Rabbi Jack Moline to Speak at Russell Bennett Award Celebration

          Rabbi Jack Moline, Executive Director of the national Interfaith Alliance in Washington, DC, will be speaking at the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance’s Russell Bennett Award Celebration on Thursday, April 30, 2015.  Rabbi Moline will address national trends that may impact the people of Oklahoma, including the recent rise in legislation that would allow business owners to refuse to serve customers based upon religious beliefs.
          The Russell Bennett Award Celebration is an annual fundraising event of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance in which they honor a member of the community whose work mirrors that of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance and its founder, the late Rev Dr Russell Bennett.  This year’s Russell Bennett Faith and Courage Award will be presented to Rev Dr Marlin Lavanhar, Senior Minister at All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa.
          The Celebration will begin at 6:00pm at the Raindrop House Turkish Cultural Center, 4444 W. Houston St (81st St) in Broken Arrow.  In addition to Rabbi Moline’s remarks, the evening will include a silent auction, a buffet dinner provided by the Raindrop House, a short business meeting, presentation of the award, and remarks from Rev Lavanhar.  Tickets for the evening are $30/person and are available for purchase on-line at the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance’s web site.  For more information, please email the Alliance at tulsainterfaithalliance@gmail.com.
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Statement Concerning Actions of Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity

The following statement was read by our Executive Director at the press conference called by the Say No to Hate Coalition of Tulsa in response to the recent racist incident involving the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma.

The Tulsa Interfaith Alliance stands with our partners in the Say No to Hate Coalition of Tulsa in condemning the recent actions of some of the members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma.  We appreciate the quick and appropriate response of OU President David Boren in holding accountable those who participated in this incident, and in making it very clear that such language and action are inappropriate and will not be tolerated.

Like many Oklahomans, we have found ourselves wondering where and how these students, those with whom our future rests, ever learned that such behavior might be appropriate.  Our response must do more than simply condemn the actions of those who behaved in such a fashion; it must also condemn the actions of those in positions of authority who, through their own example, have allowed a culture of racism, religious-based hatred, and homophobia to exist in Oklahoma.

In particular, we wish to shine a light on the actions of the legislature of this state which is currently debating almost a dozen different bills that are meant to write intolerance, bigotry, and hatred into law in Oklahoma.  The Tulsa Interfaith Alliance wishes to condemn, in clear and unequivocal language, the actions of our elected leaders who teach our students that hating another is not only okay, but that it is the best way to get elected to public office in this state.  If the members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity had replaced the language they used so that it was a violently anti-Muslim or homophobic chant, would the response of leaders of this state have been the same?

Rev Dr Martin Luther King once wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and the legislature of this state is providing proof.  At a time when our legislators are debating and approving bills with only one purpose (to make unjust treatment of homosexuals the law of this state), it cannot be coincidental that the young people of this state are chanting hatred.  When our own elected leaders use offensive language and imagery to describe the members of a particular faith tradition, we should not be surprised that the students of this state find humor in the language of hatred.

Just as we condemn the actions of the members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon who thought it was okay to organize and participate in a chant meant to dehumanize another, the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance also condemn, in equally strong language, the actions of the legislature of the state of Oklahoma for passing legislation and making public statements that are meant to dehumanize another.  If our current generation of leaders does not reflect compassion and respect for others, how can we expect the next generation of leaders to behave differently?

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Rev. Dr. Marlin Lavanhar to Receive 2015 Russell Bennett Faith and Courage Award

Rev. Dr. Marlin Lavanhar

Rev. Dr. Marlin Lavanhar

The Board of Directors of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance is pleased to announce that the Rev. Dr. Marlin Lavanhar, Sr Minister of All Souls Unitarian Church, has been selected as the recipient of the Russell Bennett Faith and Courage Award for 2015. Rev Lavanhar will be presented with the award at the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance’s Annual Russell Bennett Award Dinner on Thursday, April 30, 2015. The Award Dinner will occur at the Raindrop House Turkish Cultural Center, 4444 W Houston St in Broken Arrow. A reception and silent auction will start at 6pm, followed by dinner and program at 6:30pm. Tickets for the evening are $30/person and can be reserved by clicking here.

“By selecting Marlin as this year’s recipient of the Russell Bennett Faith and Courage Award we honor his years of service, working to build bridges between communities and ideologies,” said Caroline Abbott, co-Chair of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance Board of Directors. Some of the bridges Marlin has attempted to build while working with others include reparations for the survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, attempting to end the use of Native American mascots in Oklahoma, traveling to Uganda to protest anti-LGBT legislation there, advocating for marriage equality, and, recently, addressing “New Jim Crow” actions and mass incarcerations.

Rev. Lavanhar has been a steadfast supporter of the work of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance since its inception, having worked alongside Rev. Bennett on the issue that led to the creation of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance: keeping a Creationism exhibit out of the Tulsa Zoo. In addition to providing space for many of our meetings and community forums, Rev Lavanhar has also frequently helped his congregants (and, through web streaming of his sermons, those beyond his congregation) understand the broader cultural, theological and sociological implications of the issues that divide us.

“From sermons addressing racism, marriage equality, and the Christianization of our military, to literally walking side-by-side with those on the margins of Tulsa society, Rev. Lavanhar has consistently worked to build bridges and reach out to diverse communities. He continues to do so even when the issues are unpopular which, as our award states, requires faith and courage. I congratulate Rev. Lavanhar, and commend our Board of Directors for their selection,” said Rev Bob Lawrence, Executive Director of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance.

About Rev. Marlin Lavanhar

Marlin grew up in suburban Chicago. He received a BA in Sociology from Tulane University in 1990. Upon graduation he relocated to Kyoto, Japan where he worked and studied for two years. Leaving Japan, he and a friend took a three year, 20,000 mile, around the world tour on mountain bikes. The trip took him through some of the world’s highest mountain ranges and through much of Asia, Eastern Europe, the middle-east and North America. He studied religion and the religious practices of many traditions and cultures around the world.

After returning to the United States, he entered the Divinity School at Harvard University where he received his Masters in Divinity. He was ordained by the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1999. In 2000, at the age of 31, Marlin was called to All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa as their Senior Minister. During his tenure the church has grown from 1000 to over 1800 adult members and serves 800 children and youth. Today, All Souls is the largest Unitarian Universalist congregation in the United States. Over the past decade All Souls has become an official Welcoming Congregation for LGBT people and has since hired its first openly gay and lesbian ministers. Since 2008, the church has also grown from being a historically all white church to becoming an intentionally multiracial and multicultural congregation.

Marlin has served on a number of boards and commissions in Tulsa including Tulsa Metropolitan Ministries, the Knippa Interfaith Lecture Board, the Mayors Faith-based Advisory Board, The Superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools Faith-Leader Advisory Board, The Mayor and Police Community Coalition,and the John Hope Franklin Center Board.

He has received numerous awards for his work for equality and justice locally, nationally and internationally, including:

  • The Don Newby/Ben Hill Recognition Award from Tulsa Metropolitan Ministries
  • Grand Marshall for Tulsa’s LGBTQ Pride Parade
  • Russell Bennett Spiritual Inclusion Award from Oklahomans for Equality
  • Award for broad and visionary leadership in our city from the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice
  • Humanitarian of the Year (2010) by the Unitarian-Universalist United Nations Office

In 2014, Marlin was awarded an honorary doctorate by Phillips Theological Seminary and, was the keynote speaker at this year’s Interfaith Commemoration Service in honor of Martin Luther King Day.

About the Russell Bennett Faith and Courage Award

Every year, we honor the legacy of the late Rev Dr Russell Bennett, one of the founding members of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance, by awarding a member of our community with the Russell Bennett Faith and Courage Award. The Award recognizes those who have, like Rev Bennett, stood in the gap and built bridges between different communities of faith, worked to maintain the separation of church and state, and otherwise contributed to the objectives of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance.

Here’s a list of our recipients:

2007 – Sheryl Siddiqui, Islamic Society of Tulsa
2008 – Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President, Interfaith Alliance
2009 – Bill Sherman, Religion Editor for the Tulsa World
2010 – Barbara Santee, PhD, TIA Board member and advocate for women’s reproductive choice
2011 – Mana Tahaie, Director of Racial Justice for the YWCA of Tulsa
2012 – Rabbi Charles Sherman, Temple Israel
2013 – Rev Dr Don Pittman, Director, Interreligious Understanding Program at Phillips Theological Seminary
2014 – Toby Jenkins, Executive Director, Oklahomans for Equality

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Statement in Opposition to Oklahoma HB 1598

The Tulsa Interfaith Alliance is deeply disappointed in yesterday’s action by the Children, Youth, and Family Services Committee (Rep Sally Kern, Chair) of the Oklahoma House of Representatives in which they amended and then approved HB 1598 the “Parental and Family Rights in Counseling Protection Act.” Our Executive Director, Rev Bob Lawrence, released the following statement:

As has been pointed out by Oklahoma-based physician’s groups, social worker’s groups, educator’s groups, psychiatric and psychological professional groups, religious organizations, and others, HB 1598, even as amended, is a dangerous piece of legislation that will put the children of the state of Oklahoma at risk of abuse. This legislation, written by Rep. Sally Kern, removes the authority of the state to provide oversight of a questionable therapeutic practice that has absolutely no scientifically-proven effectiveness, and has been soundly denounced by every national organization of health professionals including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Association of Social Workers. Rather than keep the children of our state safe, and increase oversight of a potentially dangerous treatment strategy called “conversion therapy” (designed to change a person’s sexual orientation), this bill eliminates state oversight. There are countless PROVEN treatment strategies that are overseen and monitored by our state, and this legislation seeks to remove oversight on one with absolutely no proven results.

With no scientific backing of the treatment, we are left wondering why Rep. Kern (and now her committee) has selected this one treatment to be handled differently than any other treatment offered to any resident of this state. Based upon her extensive previous comments, one cannot help but be convinced it is because she believes homosexuality is a sin. In other words, Rep Kern is choosing to impose her faith on all citizens of the state of Oklahoma, even though it is in direct opposition to the faith of countless Oklahomans.

Many, if not most, of the major religious organizations in the USA have publicly declared their support for same-gender relationships. Many, if not most, religious scholars agree that modern analysis of the ancient texts upon which our Judeao-Christian traditions are based does not support a condemnation of same-gender love. So, although it may be a popular opinion (and one expressed by Rep. Kern) that homosexuality is a sin, among our religious leaders, there exists a strong belief to the contrary. I do not state this to prove that Rep. Kern is incorrect in her beliefs. Rather, I do so to point out that even our religious scholars and denominational leaders do not agree on whether or not homosexuality is a sin. Why is Rep. Kern attempting to impose her belief on all citizens of this state, even citizens who share her Christian faith but disagree with her on this point?

Any time any legislation, public policy, government entity, or corporate position imposes one faith over the faiths of others, the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance is concerned. We are strong supporters of the First Amendment and the rights of each citizen of this country to be able to freely practice their own religion. When we legislate one sincerely-held religious view over the objections of another sincerely-held religious view, we are using the power of government to force citizens to follow just one religious view. From the perspective of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance, that is equivalent to the establishment of a religion, something the First Amendment to the US Constitution specifically forbids.

In addition to asserting that her particular religious belief should be imposed upon the people of the state of Oklahoma, Rep. Kern embarks on a rather twisted and self-absorbed sense of justice when, after specifying in the legislation that “No state government or any political subdivision thereof or any agency of the government or political subdivision thereof shall prohibit or restrict any mental health provider…” her own legislation then proceeds to prohibit or restrict the actions of mental health providers. It is the height of hubris for Rep. Kern to assert that nobody can prohibit or restrict except her.

To make this particular piece of legislation even more egregious, Rep. Kern has included an emergency declaration that states, in its entirety:

“It being immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety, an emergency is hereby declared to exist, by reason whereof this act shall take effect and be in full force from and after its passage and approval.”

Considering there is currently no legislative or administrative action pending at any level of any government in our state that would limit the practice of such therapies, what is the emergency?

The principles upon which our country and this state were founded include the notion of a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” In the absence of any scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of the therapies Rep. Kern is trying to protect; in the absence of any attempt by any governmental entity in this state to restrict any such therapies (beyond the standard norms by which all therapies are treated); in the absence of any clear consensus among religious leaders; and, most importantly, in the presence of a real and present danger to the children of this state, one cannot help but be convinced that Rep. Kern would prefer a government, “of one person, by one person, and forced on all people.” On behalf of the children of this state whom Rep. Kern is willing to put in danger so she can make an ideological point, we must object.

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FREE Screening of Film, “Vessel”

The Tulsa Interfaith Alliance and the Oklahoma Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice are sponsoring a FREE screening of the groundbreaking film, “Vessel”.  This powerful film tells the story of “Women on Waves” who are working to change the realities of anti-abortion laws around the world.

Following the film, we will have a panel discussion featuring a pharmacy instructor from OU plus the co-director of Reproductive Services.

The screening happens Wednesday, February 25, 2015 starting at 7:00pm at All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa.

Donations will be accepted for OKRCRC’s “Roe Fund“which provides financial assistance to women seeking reproductive services.

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Muslim Lobby Day at the Capitol

As you may have learned in recent press reports, the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-OK), in partnership with other organizations, has organized a day for our Muslim neighbors to visit their legislators at the Capitol and participate in the same democratic process that is accessible to all of us. Unfortunately, there are those (including two of our elected legislators) who are actively campaigning against our fellow citizens exercising their right to visit the Capitol and visit with elected public officials.
We would like, first and foremost, to express our utter outrage at the actions of Oklahoma legislators John Bennett (R-House District 2) and Dan Fisher (R- House District 60) who have questioned the motives of CAIR-OK as they seek to engage the democratic processes of our state.
In response to the actions and comments of some of our legislators, as well as the direct threats to our faith partners at CAIR-OK and the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City by some of our fellow citizens, we join with The Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma (TIA), Oklahoma Conference of Churches, Mayflower UCC,The Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice, Respect Diversity Foundation, Fellowship UCC in Tulsa, and the Oklahoma Libertarian Party in inviting you to stand with our Muslim neighbors to ensure safe passage to and from the Capitol and legislative offices.

The fact that any group of citizens who are simply attempting to spend the day at the Capitol exercising their rights to visit with their legislators might need police protection is an affront to us all and stands in direct conflict with the principles of our democracy. We urge you to join us on Friday, February 27, starting at 8:30am, as we take a stand against hate in our state. If you are able to attend, please register using the following form:

Volunteer Registration for First Annual Muslim Day at the Capitol

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Lobby Day in Support of Same-Gender Marriage, February 23, 2015

We join with our community partners, Oklahomans for Equality and Freedom Oklahoma for a special Lobby Day on Monday, February 23. You may already be aware that some of our legislators have bent over backward to write and submit legislation designed to roll back the steps toward equality granted through legal recognition of same-gender marriages. Their attempts to legislate discrimination in the name of religion are upsetting enough. However, some of those pieces of legislation have actually made it out of committee and will be debated by our legislators.

You are particularly invited to bring photos of your friends and family, especially those who have benefited from or have been able to participate in the legal recognition of same-gender marriage.

Our partners at Freedom Oklahoma have provided the following instructions:
“We will meet for orientation and training in room 511 A. Promptly at 8:30 AM we will begin a brief lobby training, eat a light breakfast, and hear from some of our legislative allies. Then we will be ready to for meetings with our legislators beginning at 10 AM. Freedom Oklahoma will arrange some of the appointments, but it is always best for you to request a meeting independently as well. Please contact us if you need help doing so. Free parking is available on the south side of the Capitol complex. Be advised that the area can get crowded while the Legislature is in session.”

Lori Walke and Bob Lawrence at the OK Capitol on Freedom Oklahoma's Lobby Day

Lori Walke and Bob Lawrence at the OK Capitol on Freedom Oklahoma’s Lobby Day 2015

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The Compassion Tour Comes to Tulsa

          The Compassion Tour, a global, yearlong, multi-city tour to raise awareness of compassion, has added a stop in Tulsa to happen February 8-21, 2015.  The Tour comes out of the life work of David H. Breaux who currently resides in Davis, CA, where he has spent the last 4 and a half years working to bring attention to compassion within that community.  While in Tulsa, David will spend his time inviting people to share their written concept of the word “compassion” in a notebook.  David has received over 20,000 entries since beginning this project.  A brief video of David’s work can be found at:  http://vimeo.com/20228568
          The Tulsa Interfaith Alliance has invited The Compassion Tour to stop in Tulsa as part of their campaign to raise awareness of The Charter for Compassion.  The TIA has been working with the Tulsa Human Rights Commission on a project to have Tulsa recognized as a Compassionate Community by Charter for Compassion International.  The Charter for Compassion calls on individuals, groups, organizations, corporations, governments, and communities to live into the ideal that is at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual practices:  treating others as you wish to be treated.
          David will spend most of his time at Guthrie Green inviting people to sign his notebook.  Other stops include the OCCJ Trialogues on February 8 and 15, and OpenTable Community Cafe in Owasso on February 10.  He will be at various other venues throughout the greater Tulsa metropolitan area that will be announced via social media.  To find out specific events and locations where you can meet David and sign his notebook, please check out the Facebook group “The Compassion Tour Tulsa“, follow CompassionTulsa or CompassionTour on twitter, or David’s instagram account (http://instagram.com/dhbreaux)
          To arrange for David to visit your group or location, please contact the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance at tulsainterfaithalliance@gmail.com.
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Save the Date

Our annual Russell Bennett Award Presentation Dinner will be Thursday, April 30, 2015 at 6:00pm at the Raindrop House Turkish Cultural Center in Broken Arrow, OK.  The award recipient will be announced later.

Check our website after March 1 to purchase tickets.

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Opposition to SB48

The Tulsa Interfaith Alliance wishes to voice its opposition to Senate Bill 48, introduced by Sen. Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City). The bill seeks to provide immunity from liability for school district employees who wish to teach an elective course on religion or the Bible. You can find the exact wording of bill by clicking on this link.

“It is already legal, under existing law and judicial precedence, for public schools to teach the cultural significance of the bible or any other sacred text. This legislation is an attempt to legally shield school districts who wish to violate existing law rather than do what is necessary to properly train faculty and staff on the appropriate ways to teach religion,” said Rev. Bob Lawrence, Executive Director of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance.

Senator Loveless has stated that his bill is in response to concern by one school district that wanted to authorize the use of the curriculum developed by the Museum of the Bible, which was founded by Steve Green (Hobby Lobby). After objections raised by the Freedom from Religion Foundation and Americans United For Separation of Church and State through the ACLU, the school district opted not to offer the class.

The curriculum in question is widely acknowledged to not be appropriate for use in public schools because it teaches a narrow Christian understanding of the Bible, including references to its supremacy over other texts. Other companies have produced curricula that teach the cultural significance of the Bible without crossing the line into teaching Christian dogma.

Lawrence pointed out that the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice, in partnership with Union Public Schools, hosted a well-attended workshop in 2014 designed to help educators learn how to teach about religion in public schools without violating the Establishment Clause.

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