Let me assume, dear reader, that you are a person of faith.
This faith may be strictly defined (formed in Sunday School, sub-set Baptist, sub-set Baptist “brand,” sub-set longtime member at First Baptist and so forth). Or you may be a seeker; someone who is “spiritual but not religious.”
Possibly you are an atheist who believes that religions have had a negative impact on human history, or an agnostic who thinks religion is filled with helpful myths. All these beliefs imply some kind of faith.
Whoever you are and however you define your relationship to God, you will benefit from attending the upcoming Parliament of the World’s Religions.
The upcoming interfaith meeting of thousands is meeting in October. And it is virtual.
At what other meeting could you hear from both William Barber and his holiness the Dalai Lama? At what other meeting could you hear some of the world’s most inspiring people speak to the theme, “Opening Our Hearts to the World: Compassion in Action”?
Wherever you stand in relation to your faith, learning about other people’s beliefs and other religious traditions will only enrich your life. This is one of my beliefs and it has been my experience.
In 1893, a group of religious leaders decided to have a large interfaith gathering focused on developing understanding among religious traditions. They held the meeting in Chicago at the World’s Columbia Exposition, and it was the first of its kind in human history.
In recent years, the Parliament has convened gatherings in Cape Town, Barcelona, Melbourne, St. Lake and Toronto, each with an average attendance of 8,000. My first meeting was in St. Lake, and I wrote about my experience here.
The mission of the Parliament is to cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities and to foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions to address the critical issues of our time.
Having spent the last six years in human rights advocacy at the U.N., I’ve seen first-hand the effectiveness of this mission.
Leaders of the Parliament have constructively engaged in multiple efforts to bring the positive values of religious traditions to the issues facing the world today. I’ve been so impressed that I’ve agreed to become a trustee, where I’ve committed significant time and treasure.
All to say, you are invited to the next meeting and you should go. Why? Here are some reasons:
First, as mentioned above, it’s virtual.
Yes, we are all plagued with Zoom-fatigue these days. And yes, most of us aren’t seeking yet more screen time in general.
But the Parliament’s program this year will be unlike anything streaming on Netflix and likely much more profound than anything on your work Zoom!
Second, your registration will provide you with a month following the Parliament to access the hundreds of extraordinary programs conducted by activists, religious leaders and scholars from around the world.
The programs will focus on three areas: 1) Justice, Peace, and Sustainability including Climate Action; 2) Indigenous Peoples, Next Generations and Women and Girls; 3) the signature document of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, “Towards a Global Ethic.”
Third, the world is a mess, and it needs religion to be a part of the solution.
Much good can come from acts of compassion and advocacy across religious traditions. This meeting will provide both inspiration toward and information about interfaith action.
There can be no doubt that religion has often not been helpful. From wars fought in the name of religion to racism promoted by religion to genocide empowered by religion, human history is filled with people doing the wrong thing in God’s name.
The swastika is a bent cross. This symbol of evil stands as an example of what humans have often done to the good in religious tradition: bent it for corrupt reasons.
But the global ethic of the Parliament speaks to the vital need of all religions to apply their values and hope to the world.
Religion, at its best, has elicited the best from humans – teaching understanding and compassion, faith and hope, love and empathy. But, at its worst, it has provoked and/or justified horrors.
Hospitals and universities were born out of religious compassion. However, slavery was supported by religious institutions.
It’s a very mixed history and no religious tradition is innocent of prompting some of the horrors of our human story.
Working across religious boundaries to focus on the common ethics of compassion found in every major faith is one way to turn a page to a better chapter.
For three decades, Stearman has served as a pastor in the Christian (Baptist) tradition. His experience includes congregations in Athens, Greece and Paris, France. Most recently, he has been a pastor in New York City where he represents the Baptist global body at the United Nations (supported by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance). He is active in helping to lead NGO committees related to human rights and the freedom of religion and belief, has been active in civil societies advocacy at the High Level Political Forum around the UN’s Agenda 2030 (SDGs), and is a trustee on the board of the Parliament of World Religions.