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In the Spiritual Movement to Fight Climate Change, the Pope Is Not Alone

When it comes to climate change, Pope Francis and many other world religious leaders are cut from the same cloth.

 for OnEarth
originally published by the Natural Resource Defense Council

PHOTO: CATHOLIC CHURCH OF ENGLAND AND WALES/FLICKR

When Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio became pope in 2013, the new pontiff took the name Francis in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, the 13th-century preacher known for a great love of animals and nature. So maybe it’s no surprise that yesterday Pope Francis delivered the Roman Catholic Church’s first-ever encyclical on the environment—most notably, on climate change.

“The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all,” he wrote.

Catholics regard encyclicals, or official papal letters, as authoritative teachings on a particular subject. They’re meant to instruct as well to inspire action among the flock. And Francis’ flock is big—1.2 billion strong—but he’s hoping to prompt people of all creeds, at all levels of society, to join in the battle against climate change. World leaders will convene in Paris in December at the United Nations climate conference to hash out their countries’ carbon-reduction pledges.

Pope Francis will be in Paris, too, fighting for the actions he deems morally necessary to care for our “one single human family.” On that note, he is not the only faith leader who’s got climate on the mind. Here’s what the world’s other major religions have to say about the subject.

ISLAM (1.6 BILLION FOLLOWERS)

Environmental consciousness first took root in Islam in the 1970s, with many “green Muslims” turning to passages in the Koran that discussed the sacredness of nature. It wasn’t until 2009, however, that Sheikh Ali Gomaa, the Gran Mufti of Egypt—nicknamed the “Green Mufti”—announced a seven-year plan to make Islam more environmentally friendly. “Pollution and global warming pose an even greater threat than war, and the fight to preserve the environment could be the most positive way of bringing humanity together,” he said. Gomaa’s plan focused on Medina, Saudi Arabia, the religion’s second-holiest city, and included commitments to renewable energy and climate change education.

Despite these and other efforts by activists across the Muslim world, the voice of Islamic leaders has been conspicuously absent from the global dialogue on the issue. This is particularly troubling to some members of the faith since many traditionally Islamic countries are particularly prone to the impacts of climate change, such as drought and sea-level rise.

HINDUISM (1 BILLION)

The vast majority of Hindus live in India, where the effects of climate change are already devastating the country. A recent heat wave killed thousands—it wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last.

As in Islam, Hindu scriptures allude strongly and often to the connection between humans and nature. These texts form the foundation of the Hindu Declaration on Climate Change, presented at a 2009 meeting of the Parliament of World Religions. In the statement, the authors accept that “centuries of rapacious exploitation of the planet have caught up with us” and state clearly that a radical change in our relationship to the planet is necessary for survival. The declaration also recognizes that “it may be too late to avert drastic climate change” and encourages compassionate responses to “such calamitous challenges as population displacement, food and water shortage, catastrophic weather, and rampant disease.”

PROTESTANTISM (814 MILLION)

Evangelical Protestants: Much of the non-Catholic Christian focus on climate change has centered on denial—global warming, they say, is a natural process brought about by God, not humans. Indeed, when public figures make spectacles of those beliefs (looking at youSenator Inhofe), they’re hard to ignore.

One group of evangelicals known as the Cornwall Alliance is responsible for fueling much of such misinformation. “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming,” it stated in an official declaration in 2009. In April, the alliance responded directly to news of the upcoming encyclical with an open letter to Pope Francis outlining why “it is both unwise and unjust to adopt policies requiring reduced use of fossil fuels for energy” and encouraging the pope to “advise the world’s leaders to reject them.”

About 35 to 45 percent of all evangelicals, however, are not members of the denial choir. Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, for example, doesn’t find that her faith conflicts with the facts about human-induced global warming. The Bible is actually very clear that there are consequences for making bad choices. Sow the seeds, bear the fruit. Climate change is the consequence of making some bad choices,” she says in a 2012 onEarth article about her efforts to reach out to her religious community. Associations like the Evangelical Climate Initiative and the National Association of Evangelicals* have also accepted that climate change is anthropogenic, and in 2013 more than 200 evangelical scientists released a letter calling on Congress to address climate change. “Our nation has entrusted you with political power; we plead with you to lead on this issue and enact policies this year that will protect our climate and help us all to be better stewards of Creation,” they wrote.

Mainline Protestants: Meanwhile, many other protestant denominations have made serious commitments to combating climate change, and the United Church of Christ leads the way. It issued a resolution in 2007 admitting Christian complicity in the damage human beings have caused to the earth’s climate system,” and in 2013, it became the first U.S. denomination to divest from fossil fuels. EpiscopaliansAnglicans, and Presbyterians have all addressed the global challenges of climate change. And in 2008, prominent leaders in the Southern Baptist Church, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States with 16 million adherents, challenged the denomination’s official stance by declaring that “humans must be proactive and take responsibility for our contributions to climate change—big and small.”

BUDDHISM (488 MILLION)

You know that climate change is a serious issue if the Dalai Lama is deeming it more pressing than Tibetan independence. In a 2011 conversation with the U.S. ambassador to India, the religious leader said that “melting glaciers, deforestation, and increasingly polluted water from mining projects” were problems that couldn’t wait.

Before that, as part of a scientifically grounded 2009 Buddhist declaration on climate change citing the “ecological consequences of our collective karma,” the Dalai Lama endorsed the 350-parts-per-million target for carbon emissions. More recently, in 2014, he addressed the dire need for climate action: “The worst possible aspect of climate change is that it will be irreversible and irrevocable. Therefore, there is the urgency to do whatever we can to protect the environment while we can.”

ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY (300 MILLION)

Similar to the Green Mufti, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the spiritual leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church since 1991, has earned the title of “Green Patriarch” for his dedication to environmental matters.

In 2002, Bartholomew, alongside the late Pope John Paul II, addressed the issue of environmental ethics and has since repeatedly spoken about the need to protect the environment. Last year, he delivered a message at the U.N. Interfaith Summit on Climate Change about embracing the urgency of the problem. Each believer and each leader, each field and each discipline, each institution and each individual must be touched by the call to change our greedy ways and destructive habits.”

SIKHISM (27 MILLION)

Close to 80 percent of all Sikhs live in the Punjab region of India, an area already deeply affected by climate change. Punjab is the country’s breadbasket, and extreme drought is threatening farmers, not to mention the entire agricultural system. With this in mind, prominent Sikh leaders joined forces in 2009 to create EcoSikh, a group dedicated to “promoting care for the environment.” That year, a month before climate talks in Copenhagen, the group partnered with the United Nations and other faith groups and announced a five-year plan to help curb climate change.

Last September, EcoSikh issued an official statement on climate change, the first of its kind from a Sikh organization. “It is abundantly clear that our action had caused great damage to the atmosphere and is projected to cause even more damage if left unhandled,” it declared. “As Sikhs, we appeal to lawmakers, faith leaders, and citizens of the world to take concrete action toward reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment. As Sikhs we pledge to take concrete actions ourselves. We have a responsibility to follow our Gurus’ teachings and protect the vulnerable.”

JUDAISM (14 MILLION)

Many Jewish groups and individuals have been addressing environmental issues for years, but they have only started making official statements and calls to action on climate change in the past several years. In 2009, Commission on Social Action to the Union for Reform Judaism issued a resolution on the “unprecedented challenge of climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions” and need for urgent action.

But as the Forward reports, the People’s Climate March in September is what first catalyzed many Jewish groups—including Conservative, Renewal, and Reconstructionist—to support the event that called on leaders to come to a strong international agreement on climate change. The Orthodox movement has been a bit more reluctant, however. Its top organizations, the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America, steered clear of the march, worrying it could get “politically hijacked.”

BAHA’I (7 MILLION)

The Baha’i faith centers on principles like unity, justice, equality, and altruism, and its teachings promote the agreement of science and religion. It is fitting, then, that the Baha’i International Community has been publicly addressing global warming for years. In a 2008 statement, the group highlighted the need for individual, community, national, and international responses to climate change, and in 2009 presented (along with EcoSikh) a seven-year action plan to confront the issue.

Last year, Peter Adriance, the representative for sustainable development for the Baha’is of the United States, spoke out in support of the Obama administration’s new rules limiting carbon pollution from power plants. “More than purely an environmental issue, the setting of carbon standards is an issue of fairness, equity, and justice,” he said. “My hope is that our generation will be able to leave the world directed toward a better future than the one toward which we are currently headed, a world in which all people will be able to lead safe, productive, and healthy lives.”

If We Don’t Teach Peace, What Are We Teaching?

Nonviolence, peace, and justice are not utopian dreams but real and practical ways in which humans can affect the world around them.

Earlier this year, I walked into the university classroom where I teach a course in Peace Studies. Seated in a circle around the room were seniors just shy of graduating. They would soon become doctors, social workers, teachers, community organizers, executives, and leaders.

To open our semester together, I wrote a simple, three-word question on the board.

What is peace?

Silence. Stumped by this tiny question, no one spoke. They did not have an answer, and I would later discover why: It was the first time in their life a teacher had asked them to define peace.

Each year in the United States, millions of students graduate from high school and college, their diplomas certifying years spent studying the principles of science, mathematics, literature, and writing. These are the subjects we value as a society, and therefore we insist that our young people develop knowledge in these areas. Imagine if we graduated seniors who couldn’t read, or do simple math, or write basic paragraphs. Outrageous, right?

Yet these very same students will graduate without ever once studying conflict resolution. During their entire academic career, they will never be required to take a course on making peace, building community, or forgiving an enemy. The principles of violence and nonviolence will not be analyzed, the philosophy of Dr. King will not be discussed, and satyagraha—the practice of nonviolent resistance, which Gandhi called the most powerful force in the universe—will remain ignored.

We are neglecting to teach our students the most fundamental and urgent lesson: how to make peace in the world around them. And by forgetting to do so, we are promoting violence. As my friend and fellow peace educator Colman McCarthy once said, “If we don’t teach our children peace, someone else will teach them violence.”

So each day, in the classrooms where I teach middle school, high school, and college students, I work to counter the violence, spark the conscience, and liberate the thinking mind. I teach peace.

Dismantling the Violence

At the most basic level, to teach peace is to teach that violence does not have to happen.

For too long in the West, we have acted as if violence is inevitable, a natural part of the human condition that sticks to us like the skin on our back. Nonviolence is written off as an afterthought—viewed, at best, as do-nothing-passivity and, at worst, as a long-haired fantasy of Woodstock. Responding to violence with violence is seen as the only practical solution, and the result is greater violence.

But this is changing.

Hundreds of colleges and universities across the globe now offer degrees in Peace Studies, with some universities reporting enrollment size doubling in the past few years. At the heart of each program is the declaration that nonviolence, peace, and justice are not utopian dreams but real and practical ways in which humans can live and affect the world around them. Violence and its dynamics are examined alongside the history, philosophy, and principles of nonviolence. The treasure chest of stories is opened, and like some reverse-Pandora’s Box, the ideals of peace-making are unleashed onto classrooms as students study the examples of Cesar Chavez and Vandana Shiva, Dorothy Day and Daniel Berrigan, Gandhi and Gene Sharp.

From a broader perspective, this academic trend towards peace-making is part of the widespread awakening—what David Korten calls “The Great Turning”—happening in response to the problems of our time.

Those problems are many.

The United States leads the First World in the following categories: prison population, drug use, child hunger, poverty, illiteracy, teen pregnancies, firearms death, obesity, diabetes, recorded rapes, use of antidepressants, income disparity, military spending, production of hazardous waste, and the poor quality of its schools (Paul Hawken, who published this list in Blessed Unrest, also points out that the U.S. is the only country in the world besides Iraq with metal detectors in its schools).

For the peace educator, this list is no surprise. Violence spreads like a virus. Contagious by nature, it follows a spiritual law that says that violence plus violence only equals more violence. Violence can never lead to peace, and the more we respond with violence, the more violence we create.

So teaching peace means dismantling this list. One great crowbar comes simply through asking questions.

To Teach Peace is to Teach Gandhi

“Could nonviolence have stopped Hitler and the Nazis?” I ask middle school students in my U.S. history course. Having already examined the philosophy of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., the students create imaginary European nations whose mission is to develop nonviolent strategies to stop invading Nazis. After they present their plans, I tell them about the citizens of Denmark—so many of them teenagers barely older than my students—who monkeywrenched the entire Nazi plan through nonviolent noncooperation.

During our year together, these 12-year olds have surveyed the landscape of U.S. history. But where most history courses ignore the deep tradition of American nonviolence, my curriculum examines Jeremiah Evarts as well as Andrew Jackson, AJ Muste as well as Harry Truman, Henry David Thoreau as well as Teddy Roosevelt. My course features nonviolence alongside every story of violence. Students develop a long exposure to the people in our history who have resisted violence by following their conscience.

“Which is stronger: love or hate?” I ask high school students in my Democracy Studies course. We’ve already finished the biography of Gandhi, discussing at length the ideas behind satyagraha. Gandhi is the Thomas Edison of nonviolence—he switched on our understanding of this universal force more than anyone prior, and to study and teach peace is to study and teach Gandhi.

Gandhi was skilled at civil disobedience, but he was even better at promoting practical solutions. Gandhi resisted injustice by creating alternatives, what he called “constructive programmes.” His favorite was the spinning wheel, which allowed Indians to forgo British cloth while actively spinning their own.

With a nod to Gandhi’s idea, I ask my students to create their own constructive programmes. Find a problem in the world around you, I tell them, and then create its solution. Further freeing them from traditional academia, I liberate the grade book and allow them to assign themselves a grade. They dive in, and create some powerful actions.

 

  • One student handed out copies of Gene Sharp’s revolutionary (and in some countries, illegal) 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action to people on the streets.
  • One student created dialogue between two opposing groups—the mayor and some frustrated citizens.
  • One student served vegetarian pizza to the homeless community in town.
  • One student planted a garden.
  • One student began providing food and clean water to migrant workers crossing the brutal desert. She was arrested for her work.
  • One student began collecting long-distance phone cards for U.S. troops overseas.
  • One student forgave her enemy.
  • One student began to pray and meditate regularly.

Schools do not have to create a formal Peace Studies course. Just like writing or note-taking, it is an academic skill that can be infused into almost any current course.

But when schools do formalize a Peace Studies program, the door opens wider. At the university where I teach Peace Studies, students read a biography of Gandhi and then Michael Nagler’s formative The Search for a Nonviolent Future. We spend many days wrestling over the practice of forgiveness before measuring the effect inner peace has on external circumstances. Understanding the practice of war-making consumes several weeks, as we examine the media’s role in promoting war, the reasons why war gives us meaning (in the words of Chris Hedges), and also a presentation from local U.S. Army colonels.

Peace Studies does not shirk away from opposing viewpoints. It does not practice partisanship. The study of peace is radical in that all are welcome, for peace is about more than politics. I can teach for months without ever speaking about George Bush and Barack Obama or red and blue states. Peace Studies gets underneath the surface, going deeper into what it means to be human.

And that’s why so many students cram into my classroom to take these courses. Not because of me, but because they are so hungry to study peace.

“I Understand What Making Peace Is All About’’

A few years ago, a student of mine who delved as deeply into understanding peace as anyone I’ve ever taught was participating in a march for reproductive rights in Washington. Thousands were there, including the counter-protestors shouting from the barricaded sidewalk. One man in particular caught her attention.

“Bitch! Bitch! Bitch!’’ he shouted, staring right at her.

Breathing deeply, she put down her sign (it read: “Equal Rights for All”) and walked over to him, smiling softly. She put her arms around him and hugged. Then she walked back, picked up her sign and kept marching.

The story does not end here. Months later, at another march, she spotted him again. Again, she was marching, he was shouting. But their eyes locked, and in that moment, all the animosity melted away. He stopped shouting. He softened. He may have even smiled.

“It was in that moment that I understood what making peace was all about,’’ she later told me.

And that is why I teach peace.

David Cook wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. He lives with his wife and two small children in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he teaches courses on Peace Studies, Democracy Studies, and American Studies. He received his masters degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College, and his work has been featured in The Sun, Geez and truthout.org. He can be reached at david.cook@mail.com.

May 15th, 2015 at 10:18 am

The Power of Love and Compassion to Stop the Violence and Start the Healing

By Jon Ramer 

Shared with permission of CompassionGames.org

Baltimore’s riots this week have highlighted the growing unrest and injustices across America. Many are being forced to rethink assumptions we’ve made about race, power, civility, and compassion.  We seem to have forgotten concepts like fairness and justice as a nation. Without this moral compass to guide us, what’s left?

As video after video surfaces of young black males being brutally treated by police, it makes us wonder if racial discrimination and police brutality can now be tolerated in our society. Empathizing with the police and continuing to ignore the root causes of these problems is all too easy. Mainstream media seems to cater to our worst fears and instincts by amplifying the inexcusable behavior of a few.

From the New York Times:

The Rev. Jamal Bryant, delivering the eulogy of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, spoke of the plight of poor, young black men like Mr. Gray, living “confined to a box” made up of poor education, lack of job opportunities and racial stereotypes — “the box of thinking all black men are thugs and athletes and rappers.”

“He had to have been asking himself: ‘What am I going to do with my life?’” Mr. Bryant said. “He had to feel at age 25 like the walls were closing in on him.”

As his voice rose to a shout, and the cheering congregation rose to its feet, Mr. Bryant said that black people must take control of their lives and force the police and government to change.

“This is not the time for us as a people to be sitting on a corner drinking malt liquor. This is not the time for us to be playing lottery,” he said.

“Get your black self up and change this city,” he said. “I don’t know how you can be black in America and be silent. With everything we’ve been through, ain’t no way in the world you can sit here and be silent in the face of injustice.”

What a powerful call to justice. However, it isn’t just a call to African-Americans. If we see ourselves as one multi-cultural society we need a collective action that will lead to effective change. What is society’s role in providing a way out of the poverty, hopelessness and despair that these young men seem to be stuck in?

The pathway out used to be as simple as getting a good education and hard work that might ultimately earn you a fair shot at the American dream. But with the rise in the cost of education and the lack of decent paying jobs, this no longer seems like a winning strategy.  We need to do better as a society, even if it’s more difficult. We need to relearn how to respect our differences and work together: to address these challenges with effective policies, solutions, and on the ground actions that change lives.

The Power of Compassion and Our Interrelatedness

According to Navajo Medicine Woman Patricia Anne Davis,  “the word ‘compassion’ can best be translated into English using the word ‘proxy’, meaning that another person can experience another person’s experience because we are all related by our inherent divinity given to each person equally. It is an all-inclusive experience where there is unity in the natural order and everyone is interconnected.”

We are interconnected to the youth and to the police. Can we find compassion for the police officers who are upholding the law and for the black youth who have the cards unfairly stacked against them?

The challenges we face are personal and spiritual as well as economic, cultural and political. Compassionate action can build this bridge. The role of compassion is not only vital in our lives, it is a key to understanding the circumstances of every perspective and finding a way forward that is just and can heal the rifts in our communities.

In Detroit, Michigan a team called #MetroDetroit participated in the Compassion Games “Love This Place! Serve the Earth Week” Coopetition from April 18 through April 26.

We recently wrote a news post about the organizer of the team Reverend Jim Lee of Renaissance Unity Church titled “Love The Hell Out of Metro Detroit: From the Blame – Shame Game to the Compassion Games.”

metrodetroit2Lee is “rewiring the cellular memory to a place of forgiveness so his city can thrive – so the beloved community can emerge.” Rev. Lee wants to be very clear, “Forgiveness is not about forgetting the past. It doesn’t change what happened. What changes is the interpretation and perception with a new quality, a new tone can emerge to heal us today, so we can move on to the beloved community.”

Lee believes that his community can revitalize and empower itself by bringing the power of love and compassion to bear on their everyday life. Lee says he wants to “Love our way through the pain. Let’s make the pain the lesson, not the reason.”

The #MetroDetroit team committed to participate in the Love This Place! Story Mapping challenge and set out to identify many of the places in Detroit that they cherish and love. The goal was to heighten appreciation of their physical environment, their sense of social cohesion, and their experience of safety and peace within their neighborhoods.

We are happy to report that team #MetroDetroit posted more photo stories than any other city in the world!  Congratulations #MetroDetroit!  You can see all the story photos here.metrodetroit3

We can learn so much from this remarkable team and their accomplishments. We can come together to make just and lasting change by building cultures of compassion and kindness. There are over 300 cities around the world that have embarked on compassionate city campaigns. As people of this remarkable time – filled with great challenges and surprising opportunities – what do we choose?

The Compassion Games supports communities committed to creating cultures that are safer, kinder, and better places to live. You can find out more here www.compassiongames.org Game on!

Jon Eliot Ramer is an American entrepreneur, civic leader, inventor, and musician. He is co-founder of several technology companies including Ramer and Associates, ELF Technologies, Inc., (whose main solution, Serengeti, was purchased by Thomson Reuters) and Smart Channels. The designer and co-founder of several Deep Social Networks, he is the former Executive Director of the Interra Project, and a co-founder of Ideal Network, a group-buying social enterprise that donates a percentage of every purchase to a non-profit or school. Ideal Network is a certified B-Corp that was recognized as “Best in the World for Community” in 2012 by B-Labs. He is also the designer and co-founder of Compassionate Action Network International, a 501(c)(3) organization based in Seattle, that led the effort to make the city the first in the world to affirm Karen Armstrong‘s Charter for Compassion. Most recently, Ramer conceived of and produced the “Compassion Games: Survival of the Kindest.” 

May 4th, 2015 at 9:14 am

Homelessness: How Can We Help?

By Parliament Staff

Homelessness remains a pressing issue in America. According to the most recent data available, at least 100 million people around the globe are considered homeless. More than 3.5 million people residing in the United States are homeless and 25% are under the age of 18. Whereas homelessness is rooted in poverty in countries like India, Nigeria, and France, the U.S. has seen an increase in homelessness due to a variety of factors. They include – but are not limited to – veterans returning from armed conflict overseas, the 2007 housing crisis which left thousands of families without homes, and those suffering from mental illness without access to housing and necessary treatment.

Homeless prevention legislation in America has yielded mixed results. Cook County (IL) Sheriff Tom Dart halted foreclosure-based evictions during the winter of 2008 to protect rent-paying tenants, consequently compounding problems by making lenders less likely to extend loan payments to the most vulnerable.

In Salt Lake City, Utah, an alternative method was employed. The city provided its chronically homeless individuals with housing and counseling, saving the state an average of $8,000 per homeless person. By utilizing this program model, homelessness in Salt Lake decreased by 72% between 2005 to 2014.

In other states, some governments are criminalizing the homeless by passing reactive legislation. The cost of enforcing the criminalization of homelessness costs more than housing the homeless. The practice spars public outcry because it is ultimately worsening the situation. This is why community groups and interfaith leaders are stepping in to help fill the gaps.

Interfaith groups have provided social services to assist the homeless through food banks and food drives, soup kitchens, shelters, and even counseling and rehabilitation. In order to address the issue proactively,  interfaith groups are now also working to prevent homelessness. An interfaith group in St. Petersburg, Florida is finally able to launch a rotating shelter for homeless families after establishing the program within the last several years. In Fayetteville, North Carolina, community leaders held a forum between the homeless community and residents that want to help them. By opening the dialogue in this manner, both homeless advocates and those they serve have a voice.

Without discussion and brainstorming, problems like homelessness cannot be successfully addressed. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs donated $3 million to Interfaith Community Services to further the organization’s mission of erasing veteran homelessness. Right now, an Interfaith Resource Center is planning the construction of a year-round overnight shelter for the homeless in Columbia, Missouri. Additionally, a couple in Athens, Georgia is hosting a week of fun activities and learning opportunities to help raise funds for Interfaith Hospitality Network Athens, a nonprofit organization that assists the homeless.

Helping the homeless remains a major priority for faith communities. Although homelessness may continue to be a problem in the future, the call to “live compassionately,” as Karen Armstrong says, means one should remain uncomfortable so long as his or her fellow brother or sister is suffering. Interfaith cooperation can achieve a sharp reduction in homelessness if communities continue to think and act together. All faith traditions are called to serve the needy in their doctrines and teachings. Presently, tracking homelessness remains a challenge for agencies and governments. But with the assistance of faith communities’ cooperation, effective and innovative models for eradicating homelessness can be implemented.

Parliament interns Shani Belshaw, Nafia Khan, and Daniel Wolff contributed to this article.

April 24th, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Pre-Parliament Tumpek Krulut Compassion Day Event In Bali Celebrates Interfaith Harmony Week

© Copyright 2015 by Handoko Kartika – See More on Facebook!

Tumpek Krulut Compassion Day is celebrated every six months in Bali, but the recent krulut day at Goa Gajah in Bedulu Village was a special one. The “2nd Sharing Creating Offering Art” event on January 31, 2015 was organized to celebrate the Krulut Day combined with the United Nations World Interfaith Harmony Week, and as a Pre-Parliament of the World’s Religions event.Tumpek Kurulut Day is a holy day in Bali for giving thanks to God the great unity-as manifested in Dewa Iswara- for creating sacred sounds or sacred music in the beauty of art. Tumpek Krulut is also Compassion Day towards all living beings. The word lulut means “uniting the heart with sundaram (beauty),” so that thoughts become peaceful.

The Community of Bedulu Village under the coordination of the Village Chief and Customary Chief; Padepokan Lemah Putih; International Foundation for Dharma Nature Time; GEOKS – Geria Olah Kreativitas Seni; Pancer Langit Bali; Gianyar Regency Office of Culture; and Gianyar Regency Office of Tourism celebrated the Tumpek Krulut Compassion Day with more than 450 artists, culture specialists, and religious leaders from Bali, several other Indonesian provinces and 30 nations plus 150 additional audience.

The Senior Advisor on the Protection of Creative Diversity in the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia Drs. Hari Untoro Drajat and the Director for Public Diplomacy in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia, Mr. Al Busyra Basnur, also attended this intercultural event.

In addition to traditional and contemporary artistic performances in the Goa Gajah handicraft market and gardens, a very valuable discussion session also took place on “The Contributions of Ethnic Cultures to the Prosperity of the World’s Communities” conducted by Dr. Wayan Dibia (GEOKS – Singapadu, Bali); Dr. Kusumita Pedersen (Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions trustee); and Drs. I Wayan Patera (Chief of the Samuan Tiga temple).

Dr. Diane Butler, the Co-Charter Founder and President of International Foundation for Dharma Nature Time, and Suprapto Suryodarmo, the Founder of Padepokan Lemah Putih, further reported about this event that sharing among artists, culture specialists, religious leaders, market vendors and society grows a spirit of gotong royong (mutual cooperation). Inspired by the essence of Tumpek Krulut Compassion Day, this sharing will be useful for efforts to increase mutual understanding, harmony, and prosperity for humanity throughout the world, and in particular, based on the values of unity in diversity.

More photos and videos available at https://www.facebook.com/srawungciptasenisembah

Imam Mujahid Congratulates Rabbi Saperstein

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, preaches at a Washington, D.C., service in 2002. He says the Ten Commandments continue to be featured artistically in synagogues. Photo courtesy of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

The Parliament of the World’s Religions Board Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid extends congratulations to Rabbi David Saperstein on his nomination by President Obama to lead the United States Department of State Office of International Religious Freedom. Saperstein who serves as Director and Counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism would become the first non-Christian to take the office now vacant for nine months.

Board Chair Mujahid welcomes the unprecedented move of the Obama Administration to advance a Jewish Rabbi to lead the office first established by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

Mujahid’s congratulatory letter highlights Saperstein’s “admirable record of touching humanity through faith-based justice,” and commends his expert leadership as an example of how progress can be achieved through engaging the guiding institutions.

In addressing the interfaith movement at the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia, Saperstein hosted an engagement session entitled “The State and Religious Freedom,” and was featured prolifically on panels including:

  • Poverty Must No Longer Be With Us with Huruhisa Handa, Jim Wallis, Katherine Marshall, Dr. A T Ariyaratne, Tim Costello, Sulak Sivaraksa and Sr. Joan Chittister
  • Democracy and Diversity in Global Perspective with Anwar Ibrahim, Pal Ahluwalia, Bishop Peter Elliott, Dr. M Din Syamsuddin, and Dr. Barabara McGraw
  • The Role of Religion and Spirituality in the Public Discourse with Archbishop Philip Freier

Designated in Newsweek’s 2009 list as the most influential rabbi in the country and described in a Washington Post profile as “the quintessential religious lobbyist on Capitol Hill,” Rabbi David Saperstein represents the national Reform Jewish Movement to Congress and the Administration as the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. The Center not only advocates on a broad range of social justice issues but provides extensive legislative and programmatic materials to synagogues nationwide, and coordinates social action education programs that train nearly 3,000 Jewish adults, youth, rabbinic and lay leaders each year.

Read more about Rabbi David Saperstein.

 

 

 

Parliament History Sets Stage for Future Interfaith (PICTURES)

The Parliament of the World’s Religions tells a 121-year story of extraordinary, inspired people from around the world- belonging to literally hundreds of faith traditions- coming together with global leaders to create a better planet. Where common bonds and prayers transcend spiritual paths and national origin, these luminaries and lay leaders collaborate to empower the worldwide interfaith movement. This collective of interfaith activists work through a shared love of humanity to create a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world.

Take a glimpse inside the vaults of Parliament history to see that another world is possible, and what those who have experienced the life-changing encounter have to say about the Parliament of the World’s Religions. .

“A Parliament, in essence, is a big conversation.”

-Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Parliament of the World’s Religions


1893 Parliament

The Birth of a Movement

Chicago, USA

“What we need is such a reinforcement of the gentle power of religion that all souls of whatever colour shall be included within the blessed circle of influence.”

 – Fannie Barrier Williams, the only official African-American presenter at the 1893 Parliament


“The solemn charge which the Parliament preaches to all true believers is a return to the primitive unity of the world…The results may be far off, but they are certain.”  John Henry Barrows, 1893

  • The 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions, held on the shore of Lake Michigan, Chicago, was the largest and most spectacular event among many other congresses in the World’s Columbian Exposition.
  • The World Congress of Religions marks the first formal gathering of representatives of Eastern and Western spiritual traditions. Today it is recognized as the birth of formal interreligious dialogue worldwide.
  • A captivating Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda mesmerized the 5,000 assembled delegates, greeting them with the words, “Sisters and brothers of America!” This speech, which introduced Hinduism to America is memorized by school children in India to this day. Swami Vivekanada became one of the most forceful and popular speakers in spite of the fact that he had never before addressed an audience in public.
  • 19 women spoke at this Parliament, an unprecedented occurrence in 1893.

 

“If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world it is this: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in spite of resistance: “Help and not Fight,” “Assimilation and not Destruction,” “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension.”

-Swami Vivekananda


1993 Parliament

Towards a Global Ethic

Chicago, USA

“The Parliament’s keynote address spelled out clearly the destruction that humans have wrought upon the planet, and this theme was echoed throughout the week. What better time for Earth-centered spiritual paths to enter the conversation.”

 – Sarah Stockwell


“The 1993 Parliament emphasized the moral values which religions share. Toward a Global Ethic called on believers to commit to non-violence, a just economic order, tolerance and truthfulness and gender equality.

-Marcus Baybrooke
                                    

  • In 1993, 8,000 people came together, again in Chicago, for a centennial Parliament to foster harmony among religious and spiritual communities and to explore their responses to the critical issues facing the world.
  • The pitch: “One hundred years ago, Chicago brought the people of the world together. There is no better time than now for this to happen again.”
  • Those assembled gave assent to a groundbreaking document, “Towards a Global Ethic: An Initial Declaration.” The declaration is a powerful statement of the ethical common ground shared by the world’s religious and spiritual traditions.
  • At the time it was believed, “There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions.” – Hans Kung, Theologian and Author of the Global Ethic

“I always believe that it is much better to have a variety of religions, a variety of philosophies, rather than one single religions or philosophy. This is necessary because of the different mental dispositions of each human being. Each religions has certain unique ideas of techniques, and learning about them can only enrich one’s own faith.”

– Tenzin Gyatso, the XIVth Dalia Lama

“The Parliament’s keynote address spelled out clearly the destruction that humans have wrought upon the planet, and this theme was echoed throughout the week. What better time for Earth-centered spiritual paths to enter the conversation.”

– Sarah Stockwell

 

“The Next Generation became more than just the title of the youth plenary. It evolved into a group of concerned youth from ten different religions talking about all the problems of the world, religions, and the ways in which we as youth could generate more interfaith dialogue for the years to come.”

– Jim A. Engineer, editor of Youthfully Speaking in the FEZANA Journal vol. 5, no. 4 Winter 1993


1999 Parliament

A New Day Dawning

Cape Town, South Africa

“In the year 1999, you gathered in our own continent, Africa, in the city of Cape Town. You inspired us. In 2002, IFAPA (Interfaith Action for Peace in Africa) was founded. It embodies the spirit of the Parliament.”

 -Dr. Ishmael Noko


No government or social agency can on its own meet the enormous challenges of development of our age. Partnerships are required across the broad range of society. In drawing upon its spiritual and communal resources, religion can be a powerful partner in such causes as meeting the challenges of poverty, alienation, the abuse of women and children, and the destructive disregard for our natural environment.We read into your honoring our country with your presence an acknowledgement of the achievement of the nation and we trust in a small way that our struggle might have contributed to other people in the world. We commend the Parliament of the World’s Religions for its immense role in making different communities see that the common ground is greater and more enduring than the differences that divide. It is in that spirit that we can approach the dawn of the new century with some hope that it will be indeed a better one for all of the people of the world. I thank you.”
-  Madiba, Nelson Mandela

  • The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions hosted the second modern day Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa in December 1999, attracting 7000 participants from 80 countries.
  • The religions and spiritual communities of South Africa were integral in ending the system of apartheid that prevailed until 1990. Holding the 1999 Parliament in Cape Town provided thousands of people the opportunity to witness firsthand the role that religion and spirituality played in creating a new South Africa.
  • Each Parliament fuses local and international themes. The International AIDs quilt was brought to the 1999 Cape Town Parliament to bring the crisis into focus at the Parliament. Also, A new plan for the global interfaith movement of the next millennium addressing religions, government, business, education, and media was introduced at the 1999 Parliament: “A Call to Our Guiding Institutions.”

 

 

“The diverse religions and cultures are fully recognised and respected; religious and spiritual communities exist in harmony; the wisdom and compassion taught by these traditions are prized, and service is seen as one of the essential and uplifting religious acts; the pursuit of respect, trust, justice, and peace in the world is nurtured by the influence of religions and dialogue between them; the earth and all life are revered and cherished.”  – A Call to Our Guiding Institutions

 


2004 Parliament

New Pathways to Peace

Barcelona, Spain

“The most important lesson I learned in my role as Parliament Chair was that interfaith dialogue and engagement empowers us to understand that our differences present us with an opportunity to go deeper. Beneath our differences we share a common humanity. It is this vision of our deep unity amidst our diversity that gives me hope and keeps me doing the work I continue to do.” 

-Rev. Bob Thompson, Chair Emeritus of the Parliament of the World’s Religions


“…let us, the true followers of Buddha, the true followers of Jesus Christ, the true followers of Confucius and the followers of truth, unite ourselves for the sake of helping the helpless and living glorious lives of brotherhood under the control of truth.”

– Shaku Soyen

  • The 2004 Parliament of the World’s Religions welcomed 9000 participants from 74 countries to the site of Barcelona’s Universal Forum of Cultures. These people of faith, spirit, and goodwill came together to encounter the rich diversity of the world’s religious and spiritual traditions, listen to each other with open hearts and minds, dialogue for mutual understanding, and reflect on the critical issues facing the world and commit to discovering new pathways to peace.
  • Occurring three years after September 11, 2001 and only three months after the Madrid train bombings, the 2004 Parliament was a solemn reflection on those tragedies as well as a strong and visible commitment to peace.
  • Hundreds of members of the Sikh community came to the Parliament to feed the attendees langar, a free meal cooked and served, daily as a show of the Sikh faith.

 

 

“…The CPWR, we want to thank them, they showed us the paths, pathways to peace. We came to Montserrat, it was a pilgrimage, people have been praying there for thousands of years, we walked on Holy ground, and the Mayor of Barcelona, allowed us to pitch our tent here in marquees to have a place of worship, where we could eat together, sit together, exercise love, humility, benevolence, you made it possible, we salute you. The words of the Lord, the Creator, the Infinite, and our Guru, came to Barcelona, and we had forty eight hours of continuous Prayer, and then we had the initiation, which is equivalent to ‘baptism’, I just came from there. We are humbled that we could be given such honour and dignity, such love that you could give us we have no words to thank you, the Holy Guru Granth Sahib Ji’s message is universal. If each and every hair on my body could say thank you, I would go ahead and say thank you Barcelona, thank you the people, all the faith religions, all the faith people, thank you everybody.”

- Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh Ji, GNNSJ


2009 Parliament

Hearing Each Other, Healing the Earth

Melbourne, Australia

“Only the Parliament, the largest interfaith gathering on earth, has the potential to serve as a platform to mobilize interfaith social justice movements on a global scale.” 

-Valarie Kaur


“I find strength in people like you, who join from around the world to speak the common language of the conscience and the heart. What we have in common is more powerful than our difference. And in your leadership I see hope for dignity and peace.”

-
Queen Rania of Jordan

  • A multi-religious, multi-lingual, and multicultural city, Melbourne was selected as an ideal place to host 6500 people for the 2009 Parliament.
  • Melbourne – the culturally vibrant home to many indigenous and aboriginal spiritualities, was chosen as the theater for the Australian government to issue a formal apology to its indigenous and aboriginal peoples.
  • Focusing on Healing the earth, Indigenous People, overcoming poverty and inequality, and food and water security, the 2009 Parliament shed light on and brought hope and action to the most pressing challenges of our time.
  • As a Capstone to the “Educating Religious Leaders” program piloted by prestigious seminaries across America, more than 100 students convened at the 2009 Melbourne Parliament to build relationships as emerging faith leaders in a changing multi-religious world.

 

“This is what Paradise would look like and taste like, I decided: people of good will on a pilgrimage of discovery, to greet and meet one another with respect, curiosity, and an openness to observe and share religious practices, to discuss our differences without making excuses for having differences, and to confront the most urgent problems of the globe with the understanding that there were collective problems that deserved collective solutions.”

-Ruth B. Sharone, Minefield & Miracles

“I was asked to join the youth initiative team for the Next Generation which gave me the opportunity to work with brilliant young people as well as religious leaders from around the world. This was an incredibly powerful experience for me for many reasons. I was able to dialog with religious leaders and created connections with people around the world to support me in projects that I have started at home. Most importantly, I felt like I had a voice. One that was not only heard, but listened to. That was an opportunity that I will be forever grateful for.”

– Ms. Allison Bash, CT, USA

 

The Dalai Lama says on the final night of the Melbourne Parliament in 2009, “we really need constant effort to bring closer all the religions, that’s what I think, and then we can make more effective role to bring compassion on this planet. Also taking serious discussion about environmental issues. This is something very important. This is something very, very, urgent. So, we must be more active, that’s very important, and then we can fulfill the original idea I think, and also to begin to living this, so must be active, so thank you very much.”

 


A Legacy for the Future


“The Parliament was an opportunity for people with different ideas getting together, discussing issues for better understanding. Religions plays such a big role in so many people’s lives, that if we can manage to get people to be tolerant towards each other where religion is concerned, other problem areas should be a lot easier to sort out.”

– Ms. Hettie Gats, Cape Town, South Africa

I watched a Muslim youth and a Jewish youth join hands on the stage of Good Hope Center. Each sang a prayer, one in Arabic and the other in Hebrew, and I wept at the profundity of their simple gesture.”

– Rev. Pete Woods

“With open hearts and minds, the Parliament’s participants will be returning back to their neighborhoods in our shared global village enriched with new experiences, friendships and new success stories after a joyful six-day long intensive listening and learning experience. Many of them will be making their personal commitments in writing on how they plan to change the world”

-Abdul Malik Mujahid

President Jimmy Carter’s “Call to Action” on Women, Religion, Violence and Power; (Excerpt Features 2009 Parliament)

From A CALL TO ACTION by Jimmy Carter. Copyright © 2014 by Jimmy Carter. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

 

All the elements in this book concerning prejudice, discrimination, war, violence, distorted interpretations of religious texts, physical and mental abuse, poverty, and disease fall disproportionately on women and girls.

I saw the ravages of racial prejudice as I grew up in the Deep South, when for a century the U.S. Supreme Court and all other political and social authorities accepted the premise that black people were, in some basic ways, inferior to white people. Even those in the dominant class who disagreed with this presumption remained relatively quiet and enjoyed the benefits of the prevailing system. Carefully selected Holy Scriptures were quoted to justify this discrimination in the name of God.

There is a similar system of discrimination, extending far beyond a small geographical region to the entire globe; it touches every nation, perpetuating and expanding the trafficking in human slaves, body mutilation, and even legitimized murder on a massive scale. This system is based on the presumption that men and boys are superior to women and girls, and it is supported by some male religious leaders who distort the Holy Bible, the Koran, and other sacred texts to perpetuate their claim that females are, in some basic ways, inferior to them, unqualified to serve God on equal terms. Many men disagree but remain quiet in order to enjoy the benefits of their dominant status. This false premise provides a justification for sexual discrimination in almost every realm of secular and religious life. Some men even cite this premise to justify physical punishment of women and girls.

Another factor contributing to the abuse of women and girls is an acceptance of violence, from unwarranted armed combat to excessive and biased punishment for those who violate the law. In too many cases, we use violence as a first rather than a last resort, so that even deadly violence has become commonplace.

My own experiences and the testimony of courageous women from all regions and all major religions have made it clear to me that as a result of these two factors there is a pervasive denial of equal rights to women, more than half of all human beings, and this discrimination results in tangible harm to all of us, male and female.

My wife, Rosalynn, and I have visited about 145 countries, and the nonprofit organization we founded, The Carter Center, has had active projects in more than half of them. We have had opportunities in recent years to interact directly among the people, often in remote villages in the jungles and deserts. We have learned a lot about their personal affairs, particularly that financial inequality has been growing more rapidly with each passing decade. This is true both between rich and poor countries and among citizens within them. In fact, the disparity in net worth and income in the United States has greatly increased since my time in the White House. By 2007 the income of the middle 60 percent of Americans had increased at a rate twice as high as that of the bottom 20 percent. And the rate of increase for the top 1 percent was over fifteen times higher, primarily because of the undue influence of wealthy people who invest in elections and later buy greater benefits for themselves in Washington and in state capitals. As the conservative columnist George Will writes, “Big government inevitably drives an upward distribution of wealth to those whose wealth, confidence and sophistication enable them to manipulate government.”

Yet although economic disparity is a great and growing problem, I have become convinced that the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls, largely caused by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts and a growing tolerance of violence and warfare, unfortunately following the example set during my lifetime by the United States. In addition to the unconscionable human suffering, almost embarrassing to acknowledge, there is a devastating effect on economic prosperity caused by the loss of contributions of at least half the human beings on earth. This is not just a women’s issue. It is not confined to the poorest countries. It affects us all.

After focusing for a few years on the problem of gender discrimination through our human rights program at The Carter Center, I began to speak out more forcefully about it. Because of this, I was asked to address the Parliament of the World’s Religions, an audience of several thousand assembled in Australia in December 2009, about the vital role of religion in providing a foundation for countering the global scourge of gender abuse. My remarks represented the personal views of a Christian layman, a Bible teacher for more than seventy years, a former political leader.

I reminded the audience that in dealing with each other, we are guided by international agreements as well as our own moral values, most often derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Bible, the Koran, and other cherished texts that proclaim a commitment to justice and mercy, equality of treatment between men and women, and a duty to alleviate suffering. However, some selected scriptures are interpreted, almost exclusively by powerful male leaders within the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and other faiths, to proclaim the lower status of women and girls. This claim that women are inferior before God spreads to the secular world to justify gross and sustained acts of discrimination and violence against them. This includes unpunished rape and other sexual abuse, infanticide of newborn girls and abortion of female fetuses, a worldwide trafficking in women and girls, and so-called honor killings of innocent women who are raped, as well as the less violent but harmful practices of lower pay and fewer promotions for women and greater political advantages for men. I mentioned some notable achievements of women despite these handicaps and described struggles within my own religious faith. I called on believers, whether Protestant, Catholic, Coptic, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or tribal, to study these violations of our basic moral values and to take corrective action.

No matter what our faith may be, it is impossible to imagine a God who is unjust.

— Zainah Anwar, founder of Sisters in Islam, Malaysia

In the following pages I will outline how I learned more and more about these issues, as a child, a submarine officer, a farmer, and a church leader during the civil rights struggle, as a governor and a president, as a college professor, and in the global work of The Carter Center. During the nine decades of my life I have become increasingly aware of and concerned about the immense number of and largely ignored gender-based crimes. There are reasons for hope that some of these abuses can be ended when they become better known and understood. I hope that this book will help to expose these violations to a broader audience and marshal a more concerted effort to address this profound problem.

I will explore the links between religion-based assertions of male dominance over women, as well as the ways that our “culture of violence” contributes to the denial of women’s rights. I maintain that male dominance over women is a form of oppression that often leads to violence. We cannot make progress in advancing women’s rights if we do not examine these two underlying factors that contribute to the abuse of women.

In August 2013 I joined civil rights leaders and two other American presidents at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered there in 1963. As I looked out on the crowd and thought about the book I was writing, my thoughts turned to a different speech that King made, in New York City four years later, about America’s war in Vietnam, in which my oldest son was serving. King asserted, “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.” King went on to ask that we Americans broaden our view to look at human freedom as inextricably linked with our commitment to peace and nonviolence.

Using this same logic, it is not possible to address the rights of women, the human and civil rights struggle of our time, without looking at factors that encourage the acceptance of violence in our society — violence that inevitably affects women disproportionately. The problem is not only militarism in foreign policy but also the resort to lethal violence and excessive deprivation of freedom in our criminal justice system when rehabilitation alternatives could be pursued.  Clearly, short-term political advantages that come with being “tough on criminals” or “tough on terrorism” do not offer solutions to issues like persistent crime, sexual violence, and global terrorism.

I realize that violence is not more prevalent today than in previous periods of human history, but there is a difference. We have seen visionary standards adopted by the global community that espouse peace and human rights, and the globalization of information ensures that the violation of these principles of nonviolence by a powerful and admired democracy tends to resonate throughout the world community. We should have advanced much further in the realization of women’s rights, given these international commitments to peace and the rule of law. Instead many of the gains made in advancing human rights since World War II are placed at risk by reliance on injury to others as a means to solve our problems.

We must not forget that there is always an underlying basis of moral and religious principles involved. In August 2013 Pope Francis stated quite simply that in addition to the idea that violence does not bring real solutions to societal problems, its use is contrary to the will of God: “Faith and violence are incompatible.” This powerful statement exalting peace and compassion is one on which all faiths can agree.

In June 2013 The Carter Center brought together religious leaders, scholars, and activists who are working to align religious life with the advancement of girls’ and women’s full equality. We called this a Human Rights Defenders Forum. Throughout this book I have inserted brief statements from some of these defenders that offer a rich array of ideas and perspectives on the subject.

“A Call to Action” © 2014 by Jimmy Carter. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster Inc., N.Y

Sad Demise of Parliament Friend Mahendra G. Mehta

Mahendra Mehta, one of the world’s leading humanitarians, Jain, and Parliament of the World’s Religions International Advisory Committee Member, has died on August 23, 2013.

A true friend of the Parliament and a member of the International Advisory Committee, a profound humanitarian, philanthropist, and legendry Mahendrabhai Gafurchand Mehta passed away on Monday August 26, 2013, in Mumbai, India. He is survived by his wife Ashaben Mehta, sons Rajiv and Sanjiv, and their families.

Mahendra Mehta was born in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1933. He was a diamond and jewelry businessman who inherited the seeds of compassion from his mother who had encouraged him to give his first earnings to the less fortunate.  The majority of his time was devoted to humanitarian work.  Asha Mehta, his wife, a deeply religious person by nature, brought the feeling of warmth and compassion to their humanitarian work. She worked side-by-side with Mahendra Mehta on all welfare projects.

Besides being engaged in several charitable projects, he was very interested in world peace through interfaith programs. The legacy of the First Parliament of 1893 had made a deep impression on him. He appreciated the visionary work of Swami Vivekananda and Virchand Raghvjee Gandhi in bringing the teachings of Hinduism and Jainism to the west for the first time. He also felt that the Parliament is the most important organization to promote the world peace and harmony in this terror stricken world. He felt that India, a home of four major world’s religions should also host a future Parliament. He made several trips to Chicago to make his case.

Mahendra Mehta, (back row left) with the bid teams preparing proposal to host the 2000 Parliament of the World’s Religions event.

Under his leadership, India for the first time took part in the bidding process in May 2006 in collaboration with the World Jain Confederation, Mumbai.  He brought leaders from various religions practiced in India to come together and make the proposal for hosting the 2009 Parliament in New Delhi, India.  However, Melbourne was awarded the Parliament, the third city in the proposals being Singapore.  

Mahendarabhai along with his wife Ashaben made their vision of establishing the art of paintings as a powerful media to enhance the cause of the world peace by showcasing the Jain Sacred Art Exhibit at 2009 Parliament of World’s Religion held in Melbourne Australia.  The exhibition of 38 rare painting from India was personally funded by the Mehta family. It became one of the most visited displays at the six day Parliament.  His exemplary work came to international attention and earned him an important seat on the International Advisory Committee for the furtherance of interreligious harmony around the world.

Jain exhibit of art at the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne.

Mahendrabhai was so impressed with the Parliament’s work that he wanted to see the Parliament open an office in India for interfaith activities in the eastern hemisphere. He offered office space and the use of his staff until the Parliament office would become self-supportive in India.

Mahendrabhai formed Ratna Niddhi Charitable trust (www.rnct.org) about 25 years ago from his own family funds which helped the drought hit population of rural Gujarat at that time, especially the children with food and blankets to help them survive a severe winter.

He set up an NGO Project ‘Mainstream’ in the 1990s, whose objective was to empower children to use their own potential and take charge of their own lives. It focused mainly on deserted street children. The unique feature of this project was the “night squad” – a duo made up of a social worker and trained street child who would visit the street children “hangouts” where they stay at night under the bridges and on streets. They would meet these children, find their needs and refer them to various government and NGO to fulfill their needs. Till this date, under guidance of Mr. Mehta, the Project Mainstream has touched the lives of over 55,000 children. They have either settled into businesses of their choice or have been meaningfully employed.

Jain art exhibit and the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne.

An ongoing food Program set up by Mahendra Mehta in Mumbai feeds over 6000 children daily through networking with other NGOs. Daily free meals to the school-attending children foster education and reduce the drop out rate in their schools

During the disastrous earthquakes in Gujarat he worked with many government agencies and through his Ratna Niddhi Trust provided necessities to the victims within days of the disasters. Under his leadership an orphanage for girls was completed along with a series of 145 primary classrooms in 42 schools spread over 40 villages.

The Mobility projects in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Honduras, Columbia, Afghanistan, Myanmar and several African countries through his Ratna Nidhi Charitable Trust have made more than 150,000 physically challenged persons lead a near normal life through fitting of the Jaipur foot artificial limbs for amputees and calipers for the polio affected. They have distributed thousands of tricycles, wheelchairs, crutches and walkers to the handicapped.  They have also conducted audio tests and distributed hearing aids to the needy school children.

Mahendra Mehta was instrumental in changing the lives of cleft lip children. He set up several camps for surgeries of cleft lips and palettes to help overcome hundreds of children’s miseries. Additionally, a mobile hospital provides facilities to children and persons living in remote areas of India where no regular health facilities are available. He also arranged for several eye camps in African countries to perform over 1,000 surgeries.

Under the Garments project, Mr. Mehta has distributed over 4,000,000 garments and blankets to the most needy children and elders. Mumbai is well known for its heavy downpours and the worst sufferers are poor people who cannot afford several essential items. Nearly 20,000 raincoats were distributed to children during 2003, about 3 weeks prior to the monsoon.

Mahendra Mehta recipient of the John Connor Award from Operation Smile at a 2008 Gala.

Mahendra Mehta has been honored for humanitarian work with several awards including the prestigious Humanitarian Rose Award given by the late Princess Diana’s Trust at the Kensington Palace, London; Cardinal Health Award of World of Children in the USA; Humanitarian Award by the Federation of Jain Associations in North America; Award of Excellence by the International Jain Sangh; John Connor Award for Humanitarian Work by Operation Smile, USA; and an Award for Humanitarian Projects Worldwide by the Rubin Museum of Art, New York.

A community prayer meeting was held on Wednesday, August 28, 2013, at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chowpatty, Mumbai, in his honor.

The sympathy of the Parliament accompanies this tribute from CPWR Board Trustee Kirit Daftary. 


Restoring Indigenous Peoples’ Rights: A Pathway from Australia to Arizona

by Dave Weiman
from Cooking Together

At the January meeting, the UUA Trustees voted to place a responsive resolution to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery on the business agenda for the General Assembly.  What is the Doctrine of Discovery?  Why have our partner organizations in Arizona called for its repudiation?  How are we as Unitarian Universalist people of faith called to respond?  For the next several weeks, Cooking Together bloggers will address these questions.  This post was written by Dave Weiman, who has been working with others to educate UUs about this issue. – Ed.

At 7:30 pm on December 3, 2009, Joy Murphy Wandin, senior woman of the Wurundjeri People, was the first person to greet the 6,000 plus people who had come together for the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia, with this traditional ‘Welcome to the Land’:

On behalf of the spiritual ancestors and the traditional owners of Melbourne, I invite you to Melbourne in 2009, for the Parliament of the World’s Religions to share in the traditions, culture and spirit of Australia.

I was impressed that special recognition was given to the Peoples who had nurtured the land for thousands of years.   The welcoming practice not just for the opening, occurred at the beginning of almost every event during the Parliament, large or small.  And in fact, at the start of Sunday Service at the local Unitarian Church, the same basic welcoming statement started the service.  It is important to note that the words in these messages of welcome are of and by the Peoples who are native to the land, not from government officials.

At the final Plenary of the Parliament more than a dozen Indigenous Peoples from around the globe, presented a ‘Statement to the World.’  The Statement explained Indigenous cultures and contributions, the negative outcomes of colonization, and the injustices suffered by Indigenous Peoples.   It concluded with seven ‘appeals’.  Of the seven, two became an important focus of my social justice work when I returned home.  One asked for all nations to implement and support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Declaration), and another asked for the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery (Doctrine).

From the opening moment of the Parliament to its closing, I was being drawn into a social justice cause about which I had known virtually nothing.  Since the Parliament I’ve been learning more, about the Declaration and the Doctrine, and come to understand why these are so important, not only for Indigenous Peoples, but for all of us.