This article was written by Esther Meroño and was originally published on groundswell-mvmt.org.
The Sanctuary Movement has been rebirthed this year, with over 100 congregations supporting moral action to help our undocumented brothers and sisters in need. Here’s what you need to know.
1. SANCTUARY IS OLD NEWS—LIKE, BACK WHEN SCROLLS WERE WHAT YOU READ, NOT WHAT YOU DO THROUGH YOUR TWITTER FEED.
Sanctuary is when faith communities offer safe havens – and they’ve been doing it from the beginning of the Old Testament, to the times of slavery and the Underground Railroad, to housing Jews during WWII, to the draft during the Vietnam War.
In fact, Sanctuary 2014 was inspired by a church in Arizona successfully keeping a family together this year (more on that below). That church – Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson – actually founded the official Sanctuary Movement 30 years ago during the 1980s, when churches took in refugees from Central America fleeing U.S.-funded civil wars.1
2. SANCTUARY ISN’T ABOUT POLITICS—IT’S ABOUT FAMILIES AND FAITH.
This isn’t about left or right, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. People supporting Sanctuary are connected, not by political affiliations or specific faith tradition, but through a shared moral responsibility to compassion and justice. Families get torn apart is morally wrong, so we take action together to stop it.
That’s where faith comes in. Nobody questions God’s commandment against murder or stealing. But our faith also calls us to do something a little harder: Welcome the stranger and care for the most vulnerable.
Some people make excuses. They say things like, “Well, these people came to our country illegally.” The Sanctuary movement recognizes that no one is illegal – that we are all brothers and sisters made in the image of God. And, as MLK wrote in his letter from Birmingham Jail, “There are just laws and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all… One who breaks an unjust law must do it openly, lovingly.”
3. SANCTUARY IS EMERGENCY MORAL ACTION—BECAUSE OUR GOVERNMENT LEADERS HAVE FAILED TO ACT AND OUR LAWS ARE BROKEN.
We have a promise from President Obama that at some point “soon” he will reform our country’s deportation policies to end the suffering of families. But right now? Over 1,000 deportations happen each day, tearing apart families and communities.
There are immigrants in our country who have been waiting *decades* for legislative action to find a legal path to citizenship, but as Congress stalls and Obama pushes executive action further away, these families continue to suffer.
Let’s check out the Scripture on this. In Ezekiel 22, God is pissed. He says, “The people of the land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger. So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it.” When there is oppression, God calls for someone to stand in the gap and do the moral, just thing. Sanctuary is emergency moral action – standing in the gap to protect the wrongfully oppressed.
4. UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS ARE OUR NEIGHBORS.
We know scripture says “Welcome the stranger” – but actually, the immigrants facing deportations are not strangers at all. They are mothers and fathers, friends and neighbors, community leaders and volunteers. We see them every day, but they’re disappearing from their homes and communities.
Those in Sanctuary are our brothers and sisters. Sanctuary lifts up their prophetic story and courage to show us the impact of our broken immigration laws.
5. IS SANCTUARY BREAKING THE LAW?
Law is a lot like scripture – it’s up to your interpretation. There is a law against bringing in and harboring persons not authorized to be in the U.S. (INA Sec.274) While we are clearly not bringing people in, whether we are harboring someone is up for interpretation.
Some courts have interpreted harboring to require concealment of a person. When we declare Sanctuary for an individual, we are bringing them into the light of the community, not concealing them in the dark of secrecy. (U.S. V Costello, 66 F.3d 1040 (7th Cir. 2012)) Other courts have interpreted harboring to be simple sheltering. (U.S. V Acosta de Evans, 531 F.2d 428 (9th Cir. 1976))
Quick reminder: Rescuing slaves via the Underground Railroad and protecting Jews from Nazis in WWII was illegal at the time. Our saving grace is that immigration officials know that if they went into a house of worship to arrest a pastor they would have a public relations nightmare on their hands.
Meanwhile, here are two immigration policies you should know about that relate to Sanctuary:
1) “Sensitive Areas” – There’s no official legislation that keeps law enforcement from entering a church to arrest someone outside of a 2011 ICE memo that advises officials to avoid detaining immigrants in “sensitive areas” like schools, hospitals and churches2. But can you imagine what would happen if immigration officials broke into a church to drag away a mom? Plus, God’s on our side, you guys.
2) “Prosecutorial Discretion” – Activists and faith leaders are using ICE’s own policies of “prosecutorial discretion” to argue that these immigration cases are low-priority. Deportation would only serve to break up a family and the community that supports them.
6. BUT THERE ARE SOME RISKS.
Though no one has been arrested in 2014, in the 1980s, a handful of clergy, nuns and laymen were convicted in “The Sanctuary Trials” for their efforts on behalf of immigrants3. Faith leaders today are
Compassion Week is a joint initiative of the Tenzin Gyatso Institute, Stanford University’s CCARE, The Charter for Compassion, and Dignity Health, and it coming to San Francisco in a few weeks time. It will include 5 days of events featuring conferences on The Science of Compassion and Compassion and Healthcare, and will a feature an all day event highlighting The Charter for Compassion.
Compassion Week brings together doctors, civic leaders, scholars, mindfulness practitioners, and society at large to address how holistically and economically practical an investment practicing compassion can be in all institutions and areas of living.
Speakers include: Arturo Bejar, lead engineer at Facebook, The Honorable Mayor Greg Fischer, Louisville, KY and other Mayors, Dr. Dan Siegel, Dr. Rick Hanson, Julia Kim, M.D., Karen Armstrong, Dr. Paul Gilbert, Michael Imperioli, Dr. Paul Ekman, Angelica Berrie, Tom William, Esq, Dr. Eve Ekman, Dr. Yotam Heineberg.
The Parliament of World Religions is a proud Sponsoring Partner of Compassion Week.
Empathy and Compassion in Society is a forum for anyone wishing to explore what compassion is, how to cultivate and enhance it, and what benefits it can bring to individuals, and modern society as a whole.
The conference will present well researched methods for cultivating empathy and compassion, show the benefits these methods have to enhance ones personal and professional life, and share concrete examples of organizations and public institutions that have effectively employed them.
Internationally renowned neuroscientists, psychologists, decision-makers, leaders and researchers will share their insights, methodology, and benefits observed from cultivating compassion. Innovators are also invited to submit case studies demonstrating how the implementation of a focus on compassion has been a force for change in their area of work.
Highlights this year include talks, Q&A, workshops, networking and panel discussions with Karen Armstrong, Dr Dan Siegel, Dr Paul Ekman, Arturo Bejar, Michael Imperioli, Dr Julia Kim, mayors who are leading the way with ‘Compassionate Cities’ initiatives, and other innovators in the field.
The conference is aimed at professionals from all walks of life, including management, policy, law, health and social care, business, the arts and philanthropy.
Empathy and Compassion in Society is a non-profit event sponsored by a partnership of charities. A free youth gathering for schools will take place November 12th, the day preceding the opening of the conference.
Rev. Robert V. Thompson, Former Chair of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, considers alternative methods of bringing about peace using creative thinking and being attentive to conflicts at their earliest stages.
This op-ed was originally published in Chicago Tribune on December 5, 2001
Because we Americans are suckers for the quick fix we want to believe the war on terrorism will be won through military action, improved intelligence, stemming the flow of terrorist money and stepped-up national security.
While most of us believe these policies will solve the problem, many of us are plagued by a palpable uneasiness and persistent ambivalence. We are, after all, an intensely empathic people. We care very much about the plight of the Afghan people and it is not OK with us that one more time, innocent people are being offered as a sacrifice on the altar of a just cause. Equally unsettling is the gnawing awareness that terrorism is the face rather than the heart of the problem. If we destroy terrorists in Afghanistan, where do we go next? Is it back to Iraq or on to Indonesia? And it is common knowledge that our war in Afghanistan will likely create hundreds or perhaps thousands of new terrorists. Where will it end?
Bill Ury, author of “The Third Side,” has extensive experience in creative non-violent conflict resolution. Ury says terrorism, for that matter any form of violence, is comparable to a virus. He says terrorism, like a virus, lies sleeping, spreads throughout the body and attacks, as if from out of nowhere. It flourishes when the world’s immune system is weak.
I asked Ury what might have been different had we had a strong global immune system prior to Sept. 11. He said, “Witnesses might have informed us of the terrorists’ plans. Peacekeepers the world over might have frustrated the terrorists and taken them into custody. Healers would have been healing the wounds of the Islamic world. Mediators would have been working hard to resolve the obvious conflicts like that of Israel-Palestine. Teachers would have been at work teaching other ways of dealing with differences and about the tragic futility of violence. Providers would have been addressing the conditions of poverty and oppression that often breed terrorism. Bridge-builders would have been building bridges between the Islamic and Western world. Arbiters, equalizers, referees would all have been at work.”
Every person has a role to play in strengthening the global immune system. Every human being can become a peace keeper, healer, mediator and teacher of non-violent conflict resolution. We can do this in our homes, schools, neighborhoods, religious communities, nation, and around the world. This is an infinitely greater challenge than flying a flag or singing the national anthem on key. We are now being called to this greater patriotism. One like that envisioned by Martin Luther King Jr., who said, “No nation can live alone . . . we are tied together in a single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.”
This wisdom, this greater patriotism is the awareness that a healed and renewed America cannot exist apart from a healed and renewed world. And history has taught us that if the people will lead, the leaders will follow. Copyright © 2001, Chicago Tribune
Rev. Robert V. Thompson – Parliament Chair Emeritus. A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, Bob Thompson graduated from Berkeley Baptist Divinity School (Graduate Theological Union) and was ordained an American Baptist minister in 1973. He served American Baptist Churches in Kansas, Ohio, and for 30 years, as Senior Minister of the Lake Street Church in Evanston, Illinois. During the 1980′s Thompson became an activist pastor focusing on issues such as homelessness, racial reconciliation and advocacy for LGBT rights. He is the author of A Voluptuous God: A Christian Heretic Speaks (CopperHouse, 2007) and a contributor to the book for preachers, Feasting On the Word, Westminster John Knox Press.
Parliament Trustee Robert Sellers discusses film as a means of reflecting on human drama occurring across the globe, and as a springboard for conversation regarding shared values and the role of Religions therein.
Every couple of years, I offer a course for both undergraduate and graduate students at my university entitled “Religion and Film.” This theology-prefix course, offered on the Friday nights and Saturday mornings of about half of the semester weekends, is identified by the following course description: “An exploration of the relationship of modern film and religion, particularly Christianity. The focus will be upon theological interpretations of the characters and plots of selected mainstream movies. Students will have an opportunity to explore how specific spiritual and ethical motifs are treated in film.”
Some may question why movies should be a source for theological reflection. There are several good reasons. First, the Divine doesn’t only confront us in sacred texts, so we are challenged to grapple with the Mystery and to “read the text” in all of life’s experiences. Second, the visual and audio, and, (now, even) 4D capabilities of contemporary films greatly enhance the impact that they can contribute to those who experience them. Third, many screenwriters, directors, and actors consciously determine to communicate profound insights through their work, yet many movie viewers assume that films do little more than entertain, which is a notion that should be challenged. And, finally, film is perhaps the most popular artistic medium today, and the largest demographic of moviegoers are young people—the very group that, regardless of their religious (or non-religious) background, might learn to appreciate the power that a good story has to shape one’s moral character.
The way in which I structure my class meetings enables students to watch 14 films during our sessions together, as well as to participate in small group presentations at the end of the semester. Seminar members write a theological reflection on each movie, focused upon a suggested theme such as life, identity, guilt, forgiveness, pain, coping, faith, hope, love, trust, redemption, transformation, acceptance, and interdependence.
Some students enter the course expecting to view overtly religious movies—Christian films, to be precise, since my university has Baptist roots and distinctiveness. But they suppose the course title “Religion and Film” really means “Religion in Film,” and thus we’ll be watching movies that serve an apologetic function, like The Passion of the Christ (2004) or God is Not Dead (2014), or at least films where some perceived Christian virtue is dramatized, as in Facing the Giants (2006). These young people may also believe the movies I select will unequivocally demonstrate the superiority of “our” faith by portraying the bad behavior of persons who aren’t Christ-followers.
Other students think that finding a theological meaning in a movie simply requires identifying the story element that is contrary to their own particular religious upbringing. Thus, they will write a paper decrying marriage unfaithfulness in The Bridges of Madison County (1995), greed in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), or sexual abuse in The Kite Runner (2007). But the theological meanings I want them to engage are more subtle and more gray than black or white. The Bridges of Madison County, for example, could yield a helpful discussion about choices, The Wolf of Wall Street about consequences, and The Kite Runner about redemption.
Such assumptions, however, are wrong and have nothing to do with my purpose or approach. What I want to do is to acquaint students with the human drama as it unfolds in many cultures and among people of different religious traditions. Thus, some of the films I select originate in countries other than the United States, while the values implicitly or explicitly expressed in the stories are grounded not only in Christianity, but in a variety of other religious traditions. Films of this type that I’ve used productively include In a Better World (Denmark, 2010), The Sea Inside (Spain, 2004), Rabbit-Proof Fence (Australia, 2002), Monsieur Lazhar (Canada, 2012), The Color of Paradise (Iran, 1999), Tsotsi (South Africa, 2005), Ajami (Israel, 2009), Innocent Voices (Mexico, 2005), and Five Minutes of Heaven (Ireland, 2009).
I’ve discovered that movies can also stimulate rich conversations concerning perspectives from the Religious Other and, especially, about ways to relate to persons who follow other faiths. One of the best entrees to such a discussion is the sweet story Stolen Summer (2002). Students are particularly interested discussing their idea of the themes in two cinematically gorgeous films by Ron Fricke, neither with a plot or dialogue, entitled Baraka (1992) and Samsara (2011). These visual and emotional “masterpieces” elicit multiple interpretations.
Based upon several years of successfully challenging very bright university students to think creatively about pop culture, I heartily recommend that films be used to initiate conversations about our shared values and virtues as people who practice various religions. They not only entertain hundreds of millions of people around the world—including a host of faithful adherents of our own spiritual traditions—but they are often reservoirs of helpful theological insight about the Divine, our fellow human beings, and the world which we all share.
Robert P. Sellers is professor of missions and theology at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, and represents Cooperative Baptist Fellowship on the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches, USA. He is a member of the Board of Trustee of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.
Spirit Unleashed: Reimagining Human-Animal Relations by Trustee Anne Benvenuti Nominated for Pulitzer (Excerpt)
Parliament Trustee Rev. Dr. Anne Benvenuti’s new book entitled Spirit Unleashed: Reimagining Human-Animal Relations has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction. The book applies both scientific and religious perspectives to the relationship between humans and other animals.
Excerpt Published with permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers.
“One summer morning it was a bat. I had set out early for a trail walk, hoping to get some exercise for me and for the dogs and some mental focus before the day heated up. I had planned to write about having learned from Molly to love the non-human world. As I started out on the trail, I calmed my mind, stilled my thoughts and asked all the beings there to help me to stay awake and not drift into the lulling and dulling chatter of thoughts. After a few minutes of watching the woodpeckers and the cottontails, the rocks and the ragged cianothus and sage, I noticed a dead blossom lying in the middle of the trail. As I bent to look at it, I saw its fine and fragile wing-like structure. I picked it up and turned it over, still not knowing what it was. Then face-up in my hand, I could see that it was a dead bat. I observed that his little mouth was open, tongue out and the tiny fragile fingers of both hands were clutching his throat. I thought he may have died of some poison, or gagged on contentious catch. I probably never would have picked up a dead bat intentionally, having heard terrible tales of bat-contamination. I carried the little corpse over and set it on a noteworthy rock, hoping that I would find it there for further study upon my return. As I turned to go, a wing fell open, or did he move it? I returned to investigate.
I understood then that he might have been one of the many flying creatures who have some kind of problem midflight that causes them to crash land, resulting in shock and dehydration, on top of any injury or illness. They frequently need water and safety more than any special care. I have learned that a lot of animals die just so of shock and dehydration, and I have also learned that they understand your intent in relation to them very quickly. I assured him in that soft hypnotic voice that creatures tend to love that my intent was to do no harm and to do what good I might. I lifted him gently and watched him unfold and open entirely; beautiful wings made of a fine frame of bone and joint covered with translucent fabric that wrapped his body, webbing the entire back of his torso in an enclosure. I didn’t have my glasses, and, at this point was interested to know if he had teeth. I peered at him closely and saw the soft petals of his pointed ears, but I never did ascertain the presence of teeth, in spite of his open mouth. His furry belly fluttered with uneven breath as his arm bent at the elbow and he reached for his mouth again. Then my mind’s ear heard clearly the words, “I thirst.” Ah, that. I do not know how to care for a bat and I know precious little about them, but I do know thirst. I decided I would carry him to the creek with me and see about arranging something between him and the moisture he so desperately craved.
I studied him as I walked, awed by the intricate beauty and the fragile toughness of him. He had tiny glass beads of eyes. Had I not heard that bats had no capacity to see? It was hard to tell exactly without my reading glasses. His body was about an inch and a half long with fine pointed little ears at the top and a webbed tail, which he used to completely pull up the blanket of his fabric and enclose himself. His wings were about six inches in span, huge by comparison to his soft little body, graceful as a geisha’s fan in their folding and unfolding. His arms were just like mine, bending at the elbow, with hands and fingers just like mine, except for the size, about an eighth of an inch. Again he brought his hand to his dry tongue. Do you doubt for a moment that he spoke to me about his thirst?
I set him down in the moist sand about two inches from the place where the water lapped the shore and I let my fingers dribble water down in front of him. He drank it; he gulped water down. Then he rested, then drank more, and more. Rested, more water. With no warning, he unfurled his wings, fanned out into the water as if he had a gentle breeze in his sails, and swam away from me. Have you ever seen a bat swim? Have you ever even seen a picture of a bat swimming? Oh glorious and graceful sight, oh human delight! He hauled himself with infinite grace onto the underside of a rock. I watched. He climbed, revived by mere water, climbed up under the rock and then over it and then up again. My work was done. On the definite underside of a rock, wedged well against other rocks, he hung upside down, asleep. So this is the dreaded bat.
Love one little thing and you love the entire universe that holds it, as well as the essence from which it pours forth, and the pulse that beats in it, and the breath that heaves it, and the awareness that connects it. Save one little thing and you save your soul entire.
That tiny desperate thirst is indeed your own, and you are quenched beyond measure, awakened in the water, merely for being there, responsive. This is what I learned from Molly Brown, the little dog with great spirit, slowly over the many years of her patient instruction, that words hinder the communications of the heart, acting often as stoppers to the ears of empathy, which would otherwise hear every pulsing breathing body.
“God speaks to us secretly and in silence,” said John of the Cross. Perhaps the language of God is silence because only in silence can I listendeepluy; and God is not shallow. The whole world is here, waiting to be heard, but I am too busy producing private words and thoughts to listen to it. I am so lulled by my word-making that I don’t even know I am doing it most of the time. In silence, words are reborn and they become something expressive, something worthy of care. In silence, we learn love. You do not need information about bats to know a dry tongue and a hand reaching for a parched throat, but you are unlikely to see that reaching hand unless you are still.
Surprise! The whole world is a message under the words. What I learned by way of Molly Brown—she who would be understood and not just condescended to—is that the whole world is there, waiting to be known, interested in me, as I am interested in it, that we, multitudinous and embodied, are also inseparable and in Love.”
To Continue Reading Spirit Unleashed, check out the book on Amazon.com
Anne Benvenuti is a professor of psychology and philosophy, an integrative scholar, a licensed clinical psychologist, a priest of the Episcopal Church, a spiritual director, and a published poet, writer, and photographer. Her research interests include developing models for scientific investigation of qualia; explication of religious epistemology, especially with reference to the potential for neuro-scientific models of integrative knowing, policy implications of religious epistemology, and the clinical integration of spirituality, health, and ecology.
Nearly half a million people marched to save the only planet we have on the 21st of September at the People’s Climate March in New York City. After exceeding goals to stage the biggest climate march in history, the day ended with an interfaith service packing thousands into the largest Cathedral in the World, St. John the Divine. Leaders spanning the faith traditions of the world vowed there to commit unprecedented action to curb climate change.
In this historic moment the Parliament, in conjunction with partners Green Faith and Interfaith Center of New York, took part in the 3-day Religions for the Earth conference presented by Union Theological Seminary. Organized by Union Forum’s Karenna Gore, daughter of Former U.S. Vice-President and global environmental champion Al Gore, the conference that brought together more than 200 leaders of world spiritual communities and interfaith organizations also leveraged partnerships with the World Council of Churches, Religions for Peace, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and the National Religious Partnership.
Months of planning and organizing- with Parliament Trustee Dr. Kusumita Pedersen at the core and Trustee John Pawlikowski advising- resulted in a great showing of support from the Parliament Board. Highlighting some of the ways that spirituality as a healing, connecting, and educational force can powerfully address the climate crisis were Rev. Andras Corban Arthen of the Earth Spirit community, who spoke on an Indigenous Peoples panel, Rev. Dr. Anne Benvenuti, author and educator, who discussed the spiritual connection of humans and other animals, and Phyllis Curott, attorney and Wiccan priestess, who led an opening session prayer. Parliament Trustee Emeritus Naresh Jain, who serves currently on the Parliament’s UN Task Force, was also in attendance. The Parliament’s Executive Director, Dr. Mary Nelson, connected with former Vice President Al Gore, as did Parliament Chair, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, who spoke at the closing Multi-faith Service.
What amplifies the voices of faith communities today is hoped to carry over into massive action at the forthcoming 2015 Parliament. Speaking to the Multi-faith Service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on the evening of September 21, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid made a public commitment that the 2015 Parliament will take on climate issues and sustainable living as a prime focus.
The Parliament applauds the remarks offered by its partners, especially those shared by Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations Jan Eliasson at the Religions for the Earth Multifaith Service. Concerning what spiritual communities who work together harmoniously can achieve, Eliasson said, “Faith leaders like you here today have an essential role to play. You can set an example of dialogue and of mutual respect. You can use your pulpits to convey important messages as we have heard today. You can reach across lines of faiths and across the lines of identities that might otherwise divide people. I ask you, I plead with you to continue to remind us of the ethical and moral dimensions of climate change. Such efforts related to higher morality are needed not only on environment, but in general, at a time when we are seeing so much of sectarian turmoil and hatred around the world. I thank you all for mobilizing the positive power of religion…”
The Parliament of the World’s Religions UN-NGO Representatives affiliated to the United Nations Department of Public Information say attending the 65th Annual UN-DPI NGO conference in New York City August 27 – 29, 2014 was a great opportunity for the interfaith movement to build relationships with other NGOs invested in advocating for the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda.
“How A Global Ethic Can Contribute to the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda: An Intergenerational Discussion” paired the Parliament’s UN Youth Representatives Ms. Sara Rahim, and Mr. Tahil Sharma, in a workshop with members of the Parliament UN Task Force and co-sponsors exploring how activism for the SDGs can be enhanced by civic society. This process is achievable through the promotion and understanding of foundational documents on Human Rights including the Global Ethic, the Earth Charter, the Charter of Compassion, and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
The Panelists Representing the Parliament and Co-Sponsoring Institutions:
- Dr. Kusumita Pedersen, Chair of the Parliament UN Task Force, Parliament Trustee, and Co-Chair of the Interfaith Center of New York
- Monica Willard, Representative of the United Religions Initiative to the UN, UN NGO Committee Co-Chair
- Rev. Father John Pawlikowski, Parliament Trustee
- Rev. Dr. Anne Benvenuti, Parliament Trustee
- Sr. Joan Kirby, The Temple of Understanding
- Ms. Sara Rahim, Parliament UN Youth Representative
- Mr. Tahil Sharma, Parliament Un Youth Representative
Connecting institutional and grassroots advocates, the UN-DPI conference format includes plenary speakers, workshops, and panels equipping thousands of participants with new strategies. In proving the value of face-to-face networking opportunities, assemblies like this serve to enhance sustainable action by smart approaches to allocating human and other resources directed toward the UN’s Development Goals.
Tahil Sharma and Sara Rahim reported and reflect below on their experience presenting and participating in workshops and plenaries paying special attention to five takeaways the interfaith community can use to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda:
The first three observations come from Sara Rahim:
“We have a duty to be bold. That is what people want. That is what the world needs.” – Ms. Susana Malcorra, UN Chef de Cabinet UN-NGO 2014
Between August 27-29, Tahil Sharma and I attended the 65th Annual UN DPI/NGO conference held in New York City, which drew in over 2,000 NGO representatives from over 117 countries. Earlier this year, we were chosen to serve as the Parliament of the World’s Religions Youth Representatives to the United Nations.
These past few months leading up to the conference, we brainstormed ways in which we could share our experiences with the greater civic community. We submitted a workshop panel that would explore how a Global Ethic could contribute to the Post-2015 Development Agenda, and were thrilled to be notified that we had been selected to present at the conference with trustees of the Parliament and like-minded interfaith bodies.
On August 27, Tahil and I quickly registered for the first day of the conference and made our way through UN security. In line, I met dozens of NGO representatives from around the world, who shared with me their field of work and what inspired them to attend the conference.
While this conference would clearly focus on the role of civil society and key global issues, I wondered how it might be possible to increase collaboration among interreligious groups. Faith-based organizations were certainly leading grassroots initiatives in their local communities, but how could we take that one step further? During the Opening Session, I observed several main themes that resonated with me regarding the role of interfaith at the UN.
1. “People are the center of development” – Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund
Refocusing efforts towards protecting people’s dignity is crucial, as we often forget the inherent link between human rights and development. Interfaith groups can continue to pave the path towards conflict resolution and community building in a way that ensures all voices can be a part of the conversation. As expressed by Dr. Osotimehin, focusing specifically on women and youth can help achieve universal goals of poverty reduction and education. I see an opportunity for interfaith groups to continue to advocate for women and youth as part of their initiatives.
2. The Importance of Setting Concrete Goals
Ambassador Samantha Power, Permanent Representative of United States to the United Nations, stated that encouraging civic society to work more closely with government would require an outcomes-driven process. The need for setting measurable, concrete goals for the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda can combat the criticism that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are too abstract and intangible. Powers also recommended focusing on peace and global governance as a basis for development. Passing just laws and creating credible institutions is one of the most sustainable ways to improving development. I personally recognized this vision, as it aligns with Parliament’s mission to mobilize faith leaders in their communities towards creating a peaceful, just, and sustainable world. Interfaith work is not just a ‘feel good mission,’ but it also has the potential to measure impact and offer tangible results.
3. Inclusion of the Disabled, Indigenous, and Youth
Ms. Maryanne Diamond, Chair, International Disability Alliance, assessed that persons who live with disabilities, 80% of whom are in the developing world, severely lack access to education, healthcare, and other basic resources. She offered a major critique that the previous MDG’s lacked inclusivity of disabled and indigenous populations. One of the biggest outcomes of this conference would be the revision and inclusion of minority groups into the agenda. Of these minority groups, I saw the role of youth as a major key player towards development. Tahil and I both recognized our own experiences in which interfaith had been a tool to mobilize people of all backgrounds towards a common goal. The NGO community, particularly interfaith and faith-based organizations, must continue to think in innovative ways to collaborate across sectors and be inclusive of all minority voices.
Tahil Sharma observes points 4 and 5:
4. Building Community through Forgiveness
The Representatives at the NGO conference represent great diversity across fields of expertise and demonstrate profound willingness to make a difference in the world. This point was addressed in a special keynote at the Permanent Mission of the United States to the United Nations by Ambassador Elizabeth M. Cousens who resides on the UN Economic and Social Council and serves as an Alternate Representative to the UN General Assembly. With fellow representatives being as young as 14 years old, showing an amazing ability to tackle major subjects, refute claims and develop productive dialogue with the ambassador, an important point on how the eagerness of the coming generations to foster change was taking place. The ambassador herself made note of this: “We need your voice, your ideas, and your insistence about what matters… You need to hold our feet to the fire in making sure that we count it.”
This proved the vitality of the kind of inter-generational conversation we would emphasize in our workshop about the creation and implementation of influential documents like the Charter for Compassion, the Earth Charter and the Global Ethic of the 1993 Parliament. Several individuals across cultures, faith traditions and ages must participate in making these paths for change to make the impact which can really matter.
My first example is a man who is legally blind, and arrived with a guide at his side for our workshop; his name was Takashi Tanemori from Hiroshima, and he is a hibakusha, or Atomic Bomb Survivor. Seeking revenge for the death of his family, he traveled to the United States for opportunity and suffered prejudice, discrimination and mistreatment for decades, even while discovering faith and service through Christian organizations. But in an instant, an epiphany of forgiveness and understanding made him turn his story become a force to educate and serve people. Dedicating his life to speak out against the struggles he experienced throughout his life, he describes his transformation and “how communication between people and countries is the answer to lasting peace throughout the world.” (Taken from his bio.) He spreads his message of understanding, love and forgiveness through lectures, poetry, art and through the writing of his own book, Hiroshima: Bridge to Forgiveness, having shared his message with thousands of people around the world. This same man who has experienced worlds of transition was the same man who commended the work that Sara, myself and the other panelists of our workshop dedicated ourselves to: creating bridges of understanding and respect. His sharing complimented our experience with his story and his message of compassion and clemency.
5. The Strength of Grassroots Advocacy
Another individual who caught my attention sprang from a social media interaction between Sara and fellow attendee, Syed Mahmood Kazmi, a college graduate from our age group, and a man who was leagues beyond my intelligence, capability and humility. A Kashmir, Pakistan native, he is dedicated to education and supporting marginalized and oppressed communities throughout South Asia. His work includes serving as an Emergency Response Team Leader in Pakistan Red Crescent Society providing First Aid and Search & Rescue. Additionally, Kazmi serves as an Intern at the Office of the Permanent Observer to the United Nations International Organization for Migration, New York. Proving to me that there is not any limit on the power in your stride to revolutionize the way we think and act. It was a privilege to associate with him, but his drive and grace also reminds me that my personal call to action must never be silenced.
The workshop and conference experience sent me home with a new energy to excel in my work, to inspire others, to educate communities about the world, and to ensure communities are provided what is needed to flourish and produce better lives. At certain moments, I thought my work with domestic communities lacked significance in the bigger picture, but people from all over the world proved our small actions are revolutionary. I have always known that lecturing, building community beds for organic vegetation to feed people, and building relationships between communities was the right thing to do, but now it seems like the normal thing to do. There is normalcy in instilling peace and stability in humanity.
All in all, the 3-day conference served as a platform for individuals, stakeholders, and NGO society to come together. This success was not just because of the number of people who participated in the event, but because all players came together to draft a powerful declaration to action. Our roles as interfaith leaders challenged us to think innovatively about how a Global Ethic could efficiently push for the Post 2015 Agenda. We found that there are multiple opportunities for collaboration in a way that moves from dialogue to producing tangible results. We walked away with not only a better understanding of what sustainable development means, but also how interfaith action can bridge the gap towards inclusivity and peaceful governance.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions is coming home. For the first time since 1993, the largest, most historic global interfaith summit is returning to the United States in October 2015. We are honored to invite you to experience a taste of this life-changing gathering on November 13, 2014. Join us in the Parliament’s home city by hosting your own table or purchasing tickets as together we look with great excitement toward our 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City, Utah!
A celebratory, pre-Parliament event, benefitting the Parliament of the World’s Religions:
5:30pm: A Festival of Faiths Reception
6:30pm: Benefit Dinner and Program
8:00pm: Dessert Reception
Chicago Cultural Center, Sidney R. Yates Gallery, 78 East Washington Street, Chicago
For Tickets: Chicago Pre-Parliament Benefit on Eventbrite
This vibrant evening of learning and celebration will be a glimpse of the Parliament to come! At the Faiths Fest Reception you will rediscover the unique and varied gifts of our gathered faith communities. Two dynamic new videos, produced by Baha’i Media Services will be premiered, showcasing our rich tradition and pointing us toward a bright future. Over dinner, you will be engaged and inspired by our brief program including a call to action from Dr. Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, and rousing performances, bringing the spirit of the Parliament directly to you. And, the most compelling aspect of the evening will be your opportunity to pre-register for the eagerly anticipated 2015 Parliament!
We hope that you will be with us on this momentous evening! If you are unable to be physically present, please consider a generous donation. As we move boldly towards our long awaited 2015 Parliament, your support and presence helps us step with confidence into our future. Thanks to you, that future is here.
Parliament Chair Abdul Malik Mujahid, Former V.P. Al Gore, and National Spiritual Leaders to Conclude Religions for the Earth Conference at Multi-Faith Service in NYC
On Sunday, September 21, Parliament Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid will be speaking at the Religions for the Earth Multifaith Service at New York City’s Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine.
Mujahid’s view that “faith leaders must all join hands to save the only planet we have” will come to life at the service featuring a prestigious group of leaders in the religious, spiritual, and Earth-spiritual communities presented in collaboration with Former-Vice President of the United States Al Gore, who is also slated to speak.
Speakers and attendees will be enveloped in celebratory acts of music, performance and ritual all building toward a massive pledge of spiritual communities honoring the sacred environment in real, practical actions.
As a co-sponsor of the Religions for the Earth conference, the Parliament will be connecting with a strategic assembly of 200 other leaders in interfaith, religious, faith and spiritual organizations. Union Theological Seminary is hosting the conference as part of events kicking off NY Climate Week in advance of the United Nations Climate Summit.
In Mujahid’s view, the growing commitments faith communities are making to advance environmental protections will see more promising results by applying the influence leaders can have in multiple ways.
Mujahid says, “As more than 40 percent of America listens to pulpits every week, we must not only preach the gospel of sharing more and consuming less. But also, we must do our best to influence the guiding institutions to become more serious in urgently developing the relevant public policies. Better public policies and better consumer behavior both are needed. And this will be a major theme in the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions.”
Religions for the Earth Conference attendees will also participate in the biggest climate march in history, The People’s Climate March, expected to unite over 100,000 environmental stewards organizing from across all social institutions on Sunday, September 21. Faith and interfaith representation at the march will climb into the multiple thousands.
Peace activism in general will reach a global high on September 21, which is the United Nations official observance of International Day of Peace, coinciding with satellite climate events taking place all over the world.
The evening Religions for the Earth Multi-Faith Service is open to the public, featuring speakers including:
- Uncle Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, Founder – IceWisdom International, Eskimo, Kalaallit Elder
- Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Lakota Sioux 19th Generation Keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle
- Rabbi Ellen Bernstein, Founder – Shomrei Adamah, Keepers of the Earth
- Ms. Dekila Chungyalpa, Environmental Advisor to His Holiness, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje
- Father Edwin Gariguez, General Secretary – Caritas Philippines
- Former Vice-President Al Gore, Chairman – The Climate Reality Project
- Reverend Dr. Serene Jones, President, Union Theological Seminary
- Reverend Dr. James Kowalski, Director – Cathedral of Saint John the Divine
- Iriama Margaret Lokawua, Director – Indigenous Women Environmental Conservation Project
- Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chair – Parliament of the World’s Religions
- Dr. Vandana Shiva, Founder – Navdanya
- Rev. Jim Wallis, President and Founder – Sojourners
- Terry Tempest Williams, Writer and Teacher
When: Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 6 p.m. EST
Where: The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10025
Religions for the Earth MultiFaith Service is being presented by host Union Theological Seminary, and co-sponsored by the Parliament of the World’s Religions, GreenFaith, Interfaith Center of New York, the World Council of Churches, Religions for Peace, and the Cathedral Saint John the Divine.