The United Religions Initiative is an international organization whose purpose is “to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings.” Just as everywhere else, there has been a good deal of discussion amongst URI members about the recent U.S. elections. The following letter is my personal response to the onrush of “mandates”, “values”, and “misinformation,” calling for the interfaith movement itself to reach out to those who do not normally participate, calling for an internal dialogue to accompany the external work of interreligious organizations.
I have seen many good and valid points come through the URI “airwaves” in recent days addressing the recent re-election of George W. Bush as President of the United States.
As an American, a part of me wants to tell the rest of the world that they have no right to question this democratic republic’s popular (and electoral) decision. On the other hand, the far stronger side of me that rejects rampant nationalism and attempts to embrace the pluralism that is present in the world also realizes that you do have a stake in this, even if the President is not responsible to you directly. Because as we all know, when America acts either the world follows or it reacts.
When America is at its best, for instance promoting the freedom of, it is a model that other nations would do well to follow. At its worst, the United States is capable of a Vietnam. Are we in Iraq to promote freedom, democracy, and security, or are we there to protect our oil supplies and create a bulwark against Iraq’s neighbors? I honestly cannot tell at this point. All I know for sure is that the intelligence was misguided and misguiding, and that the military leaders failed to appropriately plan for the execution of this war.
The role of values in the election and in recent American policy, particularly religious values associated with evangelical Christianity, have been much discussed on paper, across tables, and on the Internet. There have been many suggestions that Fundamentalism has taken hold of “the world’s only super power” — if not due to majority of the populace, then due to its unity and influence on the powerful. I take it for granted in this forum that Fundamentalism is seen as a force to be avoided, that it is the position of exclusivity and of passion and faith without the guiding force of reason.
We in the West are quick to use the word Fundamentalism in speaking of the Middle East. Is it time now to turn our attention to this force in the West as well? And if so, how can the Interfaith Movement address this subject in an inclusive manner befitting our principles, in a manner that embraces left and right, conservative and liberal, evangelical and secular?
In attempting to understand the force of fanaticism and fundamentalism, society must engage in the heartfelt and honest dialogue that members of the URI already know about from their own own interreligious experiences. In our dialogue, we must learn to reach out to all peoples, through the grassroots but also through the religious leadership that holds so much sway with peoples the world over.
As with all issues concerning understanding between peoples, we must hunt out our own prejudices before we can fully embrace the “others” — we must deepen our internal dialogue at the same time as we reach out to the world (or as Annie Imbens-Fransen reminded us, we must remove the log from our own eye before taking the speck out of our brother’s). That is the power of the URI — an organization that not only helps its members reach out in service and dialogue with the rest of the world, but provides a forum for internal collaboration, soul searching, capacity building, and spiritual/ethical deepening.
In an effort at this concept of internal deepening, I want to share something with my international brethren (and my fellow countrymen): not all evangelical, Christian conservatives in America are right wing radicals. Likewise, the Methodists I grew up with in Texas (including much of my family) are some of the most pluralistic Christians I know.
As we look at the time before us, we cannot delay in condemning violence in the name of religion, and a suffering world should not be made to wait for “cultures of peace, justice, and healing” until tomorrow. Nevertheless, we will not be effective without unified action that is inclusive of the masses. At the same time that our organizations work in the world, I hope that we can continue to join in fruitful dialogue together. The topic of appropriate means for the interfaith movement to address explicitly political issues, for example, might be a strong theme for the various regional gatherings that will be occurring over the next year. Or perhaps addressing today’s concepts of spirituality, civic duty, and good governance.
In closing, I would like to leave you with words far more powerful than any I conjure:
“With every day that passes, danger grows that the rising fires of religious prejudice will ignite a worldwide conflagration the consequences of which are unthinkable. Such a danger civil government, unaided, cannot overcome. Nor should we delude ourselves that appeals for mutual tolerance can alone hope to extinguish animosities that claim to possess Divine sanction. The crisis calls on religious leadership for a break with the past as decisive as those that opened the way for society to address equally corrosive prejudices of race, gender and nation. Whatever justification exists for exercising influence in matters of conscience lies in serving the well-being of humankind. At this greatest turning point in the history of civilization, the demands of such service could not be more clear. “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable”, Bahá‘u’lláh urges, “unless and until its unity is firmly established.”
Letter to the World’s Religious Leaders, April 2002, the Universal House of Justice._
Peace be with you, Stephen A. Fuqua