Morgan Park

 Baptist Church

11024 S. Bell Avenue 

Chicago, IL 60643


Reflection November 25, 2018

"The Parliament of the World’s Religions" - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth

     From November 1 until November 7, I, along with some 7,000 others, gathered in Toronto for the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions. This gathering was the 7th Parliament (the first was held in Chicago in 1893, followed by 1993 Chicago, 1999 Cape Town, 2004 Barcelona, 2009 Melbourne, 2015 Salt Lake City).
     People came together from over 80 countries, representing over 200 of the world’s religions. The 2018 Parliament centered on issues regarding indigenous peoples, climate action, global ethics and the empowerment of women.   
     For me, the entire experience was overwhelming. The immense diversity I encountered at this gathering was virtually impossible to encompass. There were hundreds of workshops to choose from, vast numbers of worship services to attend, special gatherings every morning and evening. The Parliament is the largest interfaith gathering in the world. I was delighted to be part of this week-long immersion into the diversity of human faith.
     The Mission of the Parliament (whose headquarters is in Chicago, with our old friend, Rev. Dr. Larry Greenfield as the executive director) is stated thusly: The Parliament of the World’s Religions was created to cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities and foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions in order to achieve a just, peaceful, and sustainable world.
     One of the reasons for my attendance at the Toronto Parliament was my desire to support Larry in his work. This was my first Parliament. I’m so glad my friendship with Larry brought me to Toronto. I’m uncertain if I’ll be able to attend the next Parliament (my spirit is indeed willing, but my flesh is most assuredly weak!).
     Yet the 2018 Parliament gave me at least some glimpse of what the true Promised Land looks like. The Promised Land is not a place with only one religion but, rather, a place where the many religions of humanity are seen for what they are: pathways into the heart of the divine. The Promised Land is not a place where diversity is forbidden but, rather, a place where religious and cultural differences are applauded and affirmed. The Promised Land is not a place where spiritual wisdom is limited to only one tradition but, instead, a place where the wisdom of all the world’s faiths is cherished and shared.
     Yes, I am a Christian; always have been and always will be. But in my many decades of professional ministry, I’ve come to well understand the “dark” side of religious fervor. Many of us Christians have little knowledge of our religion’s long history (especially it’s many murderous moments).
     Many of us also have very little knowledge of the Bible and its even longer history. We might be able to quote Bible passages but few of us understand the very human history encapsulated in the Bible. I am so grateful that we have so many who regularly come to our Bible Study or who watch it on Facebook.
     The 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions was a great gift, a godly grace, to me. I learned much through the many workshops I attended. I met some old and new friends. I enjoyed being in a place where faith was highlighted without any compulsion to “convert” or “proselytize” anyone. It was a rare sanctuary of harmony, dialogue and peace.
     While at the Parliament, I also presented a workshop: Touching Personal Power: A Taste of Tae Kwon Do. This was “an interactive workshop to help participants learn a few physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions of the Korean martial art of Tae Kwon Do. Personal power is a helpful tool for all people as they confront various forms of bullying and hate…When one feels powerful, one has learned how to face fear and not rush away from it. Facing fear, finding faith, is what underlies all martial arts.” I was quite happy to offer my “widow’s mite” to the Parliament.

     I’ll finish this “Advance” by noting just a few of the quotations I wrote down in the many workshops I attended:
Diversity is a strength, not a threat.
Fight fear with facts!
Pray at least twice a day - when the day begins and when the day ends.
Pew research shows that white evangelicals believe they suffer more discrimination than any other group, including Muslims or Jews.
We use both race and religion to generate anger and hate.
We are too good to go to hell and God is too good to send us there.
If we stopped believing in a punishing God, perhaps we would stop punishing each other.
We must confront the ideology that fuels terrorism.
Some people do not have the will or the skill to meet your expectations.
If we believe that the experts should run things, we push citizens to the fringes of our democracy.
Meritocracies have failed terribly.
The idea of the “melting pot” is a terrible idea. We are not one - we are many.
Welcoming the stranger is, according to Matthew 25, a matter of salvation.
Hospitality is an act of worship.
A person who is concerned with building walls instead of bridges is not a Christian. (Pope Francis)
It’s very hard to dislike someone you have talked with.
Many are threatened if others don’t act and look like them.
No one can explain why the universe is as it is. It appears that something besides unthinking, inanimate matter and energy is at work in the marvel that is our universe.
I take the Bible too seriously to take it literally.
Love means “Look out for the other person’s interests.”
We would all do well to develop a smile and soft eyes when we talk to others (the Mona Lisa look).     

Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor