The Temple of Understanding, one of the oldest interfaith organizations in North America, stands with our many partners, the Parliament of World Religions, faith leaders of all traditions, corporations, universities and concerned citizens in condemning President’s Trump’s unconscionable action pulling out of the Paris Agreement. We will continue to work towards a sustainable future in our towns and cities regardless of the lack of support from our misinformed US government leadership.
In a recent sermon entitled “Defiant Hope,” Rev. Dr. Jim Antal of the United Church of Christ urged his listeners to speak up about climate issues:
Defiant hope believes that we are called by God to change what appears to be inevitable, and that God has given us everything we need to engage. […] So our first task is to end this silence. And it turns out that the biggest predictor of people’s willingness to take action to defend creation is whether they are in regular contact with others who believe and act like them. In other words, by breaking our silence and sharing our views and values with others, we will empower one another to take action.
And this is where church comes in. Looking back, slavery would not have ended if it hadn’t have been for church. And just as the church responded to God’s call over 200 years ago, God is calling the church of today to defend God’s gift of creation. Humanity will not make the changes science says we must unless the church becomes a center for conversation, discernment, support and action.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions condemns in the strongest possible terms the President’s decision to renege on the commitment of the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement, a pact signed by 195 nations and formally ratified by 147 nations.
The decision is wrong from every relevant perspective:
Scientifically, it is unsound and indefensible.
Economically, it undermines the ability of the United States to build a competitive economy for the future, sacrificing US jobs at almost every level of production and service, sacrificing American competitiveness in every market.
Medically, it condemns hundreds of thousands to unnecessary sickness and premature death.
Politically, it undermines the United States’ credibility and trustworthiness with its strongest allies as well as its fiercest competitors, and thus strikes a self-inflicted blow against national security.
Our condemnation of this decision is based on our conviction that the decision is wrong, but not just in the sense that it is incorrect. This decision is wrong in the sense that it is evil—it will result in devastation to life on Earth for generations to come. Its global consequences and impact on every living being on the planet makes it fundamentally immoral.
The Paris Agreement remains a historic treaty signed by 195 Parties and ratified by 146 countries plus the European Union. […]
The Paris Agreement is aimed at reducing risk to economies and lives everywhere, while building the foundation for a more prosperous, secure and sustainable world. It enjoys profound credibility, as it was forged by all nations and is supported by a growing wave of business, investors, cities, states, regions and citizens. We are committed to continue working with all governments and partners in their efforts to fast forward climate action at global and national levels.
Grove Harris represented the Temple of Understanding at the April 29 Climate March in D.C. as part of the Interfaith Groups mobilization for People’s Climate Marches. Rev. Fletcher Harper of GreenFaith led the interfaith contingent in sitting down in silence, then joining in a common heartbeat rhythm, and finally rising up in voice, as a special part of the march.
Overall, more than 200,000 gathered in Washington DC and millions joined in over 375 marches around the globe, all standing up in concern for our climate and against regressive politics. The 91 degree heat in April did not deter marchers; rather it reinforced concern.
Faith in Place: Faithful People Caring for the Earth provided reflections on the People’s Climate March.
All photos by Grove Harris.
The Temple of Understanding collaboratively organized three successful sessions and an interfaith service of remembrance during the 61st Annual Commission on the Status of Women.
For the overall proceedings, we suggest this report by colleague Kate Lappin, of APWLD and the Women’s Major Group, who assessed Four wins at CSW this year:
- Committing to gender responsive just transitions in the context of climate change
- Recognising the role of trade unions in addressing economic inequalities and the gender pay gap
- More detailed methods to ensure the redistribution of unpaid care work
- Referring to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP) [Read more]
Also recommended is the Report on CSW61 and Analysis of the Agreed Conclusions by Ms. Lakshmi Puri, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women.
This year’s interfaith service again remembered women murdered for standing up for their rights. Four months after the death of Berta Cáceres, her colleague Lesbia Yaneth Urquia was murdered for the same work: trying to stop a hydroelectric project that threatened water and land. The Council of Indigenous People of Honduras (Copinh) is quoted as writing, “The death of Lesbia Yaneth is a political femicide that tries to silence the voices of women with the courage and bravery to defend their rights.”
Our joint DPI/NGO session was entitled “Women as Roots of Change: Sustainable Food Production and Sovereignty.” Speakers included Sister Celine Paramunda, Medical Mission Sisters; Betty Lyons (Onondaga Nation), American Indian Law Alliance; Roberto Mukaro Borrerro, International Indian Treaty Council; and Dr. Chantal Line Carpentier, Chief, New York UNCTAD. It was a pleasure to collaborate with DPI colleagues Hawa Diallo, who brilliantly introduced the panel, and the production team including Krystal Fruscella and Chioma Onwumelu (all pictured below).
The complete session can be viewed on UN Web TV by clicking the image below:
Our session “On a Gender-Just and Sustainable Trade Agenda,” co-sponsored by UNCTAD and the Women’s Major Group, both highlighted the need for more advocacy towards a gendered understanding of trade policies, and commended women’s activism in pushing for it. UNCTAD has a set of online publications that are part of their gender initiative. They write, “Taking into account gender perspectives in macro-economic policy, including trade policy, is essential to pursuing inclusive and sustainable development and to achieving fairer and beneficial outcomes for all.”
This event, held in the Ex-Press Bar, was hugely successful. The room was filled to capacity (over 80 people) and the audience included a graduate class of women training in international affairs.
Grove Harris moderated and showed the film, Roots of Change: Food Sovereignty, Women and Eco-Justice. Speaker Kate Lappin was brilliant, explaining that development funding reverts profits back to the donor countries and further demystifying trade. Then Dr. Chantal Line Carpentier congratulated women’s activism, which has driven UNCTAD’s new gender and trade initiative. After the panel, Dr. Carpentier expressed appreciation for the opportunity to keep working with the NGO community on trade and financial concerns.
Speakers from the floor included Alina Saba, an Indigenous youth from Nepal who spoke to a community perspective, rather than an implicitly individualistic one. Nick Anton spoke on the new People’s Water Guide, and Ana Alvarez brought up the issue of corporate power. Theresa Blumenfield questioned UNCTAD’s uncritical acceptance of the corporate strategy of developing robots to avoid paying human workers.
Our session “Roots of Change: Reclaiming Economics for Women and Community” gave the audience an opportunity to exchange personal views and voice heartfelt concerns. We are especially grateful for the presence of speakers Crystal Simeoni of FEMNET and Sister Celine Paramunda of Medical Mission Sisters. Simeoni’s background in rural economic development and fighting inequality was coupled with clarity and insight. Sr. Paramunda offered heartfelt remarks on women’s leadership and spirit. She also led a brief meditation about breath and relationship, relating us to trees and the cycle of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
FEMNET, the African Women’s Development and Communication Network, offered a set of Red Flags expressing grave concerns about the direction of CSW61. Naming eighteen areas of concern, they warn, “The 61st session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women is heading toward a weak, even regressive, outcome that fails to address the current state of the world of work, let alone address future challenges.” These areas will require ongoing monitoring and activism.
[4/19/17 UPDATE: Scroll down for photos of this beautiful event!]
Temple of Understanding, Parliament of the World’s Religions,
Interfaith Center of New York, World Peace Prayer Society, International Yoga Day Committee at the UN,
United Religions Initiative, and United Methodist Women invite you to attend
The Third Annual Interfaith Service of Gratitude and Remembrance
Thursday, March 16, 2017, 4:45 – 6:00 PM
Church Center for the United Nations, Chapel
44th Street and First Avenue, New York
Join us in prayerful remembrance of those who have gone before us and who continue to inspire our lives. We carry their courage and commitment forward.
There will be a time to remember those who have passed during this year.
Special music will be provided by The Performance & Peace Initiative with Brandon Perdomo on flute and Caitlin Cawley on Percussion.
- Rev. Dionne Boissiere, Chaplain of the Church Center for the United Nations
- Grove Harris, MDiv., The Temple of Understanding
- Dr. Kusumita Pedersen, Interfaith Center of New York
- Denise Scotto, Esq., International Yoga Day Committee
- Monica Willard, United Religions Initiative
“When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision – then it becomes
less and less important whether I am afraid.“ – Audre Lorde
* * * * *
Photos from the event:
We at the Temple of Understanding are inspired by Repairers of the Breach, who are nonpartisan and in the inclusive interfaith tradition of people of faith and no faith advancing a moral agenda:
“Repairers of the Breach, Inc. is a nonpartisan and ecumenical organization that seeks to build a progressive agenda rooted in a moral framework to counter the ultra-conservative constructs that try to dominate the public square. Repairers will help frame public policies which are not constrained or confined by the narrow tenets of neo-conservatism. Repairers will bring together clergy and lay people from different faith traditions, with people without a spiritual practice but who share the moral principles at the heart of the great moral teachings. Repairers will expand a “school of prophets” who can broadly spread the vision of a nation that is just and loving.” [www.breachrepairers.org]
“A truly moral agenda must be anti-racist, anti-poverty, pro-justice, pro-labor, transformative and deeply rooted and built within a fusion coalition. It would ask of all policy, is the policy Constitutionally consistent, morally defensible and economically sane. We call this moral analysis and moral articulation which leads to moral activism.” —Rev. Dr. William, J. Barber, II
Videos of the sessions of the New Poor People’s Campaign Teach-In are available online.
Part One | Why a Poor People’s Campaign?
Part Two | Voting Rights
Part Three | Race and Poverty Audit
Part Four | Poverty, Economic Inequality and Race
Part Five | Health Care
Part Six | Militarism and the Cost of War
Part Seven | Ecological Devastation and Climate Change
Gender justice is not lifted up as a separate part; we note that 8 of the 14 speakers are women.
The first few minutes of Rev. Barber preaching in this video are particularly inspiring and lead into a longer sermon.
Revival and Resiliency After Rejection | Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II
We pleased to share a report from our colleagues at Temple of Understanding—India detailing their programs for 2015-2016. Highlights of TOU—India’s activities include:
- Participation in the Parliament of the World’s Religions themed “Reclaiming the Heart of Our Humanity” in October 2015
- International Interfaith Dialogue on 9th January 2016 themed “The Influence of Religion on the Place of Women in Society,” jointly organized by Der Missionszentrale der Franziskaner, Bonn, Germany; the Center for Peace and Spirituality International; Temple of Understanding—India; and Bahá’í Community of India
- Interfaith Dialogue for World Peace jointly organized by Temple of Understanding India and Focolare Movement on 20th January 2016 in honour of the visit of Madam Emmaus, President and Mr. Jesus Moran, Co-President of Focolare Movement
- Round table Conference themed “Religion & Sustainable Development—Fostering Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies” on 23rd November 2016 in collaboration with Woolf Institute, Cambridge and Georgetown University, Qatar. Some 27 outstanding scholars, including members of the Advisory Council of Temple of Understanding India Foundation, were invited by TOU—India founder/President Hon’ble Dr. Karan Singh for deliberations surrounding the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the contributions of religious communities towards their fulfillment.
For a full description of TOU—India’s 2015-2016 interfaith harmony and dialogue programs, please read the full report.
Paul Eppinger, who led a campaign for Arizona to recognize a holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. and later was involved in interfaith affairs, has died. He was 83.
The contentious battle in the late 1980s to pass a holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. in Arizona took six years, with one governor declaring a holiday and the next revoking it, and voters initially voting down a holiday but later, in 1992, supporting it.
Eppinger was the statewide director for the successful “Victory Together Campaign” to establish a state King holiday.
”I think this is precisely what Christians should be interested in to give proper leadership to a critical moral and ethical issue,” he said at the time. ”We look at the saints of all times and lift them up as heroes, but when it comes to us taking a stand in our local community, Christian churches are afraid of what people will think.
”Personally, I’ve never felt the spirit of Jesus more than when I am helping people who have been cast aside or who are down and out.”
Read more about interfaith leader Paul Eppinger >>
Muslim Americans are showing solidarity and raising funds for the Standing Rock Sioux in their fight against the Dakota Access pipeline. Click the image below to view the video and share on Facebook.
The Temple of Understanding mourns the violent deaths of Iman Maulama Akonjee and Thara Uddin in Queens, New York. In solidarity with these organizations devoted to interfaith education, we would like to share the statements offered by Cordoba House and Tanenbaum.
From Cordoba House:
Cordoba’s statement on Sad News of Shooting of Imam Akonjee and Thara Uddin
“Remain patient in adversity just as all of the apostles, endowed with firmness of heart, bore themselves with patience.”
(Quran: 46 – 35)
We are deeply saddened to hear about the tragic shooting of our brother, Imam Maulama Akonjee, and his assistant, Thara Uddin, as they were leaving Al-Furqan Jame Masjid in the Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens, where Imam Akonjee was the mosque leader.
Imam Akonjee, originally from Bangladesh, was 55 years old, and moved to Queens only two years ago. He leaves behind his wife and three children. It has been reported that he was a devout Muslim, and a highly respected and humble man. We understand that he had done some important work to help cultivate peace in his diverse and multi-faith neighborhood.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families, friends, and community of Imam Akonjee and his assistant, Thara Uddin, who was 64 years old.
The NYPD has reported that the investigation into the motive for the shooting is still ongoing. It is important for Muslims to exercise patience and endurance, and not make any assumptions on the cause of this murder.
The Quran reminds believers of how to react in times of an attack. “…If you are patient during times of trial and conscious of Him, and an attack (or an enemy) should fall upon you all of a sudden, your sustainer will aid you (for your patience and endurance) with the aid of five thousand angels.” (Quran 3:124)
As an American Imam in a pluralistic and great nation, I call upon people of all faiths to work together to spread peace, tolerance, and understanding within our communities.
Please join me in praying for Imam Akonjee, Thara Uddin, and their families.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
Founder, Cordoba House
Religious leader Imam Maulama Akonjee and his associate, Thara Uddin, prayed together at the Al-Furqan Jame Mosque in Queens before walking outside into the sunlight. Minutes later, they were executed, leaving a community, and a nation, in fear, anger and mourning.
We can’t begin to imagine how a person becomes a cold-blooded killer, possessed by such hatred that they are brazen enough to execute people on a summer afternoon. We may never understand the real motive, but we know the heart-wrenching impact that the deaths of these two men is having on our community.
Not only were they abruptly taken from their families, neighbors and the Al-Furqan Jame Mosque, but the horrific crime is fueling anxiety in Queens and across the nation. Everywhere you look, people are on edge because of rhetoric in the media, hate crimes and acts of terrorism (perpetrated by individuals of varied religions and beliefs). The result is mistrust and division.
This is where we all need to step in, to stand together and not allow fear to break our neighborhoods apart. As a unified group of individuals from different religious and belief traditions, cultures and ethnicities, our call for justice is louder than the fear. It’s time to stand tall and be loud!
Joyce S. Dubensky
Mark E. Fowler
Deputy CEO, Tanenbaum
Gathering honest and critical thinking by women and men of faith and human rights actors, the new Women, Faith, and Human Rights report from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Church of Sweden has the following goals:
- To contribute to a broader and deeper understanding of the relation between faith and human rights, particularly around issues of SRHR [sexual and reproductive health and rights] and population dynamics.
- To challenge the notion that there per definition is a conflict between faith and human rights in general and women’s rights in particular.
- To make the positions of faith-based women in leadership visible and to convey their experiences and views to UN missions and UN agencies.
- To inspire women in leadership to build networks that add an important voice to the global women’s movement engaged in active UN advocacy around gender equality and women and girls’ rights.