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The Man of the Year and a Champion of Interfaith – Thoughts on Evangelii Gaudium of Pope Francis (Part II – On Interreligious Relations)

This synopsis of the Evangelii Gaudium of Pope Francis was composed by Trustee of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Dr. Leo D. Lefebure. Part 1 (full paper publication) emphasizes the mission of the Catholic Church in the world, and Lefebure explores Pope Francis’ stance on Interreligious Relations here in in part 2.

Naming Pope Francis Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2013 was a celebrated move by Catholics and interfaith advocates around the world. Time Magazine/Week of December 11, 2013

This week, Time Magazine announced its selection of Pope Francis as the Man of the Year for 2013, commenting: “Rarely has a new player on the world stage captured so much attention so quickly—young and old, faithful and cynical—as has Pope Francis.

In his nine months in office, he has placed himself at the very center of the central conversations of our time: about wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparency, modernity, globalization, the role of women, the nature of marriage, the temptations of power.” (Read more: The Choice: Nancy Gibbs on Why Pope Francis Is TIME’s Person  of the Year 2013 | TIME.com)

Earlier, on Nov. 24, 2013, Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Exhortation, the first of his Pontificate, and the first major statement of his program. The great theme of Pope Francis is expressed in the title: Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel. For Francis, this is the central Christian response to God’s coming into our lives. In the Catholic tradition, popes regularly promulgate an Apostolic Exhortation in the wake of a particular Synod of Bishops; but rarely if ever has an Apostolic Exhortation aroused the type of interest, both positive and negative, that The Joy of the Gospel has evoked.

II. Interreligious Relations

Pope Francis situates the mission of the Church in the context of fostering respectful and friendly relations with other religious traditions. He affirms the special bond between Christians and the Jewish people because of our common heritage: “We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant has never been revoked, for ‘the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable’” (Rom. 11:29; #247). He deplores the past hostility in this relationship: “The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians” (#248).

Pope Francis strongly supports interreligious initiatives in the context of seeking peace and the flourishing of life for all: “An attitude of openness in truth and in love must characterize the dialogue with the followers of non-Christian religions. . . . Interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and so it is a duty for Christians as well as other religious communities” (250). Francis endorses the interreligious attitude commended by the Catholic bishops of India of “being open to them, sharing their joys and sorrows” (#250). Francis explains the hoped-for result of such an attitude of openness: “In this way we learn to accept others and their different ways of living, thinking and speaking. We can then join one another in taking up the duty of serving justice and peace, which should become a basic principle of all our exchanges. A dialogue which seeks social peace and justice is in itself, beyond all merely practical considerations, an ethical commitment which brings about a new social situation” (#250).

Francis stresses the importance and the transformative power of listening: “Efforts made in dealing with a specific theme can become a process in which, by mutual listening, both parts can be purified and enriched. These efforts, therefore, can also express love for truth” (#250). Francis is aware of the important differences among various religious traditions and does not wish to ignore or minimize them: “A facile syncretism would ultimately be a totalitarian gesture on the part of those who would ignore greater values of which they are not the masters. True openness involves remaining steadfast in one’s deepest convictions, clear and joyful in one’s own identity, while at the same time being ‘open to understanding those of the other party’ and ‘knowing that dialogue can enrich each side’” (#250; quoting Pope John Paul II). Regarding how to handle the disagreements among different religious traditions, Francis stresses honesty, mutual respect, and trust.

Pope Francis emphasizes the importance of good relationships between Christians and Muslims: “We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition” (#253). Francis acknowledges the difficulties in relations in many settings and advises: “Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” (#253).

According to Pope Francis, the grace of God that Christians experience in Jesus Christ can nurture and shape the lives of followers of other religious paths as well. Christians do not have a monopoly on grace and can learn from other traditions: “The same Spirit everywhere brings forth various forms of practical wisdom which help people to bear suffering and to live in greater peace and harmony. As Christians, we can also benefit from these treasures built up over many centuries, which can help us better to live our own beliefs” (#254).

Francis also reaches out to those who do not belong to any particular religious tradition: “As believers, we also feel close to those who do not consider themselves part of any religious tradition, yet sincerely seek the truth, goodness and beauty which we “believe have their highest expression and source in God. We consider them as precious allies in the commitment to defending human dignity, in building peaceful coexistence between peoples and in protecting creation” (#257). Francis trusts that reflection on ethics, art, and science and about the human search for transcendence can serve as “a path to peace in our troubled world” (257).

Despite all the difficulties facing the global community, Francis encourages us:

“Challenges exist to be overcome! Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment” (#109).

He closes the Apostolic Exhortation with a prayer to Mary:

“Give us a holy courage to seek new paths,

That the gift of unfading beauty

May reach every man and woman” (#288).

About Author Dr. Leo D. Lefebure:

Leo D. Lefebure is the Matteo Ricci, S.J., Professor of Theology at Georgetown University and a priest of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. He is the author of four books, including Revelation, the Religions, and Violence and The Buddha and the Christ. His next book will be Following the Path of Wisdom: a Christian Commentary on the Dhammapada, which is co-authored with Peter Feldmeier. He is an honorary research fellow of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

A Path of Interreligious Friendship

by Leo D. Lefebure

When I was a graduate student at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago in the 1980s, there were intense discussions of religious pluralism and theological understandings of religious diversity. My doctoral dissertation focused on the importance of the biblical wisdom tradition for contemporary Christian theology, concluding with suggestions that this trajectory could be a fruitful starting point for inter-religious reflection.

During this period, a couple that I knew moved from Casper, Wyoming, to Bangkok and invited me to visit them. This led to my first trip to East and Southeast Asia. I visited Kyoto, Bangkok, Myanmar/Burma, and Bali, and was deeply moved by the beauty of the Buddhist and Hindu art in these sites. I also stayed in the Buddhist monastery of Wat Rempoeng near Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I was introduced to the practice of Theravada Buddhist meditation.

Shortly thereafter, I came to know the noted Japanese Zen Buddhist philosopher, Masao Abe, who was then a visiting professor at the University of Chicago. He agreed to be the mentor to me for a post-doctoral research project funded by the Association of Theological Schools of the United States and Canada, which allowed me to go to Kyoto, where Abe introduced me to a circle of Japanese scholars, both Buddhist and Christian. These encounters led to my book, The Buddha and the Christ (Orbis Books 1993). My most recent book, The Path of Wisdom: A Christian Commentary on the Dhammapada (Peeters and Eerdmans 2011), continues this trajectory of reflection, responding to the wisdom sayings of Shakyamuni Buddha in light of both biblical and later Christian wisdom traditions. I continue to appreciate the deep wisdom of the Buddhist tradition and find it enriching on many levels.

In 1987, as I was beginning to teach at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary near Chicago, I was invited to participate in a retreat of Catholic priests and rabbis at the University’s Center for Development in Ministry, where we not only talked to one another but also prayed together. This began my decades-long engagement in Jewish-Christian dialogue, which continues today. In the spring of 2009, I participated in a very moving Jewish-Christian study trip to Poland, co-sponsored by Georgetown University and the Polish Foreign Ministry, exploring various aspects of Jewish-Polish relations past and present.

In the 1990s, I was invited to join the Midwest Dialogue of Catholics and Muslims, where I contributed to the drafting of a booklet on Revelation in Catholic and Muslim Perspectives. I was teaching at Fordham University in New York City on September 11, 2001. Afterward, I was involved in discussions of religion and violence at a number of venues, including Siena College near Albany, NY, the Islamic Center of Passaic County, New Jersey and in the Mid-Atlantic Dialogue of Catholics and Muslims in Queens.

I became involved with the work of CPWR when I went to a theology meeting at DePaul University and happened to come upon a group of colleagues who were on the CPWR research committee helping to plan the 1993 Parliament in Chicago. They invited me to attend their next meeting and join the research committee. I also covered the 1993 Parliament for The Christian Century. Later, when I was teaching at Fordham University, I participated in the Consultation on Interfaith Education’s planning for their symposium at the 2004 Parliament in Barcelona, where I offered reflections on the Dalai Lama’s contribution to interfaith education.

The most powerful defining moment of the interreligious movement for me was the 1996 Gethsemani Encounter at Gethsemani Abbey, Kentucky, which included the Dalai Lama, Maha Ghosananda (the Patriarch of Cambodian Buddhism), and many other Buddhist and Catholic monastic leaders. The context of a Catholic Trappist monastery with its rhythms of silence, meditation, and prayer, provided a welcoming atmosphere for the week-long monastic inter-religious reflection. The spirit of Thomas Merton hovered around us as we continued his practice of inter-religious friendship. As an advisor to Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, I enjoyed many moving exchanges with Buddhist and Catholic monastics. Other powerful experiences have come on Buddhist-Christian retreats that draw upon the resources of both traditions.

Given the often problematic role of religion in the world’s conflicts past and present, I believe my involvement in inter-religious reflection is important in building bridges and shaping a healthy community of the world’s religions. I find much hope and encouragement in the wonderful women and men whom I have met in inter-religious encounters.

Buddha, Christ and Interreligious Peace

Dr. Leo D. Lefebure

Dr. Leo D. Lefebure

from Godspeed Institute for Spiritual Learning

In this program Carole Hallundbaek speaks with Dr. Leo D. Lefebure, Matteo Ricci, S.J. Professor of Theology at Georgetown University. A prolific writer and traveler of where religious paths cross, merge and support each other, he is the author of The Buddha and the Christ: Explorations in Buddhist-Christian Dialogue; Life Transformed: Meditations on the Christian Scriptures in Light of Buddhist Perspectives; The Path of Wisdom: A Christian Commentary on the Dhammapada; and Revelation, the Religions, and Violence, recipient of the Pax Christi U.S.A. 2001 Book Award. He has also served on the board of directors of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies; was a participant in the New York Buddhist-Catholic dialogue; an adviser to the Board of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue; and is currently on the Board of Trustees of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.

Click here to listen to the interview

Dilatato Corde, An Expanded Heart: A New Online Journal of Interreligious Spirituality

Trustee CornerBy Leo Lefebure
CPWR Trustee

Dialogue Interreligieux Monastique/Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (DIM/MID) recently launched a new online journal dedicated to exploring interreligious dialogue concerning spirituality and religious experience. The multi-language journal provides a forum for interreligious exchanges concerning prayer and contemplation, spiritual experience, and the spirituality of interreligious dialogue, including contemporary personal testimonies as well as academic and historical studies. The new journal takes its name from a phrase in the prologue of the Rule of Saint Benedict, which invites readers to follow the path of God’s commandments “with an expanded heart.”

Dilatato Corde, as the journal is known, appears twice a year free of charge at www.dimmid.org. In the Foreword of the second issue, dated July 1, 2011, editor-in-chief Pierre-Francois de Bethune, OSB, considers the significance of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace, convoked by Pope John Paul II at Assisi in 1986 and also of the upcoming gathering in Assisi next October. De Bethune recalls a comment made to him in 1986 by a Zoroastrian participant, Homi Dhalla: “From now on I will not be able to pray as before; I will always be in communion with all those who pray.”

A number of essays share personal experiences of transformation in dialogue. For example, a moving testimony from Lucy Brydon, OSB, describes the “enlarging of the heart” through her interreligious experiences of many decades, ranging from living with Muslims in Africa to a transformative encounter with Theravada Buddhists, to her current work in Buddhist-Christian retreats focusing on mindfulness. In another personal testimony, Mary John Marshall, OSB, shares the intersections of her Christian monastic journey with the path of her late natural sister, Maylie Scott, who was a Zen Buddhist priest; the essay includes a reflection that Maylie Scott wrote in 1998.

Some authors consider the meaning of another religion’s perspectives for their own practice. Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, the Apostolic Nuncio to the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Delegate to the League of Arab States, reflects on the significance for Christians of Muslim veneration of the Ninety-nine Most Beautiful Names of God. Fitzgerald notes texts from the Qur’an and the Bible that may be conducive to prayer, exploring both the Qur’anic context of the Beautiful Names of God and analogies in the Hebrew Bible, and then offering a Christian reflection in light of the New Testament. Richard Zeikowitz ponders the significance of the teachings of the Rule of Saint Benedict in light of his personal experiences of Tibetan Buddhist and Christian monasticism.

DIM/MID is an international organization of Catholic monastics involved in dialogue with the spiritual and monastic traditions of the world’s religions. For more than half a century, Catholic monastics have been pioneering and developing new forms of spiritual encounter and interreligious dialogue with monastics and practitioners of other religious traditions. In North America, Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (MID) coordinates the work of these monastic communities in relation to other traditions; Dialogue Interreligieux Monastique carries on this work in Europe and beyond. Since 1994, these and other comparable monastic initiatives around the world are united under the leadership of the General Secretariat, which was established by the Abbot Primate of the Benedictines in consultation and cooperation with the Abbot General of the Cistercians. William Skudlarek, O.S.B., a monk of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, serves as the General Secretary of DIM/MID and is associate editor of Dilatato Corde.

Council Welcomes New Trustees

In a commitment to extending its reach to diverse religious and spiritual communities, the Board of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, at its October 24-25, 2010 meeting, elected seven new Trustees for a three-year term:

Ms. Anju Bhargava (Hindu)
Mr. Kirit Daftary (Jain)
Dr. Robert Henderson (Baha’i)
Ms. Mary Nelson (Christian)
Mr. Christopher Peters (Native American)
Dr. Anantanand Rambachan (Hindu)
Mr. Kuldeep Singh (Sikh)

The Council also welcomed to their inaugural meeting four Trustees who were elected in April 2010:

Mrs. Ginny K. Jolly (Sikh)
Dr. Leo D. Lefebure (Catholic)
Rabbi Brant Rosen (Jewish)
Dr. Robert P. Sellers (Christian)

(For more detailed bios, please see below)

The roots of the Council go back to the historic 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions, hosted in conjunction with the World Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, marking the first time in history the traditions of East and West met for formal interreligious dialogue.

Chicago was the site for the centennial celebration of this event with the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions, held in August of that year. Subsequent Parliament events have been held in Cape Town, South Africa in 1999, Barcelona, Spain in 2004, and most recently, Melbourne, Australia in 2009.

Parliaments of the World’s Religions are the largest and most diverse interreligious gatherings in the world. 6,500 participants from over 80 countries representing over 200 religious, spiritual and traditional communities attended the most recent Parliament in Melbourne.

The Council is also establishing a network of locally based interreligious movements in over 70 cities worldwide.

The Council is governed by a board of 35 Trustees, with persons of Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Jain, Jewish, Hindu, Indigenous, Pagan, Sikh, Zoroastrian, and humanistic traditions.

BRIEF BIOS OF NEW TRUSTEES
COUNCIL FOR A PARLIAMENT OF THE WORLD’S RELIGIONS

Elected October 2010

Ms. Anju Bhargava (Hindu)

Anju Bhargava is a Strategic Business Transformation and Risk Management professional and management consultant. She has provided thought leadership in the public and private sectors, published papers and received many awards.  She is the only Hindu American appointed to President Obama’s Inaugural Advisory Council on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and was the only Indian-American to serve in the Community Builder Fellowship, President Clinton’s White House initiative.  She is the Founder of Hindu American Seva Charities, which is now a national movement for Hindu faith-based community service programs addressing social issues.  For more than twenty years she has been a Hindu representative to the Interfaith Clergy Association of Livingston, New Jersey.  An ordained pujari, she strives to combine philosophy and practice from a contemporary view and is active in Hindu education. She blogs “On Faith” for the Washington Post.  She was a founding member of the New Jersey Corporate Diversity Network and is the President of Asian Indian Women in America (AIWA).

Mr. Kirit Daftary (Jain)

Kirit C. Daftary is a leader in the North American Jain community and is active in a number of organizations including the Jain Association of North America (JAINA) which he has served as president and the local Jain Center of North Texas of which he has also been the head.  Currently, he is the President of Anuvibha of North America, a UN/NGO organization based in India and spiritually guided by Acharya Mahapragya Ji, the disciple of Acharya Tulsi. Kirit has a passion for the message of non-violence and the promotion of peace and harmony and is a frequent speaker including at universities. Since 2006, he has been associated with Parliament activities and was an Ambassador of the 2009 Parliament as well as active in the site selection process for 2009. He is a metallurgical engineer and received and M.B.A. and an M.A. from Wayne State University. He currently owns a successful import company dealing with India, China and Korea.

Dr. Robert C. Henderson (Bahá’i)

Robert C. Henderson is a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, the national governing body of the American Bahá’í community. He has extensive experience in the fields of business, government, and education. He co-founded Henderson Zorich Consulting, which specializes in management consulting and leadership and diversity training, with his daughter, Dr. Camille Henderson. His clients have included such Fortune 100 companies as Amoco, AT&T, General Electric, Hallmark, Mobil, United Technologies, and Xerox, as well as the Chicago White Sox. Dr. Henderson served as a Federal Commissioner of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission and designed and led meetings of California Supreme Court members, judges and lawyers to establish a California State Supreme Court Commission on Race and Ethnic Bias.  Dr. Henderson’s public speaking engagements are numerous; highlights include a plenary address given at the invitation of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to the international conference, “Educating Girls: A Development Imperative,” and an address to an “Education Against Hatred” Seminar at Haifa University sponsored by the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity.  He was invited by President Clinton’s Advisory Board on Race to participate in the religious forum held in Louisville, Kentucky. Robert Henderson holds a doctorate in Education from the University of Massachusetts (1976).  He has published several articles and books on management systems and in-service training programs.

Ms. Mary Nelson (Christian – Lutheran)

Mary Nelson has spent the last forty years working in faith-based community development on the west side of Chicago, seeking to carry out the asset based community development principles in concrete ways through her leadership of Bethel New Life, Inc.  She received an MAT from Brown University and a PhD from Union Graduate School.  Her focus has been community based planning and development, and Bethel New Life, under her leadership, grew from an all-volunteer organization to a nationally recognized community development corporation. Mary transitioned in 2006 from the leadership of Bethel New Life into a senior associate/President Emeritus position. She is former chair of the Board of Mid American Leadership Foundation, Woodstock Institute and National Congress for Community Economic Development. She is on the national Boards of Sojourners (currently as Chair) and Christian Community Development Association.  She has also had a number of government appointments.  Mary has been teaching graduate university courses for over fifteen years and does workshops on community development and faith based community development all over the world.  She is currently the coordinator of the Loyola University (Chicago) Institute of Pastoral Studies (IPS) Masters in Social Justice and Community Development.

Mr. Christopher Peters (Native American)

Christopher Peters (Pohlik-lah/Karuk) was born and raised on his people’s territories in northwestern California. He is President and CEO of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development, a Native led Indigenous Peoples public Foundation which supports grassroots Indigenous communities in the Americas and beyond. For more than thirty-five years his work has focused on grassroots social justice organizing, protecting sacred sites, working for holistic community renewal, rebuilding traditional economies, and supporting cultural revitalization efforts. Chris is a well-known and leading advocate for the protection of Native American prayer places and ceremonial life with long experience and expertise on the legal aspects of these issues. He has fought on the frontlines of environmental justice struggles to protect aboriginal ecosystems from the devastating effects of clear-cut logging, dam development, mining, recreational development and the negative impacts that the nuclear industry and globalization has inflicted upon Indigenous Peoples and homelands. Chris has a B.S. degree from the University of California, Davis, and an M.A. degree from Stanford University.

Dr. Anantanand Rambachan (Hindu)

Anant Rambachan, an internationally known scholar of Hinduism, is Professor of Religion and Chair of the Department of Religion at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, where he has taught since 1985. A native of Trinidad, he received the M.A. and Ph. D. from the University of Leeds, England. He is the author of many books including The Hindu Vision (1992), Gitamrtam: The Essential Teaching of the Bhagavadgita [Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1993), and The Advaita Worldview: God, World and Humanity (2006). He has been active in interfaith programs with the World Council of Churches as well as the Vatican for twenty-five years as well as in the local setting in Minnesota. He is widely respected as a spokesperson for Hinduism and a bridge-builder between Hindus and other religious communities.

Mr. Kuldeep Singh (Sikh)

Mr. Kuldeep Singh has lived in the US since 1971 and “is probably known to and respected by nearly every Sikh in the United States,” according to Tarunjit Singh Butalia. He is currently President of Sikh Youth Federation-USA, established in 1968. He was Chairperson (1998 -2001 and 2003 -2004) of the World Sikh Council-America Region, which is the representative body of Sikh Gurdwaras and other Sikh institutions in the USA. He actively participated in the formation of the World Sikh Council and in 1996 was unanimously selected as the founder-coordinator of the World Sikh Council-America Region. He has organized Sikh youth camps in the summer for the last thirty-seven years for Sikh youth from across the US and Canada. He is an able fundraiser within the Sikh community. He is a sought-after speaker and has spoken at nearly every national and international Sikh conference and seminars and also organizes many such events.  He helped organize the Sikh presence at the Chicago 1993 Parliament and provided assistance in encouraging Sikhs from across the world to attend the Melbourne 2009 Parliament, at which he was a major speaker.

Elected March 2010

Mrs. Ginny K. Jolly (Sikh)

Ginny K. Jolly is on the board of FATEH (Fellowship for Activists To Embrace Humanity) a nonprofit organization involved in service projects for the community.  She has been instrumental in aligning with other organizations like Habitat for Humanity, March of Dimes, and Make a Wish Foundation to arrange many service projects in the Chicago community. To give something back to the community, which she strongly promotes, she has adopted a special needs child from Vietnam.  She is using her Masters of Nutrition education in effectively managing two GNC stores and helping clients in their health needs. An aspiring Sikh, and proud mother of three, Jolly was on the PTO for Willow Creek School for four years in charge of the school’s cultural programs.

Dr. Leo D. Lefebure (Catholic)

Leo D. Lefebure is the Matteo Ricci, S.J., Professor of Theology at Georgetown University and a priest of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. He is the author of four books, including Revelation, the Religions, and Violence and The Buddha and the Christ. His next book will be Following the Path of Wisdom: a Christian Commentary on the Dhammapada, which is co-authored with Peter Feldmeier. He is an honorary research fellow of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Rabbi Brant Rosen (Jewish)

Rabbi Brant Rosen has served as rabbi of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (JRC) in Evanston, IL, since 1998. A long-time activist for peace, social justice and human rights, Rabbi Rosen is the co-founder of Ta’anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza serves as the co-chair of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbnical Council. Rabbi Rosen’s writings appear regularly in his blog, Shalom Rav, and he has published articles for the Huffington Post, the Chicago Tribune and the New York Jewish Week. In 2008, Rabbi Rosen was honored by Newsweek magazine as one of the Top 25 Pulpit Rabbis in America.

Dr. Robert P. Sellers (Christian – Baptist)

Dr. Robert P. Sellers is Connally Professor of Missions at Hardin-Simmons University in Texas. In the graduate seminary program, his classes emphasize cross-cultural living, the Global Church, Two-Thirds World and liberation theologies, world religions, and interreligious dialogue. He’s taught in Canada and Mexico, Great Britain, Eastern and Western Europe, Eastern and Southern Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America. Along with Muslim and Baptist partners, Rob plans periodic national conferences. He also is active nationally as a member of the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches and internationally through the Baptist-Muslim Relations Commission of the Baptist World Alliance.