This month I got into a van in the early hours of the morning and made my way from Spokane to Salt Lake City for the Parliament of World’s Religions. I wasn’t alone — 40 people from the Spokane area were in attendance.
This was my first parliament, and I didn’t know what to expect. When I checked-in at the registration area the first day, I was met by Buddhist monks preparing for the creation of a sand mandala, and a temporary Jain temple. I began to explore the halls of the convention center and ran into fellow SpokaneFāVS writer Tom Schmidt doing the same!
The exhibition halls were filled with art, presentations and exhibits from around the world, each sharing and telling their respective stories and celebrating what we have in common. Sikhs organized a Langar that served thousands of people daily meals, giving food to the homeless as well. Each day brought a new and interesting way of celebrating our diversity; from flash mobs to yoga sit-ins. It was fun to explore these displays with my friends from SpokaneFāVs and other Spokane organizations, and to share in experiences, forever etched in our memories.
For me, it was incredible to sit and hear from world leaders and Nobel laureates about the importance of faith in discussions on issues like climate change, women’s rights and the preservation of indigenous peoples. But something was missing: Action.
During a panel discussion, Karen Armstrong alluded to the same idea. “I am not sure we should call this assembly a ‘Parliament’, because a parliament actually legislates and does something.”
Later, Dr. Tariq Ramadan echoed her sentiment. “We should be actively working on policy and pressuring governments and world leaders, not just meeting once every few years.”
I couldn’t agree more.
The interfaith movement suffers from an outdated model, that which still affects everything from many well-meaning nonprofits to panel discussion events. It is no longer enough to talk about our problems. We must act, and act together.
It is always good to celebrate our common humanity, and it is also important to provide space to learn from one another. But in our world today, there are so many areas of focus that people of faith should be working together to address. Poverty and climate change; armed conflict and human trafficking. We would do well to actively work together to issue recommendations and call on our governmental, corporate and non-profit counterparts.
The parliament has the power to convene the world’s religions. Perhaps at the next gathering, meaningful discussion and celebration will yield action, as well.
At the Golden Banquet, Karen Armstrong said to a room of hundreds of people: “When you leave this room, be prepared for action.” And on the way back to Spokane I reflected on this phrase. With such a great showing of people from Spokane, I hope we begin to heed this call. Because our community needs it. And the world needs it.
R. Skyler Oberst is an interfaith advocate in Spokane and in 2016 won Young Democrat of the Year.