A report from the Parliament of World’s Religions from Trinka Wasik
Christian Science Practitioner
Peace. Justice. A safe and healthy environment. Gender Equality. Freedom to worship.
At the Parliament of World Religions, nearly 10,000 people from all over the world met to celebrate their unity of purpose in bettering the world through their united devotion to living their faith. Rather than fear each other for their differences, they celebrated them. It was a gathering meant to dispel the myth that religion necessarily divides and creates conflict. Instead, people of faith found a deeper sense of unity, not in doctrine or dogma, but in the shared love and respect for whatever one may call the power of life, and one’s fellow man. “Reclaiming the heart of humanity.” They called it, recognizing that at the heart of every individual we share a common desire for good. And in that simple truth, lies great hope.
And so, there was an aura of a love-fest — everyone loving each other, getting to know each other better, and loving our world together. But there was also a shared pain. War, genocide, oppression, violence and abuse in intimate relationships, racism, marginalizing and categorizing, poverty, climate change. . . the list of suffering and causes for it, and threats to our future as a race, ran long and deep. The message of unity was as strong in importance as was the call for action to use this unity to end that which harms and hurts humanity, as well. But how?
One of the Muslim speakers summed it up for all of us: it starts within. This was his jihad; the internal battle between good and evil, that must be won before we can know what action to take to help humanity save itself. It is by reaching into our own individual hearts of shared humanity and letting that lead individual and collective action, that we will find the solutions we so desperately need.
But there was to me a warning, too. Often this desperate cry for action moved the forum toward a politicalization of interfaith that I found unsettling. Were we prone to creating a new division in humanity of us and them? The religiously enlightened versus the secular unenlightened who would stand in the way of progress as we saw fit? Were we demonizing that sector of mankind who, unlike us, didn’t seek a standard of life principles according to the guidance of a higher power as we understood it?
This trend in dialogue would undermine the core principle of the Parliament unwittingly — full inclusion of all humanity. The most important aspect of the Parliament was this inclusion — the assumption that we all share what is most important in life because that is the nature of mankind according to the one divine source that created us. Taken to its logical conclusion, this must include every single soul ever created. Even those who don’t acknowledge the spiritual core of their being through faith or worship. Even those we consider our enemies. Even those we consider at fault for our problems. In the eyes of our Creator, there are no political divisions, all are equally important. There is no solution that will be good for one party and bad for the other. That would be a human solution, and not a divine solution. What we sought was the permanency and equality of divine good in the shared experience of all mankind.
So we knew a new model of change was needed, and that by meeting as we were, we had become a model of and a catalyst for this as yet unknown and untried model of change. We also knew that as good as what we were experiencing together was, it was not enough. It was only a beginning. It was incumbent upon us to take whatever we learned out to the world with us to become its change. To pray more, to include God more in every thought, deed and action. To halt prejudices in our hearts and their effects in whatever way they showed themselves in our experience. And to explore a new and different form of power and influence that was not one man pitted against another, but tapping into that power which acts only upon universal benefit, with mutual love and respect at its core of healing power.
One of the speakers had studied terrorism in depth. He said most terrorism resulted from increasing impositions from outside powers. People fight back when the power to self govern is taken away from them, whether through force or through mental imposition. The question to me then, became whether we have enough faith in God, as the ultimate guiding power of all mankind and each individual, to obey our highest spiritual guidance, to pray for the strength to do what we are asked to do, and then to trust each other that they, too, will fulfill their spiritual life’s mission according to the will and power of God — whether or not they call themselves religious. Rather than try to impose our ideas on others, can we take a stance to be willing to educate, inform according to what we know, and then to listen to what they know and believe, to learn, to cooperate, to nurture the inherent goodness in each other and empower each other to live according to varied understandings of what it means to be good? Can we have more faith in THAT, than in our own judgments and our limited views of what we think things should be, or how they should turn out?
Goodness has a common standard in the heart of humanity. We all had our versions of the Golden Rule, for instance. So standing against injustice and taking political action is not a bad thing, and will be at least a part of the necessary action mankind takes to move forward. But it will never be enough without a spiritual foundation that surpasses denominational differences. The Parliament acknowledged that. But the question remained, do we believe that God and His governance of man is more powerful than the power of man to screw things up — to destroy His perfect creation? Isn’t God’s action in man what the heart of humanity really is, man’s divine soul?
The Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, writes in her pivotal work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, “God has endowed man with inalienable rights, among which are self-government, reason, and conscience. Man is properly self-governed only when he is guided rightly and governed by his Maker, divine Truth and Love.” Divine Truth and Love. The heart of humanity. Is this ultimately the most powerful motivating force of action man will choose to live? Is God more powerful than man?
This to me, was the most important question posed at the conference. Not just for myself, but did I see the divine as the ultimate power in others, even and especially in those I didn’t understand? Given the success of unity we found, expressed and embraced in sharing our hearts and humanity, I found great hope. I have faith. God’s will be done — in and through each of us. Thank God.
Report on the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religion by Elby Salazar
St. Isadore Roman Catholic Church, Danville
I am glad to share with Council members, and the Global community, about my experience at the Parliament of the World Religions 2015 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Around 10,000 people attended, with the participation of 80 countries, and people from all the United States of America, 50 plus Religions; with the convening theme: “Reclaim the Heart of Our Humanity” the world’s largest interfaith event. I am truly honored to have participated actively in Interfaith panels, with the world’s brilliant minds, have meaningful conversations with amazing people such as: Jane Goodall, and many people who cares and are already doing something to alleviate global suffering. As a Bilingual educator and researcher I know that it took years completing the research to study Global Ethics.
I shared my Personal Interfaith Story that will be shown on TV, and will be made onto a CD signed authorization to the Parliament Libraries to share my Interfaith research study, knowledge, and experience. I participated in Multi-faith, United Religious Initiative, and Interfaith dialogues. Continuously and miraculously, in a supernatural way, I would encounter people who invited me to participate on filmed panels, around tables with hot Interfaith conversations. I am so grateful for this amazing experience for me in many aspects. I also attended the Women’s Panel, listened to Media Benjamin in person after seeing her a day before on National TV. Seeing many sad documentaries that shows the reality and magnitude of global suffering of people of all ages and the great need for justice and order in our world. This confirms that I am a supporter and a believer of Interfaith dialogues, getting together, finding a common ground. Respectfully, we can start valuable conversations about our spirituality, reconciliation, peace, and justice. I also attended The Women’s Assembly, where women of diverse religious and spiritual traditions were united with an important message affirming women’s dignity and human rights, with powerful and inspirational messages for women’s empowerment to become spiritual and global leaders. I also attended and participated daily with the Universal Dances for Peace, the Cosmic Mass, Sikj Langar lunches, Rituals, Multifaith Prayers, URI, and on everything out of the box belief systems… it was amazing!
Parliament of the World’s Religions by David Marshak
I was at the Parliament as part of the Islamic Networks Group delegation. I was on an Interfaith panel they put on. I also attended some of their sessions and met with some of the people from the Silicon Valley Interfaith Council in the United Religions Initiative room. I attended a URI reception, a URI peace service and spent time with a Hindu URI leader from Leeds, England.
The Inaugural Women’s Assembly on Thursday was amazing. I was blown away by all the wonderful women with enormous energy, creativity, commitment and amazingly out of the box thinking. At one point one of the Sheroes pumped up her hand and said “Your mountain is not higher than my mountain.” Then she pumped it up again and said “My mountain is not higher than your mountain.”
There was a marvelous concert with performers from many faiths in the Mormon Tabernacle Sunday night. One of the performers was a Jain musician. The next day I attended two sessions with him and his guru. The morning session was on Mantras. The afternoon session was on Bhakti. I also spent much time with the Jain leader. Towards the end of the Bhakti session in response to my rephrasing of a question asked, the Jain leader said no religion is better than any other religion. I observed to the musician afterwards that what he said was exactly what the Salt Lake City Sheroes leader had said on Thursday. It is also what I have thought ever since I started intensively studying religions and philosophy in Junior High School.
I met some wonderful women from the Brahma Kumaris organization. One of them is also a leader with the Elijah Interfaith Institute in Jerusalem. This is a wonderful organization. One of the other leaders heads up the Orthodox Studies program at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.
I plan to talk about this further at a Lunch and Learn Tuesday December 1 at the Swagat Indian Restaurant in Concord. I plan to have further Lunch and Learns with presenters who were at the Parliament. The title of the Lunch and Learn will be The Oneness of Everything: A Report from the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
Parliament of the World’s Religions Report by Ejaz Naqvi
Community of Zahra, Pleasanton
The Parliament was attended by nearly 10,000 people from around the world, representing 30 major religions. There were about 1800 sessions in total. Every night there was a major plenary, starting with women’s empowerment (highlighted by other Council members), indigent people, plenary on “Focus on war, violence and hate speech”(my favorite) and climate change. There were numerous concurrent small sessions, panel discussions, musicals, songs, yoga and similar experiential gatherings.
I was at the parliament for 4 days and was part of two panels. The first one was with Claremont Lincoln University (a major sponsor of the Parliament), on Oct 16, titled “Combatting Ideological Violence and Hate Speech“. Rev. Will McGarvey was the moderator. The other panelists were Dr. Darrell Ezell (CLU’s Director of Interfaith Action program) and Dr. Keith Burton (Faculty at CLU). The panel highlighted the causes of ideological violence, pointed out that religion has been used to promote violence, though there is evidence that it can /has been a force to bring about peace. Dr Ezell ended by introducing a new paradigm by putting interfaith inaction and how CLU is engaged in teaching soft skills for interfaith leaders. The program was recorded and the video can be watched at the following url.
The second panel titled “The Quran and the Bible’s views on Interfaith Relations, Pluralism and Women’s role in society” highlighted the similarities of the teachings of the Quran and the Bible and referred to the challenges women have faced based on misinterpretations of the Scriptures. The other panelists were Despina Namwembe: Regional Coordinator United Religions Initiative (URI) in the Great Lakes – Africa and URI Women’s Africa Regional Coordinator, Iftekhar Hai: President of United Muslims of America Interfaith Alliance (UMAIA) and Rabbi Pamela Frydman: Rabbis for Religious Freedom and Equality in Israel. The papers can be found at:
What I liked the most (in no particular order)
Parliament App – you could register on your app for a session, get reminders and see the conference at a glance and much, much more.
Networking with people from all over the world belonging to so many religions.
Plenary on War and hate speech was very powerful. The speech by Dr.Tariq Ramadan on hate and Islamophobia was chilling and inspiring. He started by requesting the audience to NOT clap as this topic is not one that requires clapping(which I have always wondered why we clap on serious issues like the ones being addressed). He asked everyone to rise above political, racial and other divides in a manner only he can.
Rev. Paul of the Parliament, winning a lifetime achievement award at a major luncheon meeting attended by Karen Armstrong, Imam Malik Mujahid (Parliament ex director) and others. He is now in a wheelchair, paralyzed due to Lou Gehrig’s disease(ALS). He gave a stunning speech and spoke about his struggles with the disease and how he is still fighting for tolerance, social justice and peace through interfaith action despite knowing that the average life span for ALS patients is 2-3 years. I was personally moved as my own mother passed away from ALS. After the speech, I related to his family members, who were next to him, providing physical support as he delivered his speech and shared our family experience with them.
Vendor’s area: I actually found this to be a good place to get to know other organizations and a good meeting place.
Ms. Barakh – was the emcee at one of the major plenaries. She is the sister of one of the three Muslims slain at the University of NC at Chapel Hills.
What did not work so well
Too many sessions concurrently. It was very hard to pick and choose.
The numbering at the convention center was very confusing. Even on day 4, I had to rely on the map to go to the meetings, and sometimes missed meetings.
Shared meetings – Given the high number of sessions, many were shared (i.e 90 minutes sessions were divided between two separate programs, reducing each one to about 45 minutes.)
Length of plenary sessions – some of them lasted over three hours!
Parliament Report from Father Thomas Bonacci, C.P.
Interfaith Peace Project
The Women’s Program
With over one-third of the World’s women suffering abuse, neglect, injustice, or trafficking, the inauguration of the women’s program at the Parliament was a turning point in its history. The celebration of women by women was not for entertainment purposes but raised the awareness not only of the violence women face but the gifts, talents, and persons they have and are.
We must recognize the necessity of integrating the quest for women’s dignity and rights into our work as an Interfaith Council. Prevailing beliefs, structures, and practices must be challenged in light of the violence women face and the contribution of self they make.
Rev. Andrea Goodman and myself gave a presentation on “A New Model For Interfaith Work” emphasizing the many home-based programs emerging throughout the World. It is in the personal encounters that Interfaith work finds its ground of being. This is based on the philosophy of The Interfaith Peace Project, associated with our Interfaith Council, that faiths do not meet faiths but people meet one another. No two people hold the same faith the same way. It is our belief that any encounter between two people is an interfaith experience.
Interfaith Philosophy, Development, and a Critique
So much of the Parliament dealt with the issues of environmental justice and sustainability. Of course, this is a major issue in our time with important ramifications for our future as a human race.
I noticed that much of what I would call “interfaith spirituality and practice” happened in spontaneous meetings, personal encounters, and the singing and dancing in the foyers and hallways. Otherwise, the theory of interfaith philosophy and the practicality of interfaith practice vs multifaith association were not very pronounced in the seminars. I found a notable exception in the presentations of Jim Kenny. Three very brief observations:
1) Kenney provided an excellent frame work for appreciating the rise of interfaith
spirituality in light of first Axial developments (800 – 200 BCE),
2) Our present time is a time of institutional breakdown and spiritual breakthrough in
which a Second Axial Age is emerging,
3) Institutions are the last places where the cultural shifts are realized. Our hope must be
based on what we see happening in the actual World of real people.
For more information: Jim Kenney – Thriving in the Crosscurrent (Book and Website)
Report on the Parliament of World Religions by Rabbi Pam Frydman
Yezidi & Assyrian Christian Solidarity Project
The Parliament of World Religions was attended by nearly 9800 people representing 50 faiths and including 300 denominations. These are statistics, but the true blessing of the Parliament was in the one on one connections and the learning and sharing during programs.
The Sikhs served a vegetarian lunch called Langar. One day, I met a Muslim woman from London and we had Langar together. Another day, I met the Shiite Muslim member of the Board of KAICIID, an interfaith organization hosted by the King of Saudi Arabia and representatives of the governments of Spain and Austria. While waiting in line for Langar, we talked about the rabbi with whom he serves on the Board of KAICIID and how Shiite Islam and Judaism have much in common.
My friend Rabbi Amy Eilberg addressed a plenary attended by thousands. Amy led us in chanting Shalom, meaning peace. She began by inviting us to either chant Shalom or a word for peace in our own tradition. As we chanted, the room filled with harmonious sounds and a lovely warm peaceful feeling.
Professor Ananta Kumar Giri of the Madras Institute of Development attended my morning chanting session. He purchased my book and invited me to teach at two seminars in India in February. Ananta is now traveling in the U.S. I have arranged for him to visit a Jewish colleague in Colorado and an interfaith colleague in Boston. Ananta introduced me via email to Christian Bartolf who lives in Berlin. Christian wrote a biography of Hermann Kallenbach, a Jewish architect and a close friend of Mahatma Gandhi. I was not aware of Kallenbach until I met Christian. Christian would like to visit California and speak about Gandhi and Kallenbach. I am thinking about venues where people might enjoy hearing him.
I attended a session about the Water and Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Program in India. I learned that children suffer most because of a lack of clean water, which often leads to their death. I also learned that women and girls suffer most because of lack of toilets in homes and schools. The details broke my heart; and at the very same time, I was filled with awe as Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Sikh leaders demonstrated warmth and respect for one another during their remarks about WASH. If interfaith brotherhood-sisterhood could bring peace, the world would already be at peace from the warmth and respect of that panel.
One of the most wonderful sessions I attended was a panel in which I participated with Dr. Ejaz Naqvi who serves on the Board of the ICCCC. Ejaz and I were joined by Iftekhar Hai, President of the Interfaith Alliance of United Muslims of America and a member of the San Francisco Interfaith Council; and Despina Namwembe, United Religions Initiative Regional Director for Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan and the Republic of the Congo. Despina coordinates 23 URI cooperation circles in these five countries, three of which have experienced genocide in the past ten years. She also coordinates women’s activities for Africa. Knowing Despina’s mandate leaves me speechless. Listening to her speak during our panel and the Women’s Walk for Peace left me humbled and proud to say that I know her.
The Parliament’s Board of Trustees have decided to hold the Parliament every other year somewhere in the world. I hope many of our ICCCC colleagues will have an opportunity to represent their community and the ICCCC at a future Parliament.
United Religions Initiative maintained a hospitality room during the Parliament, which was a wonderful place to meet like minded and like hearted colleagues from all over the world while munching on snacks and taking a break from the larger crowds. It was also a place to begin collaborating on projects large and small. Rev. Will McGarvey provided Ejaz and me with a wire to connect our computers to a projector during two different workshops! Thanks Will! And thank you ICCCC for being part of URI!
Parliament Report from Rev. Will McGarvey
Salt Lake City is my home. As a child of the Utah Pioneers, whose maternal grandmother traces her genealogy back to Whales, England. My Great-great-grandfather came across the plains on one of the last hand-cart trains. When they got to Salt Lake City, the Prophet Brigham Young sent the family to Fillmore, Utah. The other side of my family were generally protestants, though I knew less of their history (Germanic Lutheran farmers, Unitarians, Presbyterian ministers and the Nones (none of the aboves)). It was a strange trip for me to be in my hometown and seeing people from every part of my life show up around every corner. Friends from Seminary, California, and others from around the world were there.
My experience at the Parliament included moderating a panel entitled “Confronting Ideological Violence and Hate Speech” with Dr. Ejaz Naqvi, Dr. Keith Burton and Dr. Darrell Ezell. You can watch it at http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/75642787. After our panel, we were interviewed by Rabbi Rami Shapiro for an online radio station that focuses on Interfaith work around the world. I’ll share the link once I get it.
There were many great ICCCC representatives there, as you can see above. Rev. Steve Harms and Rabbi Dan Goldblatt were also there. The many folks from the Uniting Religions Initiative were well represented and hosted a hospitality suite where you could meet many others from around the world.
I was particularly take with the Abrahamic Reunion presenters. I know a few of them from my time in Israel-Palestine. It was good to catch up with Eliyahu McLean, Ibrahim Abu Al-Hawa, and Daniel Aqleh and to meet more of their Interfaith colleagues who work together for peace in Jerusalem and the whole Holy Land. Daniel works to get Palestinian Christians and Muslims involved in the Interfaith peace activities, helping them get passes to go from Bethlehem to Jerusalem for the Jerusalem Hug. Eliyahu leads dual narrative tours of Hebron each Wednesday, helping Israelis, Palestinians and internationals to hear both Jews and Palestinians in that hotly contested city where the Ibrahimi Mosque resides with the tombs of Abraham, Sarah and Isaac. Ibrahim’s family has offered hospitality on the Mount of Olives for the last 1400 years.
I appreciated the elevation of the gifts of the First Nations, and the sensitivity they brought to the whole event – reminding us each time they spoke whose ancestral lands we were blessed to be upon. Their calls to reverse the trend of Climate Chaos and fossil fuel pollutions were heart felt and prophetic. Likewise, the Women’s Gathering on the day before the Parliament officially began pointed out the great divide in leadership among the world’s many religions. When given the opportunity to lead, they not only lead with grace and spirit, but remind us of the great diversity of expression in our many traditions. Their creative resistance was noticed as the Parliament officially started and they were lovingly referred to, while every other person on the platform was a man. We still have a long way to go. The Salt Lake City Drummers were a spirited group that got everyone involved and the young speakers were inspiring and challenging of the way we adults have allowed the world to operate – mainly without hearing their voices or taking their needs for the future into account.
It was an exhausting week full of shared meals, discussions and learning. Experiencing the Sikh community’s Langar meals was a special treat, as they fed thousands of people each day. I got to pass out many of the 1000 red bracelets with the website for the Yezidi and Assyrian Christian peoples we in the Bay Area have been supporting in solidarity work. You can see about their plight in Syria and Northern Iraq at http://www.yezidis-assyrians.org and you can sign the petition there.
I sold a few of our t-shirts there, which were well received and got to spend time with my fellow faculty from Claremont Lincoln University, who were one of the two main sponsors for the Parliament. CLU is an online Interfaith masters degree program which helps religious and secular leaders increase their cultural competency and leadership skills. Check us out at http://www.claremontlincoln.org.
Mostly, it was a wonderful experience of getting to go deeper in understanding the many other faith traditions of all involved. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints were splendid in their hospitality and welcome onto Temple Square with a fine concert at the Tabernacle. Not all of us could fit inside, but I heard some great tales, such as the Sikh musical performer who asked people to cover their heads with their programs in the traditional manner as the Phadan was shared. I was able to meet many more Pagans from around the world and it was wonderful introducing friends to new friends. All in all, a rich and varied week.