For Colorado Muslims and Sikhs, 9/11 cast a long shadow
Plus former Valor coach appears on ‘Ellen,’ controversial pastor dies of COVID-19 and more
Colorado joined the nation last Saturday in remembering the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that rocked the nation. A source of grief for all Americans, the attacks burdened Muslim Americans and other religious minorities with the weight of suspicion and discrimination for years to come.
“We’re Americans and the loss of life was just heartbreaking and devastating,” Denver civil rights attorney Qusair Mohamedbhai told the Sentinel of 9/11. “But also, there’s the recognition of an entire religion being vilified for two decades …That’s a complicated balance that I think a lot of Muslims hold.”
The Denver Post, the Sentinel and Denverite all published articles over the past week about how 9/11 changed life for local Muslims, and what things are like 20 years later.
“In the days that followed, I think Muslims and Arabs all around the world were holding our breath,” state Rep. Iman Jodeh, Colorado’s first Muslim lawmaker, told Denverite. “There was a heightened sense of security and safety for Muslims and Arabs across the United States.”
Amidst the fear and pain of being discriminated against because of the attacks, Colorado Muslims also spoke about how the attacks spurred them to educate people about their religion and push back against bias.
“It was a wakeup call,” Imam Shafi Aziz of the Islamic Outreach Center in Denver told the Post. “God was sending a message that Muslims … (you need to) introduce who you are to people.”
9/11 was also a “dividing line” for the Sikh community, Dilpreet Jammu told the Sentinel. Along with Muslims, Sikhs were targets of discrimination after the attacks.
One thing that’s changed significantly since 2001 is the number of people living in Colorado, including the number of religious minorities. As Colorado has grown and become more diverse, some say that’s created a more tolerant culture.
“Colorado is becoming more welcoming than it was a number of years ago,” Jammu said.
There was no shortage of other religion news in Colorado this week. We like to believe that our humble newsletter is inspiring people, though that might be wishful thinking on our part. Regardless, keep up the amazing work, reporters.
Former Valor Christian coach appears on ‘Ellen’
Former Valor Christian volleyball coach Inoke Tonga appeared on The Ellen Show on Thursday to discuss being pressured out of his job after school officials found out he was gay. The situation made local and then national news after Tonga and another former coach came forward last month with their stories of experiencing homophobia at the private Christian high school in Highlands Ranch.
Tonga said it was painful being asked to denounce being gay, and that ultimately it only made him more determined to be open and proud of who he was.
Being gay is part of “what makes me a child of God,” Tonga said.
In the interview, host Ellen DeGeneres — who has her own experiences facing repercussions for being gay — praised Tonga for his courage and surprised him with a honeymoon trip to Puerto Rico for him and his fiancé.
“This story is incredible that things like this are still happening,” she said. “I think people feel like ‘oh, that doesn’t happen anymore,’ and it does.”
Tonga’s story has been picked up by GLAAD, which is using it as an illustration of the need for better workplace discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. At Valor, a group of current and former students has formed the organization Valor for Change, which is sharing accounts of what it describes as “systemic discrimination” at the school and calling for the administration to add sexuality and gender identity & presentation to its anti-discrimination policy. Read the group’s full list of demands online.
Local conservative radio host and pastor dies
Bob Enyart, a local pastor who was known in conservative circles throughout the country for his talk show radio and radical activism, died from COVID-19 on Sunday.
Enyart was a broadcaster and spokesperson for American Right to Life for about 30 years, according to his website. In that time, he also became the pastor of the Denver Bible Church in Wheat Ridge and engaged in more self-proclaimed fanatical political protests — including traveling to New Zealand with a banner that read “Clinton is a Rapist,” protesting Focus on the Family for James Dobson’s endorsement of John McCain, who Enyart thought didn’t take a strong enough stance on abortion, and organizing a crowd of people to “share the gospel” with Muslims at the Denver Islamic Society that allegedly drew federal and local law enforcement, according to the Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette, and a story Enyart shared on an old episode of his radio show.
Enyart was more recently known for his activism around COVID-19, including suing the state for public health mandates alongside a Brighton-based church, and promoting the false claim that aborted fetal cells were used in the development of the vaccine, according to the Washington Post. Enyart did not receive the COVID-19 vaccine. According to the Washington Post, Enyart is the fifth conservative radio talk show host who has died from the virus in the last six weeks.
Critical Faith Theory
Disagreements over what measures schools should take to limit the spread of COVID-19 and how to approach the issues of equity and diversity have been sources of massive controversy nationwide over the past several months, and Colorado is no exception. In Boulder County, Colorado Public Radio education reporter Jenny Brundin has a fascinating look into how that’s playing out in the St. Vrain Valley School District. After a backlash to critical race theory from some parents, the district removed language about equity work from its website and pulled its sponsorship of a conference. Per CPR:
“The district said it withdrew sponsorship based on legal advice after community member registrants complained that a workshop attacked their religious beliefs. District attorneys said it would ‘breach our obligation for religious neutrality’ so could not pay registration fees for teachers and staff.
“The workshop in question was titled, ‘Turning Swords into Plowshares: Disarming White Christian Supremacy for Queer and Trans Liberation,’ and was taught by Rev. Lyndsey Godwin, a Christian minister at Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School.
“A Queer Endeavor’s co-founder Bethy Leonardi said the workshop was not anti-religion but sought to help educators and others who may have lost their religion — understanding the harms that some sects of Christianity have caused to many LGBTQ+ people.”
In other education news, Resurrection Christian School in Loveland is battling Larimer County over a mask mandate.
The Great Eastern Sum
Shambhala published its 2020 annual report on Sept. 15. The Boulder-based international Buddhist organization had a challenging year, dealing with canceled programs and retreats due to the pandemic, millions of dollars worth of wildfire damage to the Shambhala Mountain Center in Larimer County and the ongoing fallout from the sexual abuse scandal that sent the organization reeling when it broke in 2018.
Shambhala Global Services had a net revenue of $54,000 USD in 2020, an increase from its budgeted goal of $25,000. However, the report says this was only due to $69,000 it received in COVID-19 relief funding from Canada, otherwise it would have had a $15,000 net revenue loss. For 2021, the organization estimates that it will have a net revenue loss of $73,000.
A month-by-month breakdown of Shambhala’s 2020 activities shows that along with financial woes, the organization is also dealing with deep divisions over how it should be managed and what level of involvement spiritual leader Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche deserves to have after being accused of sexual misconduct. Whether the beleaguered group can stay solvent and avoid a schism in the years to come remains to be seen.
Something old, something new
Fresh ground is being broken at Colorado’s oldest parish. Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Conejos is constructing an adobe prayer labyrinth, which will be one of the largest adobe construction projects of the 21st century (so far). The labyrinth will honor the heritage of the San Luis Valley, and is intended to invoke a sense of pilgrimage.
“It's both an outward journey because you're walking a long distance in a small area, but it's also an inward spiritual journey as well,” designer Ronald Rael told CPR.
With 5,000 bricks left to make, the labyrinth is anticipated to open to the public in spring 2022.
Gov. Jared Polis and first gentleman Marlon Reis tied the knot Wednesday in a traditional Jewish ceremony at CU Boulder officiated by Rabbi Tirzah Firestone of Boulder’s Congregation Nevei Kodesh. Mazel tov to the happy couple!
The Centennial Institute will host Jack Posobeic for a discussion of his new book about Antifa on Oct. 18. Posobeic was one of the main promoters of the “pizzagate” conspiracy theory and has been linked to white nationalist figures by the SPLC’s Hatewatch.
The Saguache County DA has dismissed criminal charges against four of seven Love Has Won cult members, according to the Denver Post.
From last week — KRCC reported on Rosh Hashanah at Temple Aaron in Trinidad.
Up to 2,000 Afghan refugees are expected to arrive in Colorado over the next six months, most of whom will be placed in Northglenn and Aurora.
CU Anschutz professor Joshua Williams was quoted in a New York Times article about faith-based vaccine exemptions. “People who have already made up their minds are now looking for ways to continue to exempt themselves from the Covid vaccine,” he said. Meanwhile, Westword published an article about the city of Denver vaccine mandate, which includes a $400 bonus for vaccinated employees, that asks if city employees who received religious exemptions are eligible for the bonus.
The Denver Post published a beautiful series of photos from the 32nd annual Denver Art Museum Friendship Powwow and American Indian Cultural Celebration.
Netflix has acquired the documentary Procession, which had its debut at the Telluride Film Festival. The film follows six survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests.
Someone stole a tabernacle and other items from a predominantly Black Catholic church in northeast Park Hill. Some of the items have been recovered, but not all, the Denver Post reported.
“Have Faith, Colorado” is a weekly roundup and analysis of local religion articles in the Centennial State. It’s by Liam Adams and Carina Julig. Carina covers education and other Aurora news at the Sentinel Colorado. Liam has worked as a local journalist in Colorado and a freelancer covering religion. He’s about to start as the religion reporter at The Tennessean. To connect with us about the newsletter please email firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, and follow us on twitter at @liamsadams and @CarinaJulig.