DON'T LOOK NOW, BUT...
Another Liberal Movement Slowly But Surely Gains Supporters Among Episcopal, Other Anglican Bishops
By Report/Analysis By Lee Penn
The Christian Challenge (Washington, DC)
July 30, 2003
"A highlight for me was being asked to perform a "traditional Wiccan foundation blessing" in the closing ceremony.... I specifically invoked Hekate and Hermes by name, and Bishop Swing was right there raising his arms in invocation with the rest of the Circle! We have, indeed, come a long way." Don Frew, 1999-2000 Interfaith Report
"Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them." Ephesians 5:11
SUPPORT FOR IT has been indicated by Anglican bishops like Michael Ingham of Vancouver, Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Frederick Borsch (formerly of Los Angeles), Episcopal Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, and the head of his church's ecumenical office, Christopher Epting - among others.
Do we speak of same-sex unions, or gay bishops-elect, both issues at the center of controversy at the Episcopal General Convention, which opens today in Minneapolis?
Not in this case. Rather, all the bishops named have expressed support for another, but little-noticed, movement linked to the U.S. Episcopal Church (ECUSA): the controversial United Religions Initiative (URI), which California Episcopal Bishop William Swing founded in 1996.
The URI hopes to bring together on a regular basis representatives of the major *and* minor faith systems, including those of the New Age/pagan/occult genre, to help resolve conflicts in the world. However, some of its critics believe the interfaith initiative envisions or could lead to a one-world religion.
In its Charter, the URI describes itself as "a growing global community dedicated to promoting enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, ending religiously motivated violence and creating cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings...The URI, in time, aspires to have the visibility and stature of the United Nations."
In November 2002, URI Executive Director Charles Gibbs hailed the growth of the movement: "Since 1996, the URI has grown from a small group of 55 visionary people to a global organization…engaging over 15,000 interfaith activists
from 88 faith traditions and 46 countries." The URI says that over the next three years, it "fully expects to grow from 15,000 members to more than 30,000…We hope to engage 3 million people and many partner organizations in a global
action research project--Visions for Peace Among Religions, designed to create peace among religions for the 21st century."
Worldwide, the URI now has 202 chapters (which they call Cooperation Circles) Moreover, a majority of URI Cooperation Circles are where one would least expect them, the largely conservative global South--Asia, Africa, Latin America--along with the Middle East, and the non-English-speaking nations of the Pacific Rim. Nineteen of the 37 members of the URI Global Council, its board of directors, are from the same regions. Thus, the URI's base has expanded well beyond Western liberals, who have been the usual backers of interfaith movements.
URI allies include the United Nations (in particular, UNESCO and the UN Environmental Program), Mikhail Gorbachev's star-studded State of the World Forum, and the Earth Charter movement, led by Maurice Strong, a wealthy Canadian
advocate of world government. The URI also enjoys tacit support or active cooperation from most other interfaith organizations, including the Council for the Parliament of the World's Religions, the World Conference on Religion and Peace, the Temple of Understanding, and the North American Interfaith Network. The Vatican, the Eastern Orthodox, and Evangelical Protestants oppose the URI.
THE URI'S AGENDA goes well beyond its stated goal of ending religiously motivated violence.
URI leaders and their allies repeatedly equate evangelism with manipulative "proselytizing" and violence. If the URI vision prevails, Christian evangelism based on the unique, saving identity and acts of Christ would be ruled out.
As Bishop Swing has said, "In order for a United Religions to come about and for religions to pursue peace among each other, there will have to be a godly cease-fire, a temporary truce where the absolute exclusive claims of each will
be honored, but an agreed-upon neutrality will be exercised in terms of proselytizing, condemning, murdering or dominating. These will not be tolerated in the United Religions zone" - which evidently covers the whole world. URI
leaders say "proselytizing" is the work of "fundamentalists," and Paul Chafee (who was a URI board member at the time) said at a URI forum in 1997, "We can't afford fundamentalists in a world this small."
Though the URI insistently denies that it intends to mix the world's religions or to start a New Religion, URI worship ceremonies and the writings of URI leaders point in that direction.
At the 1995 interfaith service where Bishop Swing first publicly announced his desire to establish the URI, "holy water from the Ganges, the Amazon, the Red Sea, the River Jordan, and other sacred streams" was mixed in a single "bowl of unity" on the altar of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco. Bishop Swing made the meaning of the ritual clear: "As these sacred waters find confluence here…may the city that chartered the nations of the world bring together the religions of the world."
In June 2000, 275 interfaith activists from around the world gathered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to sign the URI Charter. Rowan Fairgrove - an avowed Wiccan long active in the URI - reported that the URI conclave began with this
chant: "Gathered in here in the mystery of the hour / Gathered in one strong body / Gathered here in our unity and power / Spirit draw near." At the same meeting, Bishop Swing said, "This is the spirit's property…and no one owns it.
Fifty years from now, people from all over the world will flock to Pittsburgh in tribute of this signing." No one named the "spirit" that they had thus invoked.
Wiccans and Neopagans are part of the religious mainstream in the URI. One Neopagan leader, Donald Frew, was elected in 2002 as a member of the URI Global Council. Frew has written that at the URI Charter-signing meeting in June
2000, he was asked to perform a "traditional Wiccan foundation blessing" at the closing ceremony. Frew said, "I specifically invoked Hekate and Hermes by name, and Bishop Swing was right there raising his arms in invocation with the rest of the Circle!"
In The Coming United Religions, Bishop Swing has written, "The time
comes...when common language and a common purpose for all religions and spiritual
movements must be discerned and agreed upon. Merely respecting and understanding
other religions is not enough." Since the purpose of religion is the service of
God, Bishop Swing's call for "all religions and spiritual movements" to have
"a common purpose" is, in effect, a call for all to worship a common god.
THE URI'S DESIRE, as stated in its Charter -- to "manifest love and justice
among all life in our Earth community" -- does not extend to the lives of the
unborn. Bishop Swing has likened "the insane expansion of population" to
exponential growth of algae in a lake. In 2000, two high-level URI executives -
Canon Charles Gibbs, URI Executive Director, and the Rev. William Rankin, an
Episcopal cleric who was then the URI Vice-President - signed a manifesto issued
early that year by the Sexual Information and Education Council of the US
(SIECUS). This "Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing"
opposed "unsustainable population growth" and favored "blessing...same-sex
unions," the ordination of women, artificial contraception, abortion, and
"lifelong, age appropriate sexuality education in schools, seminaries, and community
The URI supports efforts by Catholic dissident Hans Küng and others to create
a new Global Ethic, and has endorsed the push by Maurice Strong and Mikhail
Gorbachev, founders of Green Cross International, for an Earth Charter.
Gorbachev views the Earth Charter as "a kind of Ten Commandments, a 'Sermon on the
Mount,' that provides a guide for human behavior toward the environment in the
next century and beyond." The "Green Cross Earth Charter Philosophy," prepared
in Moscow and Geneva in 1997 by Gorbachev's environmentalist organization,
makes clear the intent of these proposed codes: "The protection of the
Biosphere, as the Common Interest of Humanity, must not be subservient to the rules of state sovereignty, demands of the free market or individual rights."
Bishop Swing has said, "The United Religions will not be a rejection of
ancient religion but will be found buried in the depths of these religions."
If United Religions were "buried in the depths" of Christianity, countless
martyrs could have avoided death by burning incense before the statue of the
Roman Emperor, and today's martyrs in Sudan and China could apostatize with a
clear conscience. Maybe martyrs are passé, anyhow: former URI Vice President
Rankin said in 1998, "The United Religions Initiative exists to bring people
together from all the religions of the world, to create a world where no one has to
die because of God, or for God, any more."
Organizations should be known by the company they keep. Enthusiastic URI
supporters include New Age authors Robert Muller (former Assistant
Secretary-General of the UN), Neale Donald Walsch (author of the best-selling Conversations With God books), and Barbara Marx Hubbard. They draw inspiration from
Theosophy, an occult movement started in 1875 by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.
Theosophy has had significant influence on the New Age movement worldwide. Its teachings include praising Lucifer as the bringer of light to humanity, denouncing
orthodox Christianity and Judaism as "separative" and "obsolete," and forecasting a
coming age of enlightened, spiritual collectivism - after the cleansing of earth to remove those who do not accept progress. The Rudolf Steiner Foundation, which promotes theosophical schools, has made a grant to the URI, as has the New York-based Lucis Trust, which spreads the teachings of American theosophist Alice Bailey.
MEANWHILE, BISHOP SWING HAS BOASTED, "No diocese in the country is more in
sync with the national Episcopal Church than the Diocese of California…We have a
high doctrine of the Church as the Body of Christ, so we are good team players at every turn." His loyalty has been repaid. Within ECUSA and the Anglican Communion, public supporters of the URI far outnumber public opponents, largely because the URI still travels under the radar a good deal of the time. (It is unknown the extent to which the URI's Anglican supporters understand or accept the more radical aspects of the URI agenda.)
The URI obtained a low-key endorsement from Episcopal Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold in mid-1999. When he visited San Francisco for the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the California diocese, Griswold said "determined farsightedness is a characteristic I particularly associate with this diocese and many of its bishops across the years...as well as your present bishop's vision of the potential force of the world's religions to bind up and bring together, rather than divide and turn the people of the earth against one another." (Griswold appears not to have publicly spoken about the URI since then.)
In addition to Bishops Swing and Griswold, and Bishops Borsch, Ingham, Tutu and Epting, mentioned earlier, a number of other Anglican prelates support the URI:
--- Joseph Jon Bruno, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles -
--- Celso Franco de Oliveira, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Rio de
--- Bishop J. Clark Grew, of the Diocese of Ohio - and during 2000, one of
11 members of the "Council of Advice" for the ECUSA Presiding Bishop
--- Bob Gordon Jones, the retired Bishop of Wyoming
--- Samir Kafity, former Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East
--- Robert L. Ladehoff, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon
--- The Most Rev. Alexander Mar Thoma, the Metropolitan of the Mar Thoma
Syrian Church in Kerala, India.
--- Richard Millard, retired Bishop Suffragan of Europe, and assisting Bishop
--- James Ottley, the Anglican Observer at the United Nations from 1995-99,
and currently an Assisting Bishop in the Diocese of Southeast Florida.
--- Mano K. Rumalshah, the former Bishop of Peshawar, Pakistan
--- K. H. Ting, who has served as President of the China Christian Council
(CCC), the state-approved Protestant church in China, and as Chair of the
Chinese Christian Three-Self Patriotic Movement
--- David Young, CBE, the former bishop of Ripon and Leeds in the UK
Episcopal dioceses that have acted in support of the URI include:
--- Central Gulf Coast
--- Diocese of Los Angeles
--- Western Massachusetts
Current and former Episcopal cathedral deans and rectors who publicly approve
of the URI include:
--- Sanford Garner, former Dean of the Episcopal National Cathedral in
--- Alan Jones, current Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco
--- James Parks Morton, former Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine
in New York City
--- H. Lawrence Whittemore Jr., the Dean Emeritus of the Cathedral Church of
the Nativity in the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Members of Washington Bishop John Chane's diocesan "Commission on Ecumenical
and Interreligious Ministries" participate in the URI in the capital city.
Numerous Episcopal parishes across the country have also supported the URI -
including Trinity Cathedral Church, in Sacramento, California.
The world's Anglican bishops, meeting at the 1998 Lambeth Conference in
Canterbury, England, unanimously endorsed a URI call for a global religious
cease-fire for December 31, 1999 to January 2, 2000. The Lambeth resolution matched
the text that the URI had adopted at its '98 global conference, stating that
the 72-hour cease-fire "will allow the world to end the old age in peace, and
to begin the new millennium in the spirit of reconciliation, healing and
A report associated with the Lambeth resolution named the URI as the
coordinator of the cease-fire project. Bishop Swing introduced the resolution, and the
North American and Caribbean bishops unanimously placed the cease-fire call
in a package of non-controversial "agreed resolutions." The entire Conference
then adopted all the "agreed resolutions" without debate on the last day of the
meeting. The URI has since used this endorsement as evidence of its own
In other respects - such as sexual morality and interpretation of Scripture -
Lambeth '98 upheld traditional Christian teaching. How many of the Lambeth
bishops knew that they had supported a URI initiative?
Canterbury has been silent about the URI since its birth. Neither Archbishop
George Carey nor his successor, Rowan Williams, have said anything publicly
about the URI, though Dr. Carey pursued or participated in other interfaith
endeavors. However, the Church of England newspaper criticized the URI in October
1999 and July 2001.
One Anglican bishop - Archbishop Harry Goodhew, of Australia, who retired in
2001 - publicly criticized the URI in 2000; the retired Bishop of South
Carolina, FitzSimons Allison, did the same. No other Anglican bishop recognized by
Canterbury has stood publicly against the URI and Bishop Swing. But Bishop
Charles Murphy of the Anglican Mission in America, consecrated in 2000 in
Singapore by two conservative Anglican Archbishops, denounced the URI as part of the
"crisis of faith" in ECUSA.
At the Episcopal General Conventions in 1997 and 2000, there were no
resolutions, favorable or negative, about the URI. No press reports on either
convention indicated that either the URI or Bishop Swing have suffered any public
criticism from Episcopalians, other than from Bishop Allison.
In the October 2001 Pacific Church News, Swing wrote that he saw a positive
change in the attitude of the ECUSA House of Bishops, who met in Burlington,
Vermont a week after the 9/11 attack. "The profound change that took place at
this meeting was the full arrival of interfaith awareness...For the first time
in the history of [ECUSA], we have an interfaith officer, Bishop Christopher
Epting, working daily at the national office. By popular request, I was asked to
teach a class on the work of the [URI]. Last year I volunteered for the same
task, but not one bishop showed up."
In recent years, most conservative Episcopal laity have been occupied by the
gay issue, and the URI movement continues to enjoy surprising anonymity. But
even some who are aware of the URI prefer not to hear about it. As one observer
wrote on a large, conservative Anglican listserve: "I would prefer you not
send any more of this stuff to me…We at [snip] can't even keep our parish
together…There are many more wolves closer to the shed. What Swing does is also
seen by God, and He will judge. If URI is the instrument by which the Revelation
come true [sic], I say, Come Lord Jesus!"
The Catholic Church speaks for all orthodox Christians in rejecting the
Utopian fantasies fostered by the URI: "The Antichrist's deception already begins
to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within
history that messianic hope which can be only realized beyond history through the
The foregoing is based on a chapter in a book-length analysis of the United Religions Initiative and the New Age movement, to be published later this year by the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, a research organization that monitors international organizations' activities from a pro-life, Catholic perspective. Sources used for the article are available upon request.
Permission to circulate the foregoing electronically, or reprint it, is granted, provided that there are no changes in the headings or text and the story includes this notice. To learn more about THE CHRISTIAN CHALLENGE magazine, which has covered Anglican affairs since 1962, write to CHRISTIAN.CHALLENGE@ecunet.org