Religion is often accused of causing much of the polarization in the world. Those who perpetrate violence through words and actions often point to religion as justification. However, the Parliament supports the notion that religion is a powerful force for good, bringing out the best in both individuals and communities.
Adam Taylor of the World Bank and Cheryl Tupper of Arthur Vining Davis Foundation joined the Parliament leadership on a panel presented at the Council of Foundations 2014 Philanthropy Exchange Conference on Monday, June 9. The breakthrough session called “The Role of Religion in an Increasingly Polarized Society,” attracted more than 40 engaged representatives of grantmaking organizations.
Panelists exploring this theme agreed that both the commonalities and distinctions between faiths can powerfully address deep moral and ethical issues of scarcity of resources, equality gap and justice, and the environment. Cheryl Tupper, speaking from a philanthropic perspective, said foundations are not only an important audience for these messages, but can also play an important role in addressing these issues.
Describing religious and spiritual communities as a force for good makes sense in financial terms, too. Participants live tweeting the panel highlighted Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid’s comments on reports projecting that $2.6 trillion U.S. dollars in charitable relief and social support come from faith communities in service annually.
“Interfaith brings out the best in faith,” said Imam Mujahid, who chairs the Board of the Parliament. Marketing the dollar signs behind religious good is a critical step forward for the interfaith movement itself. By quantifying the social good it becomes harder for guiding institutions to deny or ignore the massive potential of faith-based collaborations.
Adam Taylor elaborated the point in catchy terms. At his turn, Taylor spelled out the World Bank’s Faith Based Initiatives’ “4 B’s of Religion,” championing religion as a “bridge, balm, beacon of hope and a boost for social movements.”
Throughout the discussion the panelists sought to highlight practical ways faith communities are working to ameliorate the polarization between individuals religions, communities and our guiding institutions; in addition to how philanthropy can be a strong catalyst to support creative outcomes.
Moderator and Parliament Executive Director Dr. Mary Nelson explained reasons why some foundations have been skittish about engaging with faith-based initiatives, acknowledging that concerns arise when sectarian violence is committed ‘in the name of religion,’ but that the extremist fringes do not follow religious teachings. In reality, the majority of people of faith come together through common values of compassion for the other, or the Golden Rule.
Nelson further affirmed that “religion offers an ongoing source of renewal empowering us to face the issues of the world,” and that one of the opportunities foundations can be powerful colleagues in fostering a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world is in supporting ways of engaging younger people who are increasingly identifying as ‘spiritual but not religious.’
Remarking on the need to move beyond simple platitudes, Rabbi Michael Balinsky emphasized the need to build real relationships like those he seeks out not only in his work as Vice-Chair of the Parliament, but also in the Chicago neighborhoods of faith where he serves dual executive roles on the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago and the Chicago Board of Rabbis.
Janaan Hashim, another Parliament Trustee, underlined the importance of dialogue. Sharing her experience teaching seminary students, Hashim reflected on how interfaith engagement is a way to learn productive and respectful communication when difficult issues emerge.
By the session closing, engaging questions from attendees pushed the 75 minute gathering overtime an additional five minutes. It was heartening for those working within and supportive to the interfaith movement to discover foundations so interested in understanding new pathways to collaborate with interfaith initiatives.
Featured Image: Panelists from the Parliament, World Bank and the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation present “The Role of Religion in an Increasingly Polarized Society” at the Council on Foundations Philanthropy Exchange conference June 9, 2014 in Washington D.C. From left: Parliament Executive Director Dr. Mary Nelson, Parliament Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Parliament Vice Chair Rabbi Michael Balinsky, World Bank Lead of Faith-based Initiatives Adam Taylor, Parliament Trustee Janaan Hashim, and Vice-President of the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation Cheryl Tupper.