It has been a difficult year around the world with wars, conflicts and disease afflicting far too many people. Religion has too often played an unhelpful or even harmful role.
However, throughout the year there have been people of all different religions standing up for what is right, increasing understanding and peace between peoples, helping to serve humanity, and offeingr a prophetic witness for justice.
Here are 14 religious moments during 2014 that give us inspiration and hope for 2015.
Clergy took a major stand for racial equality.
As soon as protests broke out in Ferguson over the shooting of Michael Brown, clergy were on their feet and in the street with messages of equality, justice and nonviolent action. Pastor Renita Lamkin took a rubber bullet for the cause. Others sacrificed sleep and countless hours, opening the doors of their worship houses. When protests erupted in New York for Eric Garner's death, clergy continued working tirelessly for racial equality, providing the moral backbone of a movement that will continue growing as we move into 2015.
Muslims and non-Muslims alike took a stand against Islamophobia.
In the face of rising Islamophobia around the world, Muslims and non-Muslims rose up to offer a counter-narrative to negative stereotypes spread in part by the Islamic State. Several Twitter hashtags effectively disseminated these positive messages, including #NotInMyName, #IllRideWithYou, #IStandUpBecause and #MuslimApologies. A group of students at Australia's Macquarie University filmed strangers' reactions to staged Islamophobic verbal attacks -- with inspiring results. Churches in Australia and Canada stood with local Muslim communities in response to antagonism, and in the U.S. families members of 9/11 victims launched and anti-Islamophobia campaign to spread a message of peace and acceptance.
Pope Francis worked with leaders around the world to sow seeds of peace and freedom.
In between general audiences and church events, Pope Francis stepped into his role as global peace-maker in several key regions around the globe. As news of American Alan Gross' release from Cuba spread, Pope Francis' role in facilitating a deal between the two countries quickly became known as a key element to the story. In May the pontiff traveled to the Middle East to visit some of the holiest sites in Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths -- a trip that many saw as a turning point in Christian-Muslim relations. In November Pope Francis prayed alongside the Grand Mufti of Istanbul, Rahmi Yaran, during his trip to Turkey and later, in a crucial moment of conciliation with the Orthodox Church, the pope bowed to and asked for a blessing from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.
The Nobel Peace Prize broke through religious, ethnic, gender and age lines.
The 2014 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to two deserving recipients: Pakistani Malala Yousafzai and Indian Kailash Satyarthi for "their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education." With Yousafzai and Satyarthi, the prize bridged the lines dividing Pakistan and India, Islam and Hinduism, female and male, elder and youth, and showed how powerful humanity's united efforts toward a common goal can be.
Women took major strides in some denominations.
Many Jews and Arabs refused to be enemies.
As the Gaza conflict intensified with rocket attacks from both sides, some people promoted friendship and peace on social media with the hashtag, "Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies."
Some churches mobilized volunteers to help Ebola victims.
After Liberian immigrant Eric Duncan contracted Ebola in the Vickery Meadows community in Dallas, Pastor Brent Barry of the local North Park Presbyterian Church lead an interfaith coalition of churches and temples that pledged to stand by the people of Vickery Meadows. After his church got involved, the pastor said the vacant volunteer spots filled up quickly. Many missionaries were also on the frontline of the ebola epidemic, often risking their own health, and some occasions their lives, to help those in need.
Faith-based activists took to the streets for the environment.
A major interfaith coalition participated marched, sang and prayed with more than 1,000 other groups at the New York City People's Climate March to demand action at the United Nations Climate Summit, which took place the following day.
Ukraine's priests stood between police and protestors with a message of peace.
In the midst of a bitter winter, Ukraine's Orthodox priests defied a proposed government ban by bringing prayer to the front lines of protest. Political upheaval tore through the country in late 2013, carrying through to the New Year and well into 2014. Priests joined in the midst of the protests with messages of peace and non-violence.
Homeless Los Angelenos found loving support at the laundromat.
Los Angeles-based deacon Scott Claassen received his Episcopal ordination in laundromat as part of Laundry Love, a program in which homeless people or anyone in need may drop by to do their laundry for free -- with quarters, soap and machines provided. It's just one example of the thousands of creative, crucial ways people are helping people in the world.
LGBT-affirming clergy members found some major pockets of hope.
The Judicial Council of the Methodist Church ruled that pastor Frank Schaefer was wrongly defrocked for officiating the wedding of his gay son and refusing to promise he would never perform another same-sex wedding. Schaefer was reinstated and has become a gay rights activist.
A high school girls soccer team showed religious discrimination has no place in sports.
When Samah Aidah was prohibited by soccer referees in Aurora, Colo. from playing in a game due to her hijab, her teammates on the Overland High School girls soccer team protested the decision by each donning the head covering and posting their photo to Twitter.
Coca-Cola took a stand for diversity and equality.
Coca-Cola used its prime Super Bowl ad spot to promote a message of diversity and inclusion with its "America the Beautiful" commercial. The ad featured an ensemble of Americans from different cultural backgrounds singing "America the Beautiful" in various languages with the accompanying tag lines "It's Beautiful" and "America Is Beautiful." Major corporation that it is, Coke could have run virtually any ad it wanted -- and it chose to use its voice for a powerful and important cause.
Sikhs reminded everyone what true human decency looks like.
2014 saw another round of reprehensible hate crimes and discrimination against Sikhs in the U.S. In the face of these attacks, Sikh individuals continued to relentlessly spread a message of peace, inclusion, forgiveness and love. As Sikh cartoonist Vishavjit Singh told HuffPost in a recent article: "The goodness of humankind, that to me is like my guiding lamp."
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