Religions for Peace, not hate

Alan Race reports on his attendance at one of the world’s greatest interfaith gatherings.

A common assumption among ordinary people and the media is that religions are a source of hate and conflict in the world. The exact opposite point of view was celebrated at a recent gathering of people from different religions, which I attended in October earlier this year. The so-called Parliament of the World’s Religions, the fifth since 1993, was held at Salt Lake City in Utah State, USA, and marked another milestone in the growing movement for interfaith co-operation around the world.

The event was not so much a Parliament in the usual sense, as a huge coming together of nearly 10,000 people, dedicated to learning about one another and promoting the virtues of peaceful co-existence and shared values. Of the participants, women and young people under 30 made up more than 65% of the total numbers.

At the Parliament there is something for everyone, including music, dance, worship, seminars, lectures, art and different foods. You could learn about Christians working for justice and peace, or about Hindu meditation and yoga, or about native American ties with the natural world, or even about Mormon feminism. Everywhere the emphasis was on what faiths can give to one another and to the world.

Some of the most moving moments came when we heard first-hand from young adults of how they had witnessed the killing of family members through hate crime and then went on to dedicate themselves to work for better understanding between cultures and faiths and promote the value of diversity. These were impressive people who give hope to the world by refusing to return hate for hate. Sikhs, Muslims, Christians and Jews were united in their determination to present the true worth of compassion, trust and service.

It was thrilling to hear Jane Goodall, well-known for her work among chimpanzees, speaking about threats to the environment either through human intervention or through human preparations for nuclear war. Nuclear weapons were now thousands of times more powerful than the first bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. This goes well beyond anything deterrence theory ever envisaged. So who among the nations will be bold enough to confront such madness?

The Dalai Lama was prevented from attending through illness. But he sent a message, saying that our problems are of our own making and that “we must take responsibility for our actions.” No-one was going to disagree with this call from one of the world’s most respected religious leaders.

With an American friend and colleague, Jim Kenney, I joined in leading a workshop on the themes of cultural evolution and interfaith dialogue. We presented our thoughts on how values are evolving towards a better fit with what we know about the world through experience and analysis – for example, that violence is actually decreasing in the world or that the argument for equality between genders has been won, often in spite of what looks to be the case, and that the future of religious awareness lies in dialogue between traditions. Looking at how these themes might play out in different parts of the world rescues us all from our limited knowledge and narrow-mindedness.

On the Sunday morning there was an interfaith devotional time, organised by our President Marcus Braybrooke, when we used prayers and sayings from different traditions to help lift the heart. The theme here was ‘Peace in our hearts, Peace in our world’. Christians, Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists joined harmoniously before the mystery of existence and the mystery of the sacred.

The Parliament of Religions is held in a different part of the world every four years. There was talk over coffee breaks about the possibility of coming to London. I tried to encourage the rumour as best I could!

Alan Race
December 2015

Fo Guang Temple Meeting

Tea ceremony and interfaith debate in Inter Faith Week 2015

The Fo Guang Shan Temple is in the heart of London’s West End, but one would never guess at its bustling environment once inside, and enjoying the peace of its meditation and meeting spaces. The Humanistic Buddhist Temple was the setting for one of the first events in Inter Faith Week 2015, when jointly with the World Congress of Faiths it hosted a tea ceremony and a debate on 15 November.

Attended by more than 30 people, the tea ceremony offered an insight into the calm and contemplation associated with small but significant acts, such as sharing and appreciating refreshment. After the ceremony, guests were given a new publication of daily reflections, ‘365 days for Travellers’.

They then moved to the Library, where Inter Faith Network UK Director Dr Harriet Crabtree welcomed the first day of Inter Faith Week, a tradition that was moving from strength to strength with more events and support every year.

The debate was chaired by Dr Alan Race, Chair of WCF, and the four speakers were introduced by Jon Dal Din of Westminster Interfaith. They were: Venerable Hui Sheng , of the Fo Guang Shan Temple in Paris; Roman Catholic Archbishop Kevin McDonald of England & Wales; Rabbi Helen Freeman of West London Synagogue; and Jayde Russell of the London Central Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre. Each spoke on the theme of ‘Vision and hopes for the future: What can faiths achieve together in the coming year?’ and delegates then discussed some of the issues and questions arising.

Younghusband Lecture 2015

Faithful sharing and giving
The recent Parliament of World Religions was a chance to celebrate the global growth of the interfaith movement, but in our dark and dangerous world one cannot help questioning what has been achieved. Many of the same issues were discussed when Sir Francis Younghusband founded the World Congress of Faiths in 1936 – also a time when the clouds of war and hate were growing darker.
Councils of Faiths do a lot to encourage members of different communities to meet, thereby promoting social cohesion. The members of such Councils are usually there to represent and speak for their faith community.
But talk is not enough – increasingly as people of faith get to know each other, they want to work together for the good of their community, and perhaps also for wider goods such as human right or the environment. This is also happening at an international level, for example, The Global Freedom Network is an interfaith movement to combat contemporary slavery.
All such work is vital, but the question that has to be asked is ‘Does religion add anything specifically to such work or is the real basis our common humanity? Is there anything unique about faiths working together?’
I would argue that working together does help to reduce ignorance and prejudice, as it creates spaces and opportunities not only to understand better each other’s beliefs and practices, but also to see the lived faith of the other person expressed through compassion and everyday practice. As we get to know each other better, we realise that we all have the same questions about why there is suffering or what happens when we die.
Fellowship with other people of faith, which WCF offers, widens our sympathy and, despite the daily evidence of holy hatred and human indifference and cruelty, gives us the hope and the energy to go on labouring for a better world.
Moreover and more important, the more people of faith and good will who speak out, the louder the voice and the more people who act, the quicker change will come - as we are seeing, to give just two examples of so many, in the interfaith campaign to bring clean water to all people, or in the struggle to end all forms of slavery.

Seeking the Sacred

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WCF held a joint conference in July 2015 with Modern Church at High Leigh, Hoddesdon on Seeking the Sacred.

Listen to the event Chair, Canon Dr. Alan Race, speaking to conference here...

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You can see a brief event report and details of workshop discussions on our Report Archive page here.

 

2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions

Salt Lake City. Oct 15th - 19th

Mormon Tabernacle and city skyline...

Reclaiming the Heart of Our Humanity

Pre –Parliament Event

14th April 2015, Global Co-operation House, London, UK
Organised by the World Congress of Faiths and the Brahma Kumaris UK

REPORT

This pre-parliament event brought the spirit of the Parliament to around 50 people of all faiths.

In her welcome Sister Jayanti, European Director of the Brahma Kumaris, remembered how her first exposure to the issue of climate change was at the 1993 Parliament in Chicago, not realizing that years later this would become the major issue of our times with still very few people willing to do anything about it! She talked of the increasing recognition of the importance of the role of religions in this. She quoted Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change: 'if anything is going to change climate change it has to come from the heart'.

She guided us in a meditation on emerging love, truth and compassion within the heart, so that these qualities keep guiding us in life and our work for humanity.

Rev Dr Marcus Braybrooke, President of the World Congress of Faiths shared greetings from the planning group in Chicago. He went on to share how the reason for bringing the world’s religions and spiritual traditions together is so that we can unlock the spiritual riches and resources we all have for the healing of our world. And this is both spiritual and practical. He shared his aim for the Parliament where a world society is created, that embodies the mystic and interconnectedness and of all things related to the Divine, and he quoted Jane Goodall, anthropologist, that 'the ultimate destiny of our species is a state of Compassion and Love'.

A video was shown of the history of the Parliament from 1893 to the present day which conveyed the wealth of culture, tradition, faith, dialogue and the celebration that took place in Chicago, Capetown, Barcelona and Melbourne.

Mrs Mary Braybrooke, retired social worker and Mr Vinod Kapashi, President of the Mahavir (Jain) Foundation, shared their special memories of the parliaments of how the generous listening and sharings meant that many lasting friendships were made.

Enthusiastic group discussions followed on the following questions:
Reclaiming the Heart of our Humanity: working together for a world of compassion, peace, justice and sustainability:

  • What does this mean to me personally on my life’s journey?
  • How is this theme relevant to the interfaith work that I am engaged in?

Each group was then invited to construct one sentence that would be their message to the Parliament.
In chairing the following discussion, Rev Canon Dr Alan Race, Chair of the World Congress of Faiths noted:

  • not just words are shared, but short term inclusive projects are created to bring the aims into reality
  • neighbourhoods of community in the human world family continue to be developed
  • by drawing together the ancient wisdoms of compassion and respect, a new language of tomorrow can be developed.
  • that we can reclaim a world that we have lost, as well as embark on a journey exploring who we are and where we are going as part of the Parliament process.

Rabbi Jackie Tabick, Co-President of the World Congress of Faiths, closed the evening with a prayer……a time to meet in courage and truth and in this we share the common prayer of humanity....and may our courage match our convictions and our integrity our hope…..

Everyone was asked to write their personal hopes for the Parliament. The most outstanding one was as follows...
A Chance for the world’s people to CONNECT to:

  • Compassionate hearts emerging
  • Openness to all religions
  • Newness in the vision of unity
  • Nurturing a feeling of a world family
  • Engaging in learning about common goals
  • Create friendships
  • Tolerance for all people

webIcon-miniYou can discover the 2015 Parliament event pages in Salt Lake City here.

 

WCF appoints Programme & Development Officer

WCF will celebrate its 80th anniversary in 2016, and we intend to use this as a major opportunity to develop a long term programme for ensuring that our organisation continues to play an important role in interfaith relations, and to raise its profile more widely.

We have appointed Jenny Kartupelis into the new post of Programme and Development Officer, to work with the Committee, members and Administrator in developing the interests and commitments of WCF with faith communities, existing inter faith organisations and the scholarly community, and to help shape its future direction in strategic and practical ways.

Jenny was the Director of the East of England Faiths Council for 11 years, an organisation she helped to establish, and which grew out of the East of England Churches Network. The Council's main roles were to support local interfaith in the region, act as a representative and advocate for faith in society, and interact with local and national government. In 2010, she was awarded the MBE for services to interfaith relations.

Jenny's professional background is in public relations and research, and she is studying for a Professional Doctorate in multi faith policy with the Cambridge Theological Federation, in which city she is based. Her current work includes undertaking a 'faith audit' of Greater Peterborough, commissioned by the Local Authority.