For the last couple of years it has been my privilege to serve on the President’s Council of the United Religions Initiative (URI).
The organization, as stated on the webpage, is called to be “a global interfaith network that cultivates peace and justice.” This work is carried out “by engaging people to bridge religious and cultural differences and work together for the good of their communities and the world.”
I have had the opportunity to meet and work with URI leaders and participants in India, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands and the USA. My current project is bringing together millennials and elders with a focus on global peace. We held our first retreat at a center near Brugge, Belgium and I have hopes a global movement will grow out of our nascent community.
The Right Reverend Bill Swing, retired Bishop of California, is the organization’s founder and president. Bill issued the following statement on behalf of URI after the tragedy in Charlottesville:
“Like most everyone, I watched with shock at the scenes in Charlottesville and as I listened to the President of the United States speak from his inward convictions at Trump Tower in New York. My slow developing thoughts tumbled to the surface of awareness in about this order.
“First, the human condition. Yes, it was morally horrific to listen to the Nazis and the white supremacists. Their shouts about Jews, people of color, the government, Muslims and others jolted my ears. With torches marching around the bucolic campus and with the eyes of the world watching, it was hard for me to imagine that this was the United States of America.
” But wait! I have heard similar opinions presented in more refined and polite expressions. In jokes, in conversations with friends, around the water cooler, over drinks and dinner! Contempt for “others” was on naked display in Charlottesville, but it abides in cognito in the body politic and in religious history. And like a cancer, it yearns to metastasize. Contempt for the “other” is a universal human condition. But not the only one.
“Second, there is the aspirational vision that lifts the spirit and the discourse above the brutal and persistent warring madness. The second paragraph of the Constitution of the United States is the prime example of aspirational vision. It says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Yes, we are a country of immigrants, but immigrants who are challenged to grow into a vision of “all” rather than a fear of the ‘other.’
“Third, we need legislative action that spurs us beyond our own special good, so that society eventually bends toward the vision of what is good for “all.” In time, slaves were freed. Women voted. Now with hard laws, we are learning to protect “this fragile Earth, our island home.” Incrementally, we get it right; although, from time to time, there are occasions when the crowd tries to get us to ignore the vision and revert to boiling blood of separatism.
“Fourth, the very forces that drive these matters in politics, drive these matters among religions. If any one religion is left to its own and doesn’t have to deal creatively with other religions, I guarantee at least two things: 1) that one religion will publish more and more documents about how its people are going to be saved and people of other religions are not (the point is that the people of other religions are going to hell, so their lives don’t matter); and 2) that one religion will never tell its people the truth about other religions (actually, a minority of religions are an exception). Most religions make sure that their people are religiously illiterate about the “other.”
“Fifth, this is a moment that calls Americans and religionists back to their core visions. For our part, in the United Religions Initiative, we have a visionary Charter which is a powerful document that draws together people of religions, tribes and spiritual expressions, from all over the world, in ever greater number and urgency.
“Our purpose is “to promote daily, enduring interfaith cooperation, end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings.” What the Constitution is for the United States, the Charter is for the United Religions Initiative.
“What does Charlottesville mean to me? Go back to basics! Go back to basics! The fate of the world will go backwards unless our aspirations lead us forward.”