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Rev. HPs. Phyllis Curott Addresses the Crisis Plenary

Rev. HPs. Phyllis Curott addressed the Crisis Plenary at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.

Hello brave souls, thank you for joining us today. It’s my privilege to welcome you to the Parliament of the World’s Religions plenary on the crisis of authoritarianism and it is going to be a terrific plenary.

First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.

These are words of contrition written after the Second World War by a Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller. These are also words of warning. I understand this warning. My mother was Jewish and I am a priestess of a persecuted faith. I am a witch. I am a memory keeper for the tens of thousands mostly women who were tortured and murdered. I understand this warning today.

We are all standing at a pivotal moment, where history seeks to repeat itself. It’s a moment of urgency. An existential growing global scourge has returned. It is manifesting in tyrants and strong men who commit crimes against humanity, suppress fundamental freedoms, subvert democracies, and murder the truth with lies. They intimidate with threats and violent mobs, they imprison and they murder their critics. They wink at domestic terrorism and they pursue nationalist wars.

Bullies and despots dehumanize us because of our ethnicity, our nationality, our political affiliation or who we love, because we are immigrants or refugees, because of our race or our religion. They foster hate and they stoke fear by turning us, whoever we are, into the Other. They seek to divide us and undermine the values that all our faiths hold dear to live with compassion and justice and love.

All over the world, we are witnessing the erosion of religious freedom and the persecution of minorities. Everywhere we turn, the dignity, autonomy, and human rights of women are under assault. And what is done to women is always done to the Earth. 

It is a stark reality that transcends borders, cultures, and faiths. A reality that demands our collective action and moral courage. As people of faith and spirit, we have a singular responsibility.

Here is the truth we must all confront and change. Despots are misappropriating religions to justify the unjustifiable. Tyrants proclaim themselves saviors posturing with religious symbols and exploiting language to affirm their power. And tragically there are religious leaders who stand beside them and religious communities who cheer them. 

Putin declares himself the defender of Russian orthodoxy and justifies his invasion of Ukraine as the restoration of Holy Russe supported by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. In India, Prime Minister Modi, his power is increasingly exerted with restrictions on religion and other freedoms. Hindutva nationalism is spreading with rampant admiration for Nazism, hatred of Muslims, and anti-Semitic rhetoric. Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel on trial for corruption has forged an alliance with the extreme and theocratic right with dire consequences for the future of Israel’s liberal democracy, for its citizens, and for the 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank. 

In Hungary, authoritarian leader Viktor Orban declared himself the defender of Christianity against immigrant hordes, silencing the press and stifling dissent. He is adored by American conservatives. Just a few months ago, the world’s foremost international conservative gathering, the Conservative Political Action Conference, returned to Budapest and again invited Orban to deliver the keynote where he attacked immigrants and woke culture. 

And here in the US, clutching an upside-down Bible, Donald Trump courts and condones white Christian nationalists. They’ve become one of his most powerful weapons along with faith-based media and messaging, and rituals of Christian worship are now energizing conservative rallies and Trump campaign events with praise, music, and prayer, blending with political anger.

Demagogues and dictators are sharing their strategies, messaging, and data collection. They support each other, fund each other, and arm each other. They are supported by religious leaders and followers who are more than bystanders. They are beneficiaries, trading collaboration for the imposition of their values and beliefs on those who do not share them. 

And there are religious leaders who are the dictators, presiding over the debasement of faith in its most extreme, cruel, and oppressive form, theocracy. 

This is not who we are.

Every faith has, at its core, a summoning to ease the suffering of others. When we live by those values that we share, love, compassion, and respect for one another, we heal autocracy’s poison. And when we live by our values, we shatter the illusion of the enemy, “the Other.” We live the truth of our interconnectedness and our shared humanity. Our fates are intertwined. 

At this pivotal and dangerous moment, we must find the courage to speak truth to power. We must open our hearts to one another. For when we do, we dismantle the walls of hatred that fascists seek to build. 

The world is watching us. 

Let us be defenders of truth amidst the deluge of misinformation. Let us be beacons of hope in the face of darkness. Let us be champions of love in the presence of hatred. Let us work together towards a future where fascism finds no harbor, where we recognize one another as sisters and brothers. Let us inspire those who are watching us to join us in creating a world where compassion, justice, and freedom prevail. 

Thank you. May blessings be upon us all.

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