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The Parliament of World's Religions: a journey of learning, being challenged, and influencing along the way

Thursday, 8 April 2010  | Dr David Wilson - Chairman of the Australian Evangelical Alliance and Senior Consultant with Community Engagement Australia

 As I became involved in the Bid Committee, and then later on the Advisory Committee, and then in the year leading up to the Event as a Consultant for the Chicago Headquarters, I became interested in seeing the World’s Religions from a different perspective.  I began to view these religions in more socio-cultural terms and found them to offer fascinating insights into the cultures of the world.  My involvement, much criticized by some, was not a truth question (I’m quite settled on that one in my own mind) but a journey of discovery of some of the powerful influences on people and society around the world.  I learned much.

 However, the most challenging aspect came during the Parliament itself where I was a Volunteer, a Coordinator, and a Presenter… heavily involved over the week of the Event.  One of my colleagues jokingly referred to the Event as “the Parliament of the World’s Egos”.  There was a lot of truth in that.  It could be that readers of this article immediately think of World Religions other than Christianity with their cults of “Guru Worship” and other such Ego based philosophies.  And some of that would be true.  But it made me sad and mad that some of the worst examples came from leaders of the “Christian” faith.  I sat watching some of this on one of the days and reflected on what Jesus would bring to the “Parliament of World’s Religions”.  I’m sure we could all come up with some ideas that would probably be more telling of our own biases than anything else but in my reflections at that time I couldn’t get past the words that Jesus said about leadership… servant leadership.  He said that both the dominant models of leadership in His day were faulty models and were not to be followed.  The Political model of Rome and the Religious model of the Pharisees were to be rejected in favour of the model He was both living and teaching. 

Humility was what Jesus was exemplifying.  There were some beautiful examples of that at the Parliament, but it was also sadly missing among some of those who purported to be following the “Master Servant”.

I’m really glad I was involved in the Parliament at so many different levels.  I made some good friendships with a diverse group of people and I continue to be involved in some of the Legacy work, namely an Association called “Cities of Harmony”, established to work with interfaith groups at a Local Government level, and the possibility of the creation of a “Global Ethics Centre” in Australia in association with Hans Kung.  My involvement has reminded me that the Christian faith does not have the corner on issues of concern around the Globe.  There are many good, responsible thinkers from other religious traditions talking on issues of the Environment, Social Justice, and Human Rights just to name a few.  I still don’t really like a lot of “Religious stuff” and I’m still settled in my mind on the truth question but through my involvement I learned a lot, I was challenged a lot, and I hope I was able to be an influence in some people’s lives along the way.


lea davis
April 14, 2010, 2:58PM
Gosh, what David says here so resonated with my own experience. I, too, am often critised for my engagement with people of other faith or no faith positions. I like what he says - it is not a truth question, as I, too, am very settled in that regard. I don't feel that engagement with my Muslim friends and colleagues in Indonesia is any threat to my faith or salvation. By the way, they feel similarly to me, and we share such lovely fellowship and blessing together. We also share deep values of justice and love from our respective scriptures as we work together with poor communities to bring transformation.
I , too, was at an associated meeting just prior to the Parliament of World Religions - the Gender, Faith and Development forum of the Asia Pacific Breakthrough Alliance. One of the most memorable parts was being in a small mixed group of women from Muslim, Buddhist and Christan sub-cultures - it was a time of learning and enormous fun for us all. No matter what their world views are, women can always find so much in common to laugh about.
Thanks, David, for eliciting these lovely memories.
Alasdair Livingston
April 15, 2010, 6:48PM
I wish I could respond with warm approval to the sentiments expressed by David and Lea, but I can't. I suspect that, if I were to declare the central tenet of my Christian faith — no, not my, but the Christian faith: I do not make it up; I do not have a private "view" of it; I am (as every Christian is) an ambassador (either a good one or a bad one) for one who never expressed a ''view" or an opinion: his remarks always began " I tell you the truth . . ." — I suspect that David and Lea would consider me a biassed bigot, one of those whom David found himself deploring among the "Christians". (No doubt the inverted commas express doubt on his part that they were real ones). Maybe they made their remarks in an unloving way: I wasn't there. But it is very hard to express a firm Christian belief without sounding (and being) exclusive and divisive — two of the worst things to be in the 21st century, it seems. But Jesus was exclusive: he claimed to be the Son of God, and to be the way (not one of many), and the truth (not a questionable philosophy) and the life. His claim was validated by the unique event in history: his resurrection.
Of course we should respond in love to any human being, however much we might seek in vain for agreement on religious matters. It's easy in this country to accept those of other faiths as fellow-citizens, but such treatment is systematically denied to Christians in some Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist and communist regions: they are just too obstinate, and suffer many kinds of discrimination, violence, dispossession, rape and murder for being "biassed". Yes, I wish I could believe that other religions were equal alternatives to Christian allegiance, but I can't.

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