Is world peace possible? William Swing, Episcopal bishop of California, thinks so. He and other members of the United Religions Initiative, an international consortium of religious leaders, have even scheduled the first day of peace: Dec. 31, 1999.
They are organizing 72 Hours of Interfaith Peacebuilding, which calls for a cessation of all violence in homes, communities and countries from Dec. 31, 1999, to Jan. 2, 2000.
'We would like there to be a worldwide three-day cease-fire so we could end the millennium in peace and start the next one thousand years in peace,' Swing said. 'During that time of cease-fire, we would like people to use that in a constructive way of peace making across hard border lines.'
Some interfaith peace-building initiatives have already been planned. For example:
The peace-building mission is one of the first projects of The United Religions Initiative, which will culminate next year in the creation of United Religions, an international organization with representatives of all faiths whose purpose will include advocating love, supporting freedom of worship and maintaining peace among the world?s religions.
The seed for United Religions was planted in Swing?s mind after he was asked to speak at a service in honor of the United Nations 50th anniversary. An idea lingered, he said: if political leaders could work together daily for peace, why couldn't religious leaders?
In founding the United Religions Initiative, said Swing, most of the approval came from the the religious grassroots. Religious leaders were less willing to participate because United Religions creates a level playing field in which no religion predominates or controls, he said.
Leaders also questioned representation, which Swing acknowledged would be problematic, but not impossible, to solve. 'If every nation has one vote in the U.N., how would you have a gathering where every religion has one vote? Who would be the one vote for the Jews? Or Islam?' he said.
Additionally, religious leaders worried that they would be perceived as 'watering down the exclusive truths of their own faith' or selling out by engaging in interfaith work, Swing said. And they questioned which religions would qualify for a voting seat. 'Another issue is who are the real, valid religions and which are the snake oil salesman-type religions that seem to be there to exploit or rainwash,' he said.
But those issues can be worked out with cooperation, Swing said. 'If I might summarize, it's also a lack of imagination,' he said. 'If religious leaders of the world were ever inspired to work together in the same way, they could gather people together and work through those problems, but when you appeal to their imagination, you are quickly dismissed.'
'I think that there is a rising tide of interfaith living and interfaith daily problems that beg for solutions, and together this is creating an urgent demand for the world to move on toward the democratization of religions,' Swing said. 'By that I mean somehow or another we're going to have to grant some respect and some acceptance of the fact that other religions exist and have the right to exist and must be dealt with as equal participants in life on this planet.'
The United Religious Initiative was launched at its first global summit in San Francisco, the organization?s headquarters, in 1996. Membership includes representatives of more than 40 different religions, and the group functions in 50 countries with this purpose: 'To create enduring cooperation among the people of the world to honor the sacred, end religious violence, build community and generate new possibilities for the flourishing of all life.'
This mission statement forms the fundamental basis of the initiative's charter, which is being circulated globally for discussion and revision. The charter formally launching United Religions will be signed June 26, 2000, exactly 55 years after the signing of the charter that established the United Nations.
Grassroots involvement is critical for United Religions to accomplish goals like the 72 Hours of Interfaith Peacebuilding, Swing said.
'We didn't get the little bit of nuclear disarmament we have in the world because somebody called up someone in the Kremlin at the height of nuclear proliferation and said, 'This is madness'' But the people of the world said to the Pentagon and the Kremlin, 'This is madness'' and things began to change,' Swing said.
Contact: William Swing, Episcopal bishop of California, San Francisco, Calif., 415-673-0606.
Background: United Religions web site: www.united-religions.org.
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