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Rev. Vance Henry Addresses the Opening Plenary

Rev. Vance Henry addressed the Opening Plenary at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.

Good morning, Parliament. Good morning again, my name is Reverend Vance Henry. What an extraordinary day today is for the Parliament of the World’s Religions. I wanna take this occasion to congratulate you on your 130th year anniversary. Oh, come on, you can do better than that. 

It is extraordinary to think that 130 years ago, religious leaders like those who’ve gathered here today met to discuss the critical needs and issues of the world in which they lived and worship, to figure out, based upon those critical issues and needs, what the religious community could do to respond to the needs of their day. And so 130 years later, in this room are religious leaders that represent more than 80 nations. And I just wanna take this occasion to congratulate you for coming together 130 years later to discuss the critical needs in our world today and how the religious community can respond to those needs.

In the book of Psalms, King David was quoted to have said, “I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul will make her boast in the Lord, the humble share hither of and rejoice. O magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt his name together.” If you love the God of David, why don’t you put your hands together and join me in giving him some praise? To Reverend Steve Avino, our wonderful Executive Director, the Chairman of the Board of the World Parliament of Religions, the other officers, members and friends of the World Parliament, to all of the elected officials and to all of you who have gathered here today coming from more than 80 nations to join in this week of activities.  

Again we want to welcome you and I want to congratulate you for your commitment to respond and to discuss how we as religious leaders can meet the needs in our communities. In the world in which we live today, we don’t have to look far to see darkness and division. In fact, as we look around the globe, we see darkness and division in far too many places.

When we look at the war in Ukraine and we see how hospitals and nursing homes and educational centers are being intentionally bombed and then we see the horrible loss of life and trouble that is left behind, we see darkness and division in our world. But not only that, when we see tribal conflicts, when we see the conflict in Palestine, in the Holy, in the Middle East, when Palestinians and Jews are fighting, when we look in Africa and we see tribal conflicts, when we look in Asia and Europe and we see tribal conflicts we understand that darkness and division is all around. But not only that, when we see darkness, we can even see darkness and division here in the United States of America. 

Every day in the nation’s capital, Democrats and Republicans are fighting over the tragic tragic events of January 6th. We see this darkness and division. The foreboding and shadowing clouds of darkness and division are cast over our country as we watch Democrats and Republicans fight over policies like those that will be discussed this week.

We see darkness and division. I want to commend the Parliament for coming together in the face of darkness and division to discuss the critical issues of our day, to discuss civil and human rights, to discuss climate change, food insecurity, and economic justice. And then just the other day, in Montgomery, Alabama, we saw this same darkness and division. When an innocent black man who was just doing his job was attacked by a hate-filled group of white people just for doing his job, we see this darkness and division. That’s the bad news. 

I wouldn’t be a Baptist preacher if I didn’t offer as I close and I head to my seat some good news. In the Christian scriptures, Jesus offers us some good news. He says in Matthew chapter 5, “You are the light of the world.” In a dark and divided world, you are, we are the light of the world. But he doesn’t stop there. He said, “Let our light shine in this dark and divided world so that people would see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven.” 

In a very similar way, Sir Edmund Burke, that old wise and sage-like statesman said it this way, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” In other words, what Sir Edmund Burke was saying was that if good people decide to hide their life, darkness and division will continue. The beloved Reverend Willie Taplin Barrow said it this way, “We’re not so divided as we are disconnected.” 

What am I trying to say? As I close today, let me see if I can make it plain by offering this brief but profound story. When I was about five years old, the lights went out in my neighborhood. Not only did the lights go out in my neighborhood, but the lights went out in fact on my block. The lights went out in the home where I lived. Me and my cousins that weekend were spending the weekend with my grandparents. And understanding the situation, my grandmother and her wise way quickly gathered all of us together around her and explained a profound life lesson. She said to us that she gathered us all around her in that dark house. She said, “You can either curse the darkness or you can light a candle.” And as she gathered us all around her and she walked us from room to room in that house, in each one of those rooms, she had strategically placed candles. And as we walked in each room, she handed us a candle and she began to light it. And she said to us, “You have the option in your life to curse the darkness or to light a candle.” Before we knew it, as we had gone from each room to the other, we recognized that a house that had been dark had become lit up by those candles.We realized that as we got together, we could force the darkness away. What am I saying? I want to suggest to us as I close today that in the same way as we gather together from 80 nations around our world, if we decide to put our lights together, we can force the darkness away. 

As I close, I want to say that Oliver Wendell Holmes was correct, when he said the wonderful thing about the world is not so much the place in which we stand, but in which direction we’re headed. And I want to suggest to us today that we are headed in the right direction as long as we continue to gather together, to put our lights together and force the darkness away.

I’m gonna see the Mayor later today, and so if you would be so kind as to join me and do your hands like this, thank you so much, thank you. I’ll be able to tell the Mayor that I was able to shake all of your hands. God bless you today.

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