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:
- In Washington, D.C., citywide interfaith services focusing on
reconciliation, celebration and new spiritual visions will be held
during the 72 hours.
- In Ethiopia, a United Religions group will plant a Peace Pole
and focus on reconciliation between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
- In Pakistan, the Catholic Bishops National Commission for
Christian Muslim Relations are organizing a March for Peace from
one end of the country to the other, a distance of nearly 1,500
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
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
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
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,
‘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:
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