Bahai News -- Clarion-Ledger - Religious worship takes many forms June 28, 2002

Religious worship takes many forms

By Charlotte Graham
Clarion-Ledger Staff Writer

Metro Jackson is a place where much of the population considers religion and faith to be an important part of life.

Some even call it the heart of the Bible Belt, a city where Bible-toting believers attend church, worship God and live by his holy word.

But not all of Jackson's faithful are toting Bible these days. They may well be reading from Korans, the Book of Mormon and other sacred books.

Jackson's religious climate has changed.

In years past, the area's faithful were mainly Catholics, Protestants and, to a lesser extent, Jews. Today, area residents have a wide choice of both Eastern and Western religions.

Greater Jackson residents or visitors can choose from hundreds of Christian churches, Muslim mosques and Jewish and Hindu temples.

"When I moved to the Jackson area 25 years ago, I never thought I would one day see a Hindu temple in the area," says V. Prakasa Rao, a Hindu and professor at Jackson State University. "Now there are three Hindu temples in the area."

Balaji Temple, in Brandon, was consecrated in 1990. The Hindu Temple Society of Mississippi established a temple in Ridgeland about four years ago and Bochansanwasi Akshapurshottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) on Greenway Drive in south Jackson opened two years ago.

"This just says the Hindu community is growing in this area," says Rao. "When I came here there were about 35 from India in this area. Now there are 600 or more."

With the increase of the area's foreign population also comes diverse religious customs and culture.

"Certainly the big word of the '90s is diversity," says Andre Hoffecker, professor of church history at Reformed Theological Seminary. "With the celebration of diversity, folks have a tendency to look for something different."

The primary feature of many of the Eastern religions such as Islam and Baha'i, is post modernism, Hoffecker says. People tend to find it interesting and want to be a part of the movement.

"Post modernism has broken down the the idea of one way of looking at things," he explains. "We have been so used to the Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian and Pentecostal way of looking at things.

"But now, with post modernism, people are beginning to say that maybe there is something to these other faiths. It sometimes causes them to look down on something that has been a part of their faith tradition for years."

A perfect example is the number of people who are becoming Muslims, he says. "It's all a reflection of the change in our culture, as a whole."

Islam, the religion of Muslims, is among the nation's fastest growing religions, says Hoffecker. The scriptures of this Eastern religion are intimately intertwined with those of its sister traditions — Christianity and Judaism. In historical terms, Islam can be seen and its followers view it — as the third and final revelation in Western religion that began with Judaism and Christianity.

In fact, Muslims do not regard the three as separate religions, but as one continuously unfolding historical tradition.

God in Islam, Allah, is identical with the God of Abraham, and in fact, announced himself as the same God who sent his message to the world through Abraham, Moses and Jesus.

The Baha'i Faith is an intensely liberal religion with an avowed goal of world peace. Baha'i holds that all the prophets (Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, etc.) are manifestations of the one spirit of God, appearing to various people in their times and places.

Baha'is believe that to be a real Christian in spirit is to be Baha'i and to be a real Baha'i is to be a Christian, says Dr. Nosratolla Ghaemmaghami of Ridgeland.

But Christianity and the Eastern religions aren't the only offerings for newcomers to the area. Jackson's Beth Israel Congregation welcomes Jewish newcomers interested in practicing their faith. The temple on Old Canton Road is led by Rabbi Jim Egolf and has about 300 families as members.

There's also a temple for blacks who prefer Judaism over Christianity. The House of Israel Hebrew culture Center on Clifton Avenue in west Jackson was established in 1977 by Rabbi R. Devine.

And if you want a mixture of both Christian and Jewish traditions, there is Congregation Beit Lechem, which meets in south Jackson at Celebration Fellowship Church, 101 Stokes Robertson Road. The church is a Messianic congregation that blends Judaism and Christianity.

©Copyright 2002, Clarion-Ledger (MS, USA)

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