An indigenous person plays for the audience at the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Parliament of the World's Religions in Toronto, Canada on November 1, 2018. (RNS photo by John Longhurst.

This week's parliament of religions is more than a big 'pat on the back' for faith

TORONTO (RNS) — With its theme of "The Promise of Inclusion, the Power of Love," and its focus on global understanding, the seventh Parliament of the World's Religions could hardly have picked a more inclusive spot than Toronto, Canada’s largest city. The more than 8,000 people expected from 80 countries in this weeklong gathering will hardly stand out in the polyglot crowds that coexist in Toronto's diverse neighborhoods.

Karen Hamilton, co-chair of the Parliament’s Toronto hosting committee and former General Secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches, said the event is an opportunity to showcase “the richness of the various faith traditions that are growing in this country.”

At the same time, she hopes participants will be encouraged by how people of different faiths cooperate in Canada, taking “lessons learned and relationships formed back home, transferring them to different contexts.”

But, she added, the Nov. 1-7 parliament will not be a big “pat on the back” for faith.

Things have been done in the name of religion, Hamilton said, that are “absolutely dire and that need to be addressed with a deep sense of repentance.” As examples, she pointed to failure to take climate change seriously, attitudes toward women, and the ways religion “has been used to support genocide, wars, persecution and injustice.”

Fittingly, the parliament will open with an acknowledgment that the gathering is being held on traditional indigenous lands, part of a growing consciousness about Canada's history of persecution of its original inhabitants. Indigenous people of Canada will participate in the opening ceremonies, and a sacred fire will burn throughout the event.

“We want to highlight the vibrancy of indigenous traditions in Canada,” said Hamilton, adding she hopes the emphasis will also “cause people from other countries to reflect on their own indigenous traditions.”

“We need to keep challenging ourselves, need to keep speaking about our failings as people of faith. That is the mark of a healthy spirituality,” said Hamilton.

This spiritual accounting will be discussed in more than 500 addresses, seminars and other programs, divided into tracks about the role and dignity of women in religion; countering war, hate and violence; climate change; indigenous peoples; youth; and working to achieve a more just, peaceful and sustainable world.

The first parliament was held in Chicago in 1893. After a 100-year hiatus, it was held again in Chicago in 1993, followed by Cape Town (1999), Barcelona (2004), Melbourne (2009) and Salt Lake City (2015).

The concerns of this parliament are already the focus of much of the good work people of faith do, said Zul Kassamali, president of the Toronto Area Interfaith Council and co-chair of the Canadian Interfaith Conversation, who is sharing co-chairing duties at the Parliament with Hamilton. But too many believers, he said, are still “working in silos.”

The parliament, he said, will “bring people together to learn what others are doing and find ways to connect. We can learn something from each other. That is the most important thing.”

Kassamali hopes that as participants share solutions to these global problems, the gathering can also be a way to counter the negative image of religion in the world today.

“We need to show a different side to faith,” he said.


  1. Karen Hamilton is spot-on. The world’s religions must take action to save the real world. They need to get cracking on climate change and the human overpopulation that fuels it, on women’s health and rights of conscience with regard to universal access to abortion and contraception, to religiously neutral public education for all kids, for religious liberty and church-state separation. And more.

  2. “The world’s religions” should have stepped up to the plate and held the top-level Global Warmers’ feet to the fire, after all that Climategate and Broken Hockey Stick mess.

    Then the world’s religions should have done the same thing when experts Dr. Lennart Bengtsson, and Dr. Noelle Metting, were **censored** and **bullied**, merely for expressing honest & dissenting scientific assessments on mere portions of the Global Warmer Sales-Pitch.

    Religionists, let’s bring this errant GW-Religion to Justice (and a dollop of Federal Supermax Prison on top of it!! )

  3. A person is either your brother in faith, or your equal in humanity. -Imam Ali

  4. I hope that your line ended wth you or you’re leaving a horrible legacy & planet on your great great grandchildren as the earth becomes less and less hospitable to human life.

  5. Floyd seems unaware that 98% of climate scientists agree that climate change is real, is caused by human overpopulation, and requires immediate action if civilization is to survive.

  6. For some folks, consensus is built on Science. For the Global Warmers, it’s built on Censorship.

    These are tough times for work-a-day PhD scientists. One’s science paycheck, one’s hopes for tenure and career, one’s hopes of a good economic future for one’s family, now depend on NOT rocking the boat of the Global Warmers and their Media Shills — not even partially, not even because of your own science research and study.

    Even Dr. Bengtsson’s multiple science awards, prestigious posts, and 225 publications on climate and meteorology, were NOT enough to protect him from Censorship. Most scientists took note.

  7. Floyd’s climate change denial is dangerously stupid. He disdains the majority of scientists, evidently because of his devotion to Trump.

  8. Citations, please. And considering that you’re going against the scientific consensus, they’d better be good!

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