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Promising Environmental Action, Faiths Rise Together at Religions for the Earth Summit

Parliament Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid commits to ensuring that the forthcoming 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City, Utah, will make sustainable living a primary focus. Imam Mujahid speaks here at the Religions for the Earth MultiFaith Service held September 21, International Day of Peace, at Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City.

Commitments by world leaders to address the global environmental crisis voiced at the United Nations Climate Summit were matched with equal passion by the global faith communities participating in Climate Week events. Hundreds of thousands of lay people and spiritual leaders marched, presented programs, and performed community service to raise awareness and upgrade global responses to climate change. Calling for immediate, smart, and cooperative action, the people’s climate movement is working to diminish threats which are slated to produce harsher impacts than the devastating conditions already evidenced by climate change. Parliament Trustees Marching  in the People’s Climate March are pictured from left -Rev. Phyllis Curott, Rev Dr. Anne Benvenuti, and Rev. Andras Corban Arthen. Photo by Dr. Mary Nelson

Nearly half a million people marched to save the only planet we have on the 21st of September at the People’s Climate March in New York City. After exceeding goals to stage the biggest climate march in history, the day ended with an interfaith service packing thousands into the largest Cathedral in the World, St. John the Divine. Leaders spanning the faith traditions of the world vowed there to commit unprecedented action to curb climate change.

In this historic moment the Parliament, in conjunction with partners Green Faith and Interfaith Center of New York, took part in the 3-day Religions for the Earth conference presented by Union Theological Seminary. Organized by Union Forum’s Karenna Gore, daughter of Former U.S. Vice-President and global environmental champion Al Gore, the conference that brought together more than 200 leaders of world spiritual communities and interfaith organizations also leveraged partnerships with the World Council of Churches, Religions for Peace, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and the National Religious Partnership.

Months of planning and organizing- with Parliament Trustee Dr. Kusumita Pedersen at the core and Trustee John Pawlikowski advising- resulted in a great showing of support from the Parliament Board. Highlighting some of the ways that spirituality as a healing, connecting, and educational force can powerfully address the climate crisis were Rev. Andras Corban Arthen of the Earth Spirit community, who spoke on an Indigenous Peoples panel, Rev. Dr. Anne Benvenuti, author and educator, who discussed the spiritual connection of humans and other animals, and Phyllis Curott, attorney and Wiccan priestess, who led an opening session prayer. Parliament Trustee Emeritus Naresh Jain, who serves currently on the Parliament’s UN Task Force, was also in attendance. The Parliament’s Executive Director, Dr. Mary Nelson, connected with former Vice President Al Gore, as did Parliament Chair, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, who spoke at the closing Multi-faith Service.

Parliament Executive Director Dr. Mary Nelson and Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore meet at the Religions for the Earth conference before heading to the largest climate march in history in New York City – the People’s Climate March, September 21.

Dr. Kusumita Pedersen, Parliament Trustee, worked at the core of the organizing and process of the Religions for the Earth conference on behalf of the Parliament. Here she is pictured with Dr. Mary Nelson after the climate march, Photo by Mujahid.


What amplifies the voices of faith communities today is hoped to carry over into massive action at the forthcoming 2015 Parliament. Speaking to the Multi-faith Service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on the evening of September 21, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid made a public commitment that the 2015 Parliament will take on climate issues and sustainable living as a prime focus.

Religions for the Earth panel on indigenous traditions; from left to right: François Paulette (Dene – Canada), Mindahi Bastida-Muñoz (Otomí – México), Tonya Gonnella Frichner (Onondaga – New York), Andras Corban Arthen, Arvol Looking Horse (Lakota – North Dakota). Photo by Parliament Trustee Phyllis Curott

The Parliament applauds the remarks offered by its partners,  especially those shared by Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations Jan Eliasson at the Religions for the Earth Multifaith Service. Concerning what spiritual communities who work together harmoniously can achieve, Eliasson said, “Faith leaders like you here today have an essential role to play. You can set an example of dialogue and of mutual respect. You can use your pulpits to convey important messages as we have heard today. You can reach across lines of faiths and across the lines of identities that might otherwise divide people. I ask you, I plead with you to continue to remind us of the ethical and moral dimensions of climate change. Such efforts related to higher morality are needed not only on environment, but in general, at a time when we are seeing so much of sectarian turmoil and hatred around the world. I thank you all for mobilizing the positive power of religion…”

Parliament Trustee Andras Corban Arthen delivers a blessing from the Earth Spirit tradition at the start of the People’s Climate March in New York City, September 21, 2014. Video by Donovan Arthen via Facebook.

How the Interfaith Community Can Advance the UN’s Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda

Ms. Sara Rahim and Mr. Tahil Sharma secure their grounds passes to the United Nations Headquarters in NYC as representatives of the Parliament of the World’s Religions at the 65th Annual UN-DPI NGO Conference in August, 2014.

The Parliament of the World’s Religions UN-NGO Representatives affiliated to the United Nations Department of Public Information say attending the 65th Annual UN-DPI NGO conference in New York City August 27 – 29, 2014  was a great opportunity for the interfaith movement to build relationships with other NGOs invested in advocating for the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda.

“How A Global Ethic Can Contribute to the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda: An Intergenerational Discussion” paired the Parliament’s UN Youth Representatives Ms. Sara Rahim, and Mr. Tahil Sharma, in a workshop with members of the Parliament UN Task Force and co-sponsors exploring how activism for the SDGs can be enhanced by civic society. This process is achievable through the promotion and understanding of foundational documents on Human Rights including the Global Ethic, the Earth Charter, the Charter of Compassion, and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

The Panelists Representing the Parliament and Co-Sponsoring Institutions:

  • Dr. Kusumita Pedersen, Chair of the Parliament UN Task Force, Parliament Trustee, and Co-Chair of the Interfaith Center of New York
  • Monica Willard, Representative of the United Religions Initiative to the UN, UN NGO Committee Co-Chair
  • Rev. Father John Pawlikowski, Parliament Trustee
  • Rev. Dr. Anne Benvenuti, Parliament Trustee
  • Sr. Joan Kirby, The Temple of Understanding
  • Ms. Sara Rahim, Parliament UN Youth Representative
  • Mr. Tahil Sharma, Parliament Un Youth Representative

Connecting institutional and grassroots advocates, the UN-DPI conference format includes plenary speakers, workshops, and panels equipping thousands of participants with new strategies. In proving the value of face-to-face networking opportunities, assemblies like this serve to enhance sustainable action by smart approaches to allocating human and other resources directed toward the UN’s Development Goals.

Tahil Sharma and Sara Rahim reported and reflect below on their experience presenting and participating in workshops and plenaries paying special attention to five takeaways the interfaith community can use to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda:

The first three observations come from Sara Rahim:

“We have a duty to be bold. That is what people want. That is what the world needs.” – Ms. Susana Malcorra, UN Chef de Cabinet UN-NGO 2014

Between August 27-29, Tahil Sharma and I attended the 65th Annual UN DPI/NGO conference held in New York City, which drew in over 2,000 NGO representatives from over 117 countries. Earlier this year, we were chosen to serve as the Parliament of the World’s Religions Youth Representatives to the United Nations.

These past few months leading up to the conference, we brainstormed ways in which we could share our experiences with the greater civic community. We submitted a workshop panel that would explore how a Global Ethic could contribute to the Post-2015 Development Agenda, and were thrilled to be notified that we had been selected to present at the conference with trustees of the Parliament and like-minded interfaith bodies.

On August 27, Tahil and I quickly registered for the first day of the conference and made our way through UN security. In line, I met dozens of NGO representatives from around the world, who shared with me their field of work and what inspired them to attend the conference.

While this conference would clearly focus on the role of civil society and key global issues, I wondered how it might be possible to increase collaboration among interreligious groups. Faith-based organizations were certainly leading grassroots initiatives in their local communities, but how could we take that one step further? During the Opening Session, I observed several main themes that resonated with me regarding the role of interfaith at the UN.

1. “People are the center of development” – Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund

Refocusing efforts towards protecting people’s dignity is crucial, as we often forget the inherent link between human rights and development. Interfaith groups can continue to pave the path towards conflict resolution and community building in a way that ensures all voices can be a part of the conversation. As expressed by Dr. Osotimehin, focusing specifically on women and youth can help achieve universal goals of poverty reduction and education. I see an opportunity for interfaith groups to continue to advocate for women and youth as part of their initiatives.

2. The Importance of Setting Concrete Goals

Ambassador Samantha Power, Permanent Representative of United States to the United Nations, stated that encouraging civic society to work more closely with government would require an outcomes-driven process. The need for setting measurable, concrete goals for the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda can combat the criticism that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are too abstract and intangible. Powers also recommended focusing on peace and global governance as a basis for development. Passing just laws and creating credible institutions is one of the most sustainable ways to improving development. I personally recognized this vision, as it aligns with Parliament’s mission to mobilize faith leaders in their communities towards creating a peaceful, just, and sustainable world. Interfaith work is not just a ‘feel good mission,’ but it also has the potential to measure impact and offer tangible results.

3. Inclusion of the Disabled, Indigenous, and Youth

Ms. Maryanne Diamond, Chair, International Disability Alliance, assessed that persons who live with disabilities, 80% of whom are in the developing world, severely lack access to education, healthcare, and other basic resources. She offered a major critique that the previous MDG’s lacked inclusivity of disabled and indigenous populations. One of the biggest outcomes of this conference would be the revision and inclusion of minority groups into the agenda. Of these minority groups, I saw the role of youth as a major key player towards development. Tahil and I both recognized our own experiences in which interfaith had been a tool to mobilize people of all backgrounds towards a common goal. The NGO community, particularly interfaith and faith-based organizations, must continue to think in innovative ways to collaborate across sectors and be inclusive of all minority voices.

Tahil Sharma observes points 4 and 5: 

4. Building Community through Forgiveness

The Representatives at the NGO conference represent great diversity across fields of expertise and demonstrate profound willingness to make a difference in the world. This point was addressed in a special keynote at the Permanent Mission of the United States to the United Nations by Ambassador Elizabeth M. Cousens who resides on the UN Economic and Social Council and serves as an Alternate Representative to the UN General Assembly. With fellow representatives being as young as 14 years old, showing an amazing ability to tackle major subjects, refute claims and develop productive dialogue with the ambassador, an important point on how the eagerness of the coming generations to foster change was taking place. The ambassador herself made note of this: “We need your voice, your ideas, and your insistence about what matters… You need to hold our feet to the fire in making sure that we count it.”

This proved the vitality of the kind of inter-generational conversation we would emphasize in our workshop about the creation and implementation of influential documents like the Charter for Compassion, the Earth Charter and the Global Ethic of the 1993 Parliament. Several individuals across cultures, faith traditions and ages must participate in making these paths for change to make the impact which can really matter.

My first example is a man who is legally blind, and arrived with a guide at his side for our workshop; his name was Takashi Tanemori from Hiroshima, and he is a hibakusha, or Atomic Bomb Survivor. Seeking revenge for the death of his family, he traveled to the United States for opportunity and suffered prejudice, discrimination and mistreatment for decades, even while discovering faith and service through Christian organizations. But in an instant, an epiphany of forgiveness and understanding made him turn his story become a force to educate and serve people. Dedicating his life to speak out against the struggles he experienced throughout his life, he describes his transformation and “how communication between people and countries is the answer to lasting peace throughout the world.” (Taken from his bio.) He spreads his message of understanding, love and forgiveness through lectures, poetry, art and through the writing of his own book, Hiroshima: Bridge to Forgiveness, having shared his message with thousands of people around the world. This same man who has experienced worlds of transition was the same man who commended the work that Sara, myself and the other panelists of our workshop dedicated ourselves to: creating bridges of understanding and respect. His sharing complimented our experience with his story and his message of compassion and clemency.

5. The Strength of Grassroots Advocacy

Another individual who caught my attention sprang from a social media interaction between Sara and fellow attendee, Syed Mahmood Kazmi, a college graduate from our age group, and a man who was leagues beyond my intelligence, capability and humility. A Kashmir, Pakistan native, he is dedicated to education and supporting marginalized and oppressed communities throughout South Asia. His work includes serving as an Emergency Response Team Leader in Pakistan Red Crescent Society providing First Aid and Search & Rescue. Additionally, Kazmi serves as an Intern at the Office of the Permanent Observer to the United Nations International Organization for Migration, New York. Proving to me that there is not any limit on the power in your stride to revolutionize the way we think and act. It was a privilege to associate with him, but his drive and grace also reminds me that my personal call to action must never be silenced.

The workshop and conference experience sent me home with a new energy to excel in my work, to inspire others, to educate communities about the world, and to ensure communities are provided what is needed to flourish and produce better lives. At certain moments, I thought my work with domestic communities lacked significance in the bigger picture, but people from all over the world proved our small actions are revolutionary. I have always known that lecturing, building community beds for organic vegetation to feed people, and building relationships between communities was the right thing to do, but now it seems like the normal thing to do. There is normalcy in instilling peace and stability in humanity.

All in all, the 3-day conference served as a platform for individuals, stakeholders, and NGO society to come together. This success was not just because of the number of people who participated in the event, but because all players came together to draft a powerful declaration to action. Our roles as interfaith leaders challenged us to think innovatively about how a Global Ethic could efficiently push for the Post 2015 Agenda. We found that there are multiple opportunities for collaboration in a way that moves from dialogue to producing tangible results. We walked away with not only a better understanding of what sustainable development means, but also how interfaith action can bridge the gap towards inclusivity and peaceful governance.

Parliament Partnering on Climate Conference Hosted by Union Theological Seminary

The Parliament is announcing its partnership to the Union Theological Seminary’s upcoming conference on climate, “Religions for the Earth.”

In a recent Time Magazine article reporting on its plan to divest $108.4 million from fossil fuels, Union announced news of its hosting the climate conference bringing attention to its partnership with the Parliament as well as GreenFaith, the Interfaith Center of New York, The World Council of Churches, and Religions for Peace in coordinating the event.

Choosing to live out their values, Union becomes the first seminary institution to divest from fossil fuels. In this spirit several organizations are coming together in this event to spread dialogue about climate change.

More more information please visit the Religions for the Earth. 

Welcoming Interfaith Center of NY Co-Chair Re-Election to Parliament Board

‘A walking dictionary of Interfaith in America,’ Dr. Kusumita Pederson of New York rejoins the Parliament Board of Trustees.

It is a warm reunion with Kusumita P. Pederson of New York who has now returned to the Parliament Board of Trustees following re-election after the mandatory time-off period required after a previous completed terms has completed.

Reaction from the Parliament Board Chair is bright. Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid describes, “she is a walking interfaith dictionary of America. I have never found Kusumita refusing anything which strengthens interfaith. I am pleased to welcome her back to the board. As the co-chair of the Interfaith Center of New York, she brings strength to our board, as well as much needed connectivity between the local realities and the global scene.”

IFNCY has been gracious to the Parliament as a co-host of the Long Island Faith Against Hate Day of Learning and Relationship held this past June, and through co-sponsoring and cross-promoting an upcoming webinar.

With Pederson returned to the Board, this solidifies a blossoming practice of global-local organizational partnerships which are helping strengthen the interfaith movement.

Dr. Kusumita P. Pedersen was Professor of Religious Studies at St. Francis College in New York. She received her Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from Columbia University. She was previously Executive Director of the Project on Religion and Human Rights; Joint Secretary for Religious Affairs of the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders on Human Survival; and Executive Director of the Temple of Understanding. She is currently Co-Chair of the Interfaith Center of New York. 

3 Recent Victories Against Hate in the U.S.

FAITHS AGAINST HATE PREMIERING PUBLIC TRAINING DAY IN NEW YORK

  • In partnership with the Interfaith Institute of the Islamic Center of Long Island, CPWR Executive Director Dr. Mary Nelson and Chair Imam Malik Mujahid will join Long Island and New York City’s leaders of interfaith action against hate to deliver frontline training on hate crime and hate culture. On Saturday, June 22, 2013 – we welcome all participants to share training, inspiration, free meals, and action planning to mobilize a Faith Against Hate Task Force to overcome hate, fear, and anti-religious violence in the New York/Long Island area. Sponsors speaking at the event from The Interfaith Center of New York, The Sikh Coalition, the Holocaust Memorial Museum and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, the Muslim Consultative Network, and more will be on hand to share formal and informal time to all. The training will empower and foster interfaith relationships for concerned citizens, clergy, and civic leaders. Come concerned, leave prepared! Register Free…

FBI TRACKING CRIME AGAINST SIKH-, HINDU-, and ARAB-AMERICANS

  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation that tracks hate crimes in the United States announced on Wednesday, June 5, that it will finally include Hindu-, Sikh-, and Arab-American categories in future annual uniform hate crime reporting. This win is celebrated by hundreds of organizations which were heard en masse by the Senate Judiciary Committee last summer at the overdue hearing on domestic extremism and hate crime, which was expedited after the murders of Sikhs at the Gurdwara in the Oak Creek, WI last August.  Data on hate crimes motivated by 9/11 backlash and Islamaphobia will finally quantify widespread violence targeting several communities perceived “other-,” “Middle Eastern-”, “South Asian-.” It also signifies more attention by the U.S. government on this pervasive and complex illness in American society.

For more on this, check out our webinar with the chief organizer of the petitions and government relations at the Sikh Coalition, Rajdeep Singh, on “How Interfaith Coalitions Can Strategically Combat Hate.”

ANTI-IMMIGRANT ADS DROPPED BY PANDORA INTERNET RADIO

  • Pandora Internet Radio recently dropped hate ads against undocumented immigrants heard by 70 million listeners sponsored by an organization classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a known “hate group.” Sojourners Magazine made major moves to denounce the ads and responded by calling for funds to air counter-hate ads and asking Pandora to remove the ads from airplay. Read more…

Unexpected Diversity: Interfaith Organizing from the Bottom Up

Matthew Weiner

Matthew Weiner

Register Now Wednesday, June 20, 2012
12:00pm U.S. Central Time

The interreligious movement has no road map: we are creating it as we go. Effective interfaith work today requires new methods and a new kind of grassroots organizing. The movement is not static. It is an experiment.

This webinar will seek to address the following questions: How do we creatively organize religious and spiritual communities when the desired outcome is not a fixed idea and can change? How can our work be genuinely inclusive of traditions that are more conservative? How can religious communities better engage with the secular public?

Matthew Weiner has worked as an interfaith organizer for 20 years, and he now serves as Associate Dean of Religious Life at Princeton University. He served for ten years as Program Director for the Interfaith Center of New York, where he developed a methodology for engaging religiously diverse communities through civil society, working with over 500 grassroots religious leaders and the New York State Court System, the New York Public Library, Catholic Charities, the New York Board of Rabbis, and the United Nations. He earned a Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary, an M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School, and an BA from New York University. He writes about public religion, interfaith and civil society, and engaged Buddhism.

 

Title: Unexpected Diversity:  Interfaith Organizing from the Bottom Up 

Date: Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Time: 12:00pm CDT
After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.

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Required: Windows® 7, Vista, XP or 2003 Server

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Required: Mac OS® X 10.4.11 (Tiger®) or newer

Space is limited.
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:
https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/715513238

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