Archive for the ‘Publications and Reports’ Category
The Parliament of the World’s Religions and the Charter for Compassion announce their strategic partnering for collaboratively supporting the Compassionate Cities movement around the world. Charter founder Dr. Karen Armstrong Parliament Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid signed the strategic partnership announcement April 3 in Atlanta, affirming:
The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions and Charter for Compassion International today announce our strategic partnership aimed at supporting the emergence of the Compassionate Cities movement worldwide.
This Compassionate Cities movement is deeply aligned with the principles of the Parliament. The International Campaign for Compassionate Cities aims to affirm the principle of compassion in the behavior of hundreds of millions of people in thousands of communities around the globe. We believe compassion is a practical, measurable standard we can apply to specific outcomes, including the alleviation of poverty, hunger, and disease, the protection of human rights, the extension of democracy, the creation of a peaceful world, and dealing with the challenges of global climate change.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions is the mother of the global interfaith movement. Its mission is to achieve a peaceful, just and sustainable world, and at the heart of that mission is the convening of the world’s largest interfaith gathering, each time in a different host city.
The first Parliament was held in 1893 in Chicago and brought Hinduism, Buddhism, the Jains, Sikhs, and other Eastern faiths to the United States.
Council of the Parliament will encourage Ambassadors of the Parliament as well as its members and affiliates around the world to join the Compassionate Cities Initiative and to engage their local communities with the movement. The Charter for Compassion will highlight the Parliament’s efforts to bring the principles of the Charter to life in projects and programs in every community.
Signed April 3, 2014 by Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid , Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Parliament, and Dr. Karen Armstrong, Founder, Charter for Compassion International and the author of the Charter for Compassion.
The following is a synopsis of the Greeley lecture on peace and justice given by Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana at the Center for the Study of World Religions of Harvard University on February 3, 2014. This lecture is a precursor to SCUPE’s Congress on Urban Ministry (June 23-26, DePaul University, Chicago) which will address the theme: Together, Building a Just Economy. Rev. Dr. Premawardhana is President of the Seminary Consortium of Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE) , and a Board Trustee of the Parliament of the World’s Religions
The unimaginable level of income inequality has become a serious public conversation and scholarly inquiry. President Obama has addressed it several times over the past couple of months, including in the recent State of the Union speech. The week before that, when some 2,500 participants from business, government, academia and civil society convened in Davos, they considered the Global Risks 2014 report which points out that this massive income gap is the risk that is most likely to cause serious damage to the global economy in the coming decade.
Immediately prior to the Davos meeting, Oxfam, the international organization that addresses issues of hunger, poverty and economic justice around the world, in its report said that the world’s richest 85 people control the same amount of wealth as half the world’s population, over 3.5 billion people. In other words, each of the wealthiest 85 has access to the same resources as do about 42 million people. These are incredible numbers. In his message, Pope Francis urged those who gathered at Davos to promote inclusive prosperity. “I ask you to ensure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it,” he said.
Last November Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, or the Joy of the Gospel, where he connects evangelization with a strong critique of consumerism. In a section entitled “No to the new idolatry of money,” he points to its causality: one cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, he says, “we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The worship of the ancient golden calf,” he goes on, “has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.” Human beings are reduced to one of their needs alone, he says, and that is “consumption.”
The rise of plutocracy, where the super-rich increasingly control the political and economic processes that leave everyone else out is already a serious global problem. My concern is that in the United States we may be reaching a tipping point where laws such as Citizens United and the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act, both driven by big corporate interests, will tilt the playing field in favor of the super-rich for a long time to come. I believe that this is caused by greed, which – in both its individual and structural manifestations — is a spiritual problem.
This position was affirmed by an advisory body of the World Council of Churches, the Churches’ Commission on International Affairs (CCIA) when it met in March 2009, in Matanzas, Cuba, about six months after the global financial crisis hit. Its working group on Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation made three important affirmations.
First, they identified the cause of the crisis as unbridled greed, and declared it as a form of violence. “[T]he accumulation of wealth and the presence of poverty are not simply accidents but are often part of a strategy for some people to accumulate power and wealth at the expense of others. As such, greed is a form of violence which, on personal, community, national, regional and international levels isolates and injures us.”
In offering the provocative comment “greed is a form of violence,” the CCIA is connecting a word—violence— which it knows evokes a sense of strong condemnation, with a word that it believes is equally condemnable –greed, and advocating as robust a reflection on greed as the churches have had on violence. Indeed, churches, like other institutions caught up in systems of structural greed, find its reflection on greed muted, and its advocacy on behalf of economic justice compromised. A “greed is good” doctrine, popularized by the fictional character Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movie Wall Street, and daily and forcefully asserted by some Fox News and CNBC commentators, as well as proponents of prosperity theologies, therefore goes largely unchallenged.
While many religions address greed, it is important to recognize that today’s structural greed is almost unprecedented. A new robust and self-critical reflection that pertains to today’s realities, by all religious authorities, I suggest, is therefore urgent.
The WCC has engaged such a process over the past several years. Its program Poverty, Wealth and Ecology has engaged economists and theologians in dialogues that have now resulted in a proposal for a new financial architecture released in Sao Paulo, in October 2012. One interesting feature of this is the inclusion of a “Greed Line.” If there’s a poverty line below which a person can be said to be in poverty, there must be greed line, above which a person can be said to be greedy!
Second, they recognized greed as a spiritual problem requiring spiritual interventions. Christianity alone does not have the resources to address this problem, they said, and affirmed that religions over centuries have deeply reflected on the question of greed and have significant wisdom to offer. They specifically identified Buddhism as having a sophisticated reflection on greed and its disastrous consequences, about the value of simplicity for the lay community of disciples, and renunciation and voluntary poverty for the monastic community.
Affirming the value of having its internal reflections lead to interreligious engagement, the WCC together with the Lutheran World Federation convened a Buddhist-Christian consultation in Chiang Mai, Thailand in 2010. Buddhists from several countries and a variety of traditions engaged with Christians from a variety of traditions in a consultation entitled “Buddhists and Christians engaging structural greed.” The resulting statement, “A Buddhist-Christian Common Word on Structural Greed” has helped to move Christian and Buddhist communities to deeper common reflection and action.
Third, it identifies the need to listen to the voices of the poor. “We acknowledge that in our various positions of leadership we are not always well-placed to hear the voice of the oppressed, of indigenous people, of women, of the disabled, of refugees and displaced people, of the poor and of the most silenced among us.” We who gather around theological tables, religious leaders and scholars, because of our social standing as educated, middle class elite, do not have access to the conversations that are going on among those who are poor in our communities.
This is a difficult but critical question. Prof. Harvey Cox of Harvard University, in a 1980 Christian Century article entitled “Theology: What Is It? Who Does It? How Is It Done?” addressed this question. The elitism is understandable, says Cox, given that the minimal conditions for doing theology include the ability to read and write, familiarity with the received tradition of concepts and categories, sufficient leisure to reflect on these, and the power to get one’s ideas published or otherwise heard. Are theologians prepared to take the next step, he asks, beyond the self-critical awareness we now have, for example, of how the rhetorical conventions and cultural symbols of any period shape even its most original theology, to a recognition of how the pervasive ideology of the dominant class influences the theology it produces?
So, how do you dialogue with those who are poor? One of my mentors, Aloysius Pieris, offers us an insight from his Sri Lankan context. In Asian Theology of Liberation  he insists that an authentic Sri Lankan theology must undergo a double baptism, in the Jordan of its religious diversity, and the cross of its grinding poverty. These two axes of religious diversity and poverty are basic facts of the Sri Lankan context. Dialogue, he says, is more than an academic exercise done in religious seminars organized and financed by western agencies, by people who do not have their feet on the ground. It is not an abstract concern, but a daily existential experience; never merely an intellectual exercise, it is a moral commitment. Pieris’ analysis suggests that if we want to engage in dialogue we need to incarnate ourselves in the context. Not only does it require a double baptism of immersion, it requires us to engage core-to-core with the other religious partners.
The question, however, is even more complex. There is plenty of dialogue that goes on in poor communities. Poor Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and those of other religions often live in the same communities, share each other’s concerns and needs, and reflect with each other about their fortunes and misfortunes and the ultimate meanings of day to day events. The difficulty for us middle class theologians and dialogicians is that we have no access to that conversation. Many difficulties, including those of communication and building trust become serious obstacles when we try to listen to that dialogue.
So, is there any hope for theology or interreligious dialogue? According to Pieris, there is no alternative but to engage in voluntary poverty, which for religious people, he reminds us, is a positive value. We must struggle against forced poverty, but voluntary poverty is a spiritual calling we must embrace. Some of the greatest saints and revered gurus in religious traditions, he reminds us, were people who renounced worldly comforts and pleasures. Some entered the monastic life, others such as Gandhi, became engaged in issues of social justice.
For those of us in religious leadership or theological academia, who assumed that theology can be done in the comfort of the seminary and its library, this is a problem. Indeed, for most of us, whose perceptions are colored by the dominant economic ethos, and where the desire to reach higher in the economic ladder is the positive value, voluntary poverty does not make sense. Therefore, Pieris asserts that it is simply not possible for people with such a middle class mindset to really understand and appreciate those who are poor, and recommends that those who engage in the disciplines of theology and of interreligious dialogue undergo a conversion, and undertake the baptism of voluntary poverty themselves.
This is what SCUPE does. We put our students into the streets of the city, to its local communities, to areas of concentrated poverty, where we teach our students to listen to the questions, struggles and stories of pain and laughter. We bring those questions together, subject them to deeper analysis, and then ask what scripture and tradition have to say about these questions. Indeed, in the margins our students have seen dialogue burst into argument, controversy and creativity. There, it never stays a mere dialogue, but moves quickly to action. At the margins people are conscientized, they strategize, organize and move in to light a fire under their leaders. Indeed, when religious or political leaders do not have the courage to do the right thing, it is the organized people at the grassroots who are able to hold them accountable.
A useful hermeneutical key to this conundrum was offered in November 2013, at the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches. It’s Commission on World Mission and Evangelism issued a new statement on mission entitled Together Towards Life, which turned all previous understandings of mission on its head. “Mission from the margins invites the church to reimagine mission as a vocation from God’s Spirit who works for a world where fullness of life is available to all,” it declared. In other words, mission is not to those who are a poor as we always thought, rather, mission is from those who are poor and marginalized to those at the
This is a profound statement. Those of us at the privileged center, the theologians, the religious leaders, the pastors and teachers, the middle class elite, are the very ones that need to be missionized. It says to us powerfully that those who are hungry today have something important to teach us about economic justice, about life and its meaning, and about the importance of sharing and community. Those who are working two or three jobs at minimum wage and have kids to take care of at home also have something important to teach us about faith, because at the end of the day they still have strength left to say their evening prayers with the kids. Those who are suffering climate catastrophes, such as the recent one in the Philippines have something important to teach us about climate justice and about life’s fragility and resilience. When we are able to deeply comprehend that, we will discover that our questions are different, our answers are different, and more than anything else, our attitude towards life and our lifestyle will be different.
What happened in 2008 was a result of unbridled structural greed. It was violence that was perpetrated against massive numbers of people around the world. But the religious communities’ voice was muted. We were conflicted because we too participate in that structural greed. Given today’s context it is critical that the religious communities’ voices be powerful and resilient. But in order for that to be so, we must allow those in the margins to teach us, missionize us, and indeed, convert us.
The Rev. Dr. Shanta D. Premawardhana is President of the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education in Chicago. Originally from Sri Lanka, he was most recently the director for the Program Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation at the World Council of Churches (WCC), a worldwide fellowship of 349 Protestant and Orthodox churches based in Geneva, Switzerland. Prior to moving to Geneva, Premawardhana served as the Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations at the National Council of Churches of Christ, based in New York.
 Martin Sinaga (ed.) A Common Word: Buddhists and Christians Engage Structural Greed (Lutheran University Press, 2012)
 Aloysius Pieris, Asian Theology of Liberation (T&T Clark, 1988, 86)
A Preface by Imam Dr. Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chair of the Board of Trustees
Human interconnectedness has been transformed dramatically by technology. However, our hearts and our minds are yet to be aligned with the God-given ideals of sharing more and consuming less to achieve better results for the humanity.
In a world where more than a billion people live under two dollars a day; where 45 million people are fleeing conflict and persecution; where fear, hate, and anger are rising, we have a responsibility to be good neighbors, to be compassionate, and to live by the Golden Rule.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions has been ahead of its time in envisioning a better future. Almost a century before the word “global village” was introduced in 1962, the Parliament literally invented the gift of interfaith for our world.
It was also well ahead of its time when the Declaration Toward a Global Ethic was issued at the 1993 Parliament. For the first time in history, representatives of all of the world’s religions agreed on the shared ethics that are grounded in their own religions and traditions:
• The principle of shared humanity
• The Golden Rule of reciprocity
• A commitment to peace and justice
In the last 20 years since the signing of this declaration, people have collected more than 700,000 pieces of content on this topic. There are organizations that have been established based on its theme. Some of these include the Global Ethic Foundation, the Institute for Global Ethics, and the Global Ethics Network. We have also seen the development of campaigns based on topics we advanced, such as the Charter of Compassion, a Charter of Forgiveness, A Common Word Between Us and You, and campaigns to promote the Golden Rule.
So at this juncture, on the 20th anniversary of the 1993 Parliament, we at the Parliament reaffirm our commitment to interfaith harmony by reissuing the Global Ethics and by reasserting our mission: to cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities, and to foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions in order to achieve a just, peaceful and sustainable world.
We must learn the forgotten lesson that “None of you has faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself.”
Let us, then, friends, share more and consume less!
Let us work hand in hand to change ourselves while saving the only planet we have.
May God open our hearts toward our neighbors. May our Creator open the hearts of our neighbors toward us. Amen.
This preface leads the 2013 reaffirmation of the vision of the Global Ethic penned by Parliament Chair, Imam Dr. Abdul Malik Mujahid on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the document. Join Imam Mujahid, the Parliament, and this generation’s voices for peace by signing the 2013 Call to Live Out the Vision Toward a Global Ethic!
As Mayor and on behalf of the City of Chicago, I am pleased to welcome all of those gathered for both the 120th & 20th anniversary celebrations for the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.
It is truly exciting to know what an important role Chicago has played in the 120 years since the inaugural Parliament of the World’s Religions was held here, and then 20 years ago in the second – the 1993 Parliament. The 1893 Chicago Parliament opened the door for the interreligious movement and that event brought together thousands of people from all over the world. It marked a pivotal moment for many different religions and spiritual communities from the east and west coming together around a common commitment to justice and peace.
In 1993, the second Parliament introduced a Global Ethics Initiative that maintains a vision of people living peacefully together and sharing responsibility for the care of the earth while identifying the common commitments that come out of different belief traditions. In Chicago, we know there’s a need for this important work. When religious and spiritual communities combine their strengths and commitments, a more just, peaceful and sustainable world is the result.
These special anniversary celebrations and benefits represent an ongoing commitment to thoughtful, enduring work. The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions not only unites people of spirit and faith to engage with the issues of our time, but also mobilizes efforts to combat bias and hate. I offer heartfelt congratulations on this auspicious occasion and recognize all of those
I am confident that Chicago will continue to be a central meeting place for the Council for a
Parliament of the World’s Religions. Best wishes for much continued success.
A coalition of Buddhist and Muslim leaders from South and South East Asia met in Bangkok on June 16th to endorse the 2006 Dusit Declaration, and to commit to act cooperatively with new proposals to stabilize inter-religious relations in the region. This coalition inspires the hope that conflict manifesting in violence, like the recent attacks in Bodhgaya, can be prevented.
Highlights of the 2006 Dusit Declaration include efforts to encourage media outlets to be more evenhanded towards both religions in their broadcasting, the expansion of unbiased religious perspectives taught in children’s classrooms, and a new emphasis on inter-religious harmony in politicians’ reforms.
The declarations made in Thailand (found in this International Buddhist-Muslim Joint Statement) focus on the potential benefits of tolerance: “We are also deeply aware that if Buddhist and Muslim communities can overcome the challenges that confront them, there is tremendous potential for the growth and development of ideas and values that may help to transform the region.”
The coalition organized by the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), and Religions for Peace (RfP) included representatives from seven countries with the allegiance of some international participants.
The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions applauds this coalition for being a model of cooperation and tolerance in the South East Asian region.
Al Haj U Aye Lwin, Muslim, Chief Convener, Islamic Center of Myanmar and a Founder of Religions for Peace Myanmar
U Myint Swe, Buddhist, President, Ratana Metta, and President of Religions for Peace Myanmar
Harsha Navaratne, Buddhist, Sewalanka Foundation
Dr. M.A. Mohamed Saleem, Muslim, President of Mahatma Ghandi Centre in Sri Lanka
Ven. Professor. Kotapitiye Rahula, Buddhist, Department of Pali & Buddhist Studies, University of Peradeniya; Sri Lanka Council of Religions for Peace
Ven. Dr. Divulapelesse Wimalananda thero, Buddhist, University of Peradeniya
Ven. Kalayanamitta Dhammapala, Buddhist, Wat Thong Noppakul
Ven. Balangoda Manju Sri Thero, Buddhist, Senior Buddhist Sangha for Inter-faith Peace
Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, Muslim, President, International Movement for a Just World (JUST)
Anas Zubedy, Muslim, Secretary General, JUST
Fah Yen Yin, Program Coordinator, JUST
K V Soon Vidyananda, Buddhist, Malaysia Engaged Buddhist Network
Muhammad Habib Chirzin, Muslim, Islamic Forum on Peace, Human Security and Development
Abdul Mu’ti, Muslim, Central Board Muhammadiyah
Wintomo Tjandra, Buddhist, Hikmahbudhi
Sulak Sivaraksa, Buddhist, Sathirakoses-Nagapradipa Foundation
Ven. Phra Bhanu Cittadhanto, Buddhist, Wat Phra Ram IV (Kanchanobhisek)
Parichart Suwannabuppha, Buddhist, Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol University, Salaya,
Saroj Puaksumlee, Muslim, Leader of Bann Krua Community, Bangkok
Ratawit Ouaprachanon, Buddhist, Spirit in Education Movement
Somboon Chungprampree, Buddhist, International Network of Engaged Buddhists
Patcharee Conmanat, Buddhist, International Network of Engaged Buddhists
Rev. Kyoichi Sugino, Deputy Secretary General, Religions for Peace
Rev. Shin’ichi Noguchi, Niwano Peace Foundation
Russell Peterson, American Friends Service Committee
Prashant Varma, Deer Park Institute, India
The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions congratulates the Hindu American Foundation on their successful campaign to make October the Hindu-American Awareness and Appreciation Month in the state of California. In a release from HAF Press, State Senate Majority Leader, Ellen Corbett, was interviewed about her recent work to bring Resolution SCR 32 to a vote. “As the Senator representing the 10th State Senate District, I am honored to represent constituents from many diverse backgrounds, including a significant number of Hindu Americans,” said Majority Leader Corbett. “California is home to a thriving community of over 370,000 Hindu Americans that enrich our state’s diversity and professional assets in fields as diverse as academia, science, technology, business, arts and literature. I thank my colleagues for supporting SCR 32 today that recognizes Hindu American contributions in California, as well as designates October 2013 in their honor.” The resolution was passed unanimously.
This passage marks a great interfaith triumph as, according to the release, “the resolution also received the support of 55 non-governmental organizations, interfaith leaders, civil rights activists, and community leaders from across the country, who previously wrote to all State Senators urging them to pass SCR 32.” As for this October, many are looking forward to the various events and opportunities for discussion as the month becomes a platform for Hindu dialogue.
For more information, please connect to The Hindu American Foundation.
Run, Hide, or Fight
First U.S. Government Guide Released For Confronting Gunmen in Houses of Worship
June 20, 2013
On Tuesday, U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden announced the government’s first guidebook instructing faith congregations to prepare for an armed shooter situation. Speaking at an emergency preparedness event on gun violence, Biden detailed the 38-page document’s purpose in response to the recent rash of gun tragedies in school and faith settings. The “Guide for Developing High Quality Emergency Operation Plans for Houses of Worship” outlines strategies to appoint and train congregation members on:
- assigning congregation members to assess immediate threats,
- determining the best places for shelter and useful hiding spots
- identifying who should run, who should hide, and who should fight back
- planning effective evacuations in the event of an armed gun attack
- depicting “scenarios” and considering response options in advance
- developing survivor mindset to increase the odds of surviving
Developed in consultation with clergy from the United States concerned about mass shooters, the guide attempts to address fears rising since summer 2012, when a gunman shot and killed six Sikhs inside the gurdwara of Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The team of agencies collaborating to produce the document include Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation It is addressed that training through the guidebook may become mandatory for faith houses receiving federal funds.
We invite you to discuss this landmark move by the U.S. government with us on Facebook.
What kinds of questions do you have about the guidebook? Would you ask your faith leaders to implement this training? Does the guidebook seem helpful? Do you think completing training like this increases security, or perpetuates fear?
If you are in the New York-area this weekend, we hope you will join the premiere of Faith Against Hate: A Day of Interfaith Learning and Relationship. Presented in partnership with the Interfaith Institute of the Islamic Center of Long Island Saturday, June 22, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. at Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY.
“Religious Freedom Under Attack” headed a recent L.A. Times editorial. With tunnel vision squarely focusing on the status of turbulent nations, the column exposed merely the harshest facts in a new government report which also shines a little light on world interfaith development.
Of course, it would be neglectful of the media to ignore the current religious climate. One ongoing crisis in this camp is the Bahai’s worldwide protest efforts amping up against Iranian courts for jailing seven leaders for more than five years now, simply for being Baha’i and not sharing the faith sponsored by the state. Therefore, headlining any story about religion and governments because of cases like the Baha’is sets the stage for most reports to seem like totally bad news.
The U.S. Department of State report breaking down the state of religious freedom around the world in 2012 does describe a world beleaguered with turmoil. However, it also clues religious-government watchdogs in on how the American government applies its 15-year-old International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, even when not promising to diffuse some of the worst trouble spots.
It also points to some yet-to-be-really-covered-by-the-media good news:
Mentioning some positive action by governments where promoting religious liberty has proved tricky, 2012 demonstrates some indication that interfaith action by governments on the rise.
15 Countries Improving Religious Freedom
Source: U.S. Department of State International Religious Freedom Report 2012 Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Citations: Section II: Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom. Consult report for more national information, religious demography, identifications and definitions.
In October President Kikwete visited several churches in the Mbagala suburb of Dar es Salaam which were burned or damaged following religious unrest. He urged self-restraint and emphasized that citizens should not take the law into their own hands.In November the prime minister publicly pledged to initiate a national dialogue between religious leaders to promote religious tolerance; this had not occurred by year’s end. Also in November, the Interfaith Council asked to meet with the president to discuss intolerance among factions within the Muslim community and Christian groups. This meeting did not take place by year’s end.In November the prime minister took a strong stand against the October religious violence, calling for political and religious tolerance.On December 31, President Kikwete stated that the country faced, for the first time in its history, the possibility of civil strife and division along religious lines. He encouraged religious and political leaders to take seriously their responsibility to ensure that citizens continue to live peacefully regardless of their religion, ethnicity, color, or place of origin.
Some positive steps were taken during the year to address specific religious freedom concerns. The LFNC, joined during the year by the Ministry of Home Affairs, instructed local officials on religious tolerance and in some situations intervened in cases where members of minority religious groups, particularly Christians, had been harassed or mistreated.
In an effort to promote consultation among all stakeholders concerning revisions to Decree 92, the LFNC and Ministry of Home Affairs organized meetings for religious group representatives in Vientiane, Champasak, Bokeo, and Bolikhamxay Provinces, and the city of Vientiane. The meetings allowed for open discussion about the government’s plan to amend the decree, and provided an opportunity for religious groups to offer suggestions for its improvement.
In collaboration with the LFNC, the Institute for Global Engagement, a U.S.-based religious freedom organization, conducted training for provincial and district officials and local religious leaders to help both sides better understand each other and the scope of Decree 92.
The government eased its control over the Catholic community in the north. At year’s end, a Catholic bishop in Luang Prabang was in the process of establishing residency and identifying land for the construction of a church building with the support of local authorities. A Vientiane church delegation, accompanied by LFNC officials, traveled to Bokeo Province to visit Catholic communities in Houayxay, Meuang, and Tonpheung. The church was able to expand charitable activities and provided assistance to a school for the deaf in Luang Prabang.
On February 21, Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin participated in World Interfaith Harmony Week. Activities held during the week included community activities and religious forums.
On December 26, church leaders announced the government had rescinded quotas, age limits and other travel restrictions previously imposed on Christian Malaysians who wished to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
On November 3, the Perlis Al Islah Association in collaboration with the Islamic Council of Perlis, a government entity, and the Perlis Malay Customs Council (an NGO) organized an interfaith forum “Gateway to Interfaith Goodwill (Gema) 2012.” The crown prince of Perlis chaired the forum, which was designed as a platform for interaction among different religions with the hope of creating a better understanding between them. Seventeen religious groups, including representatives of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Taoism, attended the forum.
In a statement to Christian leaders in January, the prime minister promised full consultation when assigning mission school heads. He also agreed to after-school Bible classes, as well as implementation of a regulation that allowed non-Muslim places of worship to apply for tax exempt status for donations received from individuals. This was the first time the prime minister had addressed these issues in a public statement. The tax regulation went into effect shortly thereafter.
On June 8, in a change of visa policy, the government started granting missionary visas to other orders of religious workers besides priests and nuns. This change granted all male religious orders (priests, brothers, monks) and female religious orders (sisters and nuns) eligibility for visas to conduct religious work. Religious organizations previously complained that only priests and nuns could obtain missionary visas. The immigration law does not have a formal provision for missionary visas for individuals who do not have the rank of priest or nun within their respective religious orders, which includes Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist workers. In the past, the government regularly granted visas to religious workers of some religious groups who were not priests or nuns and uniformly applied the eligibility to all religious groups by year’s end.
In May the government for the first time granted 20 members of the Baha’i Faith permission to participate in an annual religious pilgrimage to the Baha’i World Center in Haifa, Israel. The nine-day pilgrimage allowed Bahais to visit religious shrines and meet with fellow believers. In August the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of Hanoi celebrated the twentieth anniversary of its establishment in Hanoi. The day-long public celebration was attended by nearly 100 followers from the northern area of the country, 20 foreign Bahais representing countries in the region, and government officials.
In July and August the CRA registered 20 new churches in the Northwest Highlands. These included both Protestant and Catholic congregations.
During his appointment that began in January 2011, Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, the non-resident papal representative to Vietnam, made eight visits to the country. The government and the Vatican continued discussions toward normalizing relations. In September Archbishop Girelli made his first visit to the Northwest Highlands to meet with fellow believers. During his visit, the archbishop led mass for congregants of newly recognized churches.
In June the government restored five acres of land to St. Peter’s Catholic chapel in Hanoi. Congregants had formally petitioned the government ten years earlier.
According to contacts from multiple faiths, the government facilitated the construction of new places of worship, including Christian churches, Buddhist temples, monasteries and pagodas. The government’s assistance included transferring land to religious groups, granting building permits, or granting small construction grants through the CRA.
Authorities allowed Jehovah’s Witnesses to hold a three-day convention in Minsk in July. Over 7,500 members from across the country reportedly attended the convention without official interference.
On March 27, the parliament amended the criminal code to make religious motives an aggravating factor for all crimes. Although authorities prosecuted no crimes under the new amendment during the year, the Georgian Young Lawyers Association stated that passage of the amendment could discourage such crimes.
In April parliament passed legislation establishing SPZs in the historic center of Prizren and the village of Velika Hoca/Hoce e Madhe, both of which contained numerous religious and cultural sites dating to the thirteenth century. In July the Constitutional Court upheld the legislation and rejected appeals claiming the law would unconstitutionally give special rights to Serbs over the rights of other citizens.
In a January Holocaust Memorial Day speech, the prime minister apologized for the participation of the country’s officials in the expulsion of Jews during World War II when the country was under Nazi occupation. The speech was the first formal direct apology from the government and was commended by religious figures. In November the head of the police department also apologized for police participation in expelling Jews during the war years. Some social commentators and religious leaders stated this was even more significant than the prime minister’s Holocaust Memorial Day speech.
The government made a number of monetary grants to increase security for the Jewish community and to combat anti-Semitism in schools. The government allocated 7.2 million kroner ($1.25 million) for security at the Jewish Religious Community’s (DMT) facility and synagogue in Oslo. In addition to the funding, the Ministry of Justice and Public Security announced it would maintain a dialogue with the DMT, the Police Security Services, and the Police Directorate to ensure that the DMT’s facilities were properly safeguarded. The Ministry of Education granted 6 million kroner ($1.05 million) for programs that included training about anti-Semitism in schools throughout the next three years. The Ministry of Government Administration and Church Affairs will finance the DMT’s new online anti-Semitism reporting mechanism.
In a February session held behind closed doors, the Ecumenical Patriarch addressed the parliament’s Constitutional Reconciliation Sub-Committee, which was responsible for drafting a new constitution. This was the first time in the history of the republic that a leader of a religious minority group addressed the parliament. Subsequently, representatives of the Syrian Orthodox community also testified before the sub-committee.
The government continued to implement a 2011 decree allowing a one-year period for religious minority foundations to apply for the return of, or compensation for, properties seized by the government in previous decades. Between 1936 and 2011, the government seized thousands of properties belonging to Christian and Jewish religious foundations. A 1936 law required that religious foundations compile and officially register lists of all properties owned. Although it was widely recognized at the time that these lists were not comprehensive, the government then began seizing unlisted properties from religious foundations. A 1974 High Court of Appeals ruling interpreting the 1936 law stated it had been illegal for religious foundations to acquire any new property after 1936, enabling the government to seize without compensation religious foundation properties acquired between 1936 and 1974.
By August, the GDF had received approximately 1,560 applications for the return of seized properties from the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Jewish, Syrian Orthodox, Bulgarian Orthodox, Georgian Orthodox, Chaldean, and Armenian Protestant communities. By year’s end, the GDF had reviewed approximately 200 of the applications and returned 71 properties to religious community foundations, made offers of compensation for 15 properties, declined 19 applications for lack of evidence, and returned the remaining applications for the correction of technical problems. The government established an arbitration system for foundations that believed the amount of compensation received for a property was inadequate. If the arbitration process is unsuccessful, foundations will have access to the courts for redress.
The decree did not alter the law that made it possible to seize property acquired after 1936, nor did it change the complicated procedure for administering foundation properties that contributed to the seizure of many properties. Additionally, the decree did not cover properties taken from religious institutions or communities that do not have legally recognized foundations, including the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.
The 2011 decree also permitted the formation of new religious community foundations as well as the reopening of foundations that had previously been closed and whose assets the GDF had confiscated. The GDF approved new or reactivated foundations for the Jewish community in Izmir, the Armenian Orthodox community in Istanbul, and the Greek Orthodox community in Istanbul. Prior to the 2011 decree, the government had approved only one new religious community foundation since the founding of the republic—the Istanbul Protestant Church Foundation in 2003.
In September the Basrah Provincial Council Committee for Religious Minorities called on the central government to provide support for Iraqi Christians who wanted to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, equating these trips with the Muslim Hajj.
Throughout the year, Iraqi Security Forces deployed police and army personnel to protect religious pilgrimage routes and sites, as well as places of worship during religious holidays. In late September, the Iraqi Security Forces deployed 20,000 police and army personnel to Karbala to protect land routes pilgrims take to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj; and in late October, the Iraqi Security forces deployed 12,000 police and army personnel to the holy city of Karbala to protect hundreds of thousands of religious pilgrims to the city for Eid al-Adha.
The Ministry of Human Rights reported that it took several steps to protect members of minority religious groups and address their concerns. They conducted an investigation into the phenomenon of suicides of Yezidi young people; provided humanitarian assistance to internally displaced minority groups, including Christians; and held over 200 workshops throughout the country on minority rights.
The Ministry of Human Rights reported that during the year Iraqi Security Forces escorted 1,300 Christian students from al-Hamdaniya to Mosul to attend school each day, and increased the number of night patrols in Christian neighborhoods in Mosul.
The KRG continued to welcome Christians from outside the IKR who moved to the region due to perceived discrimination and threats to their safety elsewhere. Armenian Church of America archbishop Vicken Aykazian said in December that the IKR “has become a safehaven for Christians, [and] the [regional] government is building churches, schools, and community centers for them,” adding that “Christians today feel very comfortable [in the the IKR].”
There were no violent attacks against Messianic Jews and notably fewer physical assaults against Jehovah’s Witnesses during the year. The police investigated all known instances of religiously motivated attacks and made arrests when possible, including in August when the police arrested seven suspects for assault, harassment, and arson in connection with Haredi protests against the opening of an Orthodox all-girls school in Beit Shemesh.
The state formally recognized non-Orthodox rabbis for the first time on May 30 and agreed to fund Reform and Conservative rabbis appointed by rural communities.
The MOI did not arrest, detain, require bail for entry or a written pledge to abstain from missionary activity, or refuse entry to anyone due to their religious beliefs. There was no indication that the MOI collected data on alleged missionaries from antimissionary groups and used it to deny entry to the country to foreign individuals. There was no official statement that the policy had changed, but no incidents were reported since the July 2011 action of a Jerusalem district court judge who reprimanded the MOI for the illegal procedure.
On August 2, the Knesset amended legislation from 2010 to apply tax exemptions to all places of religious instruction equally.
13. Israel and The Occupied Territories – Israel and The Occupied Territories – The Occupied Territories
PA-Israeli security cooperation at Joseph’s Tomb improved during the year following an agreement reached in 2011 between the PA, the IDF, and the Ministry of Defense’s civil administration to station 10 permanent PA police officers at the tomb. On February 9, PA forces accompanied 15 rabbis from the West Bank’s Huwwara checkpoint to the tomb in the first such security coordination with Israeli forces. The PA coordinated all visits with Israel.
Israel issued slightly more than 100,000 permits to allow Palestinian West Bank residents to enter Jerusalem during the month of Ramadan, representing a seven-fold increase from the 16,700 permits it granted in 2011. It expanded the categories of people exempted from the permit requirement for men and women above age 40 and allowed persons between the ages of 35 and 40 to receive permits.
In March the government permitted the funeral of Shia cleric Abdallah Dadou, killed in a fire in Belgium, to take place in Tangier. The funeral was the first public Shia ceremony in the country in many years.
Religious groups reported improved ability to attract new members without government interference. The majority of religious groups reported reduced interference from the government in conducting their services, and improvement in their ability to import religious materials, receive donations from overseas, and travel abroad to attend conferences and religious events. Many religious groups found it easier to bring in foreign religious workers and visitors and restore houses of worship.
The government requested Pope Benedict XVI’s visit and provided extensive logistical support during his March 26-29 trip, including allowing the Pope to say mass in the central squares of the two largest cities, and declaring the three days of the visit a national holiday to facilitate citizen participation in the open-air religious ceremonies. Footage of the visit was broadcast on state-run television stations, and the visit was reported in print and radio. A few Protestant churches reported that they were also permitted to hold religious ceremonies in public spaces.
By Marcus Braybrooke for The Interfaith Observer
The Early Years of the Interfaith Movement
The legacy of the 1893 World Parliament of Religions did not live up to the high hopes of its organizers. The dream of a new era of universal peace too soon became the bloody nightmare of twentieth century battlefields and genocide.
Pope Leo XIII officially censured the Roman Catholic speakers at the Parliament and forbade participation in “future promiscuous conventions.” The openness to other faiths shown by many Christians at the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh was soon obscured by Karl Barth and Hendrik Kraemer, who stressed the distinctiveness of the Gospel over against religions, which, they proposed, were a futile human effort to reach God.
Yet there was a legacy. The Parliament created awareness among some that there are “wells of truth outside Christianity.” Historian Sidney Ahlstrom said it began the slow change by which Protestant America was to become a multi-racial society. Swami Vivekananda and Dharmapala established continuing Vedanta and Buddhist groups in the United States.
The Parliament also stimulated the academic study of religions. The Haskell lectureship endowment at the University of Chicago brought distinguished scholars of “comparative religion” to the school and enabled Henry Barrows, secretary of the Parliament, to lecture in Asia.
In 1901 the first meeting of the International Congress for the History of Religions (IAHR) was held as part of the Paris Universal Exposition, though this was for the scientific study of religions and not for interfaith dialogue. The distinguished scholar Joseph Kitagawa wrote, “it becomes clear that what the Parliament contributed to Eastern religions was not comparative religion as such. Rather Barrows and his colleagues should receive credit for initiating what we call today the ‘dialogue among various religions,’ in which each religious claim for ultimacy is acknowledged.”
Initial Institutional Developments
IARF activities continue today around the world. This recent gathering was in Andhra Pradesh in India. Photo: iarf.netPlans for another Parliament in 1901, possibly in India, came to nothing – although small scale parliaments were held in Japan and elsewhere. The obvious ‘child’ of the Parliament was the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF), as it is now known, which held its first meeting in 1900. The prime mover was Charles William Wendte, born in Boston in 1844, had helped plan the 1893 Parliament. His parents had come to the United States on their honeymoon and stayed on. Wendte’s father became a Unitarian after being astonished to hear “something sensible from a preacher!” To his delight, his son became a Unitarian minister.
Besides his congregational responsibilities, Charles Wendte built up close relations with the German Free Protestant Union. With the American Unitarians, they were the main supporters of IARF, though among the 2,000 participants at the 1907 Boston Congress were some members of the Brahmo Samaj and a handful of liberal Jews, Muslims, and Catholics. (A longer profile of the IARF will be published here later this year.)
The World Congress of Faith can claim a more distant relationship. Its links with the 1893 Parliament came through the “Second Parliament of Religions,” held in Chicago in 1933, in conscious imitation of the earlier event. The 1933 Parliament, a largely forgotten event, was initiated by Charles Weller and Mr. Das Gupta. Weller, a social worker, started the League of Neighbours in 1918 to help integrate African Americans and foreign-born citizens into American life.
Das Gupta had come in 1908 from India to England. To help remedy British ignorance of India, he organized the Union of East and West. Then in 1920 he accompanied Rabindranath Tagore to the United States. Das Gupta stayed on and restarted his Union of East and West in America. Early in the 1920s he met Weller. Together they merged the League of Neighbours and the Union of East and West to create the Fellowship of Faiths. The Fellowship arranged in several cities meetings at which a member of one faith paid tribute to another faith. It also published a journal called Appreciation.
In May 1929, the World Fellowship of Faiths met in Chicago. This revived memories of the city’s 1893 Parliament and led to a similar event being held to coincide with the Second World Fair in 1933. Twenty-seven gatherings were held in Chicago, with a total attendance of 44,000 people. Preliminary meetings were also held in New York. Bishop McConnell claimed, perhaps unfairly, that the 1933 gathering was an advance on the 1893 event. “The first difference,” he said, “is that instead of a comparative parade of rival religions, all faiths were challenged to apply their religion to help solve the urgent problems which impede man’s progress. The second difference is that the word ‘faiths’ is understood to include, not only all religions, but all types of spiritual consciousness.”
One of those who attended the 1933 Parliament was Sir Francis Younghusband, who three years later arranged the first World Congress of Faiths in London. The minutes of the first planning meeting make clear the link with the World Fellowship of Faiths, which had arranged the Second World Parliament of Religions in 1933. Younghusband soon made clear to Das Gupta that, although grateful to him and the World Fellowship of Faiths, that he – Younghusband – was in charge of the Congress.
The World Fellowship of Faiths described itself as “a movement not a machine; a sense of expanding activities, rather than an established institution, an inspiration more than an achievement. It has never sought to develop a new religion or unite divergent faiths on the basis of a least common denominator of their convictions. Instead, it held that the desired and necessary human realization of the all-embracing spiritual Oneness of the Good Life Universal must be accompanied by the appreciation (brotherly love) for all the individualities, all the differentiations of function, by which true unity is enriched.” This is still a fair description of the interfaith movement.
Rabbi Michael Balinsky, Treasurer of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions Board of Trustees, was just named one of “America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis” by The Jewish Daily Forward. Of the honor, Balinsky said a former student had nominated him after inspiring him to become a rabbi. “It was all very touching,” Balinsky shares.
Rabbi Adam J. Rosenbaum describes Balinsky’s influence on his journey toward Rabbinical work:
“As my Hillel rabbi at Northwestern University, Rabbi Balinsky showed me that it was possible to guide young people toward Jewish observance with a sense of tolerance, openness and patience. He was sensitive to the fact that college students endure many ups and downs, and he approached each student with a proper mix of honesty and compassion. Most of all, no matter what I asked him, his answer and tone were both genuine and respectful. He is the reason why I became a rabbi, and if I can one day become half the rabbi that Michael Balinsky is, my community will benefit greatly.”