The Board of Trustees of the Parliament of the World’s Religions has selected Dr. Robert P. Sellers to serve as Chair of the Board for its next term beginning January 1, 2016.
A five-year Parliament trustee who has served as a past vice-chair of the Board and chair of its nominating committee, Sellers is active on numerous national interfaith boards and in his home state of Texas, where he lives and has taught theology at Hardin-Simmons University for the past 20 years.
A native of the American South, Sellers spent his childhood in Florida. As a young adult who stood up against racial injustices on the faultlines of the 1960s, he felt a yearning to deepen his engagements across cultures. After graduating from college, he volunteered for a summer in the Philippines, then interrupted his seminary education to work for two years in Indonesia, where he and his family later spent more than two decades as teachers.
Those decisive years of being a neighbor with followers of every major world religion and members of indigenous cultures made interfaith service a natural step for Sellers upon returning to the U.S. in the 1990’s. He joined the Board of the Parliament of the World’s Religions and got involved as an early leader of interfaith relations in Baptist circles nationwide.
Dr. Kusumita Pedersen, who will be serving as one of two vice-chairs of the Board in 2016, welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with Sellers in the Parliament’s next chapter.
“Rob Sellers has a profound commitment to the interfaith movement, with many years of deep involvement at the local, national and global levels,” Pedersen said.
She continued, “His twenty-five years in Indonesia, his worldwide networks and his theological scholarship have given him a rich, insightful understanding of interfaith relations as well as practical expertise.”
As a professor in a private Baptist university, Sellers says he strives to open his students to the beauty of creating friendships with members of other faiths. He is well-known for teaching a theology of generosity and cross-cultural engagement, believing these methodologies use education as a force to improve society by by taking down the barriers of isolation.
Sellers will promote the Parliament mission in public appearances and hopes to open interfaith competency to mainstream culture and clarify misunderstandings which can stifle new multi-faith engagements.
Beyond chairing board meetings, Sellers also intends to support development efforts, establish new partnerships, and help steer the Parliament conference to its next host city.
In this he will also work closely with Parliament Trustee Rev. Andras Corban-Arthen, the Board’s other 2016 vice-chair and a member of the Parliament’s site selection committee.
Arthen says Sellers is ‘just the kind of leader the Parliament needs as it enters a new stage in its history: a visionary and creative thinker, a skillful team builder, a sensitive listener who strives to promote the kind of respectful and thoughtful dialogue that represents the very essence of the Parliament's mission.”
The Rev. Dr. Roy Medley, also a Baptist leader and chair of the National Council of Churches who was recently honored by the Islamic Society of North America for piloting a series of Baptist-Muslim dialogues, praised Sellers’ selection.
In a statement to the Baptist Standard, Medley says, “...Rob’s gracious approach to people of other faiths and his genuine interest and skills in building bridges with them will enhance the work that he has been involved in through the National Council of Churches on interfaith relations through the expanded network that he will now be leading.“
Medley added, “In addition, his passion is unmistakable and energizes his work in this field. The gifts of scholarship he possesses will also be a great aid to the board as a whole as they bring a hugely diverse group of faith groups together to talk about a common future in which every person might live with dignity, security and the free expression of their faiths.”
Retiring Board Chair Imam Malik Mujahid says he most respects the visionary ideas Sellers offered in board meetings when he served as vice-chair during rough times when financial resources were sparse. Congratulating Sellers in a welcome letter, Mujahid says he believes Sellers will take the Parliament from “strength to strength,“ and is happy to be entrusting Sellers, a person “who knows cultures and languages of the world,“ to head a now financially-solvent Parliament at a time the world needs it most.
In 2016, Sellers becomes the sixth chair of the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
The Parliament produces the flagship international Parliament of the World’s Religions conferences which have been held in Chicago, USA, Cape Town, South Africa, Barcelona, Spain, Melbourne, Australia and in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2015.