its House of Mercy Response Team. The team stores enough canned goods and other non-perishable food to feed at least 250 people three meals a day for two weeks.

The House of Mercy also plans to start an after school feeding outreach that would involve traveling to different schools around the city to feed children who don’t get a meal when they go home.  For many of us, it is hard to believe there are children in our city who have no food at home. But this is the reality.

The program is modeled on the St. Louis Dream Center in Missouri.

“I see in the future of Wilmington a Dream Center, a place where broken families and single moms and just broken people can come and receive the love of Jesus without condemnation or judgment,” Satorre wrote in an email. “A place where they can receive healing and encouragement and especially hope. A place where they can receive medical, financial, spiritual help and shelter for homeless families, abused children and individuals.”

Sounds like a village of hope to me.

For more information contact Pastor Michael Satorre at 910-392-2899, ext. 103 or email him at mercy@globalriverchurch.com.

MedMob: Meditation and drumming for peace

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Christine Moughamian

By Blogger Christine Moughamian
One Yogini, Many Paths

On Sunday, April 15, I joined eight persons at Greenfield Lake for MedMob, a monthly hour of silent meditation and drumming for world peace.

MedMob originated in Austin, TX, to bring silent meditation to public places. According to their official website, the name refers to “flash mob,” a group of people who meet “in a crowded public place for the purpose of engaging in a coordinated, unexpected, inspiring activity.”

Their mission statement is all-inclusive:

“Our intention is to create an environment for people from all religions, all world views, and all experience levels to join together in meditation. Our vision is to continue inspiring world-wide meditations until the entire world is invited to join – literally!”

After an hour of seated silent meditation, participants may stretch then engage in 11 minutes or longer of “sound bath.” The Austin group’s 200 participants have chanted “OM” under that city’s capitol building dome, nicknamed for the occasion “the OM Dome.”

On Sunday morning, at the initiative of drummer Perry Smith, our group drummed a simple beat on African drums. I was given a double-drum. My hands moved in rhythm with the deep bass sound.

Eyes closed, a smile on my face, I felt connected to the beat of our hearts, the pulse of the Earth.

When we were done, I asked my friend Elena Pezzuto about the purpose of the monthly gathering. She said: “We meditate for individual peace, community peace and world peace. Come join us!”

The Wilmington MedMob has met in front of a high school shaken by shooting, on the steps of the courthouse and other places of tension around town.

When we talked about the depth of our experiences afterwards, it seemed the name “MedMob” didn’t do it justice. Pezzuto proposed “Meandering Meditators.” We also agreed meeting once a week, in a park, might be good practice.

Participant Pat Reynard explained to me: “It’s anchored where love and light are needed.” Reynard stood up strong, feet firm on the ground, then added: “I am planted. I am here.”

Another participant, Elaine Wilson, said: “It’s grounded with mechanical support.”

I could attest to that feeling of “groundedness” during our meditation. After only a few moments of deep breathing, I felt both calmed down and uplifted. For a moment, I felt I was more than just “peaceful.”

I WAS peace.