A new interfaith movement, championed by Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster, aims to parallel the idea of the United Nations without its bureaucratic structures.
Episcopalian Bishop William Swing of California began the United Religions Initiative to ?promote enduring, daily interfaith co-operation, end religiously-motivated violence and create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings,? according to its stated purpose.
A chapter has just started in British Columbia?s Lower Mainland, believed to be Canada?s first, Bishop Ingham said. Also belonging are representatives of the United and Unitarian churches, along with a Hindu, a Muslim and a Sikh.
The URI will get its official start in Pittsburgh in June. Pittsburgh was chosen because it has the most bridges of any city in the Americas. People will cross the bridges, as a symbol of global co-operation, to sign the United Religions charter, on the anniversary of the signing of the UN charter. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to attend, as is the Dalai Lama.
?It?s intended, as the name suggests, to parallel the United Nations idea though not the United Nations structure,? Bishop Ingham said. ?It?s not intended to be a bureaucracy nor will there be anything like a Security Council of major religions that rule over everyone else.?
The membership will not be limited to religious leaders, but is intended to attract various people involved in the different faith traditions, Bishop Ingham said. Anyone who accepts the 19 principles can join. The principles include, ?The URI is a bridge-building organization, not a religion,? and ?We practice healing and reconciliation to resolve conflict without resorting to violence,? and ?Members of the URI shall not be coerced to participate in any ritual or be proselytized.?
Does the world really need another interfaith venture? Bishop Ingham thinks so.
?I see this as a further evolution of a growing worldwide movement ? The Parliament of the World?s Religions is a kind of expo of religions. It?s a showpiece. It allows the religious traditions to get together and kind of give an exposition of their work and life. That?s one approach of interfaith, celebration together.
?The World Conference on Religion and Peace is more a gathering of scholars and leaders to discuss issues of social justice and world peace and reconciliation.
?The URI will be different again. It will be a way of interfaith networks connecting with each other and working together. For the most part, interfaith organizations tend to work in isolation from one another and there?s no structural way of linking them.?
While the initiative is just getting its start in Canada, it was involved in some turn of the millennium activities worldwide, including a march for peace involving Christians and Muslims in Pakistan. A youth network allows people of different faiths to come together, especially in war-torn areas, to work on development projects.
?I would encourage local groups of interfaith organizations across Canada to link up with the URI,? Bishop Ingham said. ?It doesn?t take away what they?re doing, It?s a way of co-ordinating what they?re doing with people around the world.?