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Dallas and the 2014 Parliament of World Religions

Dallas, Brussels and Guadalajara are the finalists to host the 2014 Parliament of the World's Religions.

If Dallas is chosen to host the meeting, what themes would you suggest the international forum focus on?

This question seems pertinent to our weekly discussion because we have concentrated the last few months on how to create a genuine religious dialogue. By genuine, I mean one where differences are acknowledged, debated and understood, not treated as if they don't exist.

The question also gives you a chance to step back and envision what issues may be most challenging to the world in another four years. Journalists are very good at looking backward, but I would love to hear from each of you what themes you think we are likely to be dealing with in another four years.

AMY MARTIN, Executive Director, Earth Rhythms; Writer/editor, Moonlady Media:

...judging by the extensive survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, the most pressing issue faced by established religion itself are the fast rising numbers of those who claim no religion at all, though many maintain an active spiritual life. Now comprising 16% of the general population, among those below 30 years of age it is over 30%.

How will this meteoric rise of the agnostic/spiritual not religious/unaffiliated impact society? How will churches and other spiritual centers adapt? If this trend reduces their number, what will source the vital community and charitable works they previously provided? Without sanctioned leaders, how will the agnostic/spiritual not religious/unaffiliated make their voices known?

LARRY BETHUNE, Senior Pastor, University Baptist Church, Austin:

I would like to see more honest and direct dialogue about violence at the Parliament of World Religions, including especially violence in the name of religion. While most religions prize peace and reject violence as a means of achieving spiritual goals, most have also betrayed those values at different points in their history by perpetrating violence in the name of the Divine for purposes of expansion, conquering enemies, and internal control.

GEORGE MASON, Senior Pastor, Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas:

We have been concentrating on the question of how to live respectfully with one another by acknowledging our religious differences and not pretending that every religion is fundamentally the same, thus minimizing the particular truth claims made by each.

But we also need to acknowledge that one common value or teaching in all our traditions is some version of the Golden Rule -- "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

KATIE SHERROD, Progressive Episcopalian activist, independent writer/film producer, Fort Worth:

Wherever this conference is held, I hope it will address an issue of vital, even life and death importance to more than half of all humanity, and that is "Are women created in the image of God?"

This question is THE core question, because out of it arises issues of education, poverty, violence, access to medical care, the spread of AIDS, the treatment of indigenous people, infant mortality, even peace and justice.

If the answer is "Yes, women are created in the image of God," then what does that mean to those religions that insist on treating women as somehow less human than men?

WILLIAM LAWRENCE, Dean and Professor of American Church History, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University:

The Parliament of the World's Religions has offered a fascinating forum for interfaith conversation, according to one faculty member at Perkins School of Theology who has attended the last two parliaments. Dallas would be blessed to host such a significant international event.

My thematic suggestion is "The Languages of Religious Life." By 2014, if we have not either killed one another or become captives of some tyranny for the sheer sake of survival, human beings may be ready to take a fresh look at the resources of religion for a way to live.

DARRELL BOCK, Research Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary:

Three or four issues stand out. Cooperation in dealing with violence, hunger, poverty and the care of global resources would be on my list.

MATTHEW WILSON, Associate Professor of Political Science, Southern Methodist University:

One major theme that would be appropriate in any venue, but especially in Dallas, would be the moral issues surrounding migration.

All of the nations of the developed world are likely to face heavy flows of incoming migrants from poorer countries in years to come, and these new arrivals will face both cultural and economic backlash. Rather than simply dismissing or condemning those who are troubled by large-scale immigration, the world's religions would be well advised to engage thoughtfully the economic, cultural, and security implications of human migration, and to develop a framework for moral response.

CYNTHIA RIGBY, W.C. Brown Professor of Theology, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary:

Global capitalism and poverty.

Violence against women and children.

Technology and spirituality.

Identity and Dialogue.


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