Archive for the ‘Publications and Reports’ Category
Not In Our Town’s new film Waking in Oak Creek profiles the powerful community response to the shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in 2012. After six Sikh worshippers were killed and Oak Creek Police Lieutenant Brian Murphy was shot 15 times by a white supremacist, town leaders worked together to cultivate new bonds with the Sikh community and guide the community forward toward healing. Young temple members, still grieving from the tragedy, emerge as leaders, and thousands gather for vigils and a 6K run to honor the victims. Together, a community rocked by hate is awakened and transformed by the Sikh spirit of relentless optimism.
Waking in Oak Creek is a strong resource to spark conversations and action in your town to address the need to build bridges between different groups in the community; actively respond to hate and intolerance; and engage youth in building safe, inclusive communities. A community screening and discussion of the film can serve as a way to initiate – and sustain – interfaith collaborations and vital local work on these urgent issues.
Through Not In Our Town’s partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, free DVDs of Waking in Oak Creek are available for community screenings, educational programs, and training workshops. Additional resources include a Guide for Community Screenings, an Educator Lesson Plan, and outreach tools.
Not In Our Town (NIOT) is a movement to stop hate, address bullying, and build safe, inclusive communities for all. Learn more at www.NIOT.org.
Parliament Board Condemns Violence in France and Nigeria; Invites All Faith Communities to Issue Joint Statement
“The Parliament of the World’s Religions vehemently condemns revengeful attacks killing 12 journalists and four Jews in France, and an estimated 1500 women and children in Nigeria. Now this cycle of revenge has engulfed the French Muslims with more than 20 attacks on Islamic buildings. We send our condolences to the families of the victims and to all of France and Nigeria as they grieve.
The Parliament believes that use of religion or any other socio-political ideology to “justify” violence is simply not acceptable.
The Parliament urges the global community to remember that such acts violate the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad and asks that faith communities stand together to break this cycle of revenge by speaking out and organizing programs which enhance positive human relationship of compassion and forgiveness.
The Parliament plans to organize special programing in the forthcoming 2015 Parliament in October 15-19th on the cycle of war, violence, and hate. We invite all faith communities to participate in a joint declaration with a clear resolve to do our utmost to develop a movement against war, violence and hate.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.”
Why the Cries of Eric Gardner Have Spawned a National Movement
By: Rev. Dr. Marshall E. Hatch
New Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church of Chicago
The Leader’s Network, Board Chairman
The cries of Eric Gardner have arrested our national consciousness. Before his death, most of Gardner’s brushes with law enforcement revolved around the selling of loose cigarettes; a poor man’s hustle if there ever was one. Gardner’s last deadly arrest, captured on video, happens as he appears to be innocent of his usual petty crime. Breaking up a fight between two locals, Gardner is harassed by police called to the scene. He appears to plead with the police. Not guilty. Not today. Taken down by the police, he can’t breathe. Death.
The lack of a simple indictment from a Staten Island grand jury in Gardner’s death, even with a recording of the police overkill, has captured the uneasy spirit of our times. How can we explain nation-wide reaction of outrage across racial and cultural barriers? Gardner’s eleven cries, “I can’t breathe”, have fueled a national movement beyond a local case of New York police abuse. The tragic fates of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Gardner, and others have been stitched together in a national dialogue about police brutality, unjust justice, and devalued black life. But it is Gardner’s public plea to breathe that has spurred widespread discontent.
The national grass-roots protests are so obviously disproportionate to Gardner’s singular tragedy. We have a full-blown national “I can’t breathe” protest movement that has no identifiable national leaders, nor a specific national legislative agenda. It’s as if the nation can’t breathe because the viral video of poor Gardner being overtaken by a gang of police reflects a national sense of imbalance. A restless nation, with its ideals and the stifling realities of average citizens so disconnected, struggles to find its’ bearings and catch its’ breath.
The Gardner protest movement has racial overtones, but its’ meaning has moved well beyond mere racial paradigms. These organic multiracial responses to Gardner’s video taped demise points to an American post-racial future, led by young people who have already outgrown America’s race based institutional hypocrisies and who are filled with anxieties about the quality of the nation and world they will inherit. Gardner’s breathing difficulties have become metaphor for our national exasperation. The “can’t breathe” movement points to several potentially explosive issues of our national discontent in the twenty-first century.
One, there is the ever widening disparity between the super wealthy class and the rest of us. The outcomes of unregulated capitalism in the twenty-first century are severely out of balance. That no persons from the Wall Street elite have been held accountable for the 2008 tanking of American economy is a source of simmering maladjustment. The banks too big to fail have become even bigger. The housing market crashed from predatory lending schemes, banks were bailed out, while homeowners and their families were left drowning in the Great Recession. Without upward mobility, class systems become caste systems. The very poor are also left adrift as social services are cut by broke local governments. Lean municipal and state governments cover budget shortfalls by squeezing fragile urban families with fines, fees, and covert revenue schemes.
Two, the outsized role of money in American politics means that the actual power of government is far removed from the common citizen. The Supreme Court “Citizens United” decision made a bad situation worse. The “pay to play” corruption of American politics is at an all time high, while voter interest and participation are at new lows. At a time of widening wealth disparity, personal wealth directly translates into pubic office, and political influence and access. Intuitively average Americans know that voting may only serve to legitimate an increasingly illegitimate government for and by the super rich. Increasingly they engage in the passive protest of non-participation. Increasing taxation without representative government is a recipe for growing social instability.
Three, the burgeoning burdens of student loan debt tells young Americans all they need to know about the bankruptcy of our national values and shortsightedness of our national vision. For too many young people, college bound means student loan bondage. The dream higher education as the ladder to generational upward mobility has become a nightmare of indentured servitude, as graduates are released into a weak job market with twenty years of debt to repay for college. Student loan debt now outpaces credit card debt. Hopes of pursuing lives of meaningful contribution and purpose are drying up like “raisins in the sun”. No wonder young people feel to need to embrace Gardner’s cries as the mantra of a national movement. They can’t breathe.
Even our most progressive leaders feel stuck between the budget constraints of pensions liabilities for retirees and education for our young. The creative energies of the occupy movements of 2011, used so skillfully by the Obama reelection campaign of 2012, have now morphed into a national organic campaign against imbalances of power between the citizen and the illegitimate law enforcements of the corporate state. The current movement begs for critical analysis to give context and direction for its’ dynamic, spiritual energies.
Where can we go from here? We need organizations and patrons who can help develop local and national legislative and economic development agendas that de-concentrate capital, wealth, and social power. We need post racial leaders, across the ideological spectrum, that are committed to leading our nations institutions beyond the quagmires of institutional racism. With reform immigration polices, and with the demographic changes in America’s immediate future, we need to re-energize the Republic and reimagine dispersed, democratic capitalism. We need radical election reform to check to outsized influence of money in politics. We desperately need selfless leaders with long term vision for our peoples and our environment. In the long term, soulless global corporatism hinders human flourishing and human survival.
Over fifty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr., raised and answered the question of racial justice, “why we can’t wait”. “Why we can’t breathe”, is a question just as urgent in our times. In broad terms, the cry in this season is a call for democratized capital and the freedom of upward mobility. Social movements often come to us spontaneously by spiritual stirring, led by the young with ideals and daring. But movements become fruitful by intentional, sustained pursuit of well defined public policies that reimagine and renegotiate the social contact. America needs a breathe of fresh air and a new moral vision where all people matter. This generation is proving once again that the spirit of breathing collective human hope cannot be stopped.
Via Parliament Vice-Chair Rev. Dr. Larry Greenfield in response to data released by Pew quantifying the racial wealth gap in the United States:
“Black Lives Matter” can have more than one meaning. We know the meaning, because of recent events, as it relates to life and death. But an article in the Chicago Tribune on Sunday (12/14//14) reveals another meaning–or should. It’s about the “expanding racial wealth gap” since the Great Recession. Virtually everybody experienced an erosion of wealth at that time (nearly 40% for the “typical American” between 2007 and 2010). But during the recovery it is a different story. For whites wealth leveled off between 2010-2013, but for blacks and Hispanics there was continued decline. “Now whites have 13 dollars for every dollar held by African-Americans” and it’s 10-1 for Hispanics. “For blacks, the decline between 2010 and 2013 was precipitous–more than 33 percent” (median income dropped 9 percent for minorities during that period). Why? Higher rates of unemployment for minorities than for whites. Also, whites tend to be more invested in the stock market, which has soared during this period. And then there is the value of homes: it fell by 4.6 percent for whites, 18.4 percent for African American households. We have to ask ourselves as a country whether this kind of disparity reflects the value we attach to not just life but the quality of life as reflected in economic well-being. And if we find that this is true and unacceptable, then we have to ask how we can change not just the dollars but also the values.
About Rev. Dr. Larry Greenfield, Vice-Chair of the Board, Parliament of the World’s Religions:
Larry Greenfield is the executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, a regional judicatory of the American Baptist Churches U.S.A, and the theologian-in-residence for the Community Renewal Society, a progressive, faith-based organization in Chicago that works to eliminate race and class barriers and advocates for social and economic justice. Born and raised in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, he received his B.A. degree from Sioux Falls College. He received his B.D., M.A., and Ph.D. (in theology) from the University of Chicago Divinity School, where he subsequently taught and served as dean of students. Later he served as president of Colgate Rochester Divinity School/Bexley Hall/Crozer Theological Seminary in Rochester, New York, where he also brought the Roman Catholic St. Bernard’s Institute to the campus. He served as vice president for research at the Park Ridge Center for the Study of Health, Faith, and Ethics in Chicago, where his own research, funded by foundation grants, focused on multi-faith understandings of sexuality, science, and civil discourse. He has served pastorates and campus ministries in Chicago and Ann Arbor. He is also the co-founder (and currently chairperson of the board of directors) of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing. His continuing concentration on religion and justice receives expression in his bi-weekly essays (published locally and nationally) entitled “Thinking Theologically about the Common Good.” He is an ordained clergyperson in the American Baptist Churches U.S.A. He is the past president of the American Theological Society/Midwest. He serves on the boards of numerous ecumenical and interfaith organizations and chairs the board of trustees of the Baptist Theological Union at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Blog Post written by Parliament Trustee Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana for scupe.org
Fifteen year old Deon Gilbert was killed in the south side of Chicago on the night of November 7th by a single gun-shot to his abdomen. This promising young man attended Ellis Avenue Church almost every Sunday since he was about 3 years old, had hopes of playing football and studying architecture perhaps at Florida A &M. The church which attracts a good number of African American young people has the question of urban violence regularly brought to its attention during prayer time by these young people who seek prayer for a neighbor, a classmate, a relative or friend who has been shot or killed. But this time, it was not one that we did not know. It was one of our own children. The worship on Sunday was somber and mournful. It was not yet time to think of hope and resurrection. It was just time to mourn.
On Saturday morning, November 8th, shortly after receiving the news of Deon’s death, I spoke to the Religious Educators Association (a professional organization of scholars and professors of religious education) at their conference in Oak Brook, on the question of Unmasking Violence. The insights for my presentation came from the present SCUPE class I am teaching together with Dr. Clinton Stockwell on Public Issues in the City.
In that class, we talked about Sudhir Venkatesh’s book Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets (Penguin Books, 2008). This is the story of a University of Chicago sociology Ph.D. student’s immersion in the gang culture in the Robert Taylor Homes – one of the poorest housing developments in the country at the time. We used it as an example to understand the principles of ethnography, to understand the limits of our knowledge and our methods of acquiring that knowledge.
We recalled that those buildings, which non-residents usually called “projects” and residents called “community,” did not automatically appear – they were created, as a means of warehousing people away from mainstream society. These massive buildings housed some 1000 families each, and there was no economy in the immediate neighborhood to support jobs for all the people who needed them. To find a job, the residents had to travel to the suburbs. Imagine the difficulty for a young mother, who needed to travel two hours each way by bus, train and bus, only to have to pay half her earnings to the child care worker! Naturally, an underground or informal economy sprang up.
Some informal economies are illegal as well. This was the case with the drug trade. The income was small. For a foot soldier in a gang, it would be less than $20,000 a year. But the costs in terms of risk to life and limb were very high. This too was the case with prostitution. Police are as corrupt, says Venkatesh. They are often paid off by the gangs, and often have sex with the women they arrest. The buildings are patrolled and secured by gangs. If you want to be safe, you need to pay the gang to look after you. They have guns and will be brutal with those who will harass those they protect. Even though Robert Taylor Homes is no more, the illegal underground economies flourish particularly in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, as is the case in some communities in the south and west sides of Chicago. Much of the gun violence in our communities is a part of this informal economy. Click here to continue reading on scupe.org
This article was written by Esther Meroño and was originally published on groundswell-mvmt.org.
The Sanctuary Movement has been rebirthed this year, with over 100 congregations supporting moral action to help our undocumented brothers and sisters in need. Here’s what you need to know.
1. SANCTUARY IS OLD NEWS—LIKE, BACK WHEN SCROLLS WERE WHAT YOU READ, NOT WHAT YOU DO THROUGH YOUR TWITTER FEED.
Sanctuary is when faith communities offer safe havens – and they’ve been doing it from the beginning of the Old Testament, to the times of slavery and the Underground Railroad, to housing Jews during WWII, to the draft during the Vietnam War.
In fact, Sanctuary 2014 was inspired by a church in Arizona successfully keeping a family together this year (more on that below). That church – Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson – actually founded the official Sanctuary Movement 30 years ago during the 1980s, when churches took in refugees from Central America fleeing U.S.-funded civil wars.1
2. SANCTUARY ISN’T ABOUT POLITICS—IT’S ABOUT FAMILIES AND FAITH.
This isn’t about left or right, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. People supporting Sanctuary are connected, not by political affiliations or specific faith tradition, but through a shared moral responsibility to compassion and justice. Families get torn apart is morally wrong, so we take action together to stop it.
That’s where faith comes in. Nobody questions God’s commandment against murder or stealing. But our faith also calls us to do something a little harder: Welcome the stranger and care for the most vulnerable.
Some people make excuses. They say things like, “Well, these people came to our country illegally.” The Sanctuary movement recognizes that no one is illegal – that we are all brothers and sisters made in the image of God. And, as MLK wrote in his letter from Birmingham Jail, “There are just laws and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all… One who breaks an unjust law must do it openly, lovingly.”
3. SANCTUARY IS EMERGENCY MORAL ACTION—BECAUSE OUR GOVERNMENT LEADERS HAVE FAILED TO ACT AND OUR LAWS ARE BROKEN.
We have a promise from President Obama that at some point “soon” he will reform our country’s deportation policies to end the suffering of families. But right now? Over 1,000 deportations happen each day, tearing apart families and communities.
There are immigrants in our country who have been waiting *decades* for legislative action to find a legal path to citizenship, but as Congress stalls and Obama pushes executive action further away, these families continue to suffer.
Let’s check out the Scripture on this. In Ezekiel 22, God is pissed. He says, “The people of the land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger. So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it.” When there is oppression, God calls for someone to stand in the gap and do the moral, just thing. Sanctuary is emergency moral action – standing in the gap to protect the wrongfully oppressed.
4. UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS ARE OUR NEIGHBORS.
We know scripture says “Welcome the stranger” – but actually, the immigrants facing deportations are not strangers at all. They are mothers and fathers, friends and neighbors, community leaders and volunteers. We see them every day, but they’re disappearing from their homes and communities.
Those in Sanctuary are our brothers and sisters. Sanctuary lifts up their prophetic story and courage to show us the impact of our broken immigration laws.
5. IS SANCTUARY BREAKING THE LAW?
Law is a lot like scripture – it’s up to your interpretation. There is a law against bringing in and harboring persons not authorized to be in the U.S. (INA Sec.274) While we are clearly not bringing people in, whether we are harboring someone is up for interpretation.
Some courts have interpreted harboring to require concealment of a person. When we declare Sanctuary for an individual, we are bringing them into the light of the community, not concealing them in the dark of secrecy. (U.S. V Costello, 66 F.3d 1040 (7th Cir. 2012)) Other courts have interpreted harboring to be simple sheltering. (U.S. V Acosta de Evans, 531 F.2d 428 (9th Cir. 1976))
Quick reminder: Rescuing slaves via the Underground Railroad and protecting Jews from Nazis in WWII was illegal at the time. Our saving grace is that immigration officials know that if they went into a house of worship to arrest a pastor they would have a public relations nightmare on their hands.
Meanwhile, here are two immigration policies you should know about that relate to Sanctuary:
1) “Sensitive Areas” – There’s no official legislation that keeps law enforcement from entering a church to arrest someone outside of a 2011 ICE memo that advises officials to avoid detaining immigrants in “sensitive areas” like schools, hospitals and churches2. But can you imagine what would happen if immigration officials broke into a church to drag away a mom? Plus, God’s on our side, you guys.
2) “Prosecutorial Discretion” – Activists and faith leaders are using ICE’s own policies of “prosecutorial discretion” to argue that these immigration cases are low-priority. Deportation would only serve to break up a family and the community that supports them.
6. BUT THERE ARE SOME RISKS.
Though no one has been arrested in 2014, in the 1980s, a handful of clergy, nuns and laymen were convicted in “The Sanctuary Trials” for their efforts on behalf of immigrants3. Faith leaders today are
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.