For One Organization?
by Paul Chaffee
I’ve been asked why TIO would devote an entire issue to one organization – the United Religions Initiative (URI). That’s a fair question. Since TIO began publishing back in 2011, we’ve tried to profile and cover most of the large international interfaith organizations, including KAICIID (King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue), NAIN (North American Interfaith Network), Parliament of the World’s Religions, Religions for Peace, URI, and the World Congress of Faiths. We’ve also given plenty of ink to smaller national, regional, and municipal groups which do much of the heavy lifting. While institutional interfaith is only part of TIO’s beat, it is a critical factor if we have any hope for a transformed, peaceful world.
Still, a whole issue about just one of them? It can happen. When the Parliament’s huge global gatherings emerge every several years, TIO’s before and after postings tend to focus completely on the work of one Chicago-based organization, the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Its predecessor organization, the World’s Parliament of Religions, kicked off the global interfaith movement in 1893, and their work these days deserved every one of the many articles they’ve inspired.
What URI has achieved since an evening in 1993, when a bishop was struck with a transforming idea, beggars imagination. Since 2000, when hundreds gathered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and signed a revolutionary Charter, 1,010 affiliated interfaith groups in 110 countries, called Cooperation Circles (CCs), have joined the network. Some wear the URI brand front and center, in their newsletters, their programs and collaboration, their logos and relationships.
Others, though, have their own identities and branding but are integral members of the network, collaborating with other CCs and benefiting from URI support. TIO has been a URI CC since the day we began and has always benefited from the affiliation. Not many outside of the network would know that. But then they probably don’t know that TIO is also a member of NAIN and is collaborative with numerous non-URI interfaith ventures. Collaboration is the 21st century’s lodestar for achieving a healthy, peaceful, just interfaith future for humankind. Happy to say, URI is an exemplar in championing constructive collaboration.
Whether connected with URI or not, interfaith work faces extraordinary challenges in our troubled times. Today’s global religious/cultural context is tough on religion and interreligion. The state of religious freedom around the world is a travesty, as noted in these pages. Interreligious violence and conflict, in all sorts of different arenas, violates and stains the human family. Premier interfaith champions, such as Pope Francis, are climbing a steep path with ferocious opposition.
In the West, religious communities are plagued with clerical sexual abuse, the left and right stand firmly opposed to each other, and the majority traditions are losing members. In the East we find Hindu fundamentalists oppressing religious minorities and Buddhist fundamentalists promoting sectarian violence. Who would have thought? Which makes all the more remarkable the joyful, constructive, peaceful programs which are flowering in URI’s garden of good religion stories, strange as that may sound.
Putting this issue together was a challenge. Imagine gathering ten defining articles about your favorite organization, each shining a different light on the matter. Turned out, that was not a problem with this issue. Sixteen writers from around the world have contributed.
The issue begins with a remarkable overview that moves from URI’s creation, to its current achievements, to a compelling vision for the future. A second article outlines the social technology (as well as the digital gifts) that made URI an enthusiastic, self-generating enterprise. It is followed by an interfaith-tasked, non-URI UN executive’s look in from the outside.
The rest of the issue largely comes from the grassroots, examples of what is happening under URI’s increasingly large tent. If you are heartsick at what is happening to Christian and Muslim minorities in parts of Asia, your spirit should soar at what URI is generating there, particularly in India. Jerusalem is filled with peacebuilders who receive scant media coverage, so you may find URI’s “non-movement” growing peace there illuminating.
Then you’ll find short profiles of sample CCs and hear from eight URI participants, some new, some seasoned, sharing why they think the network is so important.
In a concluding piece, I reflect on why this particular organization has been uniquely successful in these difficult times. The interfaith movement is much larger than URI, but without it the world would be hugely diminished. That’s why we’ve devoted this whole issue to the United Religions Initiative.
Header Photo: URI