Archive for the ‘URI Multiregion Blogs’ Category

Bishop Swing: Responding to George Shultz’s Testimony

Saturday, February 14th, 2015

In his testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services on January 29, 2015, former Secretary of State George Shultz closed his remarks by speaking of ways – beyond military and diplomatic efforts – that are relevant for harmonizing Christian and Muslim societies. Specifically, he mentioned the United Religions Initiative (URI).  As an honorary member of URI’s President’s Council and as a participant in URI’s nuclear disarmament efforts, Dr. Shultz is well acquainted with URI’s work and global reach.


As Founder and President of URI, I would like to build on his endorsement to say a little more about our mission. In the space between one religion and another religion, there is often a hard history of grievances, memories of coerced conversions, and competing claims of ultimate truth. So the space between religions is often toxic.   This toxicity drags neighborhoods and regions into religious strife that stymies daily life, sometimes leading to intimidation and, in the worst cases, horrific spectacles like beheadings.

URI’s purpose is to fill the space between religions with interfaith bridges so that the grassroots people of all faith traditions, indigenous communities and humanistic groups can cross over, and discover other believers, and take positive actions together. URI is not a religion, nor a United Nations of Religions. URI is grassroots and singularly tries to fill the void between religions with something that the world needs desperately: bridges between cultural, religious and spiritual differences. 

Religions are about salvation. URI is about civilization. People around the world have responded to this mission of URI; in a few years, URI has expanded to more than 665 Cooperation Circles in 85 countries, touching the lives of over three million people daily.

Imagine, at a meeting of the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, a distinguished Marine and diplomat suggesting that creative actions between grassroots Muslims and Christians might be part of a peaceful solution to a very present danger!

Bishop Swing

Bishop Swing: Reflections on Jordan

Saturday, February 14th, 2015

Swing_Jordan-509_339 2

With Jordan’s king, seeking a solution to killing of innocents

I was getting ready to travel to Amman, Jordan, at the invitation of King Abdullah II and Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, who have been doing interfaith work together for over 20 years. There was to be a meeting of a select group of religious scholars and leaders who had a double task. First, we were to focus on how to hold so-called religious leaders accountable for killing innocent people in the name of God. Second, we were to try to figure out ways to strengthen the community of faiths that quietly go about their tasks of worship and service. But before I could get to the airport, Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh, was incinerated and the world watched. The Jordan that awaited us was in a much altered state by the time we arrived.

On Sunday, February 8, 2015, we found ourselves sitting around a large table at the Hussienneyeh Palace in Amman. Prince Charles had spent that morning in camps of the refugees who had flooded into Jordan from Syria and Iraq. He was deeply moved by the plight of so many who could no longer go home, and he was appreciative of Jordan for treating these multitudes of displaced person as honored guests. King Abdullah, who, that morning had sent Jordanian pilots on bombing missions to Islamic State-held lands, led us in a discussion of what kind of solution was ultimately possible in that region, be it a military, a diplomatic or religious. His strength, wisdom and hospitality were on full display.

Afterward, I couldn’t help but picture that table in the palace as being at the epicenter of this world’s religious strife. But a few miles away, in Jerusalem, Jews and Muslims were facing off. To the north, not far away, was the Islamic State. Just a few more miles to the east, Shia and Sunnis were on killing sprees in Bhagdad. And the same was true to the southeast in Yemen.

In ancient times, the caravans of traders drifted through those deserts carrying news of civilization with them. Today, through those same routes, religious terrorists carry enough extremism with them to take down towers in New York. Desert religion is as enduring as sand and not about to go away. What is the solution to religion, in that region, which, so often, boils into bloodletting?

Upon flying away from Amman, I thought that, perhaps, there is no such thing as religion, singular. But there are always religions, plural and in competition. Right there, at the intersection of God and gods, is the problem and the solution. The first of the Ten Commandments mentions having “no other gods.” What to do with that insight? Wipe out “the gods” by destroying the worshipers? Or, heed the new commandment, i.e., “to love one another,” even those who worship other gods? That is the religious test. Respect the children of other gods or export the religious solution practiced daily throughout the Middle East.

My take away is that Jordan isn’t so much a place on a map as it is a sandy spot of the human heart upon which we struggle to advance civilization or create new refugee camps, in the name of God.

Secretary George Shultz, President Obama and URI

Saturday, February 14th, 2015

uri_logo 2

Dear URI sisters and brothers,

This past week was a big week for URI.

In his testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services on January 29th, former United States Secretary of State George Shultz singled out the United Religions Initiative as the kind of positive, non-military approach that we must support to deal with the rising violence of religious extremism.

“I would like to call your attention to something important that has come out of San Francisco,” Dr. Shultz testified. “There is man in San Francisco named Bill Swing, the retired Episcopal Bishop of California, and he started something called the United Religions Initiative.”

Dr. Shultz, who serves as a member of URI’s President’s Council and is a member of Voices for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons, a URI nuclear disarmament CC, called the Committee’s attention to the importance of URI’s work through grassroots interfaith Cooperation Circles now taking place in 85 countries in building connection between people of different religions around issues including economic development, education, health care, nuclear disarmament, refugee and displacement issues and more. 

He ended his remarks saying, “I think that things like this are to be encouraged because they get people of different religions together… and get them working together.”

At a time when people around the world including at the highest levels of government are struggling to find non-military options to confront the violence of religious extremism, Dr. Shultz’s praise of URI as a proactive alternative to mitigate violence and build peaceful and cohesive communities and countries is a powerful affirmation of our work.  

A day after Dr. Shultz delivered his testimony, I was startled to read in an editorial in The Hindu the following: “If we can have a United Nations Organization, can we not have a United Religions Organization?” The question, which was contained in an editorial on U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech in New Delhi, was originally posed by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, philosopher and former president of India in his work, The Spirit of Religion. In his address to the people of India, President Obama stressed the importance of positively engaging the diversity of beliefs and faiths in building peaceful democratic nations. The editorial, like President Obama’s speech, and President Randhakrishna’s question, indicate that such interreligious understanding and cooperation is a dream towards which we must strive.

But here, amidst the extraordinary work that I am witnessing on my trips to Cambodia, the South of India and Sri Lanka, as in the work of URI in all regions, the answer is obvious and right before my eyes. This is no dream. This is the reality of URI. URI is creating alternatives to the division and violence among people of different religions and cultures. Where many have failed, the impact of URI’s work in areas of interreligious understanding, violence prevention, conflict resolution, social justice and peacebuilding is growing across the world. And now URI’s impact has reached the halls of the United States Congress.

The success of URI’s work is the result of the dedication of all members of URI including Cooperation Circles, Global Council Trustees, Global and Regional Staff, President’s Council members, our donors and volunteers. Together, we are moving the mission of URI forward. Together, we are bringing peace and justice to the lives of millions of people around the world.

Thank you for your part in making this dream a reality.

In peace,


The Rev. Victor H. Kazanjian Jr.
Executive Director 
United Religions Initiative

URI North America: After Chapel Hill shooting, respond with peace

Friday, February 13th, 2015

From URI North America: 

ChapelHill-509_339 (2) 2

(L-R) Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were shot dead near the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Feb. 10, 2015. Photo from Al Jazeera.

On this tragic day, we mourn with the families of Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha and send our prayers to their families, the Chapel Hill community and all those affected by this loss.

The other day, three Muslim students, a husband, wife and her sister, were shot and killed near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While police have not confirmed the accused killer’s motive, speculation that this was a hate crime has already begun to arise.

As we respond to this tragedy, URI Global Council Trustee for North America, Sam Wazan, who lives in North Carolina, urges us to speak words of peace.

He calls to mind something he wrote following the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013:

“Finally, refrain from the inhumane desires of articulating thoughts of vengeance. Our children must not grow institutionalized by a history of suffering, but an outlook of harmony for all living beings of all faiths, ethnicities and dispositions.”

Whether the killer in this case was motivated by religion, this is a moment to recognize that violence is not the answer, said Sandy Westin, a member of the URI of Henderson County Cooperation Circle.

“This is a not a solution for anything. Shooting is always lamentable, killing is always lamentable,” she said. “This is something that tell us we need to remember who we are, to change our paths and reactions to encourage others in the way of peace.”

It is the purpose of United Religions Initiative “to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing.” We are the world’s largest grassroots interfaith organization with more than 665 Cooperation Circles in 85 countries working for peace.

During this time of grief, let us seek to create interreligious dialogue within our own communities. A few ideas, including ones from the URI Talking Back to Hate toolkit andtoolcard:

  • Get involved with a Cooperation Circle in your area that is promoting interfaith dialogue.
  • Organize an interfaith service project.
  • Interview community members from different religious and ethnic backgrounds on what they love about being a _________ (Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Jew, multi-racial person, recent immigrant, transgendered person, etc.).
  • Do something nice for a person you know who has been the victim of bullying or harassment.
  • Initiate a campaign to celebrate and raise awareness of the different religious and cultural holidays of the year. A great resource for this can be found here.  
  • Invite community and religious leaders from different traditions to join you in preparing a thoughtful, united response to an act of hate.
  • Host a dinner that celebrates the religious and ethnic diversity of your community.
  • Start a campaign in your community similar to the I’ll Ride With You initiative in Australia in which strangers offered to ride on public transportation with anyone who didn’t feel safe.

“Let us continue to speak out against such hate,” said URI Executive Director the Rev. Victor H. Kazanjian, Jr. “Let us redouble our efforts to dispel stereotype and prejudice and teach understanding and respect. Let us stand together against violence and particularly religiously motivated violence, and for justice and peace. We weep for these young people whose lives have been cut short. We must remember them always and be inspired by their lives as we continue our work.”

If you are interested in getting involved in creating cultures of peace in your community, please contact North American Regional Coordinator, Sari Heidenreich, and she’ll do her best to connect you with a local group. If you are already involved in interfaith work, but your organization is not a member of URI, we invite you to contact us as well.

Interfaith/Interspiritual Ministers Wisdom Circle

Friday, February 13th, 2015

(Even though this launch event has passed, please contact if you are interest in joining for future events…)

We have a new on-line Wisdom Circle starting on Wednesday Feb. 11th, at 7pm EST that we are very excited about. This Circle will be facilitated by Saundra Porter Thomas. Contact Saundra to be a part of this Circle via email – or phone – 704-916-9839 

Please share this information with anyone you know who may be interested in this Circle. This is not just for Interfaith Ministers! 

  • Healing Through Our Stories 
  • Into Wholeness 

Being a storyteller, I am always listening to conversations around me for the “story” in that moment, the stories that unfolded before that moment, and the stories of the possibilities to come. As I listen very carefully, I hear threads that connect all of humanity and creation. Our stories are the foundation of our very existence. When we take time to listen closely and openly, we can hear the threads that bind us. 

Healing Through Our Stories Into Wholeness is an opportunity to come together to talk openly and safely about different areas of our lives that need a bit more intentional attention, balance and healing. Through telling and listening to our stories, we will travel through the ups and downs, twists and turns and subtle nuances of Heart gently and lovingly calling forth spaces, places, situations, and feelings that have become stuck in our hearts, minds, and bodies due to denial, covering up, suppression and ever unfolding Life. Some of the areas we will walk through are – Forgiveness, Unconditional Love, Grief, Trauma, Money, Gratitude, Giving & Receiving, and many others. 

Come. Let us take this Sacred Journey together in this sacred, safe and confidential space. With Love as our container and Wisdom as our guide, we will explore, experience, and become empowered to transform our lives through listening to and sharing our stories and practicing principles and meditations that have the power to move us through the “sticky stuff;” the perceived unforgivable into the light of Forgiveness, Forgiven and Wholeness. 

Healing Through Our Stories Into Wholeness / Forgiveness 
Launch – Wednesday, Feb. 11 at 7pm est 
Phone – 704-916-9839 
email –