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The Parliament Blog

Interfaith Activity Is Growing

From The Bellingham Herald

On Sept. 11, there was a remarkable gathering in Olympia. With only a few days’ notice, a standing-room-only crowd assembled at the Unitarian Universalist Church to stand with our Muslim neighbors and to listen to Imam Nabil read from the Quran.

Interfaith friends from Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and other communities were present, and many held copies of their personal Quran. Following the translation, reading and comments on the text, an opportunity was presented for clergy to speak. Later, lay people were asked to comment. A general spirit of oneness and support pervaded the sanctuary. Without the threats to burn the Quran by a Florida-based minister, it’s not likely that this gathering would have happened. Those attending saw firsthand how threats and hatred can catalyze a spirit of curiosity, camaraderie and support. How many Americans met on or around the anniversary of 9/11 to stand with our Muslim neighbors?

It’s noteworthy that media coverage for the pastor threatening to burn the Quran appeared in newspapers, on the Internet and television for days. The gatherings for interfaith support representing hundreds of thousands of people throughout the United States barely received a column on the back page of newspapers or comment on television news programs, yet the emergence of meaningful interfaith gatherings is a reality in our world.

On Dec. 3, 2009, 10 months earlier and halfway around the world, I was present for the opening of the Parliament of World’s Religions, in Melbourne, Australia. Our gathering was a long-delayed vision of religious leaders who attended the first of these four gatherings in Chicago in 1893. At that time, to even consider religious leaders from distinctly different faith traditions meeting together, talking together, praying together and discussing the role both of themselves and their religions in the major issues of the world, was at best fanciful. Perhaps more to the point: unfaithful, undesirable and dangerous.

But 116 years and four parliaments later, more than 6,000 attendees arrived in all their costumery despite the distance, despite the recession, despite the political tensions between countries. Greetings were shared across the vast spaces of the brand new convention center in Melbourne as Sikhs and Jews, Catholics and Muslims, Christian and Buddhist greeted one another, friends from previous gatherings.

Monks created their sand mandalas. A scroll to be delivered to the Copenhagen Climate Summit spanned 40 feet or more, ready to receive signatures. We ate together, laughed and prayed together. We watched one another’s documentaries and listened to one another’s hearts. We listened, not to convert or change, but to understand. Aware that we share the common ground of love and kindness, we discussed major issues such as the rights of indigenous peoples, availability of water, peace on the planet and climate change.

The program book we received had 360 pages and 650 sessions. There was a lot to talk about and even more to learn from one another. The president of the United States sent a team to ask questions and learn how to support peace through the wisdom of faith leaders and programs already in place. Interestingly, most of the news coverage focused on a small group of people outside the convention protesting the use of public space for religious use.

Click here to read the entire article.


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