2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions Report

Report by Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative, and Alison Van Dyk, TOU Executive Director
 
The Temple of Understanding greatly enjoyed connecting with colleagues and friends at this year’s Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto, Ontario. We are especially proud to have worked with environmental activist and food sovereignty advocate Dr. Vandana Shiva at her second Parliament. Dr. Shiva’s new book is entitled Oneness Versus the 0%: Shattering Illusions, Seeing Freedom (check it out via Spinifex Press or Amazon).
 

Executive Director Alison Van Dyk, Dr. Vandana Shiva, Board member
Laxmi Shah, and UN Representative Grove Harris, Toronto, 2018

 

Dr. Shiva first spoke at a Temple of Understanding event at the 2012 UN Rio Conference, and the TOU helped seed her work by bringing her to the Parliament for the first time in 2015. At the Toronto Parliament this year, she came as a major speaker in the Climate Change plenary. Dr. Shiva appeared on multiple panels and was increasingly warmly received, so that at her last session she spoke to a packed room. Her decades of advocacy and her passion for seed freedom and environmental justice helped Parliament participants move forward in their understanding of climate issues.
 
 

Highlights from the 2018 Parliament

Our colleague Joyce Dubensky of Tanenbaum has provided reflections on the Parliament of World Religions that include the full text of the plenary speech of Dr. P.L. de Silva, Director of the Institute for Strategic Studies and Democracy (ISSD). His talk entitled “Cultivation of Hatred” was offered as part of the Countering War, Hate, and Violence Assembly. Dr. de Silva writes of “Pope Francis’ condemnation of the sowing of hatred” and asks, “Aren’t those who cultivate hate culpable?” He suggests “the leading armaments countries… be condemned as war profiteers” and concludes that “reconciliation, faith and ethical leadership is what is most URGENTLY needed.”
 
The Parliament of the World’s Religions has posted short highlights of the Parliament as well as 13 full live streamed videos of major plenaries on their Facebook page.
 
 

The Temple of Understanding at the Parliament, 1993-2018

When the Parliament of the World’s Religions was launched in 1993, Juliet Hollister was invited to represent the Temple of Understanding as founder of the organization. Incorporated in 1960 and having been active at that time for over thirty years, the TOU participated in the Parliament as one of the oldest American organizations in the international interfaith movement.

Juliet brought a delegation of her board and staff to the 1993 gathering and walked in the opening procession of leaders of the interfaith movement. Rather than seeking special recognition for the TOU’s early contributions to the interfaith movement in the United States, Juliet’s position was as a kind of “Johnny Appleseed” of interfaith. Since, as she maintained, the job was “too big for any one organization,” she saw organizations like the TOU and Parliament as collaborating to spread seeds of dialogue, peace, and justice throughout the world.

Nelson Mandela, Cape Town, 1999

 

At the 1999 Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, the TOU organized a wide variety of programs and honored Nelson Mandela with a Hollister Award. By the time of the third modern Parliament gathering in 2004 in Barcelona, Spain, the TOU had launched an educational cooperative with eleven interfaith organizations called the Consultation for Interfaith Education (CIE). CIE sponsored a three-day symposium at the Parliament and featured Ela Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s granddaughter and now a Hollister award recipient, as a speaker. Hollister Awards were presented to Dr. Hans Kung for his work on Towards a Global Ethic (a document articulating the ethical commitments held in common by the world’s religious traditions) and to Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan for his leadership in the interfaith movement representing Sufism. The event was capped by two stunning performances by the Taiko drummers. 

In Melbourne, Australia in 2009, the TOU again collaborated as part of the CIE on a one-day experiential process including a group mosaic art project and the sharing of Indigenous perspectives by Chief Oren Lyons and Chief Jake Swamp. The program ended with a workshop from a group of Indigenous Maori elders, who taught the use of animal postures in dance as a form of nonverbal communication. The day ended with an open invitation to all to view the finished mosaic project and experience a group dance circle.

Starhawk, Grove Harris, and Vandana Shiva, Salt Lake City, 2015

 

In Salt Lake City, Utah in 2015, the Temple of Understanding brought environmentalist and food sovereignty advocate Dr. Vandana Shiva to the Parliament, where many religious leaders were exposed to her work for the first time. The TOU also connected its work at the United Nations with its long-standing goals of interfaith education by presenting a panel on “Faith at the United Nations” that focused on the Sustainable Development Goals. Vandana Shiva joined our own UN representative Grove Harris and ecofeminist theologian Starhawk for a panel on community resilience around food and water justice.

In Toronto, Ontario in 2018, the TOU contributed panels on topics including ecojustice, climate change, and women’s leadership in interfaith, and we hosted Dr. Vandana Shiva at three of those panels. We were also pleased that our film Roots of Change: Food Sovereignty, Women, and Eco-Justice was accepted for presentation in the Parliament’s film category. 

TOU at the 2018 Parliament in Toronto, Ontario

We started our interfaith work in Toronto a day before the Parliament by attending the Unity Earth Toronto Convergence, where our colleague A.K. Merchant from the Temple of Understanding–India spoke. This convening laid groundwork for mutual understanding and future events around the globe.

AK Merchant, Temple of
Understanding–India, 2018

 

Our first Parliament panel “Religion and the Work of the United Nations” included brilliant colleagues from our UN work, including Azza Karam, Denise Scotto, Levi Bautista, Lopa Banerjee and Bruce Knotts (not pictured).

“Religion and the Work of the United Nations” speakers, 2018

 

We were proud to support our youth representative 2018 TOU summer intern Larkin Cleland as he spoke on “Forging Alternatives to the Culture of Consumerism and Violence.” This session was sponsored by the India chapter of the Temple of Understanding and the text of Larkin’s presentation can be found here.

Larkin Cleland, 2018 TOU Summer Intern

 

As part of the innovative Women’s Mentorship program, Lopa Banerjee spoke to a full room of younger attendees, which provided a more intimate setting for interaction. 

Banerjee said that human rights underpin harmony and prosperity, and now in a new world order, national interests are seen as if they are in opposition to global interests. Movements of faith can extend to political acts. The UN SDGs are defending human rights and morality, with social justice at the center. We can reclaim faith’s moral core and the UN’s moral core.

Lopa Banerjee speaking as part of the Parliament’s Women’s Mentorship program, 2018

 

We decorated the panel on cracking the “stained glass ceiling” that women face in interfaith leadership with color and focused on gratitude for those who have taught us and gone before in the work. The panel addressed obstacles, but focused more on kinship among women, including sharing diverse perspectives.

Are Our Stained Glass Ceilings Cracking Yet?:
Women and Leadership in the World of Interfaith, 2018

 

On our panel on women of faith speaking out, Dr. Shiva spoke of the immense concentration of wealth from large corporate mergers, so that approximately five men own most of the world’s agro-chemical industry. We must find courageous compassion and pursue caring for the earth as the highest religion; protection with love is a duty. 

Women of Faith Speak Out: Towards Resetting the Global Moral Compass, 2018 
Alison Van Dyk, Chung Ohun Lee, Vandana Shiva, Azza Karam, Lopa Banerjee

 

Chris Peters spoke as part of Dr. Shiva’s panel on Earth Democracy. As part of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, he presented a powerful “Platform for Action: To Do More Than Survive, Thrive.

Click for PDF in English and Spanish >>

 

Speaker Hugh Locke joined us for Dr. Shiva’s panel on seed freedom. He is co-founder of the Smallholder Farmers Alliance, doing innovative social justice work around “tree currency“. 

Hugh Locke at “Seeds and Seedlings: Agents of Change”

 

Speaker Grove Harris opened and closed the session on “Interfaith Engagement: Past, Present and Future.”

Tarunjit Singh Butalia, Donna Bollinger, Sari Heidenreich

 

And of course, there was time for “selfies”! Here Alison and Grove pose with plenary speaker P.L. de Silva.

Grove Harris, PL de Silva, Alison van Dyk

TOU at the 2018 Parliament: Full Schedule of Events

Please join the Temple of Understanding at the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions for programs featuring our staff and UN colleagues, as well as environmental activist and food sovereignty advocate Dr. Vandana Shiva.

 

Religion and the Work of the United Nations
Friday, Nov. 2, 2:15-3:45pm, Room 714A

The United Nations is made up of member states, agencies, civil society, and business partnerships. Religion is considered part of civil society. In this session, senior UN staff and longtime Non-Governmental Organization (NGOs) representatives will discuss various aspects of how the world’s religions relate to the UN system. The topics will include religion and development, the sustainable development goals (SDGS), gender equality and women’s empowerment (SDG 5), peace, climate change, the environment, migration, and more. To conclude, the participants will be left with ways to be involved and the tools of the UN to serve their local community.

Speakers

  • Azza Karam, Senior Advisor on Culture, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
  • Lopa Banerjee, Director, Civil Society Division, UN Women
  • Liberato C. Bautista, UN Representative, General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church
  • Bruce Knotts, Director, Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO)
  • Denise Scotto, Attorney at Law & International Policy Advisor, FIDA/FIFCJ UN Representative
  • Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding (moderator)

Forging Alternatives to the Culture of Consumerism and Violence
(Temple of Understanding–India)
Friday, Nov. 2, 3:15-4:00pm, Room 605

Awareness of the richness and diversity of world cultures, faith communities, and religions is vital in the age of globalization. This project would help to forge strategies and lines of action to create better relationships between peoples; encourage understanding of how people appreciate the multiple identities akin to a garden with variety of flora and fauna, fragrances and hues. At the root is holistic, and all-encompassing detailed view of reality at every level of existence, from Individual to Family, Society, Nations and the Globe. Humans need to understand the intrinsic principle of harmony and appreciate the virtue of healthy co-existence in creation.

Speakers

  • A.K. Merchant, Executive Secretary, Temple of Understanding India Foundation; Trustee, Bahá’í Community of India and Lotus Temple in New Delhi
  • Vivasvat Chauhan, Dara Shikoh Centre for the Arts
  • Larkin Cleland, 2018 Summer Intern, Temple of Understanding
  • Alison Van Dyk, Executive Director, Temple of Understanding (moderator)

Are Our Stained Glass Ceilings Cracking Yet?:
Women and Leadership in the World of Interfaith
Saturday, Nov. 3, 12:15-1:45pm, Room 718A

Women play vital roles in development and peacebuilding. As governmental, non-governmental and faith-based organizations commit to Sustainable Development Goals, the importance of engaging women is obvious. Yet despite intellectual and theoretical agreement, glass ceilings are not breaking quickly and completely enough – in particular in religious leadership. Faith activists, leaders and faith inspired organizations have irreplaceable roles to play in achieving the SDGs’ vision. And yet, when world religious bodies and multilateral organizations invite religious leadership, they include too few women. This panel convenes women leaders to consider honestly how, together, we can break that stained-glass ceiling.

Speakers

  • Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, President, Divine Shakti Foundation; Secretary-General, Global Interfaith WASH Alliance
  • Audrey E. Kitagawa, President, Light of Awareness International Spiritual Family; Founder, International Academy for Transcultural Cooperation
  • Sarah Snyder, Theologian, Cambridge Interfaith Programme; Director, Rose Castle International Centre for Reconciliation
  • Joyce S. Dubensky, CEO, Tanenbaum
  • Azza Karam, Senior Advisor on Culture, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
  • Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding

Women of Faith Speak Out:
Towards Resetting the Global Moral Compass
Saturday, Nov. 3, 2:15-3:45pm, Room 718A

Four visionaries share their understanding of a Moral Compass as a metaphor for structural change. Their passionate action to reset the compass means to center on compassion and interconnectedness. Each presenter will speak to diverse strategies for structural change: recognition of all religious actors, not just official leaders (Dr. Azza Karam), protecting the diversity of living resources (Dr. Vandana Shiva), peace through diplomacy and justice (Venerable Dr. Chung Ohun Lee), and advocacy for women’s human rights through the United Nations (Lopa Banerjee). Their work lays out a blueprint for a world beyond greed.

Speakers

  • Azza Karam, Senior Advisor on Culture, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
  • Vandana Shiva, Founder, Navdanya
  • Chung Ohun Lee, Founder, World Friends for a New Civilization (WFNC); Executive Director, UN and Interfaith Affairs of Won Buddhism International
  • Lopa Banerjee, Director, Civil Society Division, UN Women
  • Alison Van Dyk, Executive Director, Temple of Understanding (moderator)

Vandana Shiva and Friends on Earth Democracy
Sunday, Nov. 4, 12:15-1:45pm, Room 701A

Earth Democracy is a call for people’s sovereignty over seeds, food, land, and water. Only by recognizing humanity’s relationship to, and its intimate place in, nature can there be a re-alignment of commerce to support life – human life and the life of the planetary ecosystem. Social justice and Earth justice are indivisible; there must be a shift away from cultures of domination and violence to cultures of justice, non-violence, and creative responses to the challenges faced by the global community. A new paradigm drawing on ancient traditional knowledge is required to get at the root causes of environmental degradation and address racism, sexism, colonialism, and genocide. The Earth Democracy movement provides an alternative worldview in which humans are embedded in the Earth Family, are connected to each other through love and compassion, rather than through hatred and violence, and ecological responsibility and economic justice replace greed, consumerism, and competition as objectives of human life.

Speakers

  • Vandana Shiva, Founder, Navdanya
  • Chris Peters, Grassroots Community Organizer; President and CEO, Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples
  • Heather Eaton, Professor, Conflict Studies, Saint Paul University
  • Teresia M. Hinga, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Santa Clara University; Founding Member, Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians
  • Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding (moderator)

Seeds and Seedlings: Agents of Change
Monday, Nov. 5, 2:15-3:45pm, Room 701A

This session features a short, powerful 10 minute film, Roots of Change: Food Sovereignty, Women and Eco-Justice, that includes women’s voices from India, El Salvador, USA, the United Nations Environmental Program, and the UN Commission on Trade and Development. We will then hear from women visionaries and accomplished change agents including Dr. Vandana Shiva of Seed Freedom in India. These leaders foster women’s empowerment as an integral pathway towards rejuvenating our soil, our food, our air, our psyche and our communities. Each will reflect on how their faith sustains their social justice work.

Speakers

  • Vandana Shiva, Founder, Navdanya
  • Alison Van Dyk, Executive Director, Temple of Understanding
  • Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding (moderator)

Interfaith Engagement: Past, Present, and Future
Tuesday, Nov. 6, 12:15-1:45pm, Room 701A

This interactive panel will explore the interfaith and interreligious movement. The first part will be a discussion held from the lens of what has been accomplished and why it still remains on the fringes of most major religious traditions. What motivates people of faith to engage with religious others? Why has such engagement not become mainstream? The second part of the discussion will focus on how do we deepen the interfaith commitment of those already engaged in the interfaith circle and how do we expand the circle? And what does the future hold for the movement in terms of opportunities and tensions?

Speakers

  • Karen Hamilton, Faculty, Trinity College, The University of Toronto; Former General Secretary, The Canadian Council of Churches
  • Jaideep Singh, Co-Founder, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF)
  • Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding
  • Donna Bollinger, Executive Director, Religions for Peace–USA
  • Sari Heidenreich, Regional Coordinator, URI–North America
  • Tarunjit Singh Butalia, Founding Trustee, Sikh Council for Interfaith Relations; Special Advisor, Religions for Peace–USA

Roots of Change: Food Sovereignty, Women and Eco-Justice
Tuesday, Nov. 6, 6:00-7:00pm, Room 103A

The ten-minute film Roots of Change: Women, Food Sovereignty and Eco-Justice features women’s spirited calls to change our global direction. In this visually striking short film, women warn of the current realities and looming threats of food crisis, climate change, and corruption. Women’s leadership and ownership in local systems of food production are desperately needed-as is the collaboration of their husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons. This leadership and ownership is what is meant by food sovereignty. This film features excerpts of speakers at the Temple of Understanding’s events at the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women.

Speakers

  • Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding

 

Toward a Greener Attica: Preserving the Planet and Protecting its People

Report by Grove Harris, Representative to the United Nations for the Temple of Understanding
The Saronic Islands, June 5-8, 2018

The Temple of Understanding’s Executive Director Alison Van Dyk and Representative to the United Nations Grove Harris were honored to be invited to participate in the Green Attica Symposium. The symposium brought together 200 diverse thought leaders, including theologians, scientists, political and business leaders, activists, and journalists from around the globe.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, a 2010 Hollister Award recipient, is famous for seeing environmentalism as a spiritual responsibility and has hosted such symposia since 1996. Settings have included the Adriatic Sea, the Amazon River, the Arctic Ocean, and the Mississippi River. His environmental writings set the tone for the event:

His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew, known affectionately as the Green Patriarch

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
Photo © Sean Hawkey 2018

Climate Change and Social Justice

If human beings were to treat one another’s personal property the way they treat the natural environment, we would view that behavior as anti-social and illegal.  We would expect legal sanctions and even compensation.  When will we learn that to commit a crime against the natural world is also a sin?

Sacrament and Sin

We have traditionally regarded sin as being merely what people do to other people. Yet, for human beings to destroy the biological diversity in God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by contributing to climate change, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying it’s wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, land and air – all of these are sins.

Healing and Repentance

Ecology cannot inspire respect for nature if it does not express a different worldview from the one that prevails in our culture today, from the one that led us to this ecological impasse in the first place.  What is required is an act of repentance, a change in our established ways, a renewed image of ourselves, one another and the world around us within the perspective of the divine design of creation.  To achieve this transformation, what is required is nothing less than a radical reversal of our perspectives and practices.

Water

Any abuse of our earth’s resources – and, above all, of water as the source and symbol of life and renewal – contradicts our sacred and social obligation to other people, and especially those who live in poverty and on the margins of society. Water is a fundamental human right… [Read Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s full Statement on Water]

The Symposium was a stunning opportunity to visit Greece and connect with old and new friends for more inspired and connected work towards climate justice. We spent three days visiting the islands of Spetses and Hydra, with intense program sessions considering religion and science, economics and the market, refugees, and the future, all including faith perspectives.

Dr. Vandana Shiva addresses the symposium, calling for protection of the world’s sacred waters, and also of the farmers who enable us to have sacred bread.
Photo © Sean Hawkey 2018

 

You can read a detailed description written by Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas and the Washington Post article “Climate change is a top spiritual priority for these religious leaders,” both on the website of our colleagues at the Forum on Religion and Ecology.

Prior to the Symposium, we visited the world heritage site of Delphi, to meditate in the place considered the navel of the universe in ancient Greece.

The circular temple at Athena Pronaia Sanctuary at Delphi, the navel of the universe in the ancient Greek world, likely honored an even more ancient earth goddess. Photo by Grove Harris.

 

At the Symposium, the Temple of Understanding:

  • responded to Dr Jeffrey Sach’s economic presentation by reminding him that people of faith make an even more prophetic call for radical action, based on love and faith demanding more responsive action to redress environmental wrongs
  • convened a small round table with water justice expert Maude Barlow and other participants towards more effective actions after the Symposium
  • called for ethical guidelines to constrain economic growth, as part of the Symposium’s inclusion of corporate responsibility
  • promoted the Water Justice Guide

His All-Holiness with TOU Executive Director Alison Van Dyk
Photo © Sean Hawkey 2018

 

After the symposium we visited the island of Aegina and learned of the water challenges there, where most of the water is shipped to the island by tanker, and people buy bottled water to drink. We supported local activism with connection to the water justice work and Sustainable Development Goal 6 at the United Nations, as well as with ideas about local plastic recycling, including the Plastic Whale, a project that takes people out to fish plastics from Amsterdam’s canals and then processes the plastic into boats. Back at the UN in New York City, we raised concern about the water supply and plastic bottles during the Voluntary National Review provided by Greece during the High Level Political Forum.

The Temple of Aphaia on Aegina. The temple is a house for this lesser known goddess, with a large outside altar for worship. On a clear day one can view the Acropolis in Athens from here, potentially connecting the temples in a triangle with the Poseidon Temple. Photo by Grove Harris.

 

TOU at the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions

The Temple of Understanding is thrilled to be presenting four programs, collaborating on another, and having our representative to the UN speak at still two more programs at the upcoming Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto, November 1-7, 2018.

Our first program on Friday features our colleagues at the United Nations, for a more nuanced conversation following our introductory program last Parliament.

This will be the second Parliament where we have worked to bring Dr. Vandana Shiva, with her prophetic wisdom combining science and activism towards earth democracy. Theologian Carol Christ writes that Vandana Shiva “is telling women to confront ‘deceitful, dishonest, brutal power.’ She is telling women to teach those who rule the world how to live with nature, how to share, how to care.” (Read more: A Prophet in Our Midst: Vandana Shiva by Carol P. Christ) Women, as the majority of farmers in the world, need access to land ownership to protect localized agriculture from the devastating impacts of industrial agriculture.

Programs featuring Vandana Shiva and other stellar speakers include:

The TOU will also present:

Our UN Representative Grove Harris will speak during the following additional sessions:

Standing against the Muslim Ban

The Temple of Understanding joins colleagues in horror over the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the travel ban targeting Muslims. This is so outrageous that we all need to voice our objection to the court’s blatant Islamophobia. We agree with dissenting Justice Sonia Sotomayor that this is “motivated by hostility and animus toward the Muslim faith.”

The Know Your Neighbor: Multifaith Encounters campaign of the Islamic Networks Group writes:

This decision sets a dangerous precedent by upholding a government policy directed against adherents of a specific religion — a policy that targets Muslim-majority countries for religious discrimination. [link]

They call on the interfaith community to increase interfaith engagement, dialogue with our neighbors, engagement with Muslims and their faith, and coming together to uphold our values, including respect for “the principle of justice, religious liberty, and equality in word and deed.”

The Tanenbaum Center’s blog post “The Muslim Ban – Who’s Next?” links to their resources for countering religious extremism.

Valarie Kaur, Esq., founder of the Revolutionary Love Project, writes:

History will remember this decision as among the most shameful rulings in the history of the Supreme Court: It upholds a ban that indefinitely separates U.S. citizens from their Muslim families. It sends a message to the world that America will discriminate against entire groups of people based on their faith. It emboldens the Trump administration to continue policies that enact cruelty, racism and xenophobia toward immigrants and refugees at the border and our airports. [link]

She reminds us to reach out, march, vote; Breathe and Push.

URI Community Responds to Supreme Court Travel Ban and offers ways to resist:

The best way to resist the harmful, isolating effects of fear and division is by reaching out and making a human connection. We suggest taking actions, such as:

  • Reach out to comfort a friend or colleague from a community targeted by this ban.
  • Raise your voice on social media.
  • Join with others in your community to demand policy change and show public support for Muslim families.

Photo: Steve Helber/The Associated Press

Interfaith Service of Gratitude and Remembrance #CSW62

Temple of Understanding, Parliament of the World’s Religions,
NGO Committee on the Status of Women, World Peace Prayer Society,
International Federation of Women in Legal Careers,
United Religions Initiative, and United Methodist Women invite you to attend

The Fourth Annual Interfaith Service of Gratitude and Remembrance

Friday, March 16, 2018, 6:00 PM
Church Center for the United Nations, Chapel
777 United Nations Plaza, New York

World Interfaith Harmony Event in NYC, 2/7/18

World Interfaith Harmony Week is an official observance of the United Nations. It is based on the pioneering work of The Common Word initiative, which in 2007 called for Muslim and Christian leaders to engage in a dialogue based on two common religious Commandments: Love of God and Love of the Neighbor.
 
Join TOU and other religious NGOs at the Church Center for the United Nations for a World Interfaith Harmony Event:
 

Inspiring Faith in Humanity

February 7, 2018, 1:00-3:30pm
Tillman Chapel, Church Center for the UN
777 United Nations Plaza, NYC
 
Faith in humanity brings us closer together, restores dignity to the oppressed, and gives us a collective voice to speak out against injustices. During this event, religious leaders, UN representatives, and diplomats will share their stories and knowledge. Partnership between religious communities and the United Nations will bring the world toward a more compassionate and sustainable future.
  
Please join us for thoughtful presentations and festive music and food, and to celebrate our faith in humanity.
 
 
For more information, contact religiousngo at gmail.com

 

 

UPDATE: Our colleague at United Religions Initiative posted the following commentary and pictures after the event. Click to view the full photo album!

Religious NGOs on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 12/11/2017

The Committee of Religious NGOs at the United Nations

presents a panel on

THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS

Monday, December 11, 2017, 11:00-12:30pm

Hardin Room, 11th Floor
Church Center for the United Nations
1st Ave and 44th St, NYC

 

Invocation and Introduction
Swami Parameshananda

Moderator
Carl Murrell, National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’is of the United States

Speakers
Dr. Bobbi Nassar, NGO Committee on Human Rights, International Federation for Settlements and Neighborhood Centers

Grove Harris, MDiv, The Temple of Understanding

Rev. Dr. Levi Bautista, The United Methodist Church

Closing Remarks
Swami Parameshananda

Co-Sponsors
NGO Committee of Human Rights
The Temple of Understanding
The United Methodist Church

Light Lunch will be served. Please RSVP: https://goo.gl/forms/hqY8WxMJe920SSLJ2

For questions about this event, contact religiousngo at gmail.com

 

 

World Interfaith Harmony Week: Feb 1-7, 2018

The 2018 World Interfaith Harmony Week is coming! World Interfaith Harmony Week is an official observance of the United Nations. It is based on the pioneering work of The Common Word initiative, which in 2007 called for Muslim and Christian leaders to engage in a dialogue based on two common religious Commandments: Love of God and Love of the Neighbor.

Prizes will be given to each of the three best events or texts organized during the week which best promote the goals of the WIHW. HM King Abdullah II of Jordan is the official sponsor of the World Interfaith Harmony Week Prizes. The prizes include flights and accomodation to Jordan where His Majesty King Abdullah II will present this year’s winners their awards for promoting world interfaith harmony.

  • 1st Prize is $25,000 and a gold medal
  • 2nd Prize is $15,000 and a silver medal
  • 3rd Prize is $5,000 and a bronze medal

Watch last year’s first prize winning event by the Calgary Interfaith Council of Calgary, Canada:

 

How to Participate

  1. Register online on the WIHW website.
  2. Post your event to the website.
  3. Submit supporting materials by 8 March 2018.
  4. Notification of awards will be given in March 2018.
  5. Prize-giving Ceremony will be held in April 2018.

View the WIHW website to find out more about how to participate.

The prize-giving ceremony will be held in Jordan. (Flights and accommodation will be provided.)

Submit a Letter of Support

Send a clear message that the overwhelming number of people from all faith traditions greatly support the call to harmony. Simply send a brief letter of support.

Last Year’s Winners

The Winners of the 2017 World Interfaith Harmony Week Prize:

  1. UN World Interfaith Harmony Week by the Calgary Interfaith Council
  2. The Fifth Sarajevo UN World Interfaith Harmony Week
  3. PL84U AL-SUFFA

Religious Actors Preventing Violence

We are pleased to be part of a new UN plan of action calling for “Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that Could Lead to Atrocity Crimes.”

The inaugural event was held during the July 2017 High Level Political Forum. The Temple of Understanding is proud that our board member Dr. Ephraim Isaac spoke at the September session, as the UN encourages broad stakeholder participation in this crucial initiative. His full address, which is offered below, focuses on personal experience of atrocity, and recommends art and music as part of the solution. He concludes with a quote from Einstein: “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it”.

The entire September 25, 2017 session is available on UN Web TV online.

 

Please also note this valuable resource published by Search for Common Ground:

Transforming Violent Extremism: A Peacebuilder’s Guide

This guide offers guiding principles for peacebuilders and on-the-ground practitioners as they navigate this important yet high-risk area of work around violent extremism.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

A Personal Testimony on Atrocity Crime

at

Implementing the Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement

to Violence that Could lead to Atrocity Crimes (Plan of Action)

UN 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly Side Event

Ephraim Isaac, BA, BD, Ph.D., D.H.L. (h.c.) D. Litt. (h.c.)

Institute of Semitic Studies

September 25, 2017

 

EXCELLENCIES & HONORABLE GUESTS: I am honored to stand here and give my full support to the Implementation of the Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that could lead to atrocity Crimes. Our world is today awash with atrocity crimes and the perpetrations of huge atrocities against humanity. I therefore not only wholeheartedly support and endorse this Plan of Action but will do my best to promote it as far as I humbly can in collaboration with the Ethiopian Peace and Development Center whose Board I chair.

Right at the outset let me, however, on behalf of my Ethiopian Peace & Development Center and myself congratulate the UN office of Genocide Prevention, in particular, His Excellence Ambassador Adama Dieng who has worked so diligently to put this plan before us. His personal commitment to the subject, his hard work, and his humility in undertaking this huge task is admirable. As Chair of the Board of Peace and Development Center of Ethiopia, I thank him very much for inviting me to be a partner of his admirable effort. My humble gratitude also goes to all the co-sponsors of this project, the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Religion and Development, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.

The recognition that Religious leaders and practitioners can and must support and promote this effort goes without saying. In order to emphasize why I support this Plan of Action, in this brief address, I share with you four things: a) my own direct personal experience of the effect of violence b) my indirect personal experience of the effect of violence, and c) my philosophical understanding of the problem of violence d) the commitment of our own Peace & Development Center of Ethiopia to support the recommendations of the Plan.

DIRECT PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

I am a scholar of ancient Near Eastern and African civilizations, but the knowledge of the crime of atrocity is for me not an academic subject. I am myself a personal witness to some of those atrocious human deeds and violence, going back to my early childhood days.

I was born in Ethiopia the year the Fascists — I do not mean Italians who have a long warm historical friendship with Ethiopia– I mean Fascists — invaded the country. My first childhood experience at age four in 1941 was not being taken to see beautiful pictures in museums but to be lined up with children of my age by a pre-kindergarten teacher in front of a row of a couple dozen naked political prisoners hurled on the ground, being whipped and bleeding. It is a personal memory of crying while standing and staring at a couple of persons being hanged on high poles in the presence of priests. It is seeing buildings being burnt and crying.  I believe some of you also have such childhood experience of horror.

My first childhood memory was not dining in a fancy restaurant but sitting hungry in a narrow underground dungeon my family had dug as a shelter a week before the Ethiopian army with British support arrived in my little town of Nedjio, western Ethiopia, where the Fascist army had its headquarter. I remember crying as we sat in the dungeon while the unremitting sound of bombs and artilleries like a thunderstorm that never stops deafened our ears.

My first childhood memory was not seeing my playmates singing joyfully, but weeping because one of them Desta was hit and killed by an exploding bomb. Not understanding what death meant I remember crying and demanding that he should return as soon as possible to play with me. Now you can see where my strong hate of any form of violence and conflict originates.

My first childhood memory was not singing which I love but crying as my father — a non-political, innocent, hardworking silversmith, a religious Jew who chanted in Hebrew as he worked — was being taken by a soldier who said the Fascists were now sending Jews to life imprisonment. Thank the Almighty, he was released after two months and returned home to our great joy.

My first childhood experience was not being taken to a school but to a distant countryside shelter, three hours away from home, where we lived as refugees for two months until our town was cleared of fighting. It is a memory of being scared, held by my father on his lap sitting on a mule as we fled, and sleeping on a crowded floor with my four brothers and two sisters.

In short, never mind the degree of my experience, from the very start of my life I saw, I heard, and I felt the force of human violence against fellow humans. I saw the sight of death. I hated it and I continue to hate seeing violence of any sort against any one single human being, let alone the horrible atrocity violence against a whole ethnic and religious group.

INDIRECT PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

Secondly, directly or indirectly if only from a distance, I felt deeply in my bones the bitterness of violence in my country of birth in the late 1970’s, caused not by a foreign power but by its own native political fanatics. I was emotionally wounded when the Marxist Leninist Derg Red Terror, consumed thousands of young and old, men and women, eliminated because of their religious or political convictions. Among the 61 high Ethiopian Government ministers and officials of Emperor Haile Sellasie, who were lined up and shot indiscriminately, there were many whom I knew personally very well. My close personal friend, the interim successor of the Emperor, General Aman Andom, was taken down as his house was razed to the ground by tanks; His Grace the Patriarch of Ethiopia Abuna Tewoflos, whom I tutored Hebrew when I was in College and became a great friend, the Reverend Gudina Tumsa, President of the Mekane Yesus Protestant Church, who sat next to me in elementary school, General Tadesse Biru, my Predecessor as Director General of the National Literacy Campaign Organization of Ethiopia, and a number of close high school and university friends were tortured and murdered and thrown into mass graves by the fanatic Marxist-Leninist missionaries of atrocious violence.

Like many of you distinguished members of this audience, I have been exposed to stories of atrocity crimes of the recent past beyond my own circle. I gave several lectures in Belgrade, Sarajevo, and traveled in former Yugoslavia. This year, I was a committee member, reader and judge of a university doctoral dissertation pertaining to the trauma and tragedy of the Tamil-Buddhist conflict in Sri Lanka, its special effect on women. I met and listened to refugees and survivors of Rwandan, South Sudanese, and Darfurian conflicts in Addis Ababa where I travel often. Who is not frozen in shock when we see images of the beheading of Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Coptic Christians in Libya, Europeans, Americans, Japanese in Iraq and Syria, or the massacre of Kenyans and international shoppers in Nairobi, restaurant and coffee shop patrons in Tel Aviv, campers in Norway, sport spectators, theater audiences in London, Paris, Copenhagen, and the WTC September 11 hardworking professionals, firefighters, and policemen—beside whose body remains in boxes I stood shivering three mornings, invited to deliver a Jewish memorial prayer?

I have no proof, but there was a widespread rumor that after the Ethiopian 2005 General Election, overtones of interethnic propaganda of hatred led to a major crisis. The subsequent clash between the police and the thousands of demonstrators ended in a bloody incident and saw the foremost elected leaders of the major opposition political party in jail. I am grateful that both sides accepted me personally to lead a group of traditional elders to negotiate peace among the parties and the Government, and the release of the twenty-five elected political leaders and thousands of their followers from jail. Close to about one million people were said to have come out and danced in the streets the eve of the Ethiopian Year 2000. I also personally witnessed the tragic result of a quarrel that resulted in the war between the two brotherly countries of Ethiopia and Eritrea during the 1998-2000, as I shuttled between Addis Ababa and Asmara with a group of my Ethiopian and Eritrean Elders whom both sides warmly welcomed.

PHILOSOPHICAL REFLECTIONS

In a recent conversation with a distinguished retired Pastor, we discussed how every human being is a candidate for actions of depravity, and how depravity triggers religious or ethnic hate. Every mortal—we are all mortal–is subject to fall. Even religious leaders who know the rules and preach them become victims of this human weakness. [confessor father in hell joke?] As Einstein is thought to have once said “I can calculate everything even the velocity of light. But I cannot fathom the hate of people behind their smile.” No one can fathom the human infamy and depravity and mischief that end up sinking humanity into tragic pits of crimes of atrocity.

The first and principal source of destructive wars is not religion or social groups eo ipso. It is the behavior and actions of single individuals. History seems to point that conflicts arise from an individual’s mind, selfish goal, beliefs,self-interest, personal glory, feeling of superiority, greed or love of money, and of course personal sense of a divine mission or karma. One individual — Nero, Rasputin, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Idi Amin, Mengistu, Ben Ladin. et. al. — a single person could ignite the fire of violence and brainwash a crowd, and the whole society then becomes conflagrated because of one single human ego.

Although he did not argue that specifically, Freud implied that in a famous dialogue with Einstein. In 1932, the League of Nations Institute of Intellectual Cooperation asked Professor Einstein to choose a subject he considered of central public interest and invite a person of his choice fora dialogue. Einstein chose the subject,” Is there a way of delivering mankind from the Menace of War” and invited Freud for the dialogue. Two of the great thinkers of that time, both pacifists, thus left us a record of their view about violence and war. Einstein wondered why some believe in the concept of “might makes right”.The two basically agreed on the existence of an instinct of hate in humans and the belief in “might makes right. Freud preferred to call might “violence”.

Freud discussed the concept of l’union fait la force and how larger states were formed and established laws to prevent violence such as pax Romana. But he focused on his theory of the two instincts in humans: the erotic (basically positive and creative and loving as in religion) and the aggressive (basically negative and destructive and hating). However, in his final answer to Einstein he concluded saying that regardless we must try to divert and channel man’s aggressive tendencies to promote love, the cultural development of humanity (although he saw in civilization itself destructiveness), and conversion of people to the hatred of violence, to be pacifists like him and Freud- and me too!

Atrocity crimes start with atrocious minds and foul propaganda of an egocentric individual of negative instinct. This Plan of Action rightly recognizes that atrocity crimes start with the seed of evil propaganda against a religious or ethnic group. The propaganda serves over time to dehumanize the group and turn them into “the other”.  Racial and religious propaganda of hatred not only engender severe psychological and mental health problems, but they also lead directly to death and destruction. Mein Kampf was a propaganda document of a political ideology for the Jewish Holocaust. The destruction of Africa, slavery and colonialism, Apartheid, [I was a key member of the Harvard-Radcliffe Alumni Against Apartheid in the 1980’s] started with the belief that Africans are subhuman. Reports of travelers and study by anthropologists claimed that Europeans have history Africans are primitive, Europeans are rational and Africans are irrational, Europeans have a wide facial angle, Africans have narrow facial angle, compared to the crocodile; and so on. We have all seen images of people in Syria, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan waging hateful propaganda against each other, terrorist groups beheading innocent persons on TV in broad daylight as propaganda. Preventing incitement propaganda that lead to violence is a key antidote to committing crime against humanity.

PERSONAL & ORGANIZATIONAL COMMITMENT

It is worrisome when today we hear foul inter-ethnic and inter-religious propaganda that we read in the Facebook or Twitter, or hear in radio talks about one group supported by one or another religious or ethnic leader vehemently spewing propaganda against one or another ethnic or religious group. So, I appreciate wholeheartedly the thoughtful recommendations of the Plan of Action before us. We must prevent religious and ethnic propaganda of hate and nip them in the bud before they result in atrocious bloodshed.

Our Ethiopian Peace and Development Center (PDC), whose Board I chair, is already committed to this Plan. We now work with both the government and non-government organizations to address violent religious extremism in Ethiopia. We conduct interfaith dialogues to promote trust and understanding, and the deconstruction of combative conflict narratives among the religious groups. PDC is also educating the public to appreciate the riches of diversity. We give customized training to the Inter-Religious Councils (IRC) members to enhance their knowledge of the issues, causes, and consequences of violent extremism. So far, PDC has trained 2,500 members of the Inter-Religious Council and student leaders in five public universities in Ethiopia, initiating religious acceptance dialogues and Peace Meal Tables in dining halls to bring students of different religious groups together to interact and engage constructively in a safe space, as well as to understand the dangers of hateful propaganda that lead to violence.

Student religious opinion leaders are recruited to join interested students from diverse religious backgrounds for small bi-weekly groups to moderate dialogue sessions on issues of the causes and consequences of violent extremism and the importance of peaceful coexistence, and the respect of religious freedom and equality. PDC trains and mentors dialogue moderators who are carefully chosen. The dialogue work of PDC has so far, a direct and indirect effect on at least 10,000 university students yearly in the selected universities.

Finally, let me say that even above and beyond human depravity, there is still a ray of light for redemption. We have a tragic situation and there must be someway to reverse it.Hence this Plan of Action that I am sure is produced because of such belief in human redemption is of great importance. I stand here myself to support it, because I believe that there are still good people who uphold peace and justice and live and practice a life of love and goodness. The Plan is solid and comprehensive. It cracks the cynicism that sometimes exists about the UN. It is also encouraging to see how many religious groups around the world have associated themselves with it. It might not be easy in the implementation area. In virtually every part of the world, even where the religious groups that are supportive exist, we have religious minorities who engage in daily activities that run contrary to what the Plan says. What can we do to make this Plan of Action a real plan of action that stretches broadly and deeply among human kind? That really is the question. We must, therefore, work hard together, joined by all other interested groups and parties, to implement this excellent statement to be retailed not only at the grassroots level but also at individuals, which is where the problem lies.

Please allow me now to conclude with some humble personal suggestions for the Plan. First,I would like to see the role of music and art in the Plan of Action. Music and art have the capacity to touch the human heart, “sooth the soul” or inspire action. That is why there are national anthems and military bands. Music, art, and dance can serve to promote reconciliation and understanding, and inspire the restless youth.In Bosnia, Father Ivo, one of my fellow Tanenbaum Center Prize awardee, formed a Choir of Christians and Muslims. In Ethiopia, we are now in the process of forming nation-wide Peace Choirs. We can sing “You ‘e got to be taught to love” instead of “You’ve got to be taught to hate.” Second, in the spirit of the importance of education, I would propose two-UN memorial days: a) a Memorial Day of Tragedy and Human Infamy and Remembrance of Past Atrocity Crimes, somewhat like the Holocaust Memorial Day, b) a Day of Hope– Day of Human Hope for the end of Atrocity crimes. Third, some years ago, I proposed to both His Excellency the Late PM of Ethiopia and His Excellency the President of Eritrea to establish the Ministry of Peace in parallel to the Ministry of Defense. I pray that the UN would see merit to such an idea and promote it.

Let me conclude with a quotation from Einstein and a short prayer: “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it”. I am happy that the UN and Religious Leaders are doing this important work to counter the danger of atrocity violence and lay a foundation for a hopeful vision of humankind.

Open our eyes to see light and beauty in our fellow human beings

Open our ears to hear the song of love from our fellow human beings

Open our mouth to speak well of our fellow human beings

Let our feet hasten to do good for our fellow human beings.

Let us lift our hands embrace humanity, not use them to throw weapons at each other.

May the Almighty bless the work of all who work for peace and love worldwide!