Parliament Chair Dr. Robert Sellers and his wife, Janie Sellers, were guests of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno, California on Saturday, March 12, for a luncheon organized for Sellers to meet with area faith leaders. The occasion allowed leaders of multiple local faith and interfaith efforts to discover the Parliament, as well become acquainted with Sellers, who relishes world travel and creating friendships across faiths.
In advance of his visit, the Fresno Bee spoke to Sellers about the exciting visits he makes to different cities. Sellers said, "In most of [my] travels, I have been teaching subjects related to Christian theology, although in my new role as chair of the Parliament, I anticipate more opportunities to teach principles of interfaith relations, cooperation and dialogue."
Reza Nekumanesh, director of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno, told the Fresno Bee why hosting Sellers would benefit their community:
“As the chairman of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, [Sellers] shares in the great responsibility and honor of bringing together leaders and activists of all of the world’s religions, whether they be local tribal expressions or the expressions of more than a billion,” Nekumanesh says. “Through the wonderful interfaith work that Dr. Sellers performs, he works to ensure that all have a voice and no belief system is lost in the void."
Through a 30-minute talk, Sellers delved into several key components of how he has experienced interfaith dialogue, as well as shared his personal stories with encounter from other faiths first as a Baptist teaching in Asia and later as an interfaith activist living again in the United States. From there, the group enjoyed a lively Q&A.
Excerpts from the talk trace his unique journey:
I readily admit that when I arrived in Indonesia in 1975 as a young, idealistic American missionary teacher, I knew very little about the indigenous religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Islam that most Indonesians practice. While my training had been rigorous and my ministry experience very practical, nothing I'd learned had prepared me adequately for living in such a multi-layered, pluralistic setting as Java. So it was there, in that lovely land 12,000 miles from where I was born and reared, that I would first be struck by the beauty and diversity of cultures, peoples, and religions. Over the years, not surprisingly, Indonesia's national motto--Bhinekka Tunggal Ika (unity and diversity)--became my personal, philosophical watchword.
Gradually, two impressions about these followers of other faiths became very clear. One realization was how truly alike we all were. We experienced the same life passages, shared common joys, endured comparable sorrows, harbored similar dreams, and walked analogous pathways. My other thought was how very different we all were. I knew their sacred stories and rituals were not identical with the ones I cherished, but I also recognized that many of these people gained enormous strength for daily living from their own religions. And I also became aware that the devotion, self-discipline, and genuine goodness of my friends challenged (and sometimes shamed) my spiritual maturity and moral character. Thus, over time, I began reforming my approach to people of other faiths. I found that by being humble, open, and teachable when relating to them--by being willing to listen instead of so quick to speak--I could more easily build friendships, learn helpful cultural and religious insights, and earn the right to share my own faith concerns.
As the Chair of the Board of the Parliament, and a Baptist, it's my privilege to work with a Trustee body of incredibly gifted and diverse national leaders, and a smaller Executive Committee comprised of a Baha'i, a Catholic, a First Nations religionist, a follower of Sanatana Dharma, a Jain, a Mormon, two Protestants, and a person who is "spiritual but not a follower of any organized religion." We bring together our different experiences and traditions to support our common mission of promoting peace, justice, and sustainability in the world.
For more information about hosting a Parliament Board Trustee in your community, please contact the Parliament office at [email protected]
Photos courtesy of Reza Nekumanesh, Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno, California.
Header Image: Guests of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno Gather with Parliament Chair, Dr. Robert Sellers at a faith leaders luncheon on Saturday, March 12, 2016.
Top: Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno California
Next: Faith leaders from Fresno, California meet with Parliament Chair Dr. Robert Sellers at the luncheon
Bottom: Dr. Robert Sellers smiles with hosts Reza Nekumanesh and Imam Seyed Ali Ghazvini of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno