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Achieving Interfaith at the Local Level

July 4, 2010

From The Chicago Tribune Since it was founded more than two decades ago, the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago has come to a consensus on issues such as housing and gun control, served as a resource for local law enforcement and brought religious leaders together to do work in the community. But as the organization celebrates its 25-year anniversary, its leaders say that helping local congregations better address major social issues — such as poverty and violence — is crucial to meeting the challenges of the 21st century. “One of the major challenges before us is how do we take what we’re doing at the top level … and get it down to the average person in the pew and on the prayer rug,” said the Rev. Stanley L. Davis, co-executive director of the council, which is made up of some of Chicago’s top religious leaders. Helping local congregations take action on those issues is one way, said professor William Schweiker, director of the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School. “It is important to include congregations in these discussions,” said Schweiker. “It allows religious people a way to voice their concerns beyond the claims of ‘official’ statements.” …Chicago has been the home of formal interfaith conversations since the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions, a gathering of international religious leaders during the World’s Columbian Exposition. The Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago was founded in 1985 by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who sought to tackle social injustices head on. Its core message to the city was clear: Your leaders of faith, however different, can sit at one table and tackle sensitive issues with respect and candor. At the time, those religious leaders came from the city’s Christian and Jewish communities, but as Chicago has grown more diverse, so has the council. Today, its members also include Muslims, Hindus, Jains, Zoroastrians, Mormons, Sikhs and Baha’is. …Dirk Ficca, executive director of the Chicago-based Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, said continuing the discussion is what’s important. “If people can come to the table and have sharp disagreements and really engage, to me that is the healthiest sign of navigating religious diversity,” he said. Click here to read the entire article.