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Among So Many Interfaith Organizations, Why Religions for Peace?

By Bud Heckman 


There are many, many interfaith organizations; the idea is, well, in vogue. Interfaith organizations now number in the thousands in the U.S. alone. So why should Religions for Peace even exist? After all, a few organizations that are more focused and have a demonstrable impact might be better than a multitude, right? Resources are scarce. The “noise” of the many can be confusing and distracting.

We might observe that Religions for Peace is one of the oldest, starting in the early 1960s and formalizing in 1970. We could also suggest that it is arguably the largest interfaith organization – one of only a handful that are truly global – with a presence and programs in nearly 100 countries and aggregate annual budgets of those organizations totaling well more than $30 million dollars.

This track record means nothing, though, unless Religions for Peace is making a unique contribution to interfaith work, unless it is having an impact.

Three factors set Religions for Peace apart from other interfaith organizations.

First, Religions for Peace is a representative network, compromised of senior religious leaders (or the close approximation thereof, depending on the design of traditions). Theoretically this gives it the capacity to access the depths and breadth of a tradition and its various denominations and sects; to bring a line of connectivity from the local mosque in one place to mosques everywhere (as well as churches, temples, synagogues, and gurdwaras, for that matter). It offers the potential of bringing the moral weight of traditions as a whole to bear in addressing social concerns collectively, concerns like child poverty or cluster munitions.

Second, because it is a representative network with lines of accountability and decision making grounded in scriptures, histories, and the working structures of living communities of faith, it is easier for governments, foundations, and other institutions in civil society to work with it. A government or intergovernmental organization can relate to a coalition of religious communities and their appointed representatives much more easily than to a group of interested citizens, as passionate or right as they may be in their cause. This is a tremendous lever in seeking to get things done, like addressing conflict transformation with Track 2 and 1.5 diplomacy models, as Religions for Peace has done so well.

Third and finally, because Religions for Peace has existed for five decades and has a presence in nearly 100 countries, it has gained a lot of experience. Yes, we have had successes, but we have also had much failure. As we all know, failure is a good teacher, if we just let it be. We have had the luxury of being allowed to try and fail over and over again, by the grace of our member communities, and have learned from the process, coming back stronger and smarter to try again and succeed. As a result, we have learned to have flexibility and follow subsidiarity,” allowing local control for local matters. We have also learned, for instance, to work from a place where people have common shared values, not to dwell on their differences but rather to allow them to come to light after relationships and experiences are established. Starting with differences is a disaster.

The diversity of co­ntributions to the interfaith enterprise is multitudinous, but these are some of the things that set Religions for Peace apart in its efforts in the United States and beyond. This unique elixir of traits has kept Religions for Peace thriving and innovating its efforts to advance a world in which religion is realized as an asset for the common good.