Parliament of World Religions convenes in Mormon country — at last

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People walk past Salt Lake temple as they arrive to attend the biannual general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah on April 5, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jim Urquhart
*Note: This photo may only be republished with RNS-MORMON-GAYS, originally published on January 27, 2015 or RNS-TRANS-MORMONS, originally published on April 1, 2015, or with RNS-PARLIAMENT-RELIGIONS, originally transmitted on Oct. 14, 2015, or with RNS-CONGRESS-FAMILIES, originally transmitted on Oct. 27, 2015.

People walk past Salt Lake temple as they arrive to attend the biannual general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah on April 5, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jim Urquhart *Note: This photo may only be republished with RNS-MORMON-GAYS, originally published on January 27, 2015 or RNS-TRANS-MORMONS, originally published on April 1, 2015, or with RNS-PARLIAMENT-RELIGIONS, originally transmitted on Oct. 14, 2015, or with RNS-CONGRESS-FAMILIES, originally transmitted on Oct. 27, 2015.

Chicago Parliament of world's religions in Sept., 1893.

Photo courtesy of [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Chicago Parliament of world’s religions in September 1893.

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) When the World’s Parliament of Religions first met in Chicago in 1893, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and even Spiritualists prayed together.

But Mormons were kept out.

What a difference 122 years make. On Thursday (Oct. 15), when the Parliament of the World’s Religions — a slight adjustment of the name was made a century after the first meeting — convenes in Salt Lake City, it will not only feature a slate of Mormon voices, it will sit in the proverbial lap of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its global headquarters only a five-minute walk away.

The selection of this city is no coincidence, organizers and participants say, but a clear sign that both the LDS church and the parliament have evolved.


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“It speaks to the fact that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a world religion and we are being recognized as such on the world stage,” said Rachel Mabey Whipple, a Mormon environmentalist who will speak about Mormonism and sustainability at the event. “It shows a confidence that we are able to bring these other faith leaders to our community, and that is a great amount of maturity that I don’t know that we have always had.”

The parliament, which closes Monday, is expected to attract between 8,000 and 10,000 participants from 80 countries and 50 spiritual or faith traditions. This is the first time the parliament has met on U.S. soil since 1993, when it was held in Chicago. Recent meetings have been in Spain, Australia and South Africa.

People walk past Salt Lake temple as they arrive to attend the biannual general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah on April 5, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jim Urquhart *Note: This photo may only be republished with RNS-MORMON-GAYS, originally published on January 27, 2015 or RNS-TRANS-MORMONS, originally published on April 1, 2015, or with RNS-PARLIAMENT-RELIGIONS, originally transmitted on Oct. 14, 2015.

People walk past Salt Lake temple as they arrive to attend the biannual general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on April 5, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jim Urquhart
*Note: This photo may only be republished with RNS-MORMON-GAYS, originally published on Jan. 27, 2015, or RNS-TRANS-MORMONS, originally published on April 1, 2015, or with RNS-PARLIAMENT-RELIGIONS, originally transmitted on Oct. 14, 2015.

Other voices shut out of the first parliament will be in Salt Lake City, too. No Native American faiths were included at the 19th-century gathering, but now they make up a significant slice of speakers and participants, and some have set up tepees and other native dwellings outside the Salt Palace convention site. Leaders of Native American and other indigenous faiths will tackle topics as wide-ranging as teen suicide and the wisdom of grandmothers.

“It’s about time they begin to listen to” Native Americans and indigenous peoples, said Arnold Thomas, a Shoshone-Paiute tribal member who will speak. “We have not always been considered human beings” by some of the faiths represented at the parliament in the past, he added.


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Atheists will have a presence, too, in a session with religious leaders on human suffering. David Silverman, president of American Atheists — which held its annual convention in Salt Lake City earlier this year — said including nonbelievers makes the parliament truly interfaith.

“When the entire community is represented, people can truly unite with all their neighbors toward a common goal, without any outsiders at all,” Silverman said in an email interview. “Everyone is equal, regardless of religious belief.”

Everyone may be equal, but not everyone is counted among the attendees. Catholic, Orthodox, evangelical and Pentecostal Christians do not attend in any strength or send official representatives, with the bulk of Christians coming from mainline Protestant denominations. Most Eastern faiths send representatives, and the Dalai Lama was scheduled to speak until ill health forced him to cancel.

What inclusivity there is has been neither swift nor smooth. The first parliament, held in the wake of the tremendously popular World’s Columbian Exposition, was groundbreaking for its inclusion of Eastern religions. Buddhism, Hinduism and the Baha’i faith were introduced to Americans from the parliament’s stage, set in what is now the Art Institute of Chicago.

But Mormons were mostly shunned. A lone Mormon woman was allowed to address a smaller auxiliary meeting of women at the event.


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The problem was polygamy. The LDS church banned plural marriage in 1890, but many Mormons still practiced it. Today only splinter Mormons not associated with the church embrace polygamy.

And therein lies a huge irony, says Andrea Radke-Moss, a Mormon historian and feminist also among this week’s speakers. In 1893, Mormons were excluded because their ideas of marriage and family were too radical. But Mormon Elder L. Whitney Clayton, the highest-ranking church official at this year’s parliament and one of its featured speakers, will likely address the the church’s support of traditional marriage and sexuality.

Radke-Moss commended the parliament’s embrace of Mormons and other once-excluded faith traditions. But she laments what she sees as a scarcity of female Mormon voices — even though this year’s meeting will specially focus on women in religious traditions, with an entire day given over to a Women’s Assembly. While one smaller session will examine Mormon feminism, only author Terry Tempest Williams is among the parliament’s main speakers, and she is expected to focus on environmentalism, not her Mormon faith, of which she has been an outspoken critic. Her religious affiliation is not mentioned in her parliament biography.

“Mormon women are still not completely invited to the table, even in Salt Lake City,” Radke-Moss said.

Video courtesy of Parliament of the World’s Religions via YouTube

YS/MG END WINSTON

  • Niko

    Although I can appreciate the distance the Mormon chuch may have covered to be able to host this event, I do not think it has an answer to the challenges that humanity is facing today. That is something that requires a New Revelation, a New Message from God, a new communication from God. And I am glad that the New Message from God is represented in this year’s Parliament!

  • Ed

    Uh, no, Niko, no. Many of the problems that the world faces today, particularly violent strife, are directly the result of belief in a god. You are looking in the wrong places for answers.

  • Alex

    @Niko in my understanding “the absolute” can’t be confined in an religion, ideology or theology. I hope world religions have the guts to give up what is the most precious to them for the sake of real and true unity. On that base a new revelation or new message can be accepted.

  • David

    Community of Christ is a Christian denomination presided over by a prophet-president. We believe in continuing revelation, and new revelations are presented every few years. These modern revelations cover such issues as the need to protect the environment, social issues such as gay marriage (which we accept), encouragement to tackle world problems, and various other things. Its a refreshing approach to the question “does God still speak to us?”

  • hoffbegone

    Ed, to be accurate, it should be stated:

    Many of the problems that the world faces today, particularly violent strife, are directly the result of the existence of human beings.

    For example, Stalin was an atheist. Has nothing to do with a god.

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  • Ed

    My comment was accurate as stated.

    And Stalin’s terrible actions were not due to any dictate of atheism. They were more in line with those of a theocracy, with Stalin as self-appointed deity.

  • Kay Dasu

    Buddhism has long been represented at the Parliaments of Religion. Buddhists are atheists so its not the first time non-belivers have been made it truly interfaith. The humanists are a great addition but not the first atheists to participate in the Parliaments.

  • Bernardo

    Why the Mormon Church is a business cult (and one wonders why this bit of information is continually deleted when said business is detailed at : lds-mormon.com/time.shtml (A Time Magazine review).

  • Sasha Bill Kwapinski

    So the LDS Church is big, wealthy, and somehow sinister. This is the same worn out canard that has been thrown at Jews for centuries. (Protocols of the Elders of Zion, anyone?)

  • Almighty God speaks every time one searches the Scriptures,David…I wasn’t aware that He had stopped speaking.

  • Bernardo

    A business cult fronting as a religion is indeed the apt description of Mormonism. And said religion itself is also riddled with flaws and fantasies to include its founder Joseph Smith and his mythical connection to heaven, the horn-blowing Mo-roni whose golden-glow statues adorns all the ornate temples of said business cult. Of course, Joe saw the success that the mythical Gabriel had with Christianity and Islam and simply followed their lead.

  • Ty

    Bernardo… With that much hate all pent up and hell bent on mormons you don’t have an ax to grind do you? Go forth in peace my friend and take a deep breathe stress free. Whew!

  • Ty

    How was your religion founded? Do you following a doctrinal book? Are you Christian? What does your church do for the world? Do you accept Christ? Where does the authority of your prophet come from? Thanks

  • Ty

    Religion is not created to handle the challenges of humanity. God is not a politician & man created religion. The scriptures written by prophets were created so that God could remind you who you are, why you are on earth and how to return to his presense at the end of your life. “This is my work and my glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man”. -God

  • Bernado

    Ty, Ty, Ty,

    You obviously suffer from the Three B Syndrome i.e. being Bred, Born and Brainwashed in religion and in your case Mormonism. Might want to read some reputable books on the foundations of religions.

  • Tashi Nyima

    Buddhists are not atheists, but non-theists. There is a difference. The practice of loving kindness and compassion does not require one to accept or reject god(s). Theism and atheism are extreme views. There is a Middle Way.

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