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A. Mansour: Address to World Summit 2014

Address to World Summit 2014, Seoul, Korea, August 9-13, 2014

How can religions’ capacities for peace be better utilized? If have to summarize it in one word, I would say that it is in “communications.”  Let me explain.

Even today in the age of social media and its immense popularity on the Internet, faith organizations (churches, synagogues, mosques and temples) remain the largest social network in the world. Faith communities reach down to the local neighborhood and in every corner of the planet. When natural disasters hit a particular area, you will find faith organizations at work on the ground. You will find faith communities at work even in remote areas where no government agency dares to go. Many non-religious not-for-profit organizations will only stay in a natural disaster area in so long as the media is around and that they themselves can be visible. This visibility is important for their fundraising and for them to maintain their jobs. Remote and less accessible areas, away from the epicenter with no or little media present is of minimum interest to such organizations. Faith organizations, on the other hand, work in these areas because they are motivated by other factors: not visibility but compassion. Faith communities put into practice the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would like it done unto you. This social network of faithful remains largely underutilized.

Interfaith dialogues cannot work if we are to discuss theology. One religious tradition will quote from their scripture, while another tradition will quote from another scripture. This is like comparing apples and oranges. Both are great, both are good, and both are right, but both are different. Where diverse faith communities can work together is on social justice issues. Urgent issues such as poverty, responding to natural disasters, child exploitation, violence, malaria and the environment are among many social justice issues where inter- and intra-faith collaboration can be fruitful; a win-win combination for all. Like apples and oranges, different faith traditions have different theologies and teachings that compel its members to act, but the realization of the need to act is constant across all faith traditions. These are different paths leading to the same goal to engage in social action. Different traditions motivate us to act.

Faith communities need to be more creative in finding ways to involve their youth in interfaith and intra-faith dialogues. Youth surely cannot dialogue around a theological subject (nor would they be interested in that either), but they certainly can do projects with other youth from a different faith tradition. An example would be a project on the environment. Environment is a “hot” issue for youth in that they are already aware of the impact man has on this planet.

Youth can come together, for example, and clean a neighborhood park. In Montreal, we get 250-300 youth together on Victoria weekend to clean a park; the city of Montreal gives us bags, lends rakes, and gives T-shirts to every kid. The local media like it. Politicians and city councilors like it. The kids are from different faith communities: various Christian churches, mosques, Sikhs, Buddhists – it’s a little United Nations there. Kids can see the results. Getting together with one another is a form of dialogue. They have learned from each other and made friendships. All participants have the satisfaction of seeing the end result.

In today’s secular world, faith communities need to communicate clearly to society that they always have been and continue to be a major contributor to society. How many churches, mosques, temples – local faith communities – are running soup kitchens, offering assistance to new immigrant families, visiting the elderly, and offering a variety of assistance in their local communities, all voluntarily, at no charge and with no financial burden to the public or to public funds. Do most of these neighborhood “helping hands” go unnoticed by the public? Are they often taken for granted? I would say yes. Faith communities need to better verbalize the work they do.

In a secular society, when one faith community is attacked by the public through bad press, then this is an attack on all faith communities; all faith communities suffer. When one faith community is applauded, then all faith communities are applauded. Too often, faith communities are all placed in the same boat by the secular society. Thus, the importance of communicating a coherent faith, interfaith and intra-faith message to the public.

In summary, these are the four takeaway points:

  1. Faith communities are the largest social network in the world. They need to be leveraged more often.
  2. Faith communities can partner with each other for social action, not for each group to work individually in a silo. What better way than to start with a simple project with the other faith communities in one’s own local neighborhood?
  3. Faith communities must find ways to motivate their youth to take the lead in interfaith and intra-faith dialogues.
  4. Faith communities need to communicate the good that they are doing to the secular society; more public relations. Remember, bad press on one faith community is a loss for all faith communities. The gain of one is a gain for the others.

In 1968, British Lord Kenneth Clark coined the term “heroic materialism.” What he meant is that it is possible for faith communities to work and live in a secular society. But when materialism is the society’s absolute pursuit, thus “heroic materialism,” then there is no room for faith communities within such a society. The society becomes not simply non-religious but antireligious. We as representatives from different faith communities must be actively engaged in the social conversation to steer society away from heroic materialism.

For more information about the World Summit, click here.