Unveiling the Global Interfaith Agenda
By Carl Teichrib, Chief Editor
www.forcingchange.org - Volume 1, Issue 8
An Inside Look
January 11-14, 2001, St. Petersburg, Florida.
If you live anywhere in the “snow-belt,” St. Petersburg Florida can be a wonderful place in the middle of January. The salty Gulf of Mexico breeze and the warm sunshine create a perfect escape environment from the clutches of winter. Everybody north of the “40th parallel” knows this. So it was no surprise to discover that one of the year’s earliest interfaith events would take place in “sunny St. Pete.”
Starting on January 11 and ending on the 14th, interfaith activists from as far away as Korea and the United Kingdom gathered in St. Petersburg to attend the “Religions in Dialogue: Moving from Conflict to Trust” conference. Held at the Unitarian Universalist Church in the heart of the city, the purpose of this event was to create a common vision and cooperative strategy to advance the global interfaith agenda for 2001 and beyond
At first it seemed that the conference was going to be a wash – less than 50 people had shown up. But while the size of the group gave the appearance of insignificance, many of those who attended were involved at the highest levels of global interfaith work. In fact, three of the five largest interfaith organizations in the world were represented at the “director’s level.”
Here is the breakdown of the key interfaith leaders in attendance and the organizations they represented,
Marcus Braybrooke, Director of the World Congress of Faiths (WCF) and arguably one of the most prolific writers on interfaithism. He is considered by many to be the most knowledgeable and influential man in the interfaith movement. The WCF is located in the United Kingdom. Mr. Braybrooke is also a Patron of the International Interfaith Centre at Oxford. The WFC was one of two co-sponsors of the St. Petersburg event.
Richard Boeke, Chairman of the WCF. He too lives in the UK.
Allan Race, Editor of WCF’s publication World Faiths Encounter. Mr. Race is also a Trustee of the International Interfaith Centre.
Andrew Clark, Secretary-General of the International Association of Religious Freedom (IARF), also located in the UK. The IARF was the second co-sponsor of this event.
Doris Hunter, IARF Director for the United States.
Jim Kenney, International Director for the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (CPWR) – the group that organized the 1993 and 1999 World Parliament of Religions.
Mr. Kenney is also a Trustee of the International Interfaith Centre. The CPWR is headquartered in Chicago.
Of the five major global interfaith organizations, only the World Conference on Religion and Peace (located in New York city) and the United Religions Initiative (located in San Francisco) were not officially represented, although some of the conference participants and attendees had played roles in both of these absent groups.
Other participants included, - Dr. Hal French, Professor at the Dept. of Religious Studies, University of South Carolina, and author of Zen and the Art of Anything.
Dr. K.L. Seshagiri Rao, Chief Editor for the Encyclopedia of Hinduism, and Professor at the University of South Carolina.
Dr. Spencer Lavan, a long-time interfaith activist. He has been involved in inter-religious work around the world for decades.
Because the event was held in the Unitarian church, Unitarians were in the majority. Other faith communities present were,
she converted back to Hinduism. She told me that if she ever moved back to India, she would once again become a “Christian.”
Christianity. In all cases those representing “Christianity” held to a very liberal view of the faith. Marcus Braybrooke and his wife were among the Christians present. Some attendees claimed a form of “grafted” Christianity, such as Christian-Buddhist or Christian-Unitarian. Many admitted being brought up as a child in the Christian faith. Richard Boeke, who played a fundamental part throughout the four days, had at one time been the pastor of a Southern Baptist church. He’s now a Unitarian minister. On a couple of occasions I heard attendees confess that they had been “saved” at a Billy Graham crusade but had “come to their senses” soon thereafter.
Hindu. Representation included one lady who “converted” to Christianity while in India to escape her overbearing family’s legalistic brand of Hinduism. Once she moved to the US and was freed from her “fundamentalist” Hindu family,
Buddhism. Frank Tedesco, a Buddhist scholar and interfaith activist, was part of the Saturday afternoon panel session. Mr. Tedesco had flown in from Korea specifically to participate in this conference.
New Age/Wiccan. They were represented in the Thursday evening interfaith worship service (remember, this is a religious meeting, and “worship” is planned into the program agenda). During this time, a ceremony was conducted in which a Wiccan invoked a “blessing,”
“I am the four corners of the earth, north, south, east, and west, which bound the sacred circle where we stand, ready to receive our gods. Beloved Mother, by many names and faces are you known. As you are the name ‘ever young,’ let us stay young forever and ever grow within our faith. As you are the fertile mother, ever giving. Help us to harvest the sweet fruit of this gathering – tolerance, understanding, and love.”
Other “faith communities” included, - Judaism. On Friday evening we were led in an interfaith Judaic Shabbat service, conducted by the Beth Rachamim Synagogue – which is one of a handful of overtly gay and lesbian synagogues in the country. Throughout the service, prayers and reaffirmations were made to endorse their homosexuality.
Theosophy. The Theosophical Society set up a display table and gave a workshop presentation. The founder of the Theosophical Society was Helena Blavatsky. Alice A. Bailey was another prominent theosophist. Both of these ladies have been referred to as the “Mother of the New Age Movement.” Theosophy is an occult philosophy elevating Lucifer to the position of liberator of humanity.
Native American. Saturday afternoon a sweat lodge was set up for those who wanted to partake in a Native American spiritual experience.
Humanism. Humanism was presented as one of the “religions” (or should that be “anti-religions”?) and was given a time slot for a Saturday afternoon workshop. Strange as it may be, the St. Pete Unitarian church had numerous brochures and informational sheets promoting humanism.
Kashi Ashram interfaithism. Located near the east coast of Florida is Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati’s interfaith ashram. “Ma,” the guru of the Kashi Ashram, has blended a variety of western and eastern spiritual traditions. Ma’s interfaith teachings have been an example to the interreligious community, and she has been involved in a variety of world interfaith events and organizational activities. At least two of her followers were present at the St. Pete meeting.
Scientology. Besides giving a workshop on Scientology, a Scientology drama and musical team gave a performance during Saturday evening’s cultural program.
Practitioners of other religions were also in attendance, but those listed above (including Unitarian) were the most active. Interestingly, while a fair number of participants claimed to be “Christian,” the reaction to “fundamental Christianity” was anything but friendly. As with every other interfaith meeting I’ve been to, fundamental Christianity was unashamedly bashed. Claiming to be a way of “tolerance,” the interfaith movement is, in reality, extremely intolerant when religions such as Christianity proclaim “exclusive truth.”
So what “inside information” was given at this meeting? Here it is,
The next Parliament of the World’s Religions. After the 1999 Cape Town Parliament of the World’s Religions, it was determined that a parliament should be convened every five years.
Due to circumstances, the next parliament will not be held until 2005, one year later than expected. [Note: the Parliament was able to convene in 2004 after all]. According to Jim Kenney, the CPWR wants to bill its next event as a type of “Olympics” of world religions. To this end, the CPWR wants cities to compete in hosting the event, much like the Olympic system currently does.
Here’s the inside scoop; Mr. Kenney made it very clear that at least 10 world cities have started bidding to host the next parliament – but, as Kenney pointed out, the CPWR hasn’t even made the “call to host” public yet! Watch as the momentum for the next parliament builds as cities compete to host what is fast being viewed as the premier inter-religious event. It is also expected that other players, possibly corporate, financial, and institutional, will come alongside with support packages and endorsements. If all this takes place, and it looks like it will, the interfaith agenda for the next five to ten years will catapult forward in an unprecedented way.
United Religions Initiative. The URI and its global charter was developed by Bishop William Swing at the behest of the United Nations and Robert Muller, a top UN official and visionary. At the St. Pete meeting, it came out that the more historically established interfaith players considered the URI to be a type of black sheep within the interfaith family. During the URI’s early years, statements made by Bishop Swing had caused a rift between the URI and the other interfaith groups. Now that Swing has stepped down from his position as director of the URI (Charles Gibbs has taken over), the global interfaith community is ready to embrace the URI as a respectable player within the global inter-religious agenda. Watch as the URI gains prominence via the fact that the world interfaith leadership is now recognizing its place as a global partner.
Earth Charter. Jim Kenney explained during a private conversation that the interfaith movement is in agreement with, and working towards, the acceptance of Mikhail Gorbachev’s Earth Charter program. More often than not, the Earth Charter has been viewed as a political entity. While this is the predominant view, Mr. Kenney made it clear that the Earth Charter platform transcends the political and connects with the interfaith agenda. Watch as the interfaith movement and the Earth Charter program link more tightly in promoting religious pluralism, earth servitude, and “world management.”
[The Earth Charter is a platform document intended to shape civilization around Earth First principles and strengthen global governance]
International Association of Religious Freedom in America. The IARF is the oldest interfaith group in the world (it was founded in 1900), but it doesn’t have a strong presence in the US. One of the anticipated results of having this conference in St. Pete was that the IARF would cement ties with US interfaith activists. IARF has been a substantial player in Japan, India, and the UK, and now it plans to sink deeper roots in America.
World Alliance of Interfaith Organizations. The most important development that came out of the St. Petersburg meeting was that the three global bodies proposed an informal world alliance strategy. During the meeting they refrained from calling this alliance an interfaith “world federation,” but in many ways this is what was being discussed. All of this came about through “coffee table talk” – informal discussions in the lunchroom and lounge. Often times, these informal settings are the places were the real agendas are developed.
Knowing this alliance is taking shape, the essential questions are; what will be the nature of this alliance, and where will it take us? At this point, it’s hard to know. At the very least, the CPWR, the World Congress of Faiths, and the IARF will work together in a much tighter fashion. One of the “alliance” suggestions was to develop a common internet data base for inter-eligious networking; a small first step, but a step nonetheless.
As the leadership from the three major bodies that met at St. Petersburg continue to flesh out this new cooperative, the other two groups (URI and the World Conference on Religion and Peace) will, in all probability, join in some degree. Watch as the interfaith movement becomes a more cohesive and potent force at both the national and international level. Only time will tell how the global interfaith agenda will ultimately impact our lives.
Where does this leave Biblical Christianity?
In the Church: Stay alert to how the interfaith movement is shaping the Christian church, both locally and broadly speaking. Expect ecumenical pressures and mandates from national offices to participate in pluralistic settings. Furthermore, expect fundamentalist positions to be questioned and challenged; especially regarding the exclusive message of Jesus Christ (John 14:6 comes to mind), sin and the issue of judgement, and the role of evangelism.
Politics: Keep an eye on “hate-crimes” legislation, which is a key venue in degenerating religious exclusiveness. Watch as civic leaders in various parts of the country attempt to zone downtown blocks as “interfaith” areas. Moreover, expect influential Christian leaders to partake in inter-religious political and civic functions, lending more credibility to the pluralistic position.
Education: Keep a special watch within our educational institutions, both Christian and secular. The New Age/interfaith movement recognizes that influencing education at all levels, which in turn shapes young minds, is a strategic component in advancing the global agenda. Already many churches and Christian schools have succumbed to the philosophy of religious pluralism, and our secular schools have been advocating this for years.
From July 7th to the 13th, 2004, Barcelona Spain was the focal point for a momentous interfaith event, the 2004 Parliament of the World’s Religions. And while this conference received practically no media coverage in North America, it was a major milestone in a lineage of interfaith events.
The history of the Parliament of the World’s Religions goes back over 100 years to 1893. That year, the first World’s Parliament of Religions took place as part of the World Columbia Exposition in Chicago. Thousands attended, and the gathering became a seminal event in American religious life, “marking the change from the dominance of Anglo-Saxon Protestantism to the start of a multi-religious society”1
Richard Seager, in his Harvard University Doctrinal Thesis on the 1893 Parliament, further elaborated on this national religious turnaround,2
“As far as religious pluralism in America is concerned a strict construction of the issue would seem to suggest that after the Parliament, there were many ways to be religious. One could be saved or self-realized or grow in God consciousness or be self-emptied. And as America itself continued to pursue its messianic mission, it was a nation under a changed God. Krishna, Vishnu, the Buddha (technically a not-God), the Divine Mother, and other deities had been tucked up in the nation’s sacred canopy, where they joined the Christian Father and Son, Jehovah, Nature’s God, and Apollo and his Muses...”
One hundred years later, in 1993, the second Parliament of the World’s Religions took place, once again in Chicago. Like the first Parliament, this event drew thousands of participants from practically every major and minor stream of thought, philosophy, and spiritual persuasion.
Erwin Lutzer, author and well-known Christian apologist, attended this event with a critical eye. Writing on what he witnessed, Lutzer commented,
“The gods are on a roll, and woe to those who stand in the way of their agenda! With lofty ideals and utopian plans to unify the religions of the world for the common good, this parliament met to break down the barriers that exist in the accelerated march toward unity”
Setting the stage for deeper interfaith collaboration, the 1993 Parliament spurned a landmark directive: the creation of a Global Ethic. Blending various aspects of many religious traditions, the basic idea behind the Global Ethic was and is to unite all religions around a common core set of moral and ethical values. To this end, the 1993 Parliament was especially significant, as the drive towards a Global Ethic elevated inter-religious cooperation to new heights.4
In 1999, on the eve of the new millennium, the third Parliament of the World’s Religions took place in Cape Town, South Africa. Again, thousands attended. However, when the Parliament concluded it was evident that a new direction for interfaith cooperation had been formulated. Unlike the past two events, which had a heavy emphasis on religious unity, the South African conference produced a remarkably political agenda.
Titled, A Call to Our Guiding Institutions, the final report from Cape Town stressed that Earthcentric changes needed to take place within governments, religious institutions, labor and industry, education, science, the international political community, and in other areas such as commerce and media. It was a call for “global interdependence” and “robust cooperation within the human family.” All of this was to take place within a framework of interfaith understanding where Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and the other spiritual paths could unite around a “better world” concept.5
And then came the 2004 Parliament of the World’s Religions.
Peak attendance at Barcelona topped 8,600, with participants coming from all corners of the world and representing an enormous range of religious beliefs and practices. Prominent interfaith organizations were also present, including the United Religious Initiative, which had approximately 150 of its global leaders partaking in the event (URI also had two information booths set up).6
Arguably one of the most important aspects of this parliament was the vast amount of networking which took place. Throughout the week, interfaith advocates and organizations built bridges and came together in striking formal and informal partnerships with other likeminded groups and individuals. More importantly, Barcelona afforded an opportunity to build upon the aspirations of each of the prior parliaments.
From its start until its close, participants worked to put in place a number of political commitments, including the role of religious communities in addressing international debt and financial governance, and to support water management programs that ultimately work hand-in-glove with the World Water Vision [an international water management action plan].7 Religious violence and tolerance were also viewed as a major area of political action, recognizing that the world’s religions play a part in shaping social policies and directives.
Dirk Ficca, the Executive Director of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, explained what political interconnections would be pursued in order to implement the commitments made during the week.
“The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions has also developed a process to monitor and support the implementation of the Barcelona Parliament commitments, including best-practice manuals and a web-based communications network in order to support and assess the impact on the world’s pressing problems. We are also exploring partnerships with other sectors of society such as organizations within the UN system, the World Bank and organizations that promote corporate social responsibility.”
Here’s were the rubber meets the road: a commitment to impacting global political decision making via the unified lobbying influence of the international religious community. Ultimately, it’s man’s plan to remake the world in man’s image.
Consider three historic statements from the first World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893,
“This day the sun of a new era of religious peace and progress rises over the world, dispelling the dark clouds of sectarian strife. This day a new flower blooms in the garden of religious thought, filling the air with its exquisite perfume. This is the day a new fraternity is born into the world of human progress, to aid in the upbuilding of the kingdom of God in the hearts of men. Era and flower and fraternity bear one name. It is a name which will gladden the hearts of those who worship God and love man in every clime. Those who hear its music joyfully echo it back to sun and flower. IT IS THE BROTHERHOOD OF RELIGIONS. In this name I welcome the first Parliament of the Religions of the World.”
“The religion of the future will be universal in every sense. It will embody all the thought and aspiration and virtue and emotion of all humanity; it will draw together all lands and peoples and kindreds and tongues into a universal brotherhood of love and service; it will establish upon earth a heavenly order.”
“Religion will then, as now, lift man above his weakness by reminding him of his responsibilities. The goal before is Paradise. Eden is to rise.”
And, from 2004 Barcelona Parliament of World Religions:
“The relentless effort of the Council for the Parliament of World Religions brings religious leaders within one platform and calls upon us to fulfill the highest purposes of religion. We come from the four directions, like streams merging into a great river. We are all on our way home to the Ocean of the One Divine Spirit…Let each of us come, willing to be immeasurably enriched by the beauty, depth and validity of one another’s traditions. With each encounter, let us meet the Divinity in one another.”12
None of this should come as a surprise to the discerning Christian and observer of religious world affairs. Rather, expect more of this type of activity as man seeks to re-create Eden into a New Age paradise where humanity sits enthroned – alongside the gods of nature. As noted in the introduction to this article, the global interfaith agenda has a broad range of influencing factors, including economic governance issues (see the above reference to the World Bank)
More importantly, while the scope of the inter-religious movement is obviously planetary in nature, it’s at the local level where the impact will be most readily visible. How it plays out in the educational setting, business world, civic playing field, and the church community will vary from region to region, city to city. But the social/religious change factor is the same; regardless of which vehicle is used to carry forward the agenda.
For Christians, the most important battleground for religious pluralism is in the church. It’s here where the most influence for subtle, negative change can be expected. As churches across North America embrace this interfaith trend, be on guard as false doctrines and dangerous philosophies shift the attention away from the exclusive, saving message of Jesus Christ, the fallen nature of man, and the holiness of God’s justice to one of religious diversity, openness, and experiential spiritual designs that bridge the gap between “Christianity” and other religious beliefs and practices.
Sadly, this is happening now, and the pressure is mounting to heedlessly follow this path. In the future, Forcing Change will highlight some of these troublesome areas.
For additional insights, see:
Re-Creating Eden: "...while [the 2004 Parliament of the World's Religions] received practically no media coverage in North America, it was a major mile-stone in a lineage of interfaith events. The history of the Parliament of World Religions goes back...to 1893. That year, the first World's Parliament of Religions took place as part of the World Columbia Exposition in Chicago. Thousands attended, and the gathering became a seminal event in American religious life, 'marking the change from the dominance of Anglo-Saxon Protestantism to the start of a multi-religious society.... Setting the stage for deeper interfaith collaboration, the 1993 Parliament spurred a landmark directive: the creation of a Global Ethic."
Celebrating which Spirit? "Given a choice of eight workshops, I chose to rejoin the Universal Declaration of a Global Ethic and found an empty chair next to the Reverend Deborah Light, a Wiccan representative to the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions. She wore the symbol of her faith on her necklace: a large pentagram within a sacred circle. In the center of the pentagram was a small quartered circle -- a medicine wheel or circle of life to American Indians."
Merging Religion and Mystical "Science" [Scroll down to A Bridge over other Waters: "The Council for a Parliament of World Religions promotes inter-religious dialogue and plans for the world's 'spiritual future by having government institutionalize a global ethic.' Sir John Templeton serves on the Parliament of World Religions board of trustees....Templeton...is an evolutionist, pantheist, universalist, and has occultic views. ...He claims that heaven and hell are states of mind we create here on earth that truth is relative, and that Christianity is no longer relevant...."
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Index to previous articles by Carl Teichrib
1 Marcus Braybrooke, Pilgrimage of Hope: One Hundred Years of Global Interfaith Dialogue (SCM Press, 1992), p.41.
2 As quoted by Braybrooks, Pilgrimage of Hope, p.41.
3 Erwin Lutzer, Christ Among Other gods: A Defense of Christ in an Age of Tolerance (Moody Press, 1994), p.11.
4 See, Joel Beversluis (ed.), A SourceBook for Earth’s Community of Religions (CoNexus Press/Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, 1993); Marcus Braybrooke, Faith and Interfaith in a Global Age (CoNexus Press/Braybrooke Press, 1998); Peggy Moran and Marcus Braybrooke (ed.), Testing the Global Ethic: Voices from the Religions on Moral Values (CoNexusPress/World Congress of Faiths, 1998).
5 Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, A Call to Our Guiding Institutions, (1999).
6 United Religions Initiative, URI eUpdate (August 2004).
7 For more information on international water management programs, see World Water Vision: Making Water Everybody’s Business (Earthscan Publications/World Water Council, 2000).
8 Dirk Ficca, “The Parliament Of The World’s Religions Results In Thousands Of Commitments To Address Religious Violence And Other Urgent Issues Facing The World,” www.cpwr.org/2004Parliament [accessed August 25, 2004].
9 Charles Carroll Bonney, “Words of Welcom,” The Dawn of Religious Pluralism: Voices from the World’s Parliament of Religions, 1893 (Open Court Publishing/Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, 1993, edited by Richard Hughes Seager), pp.21-22.
10 Merwin-Marie Snell, “Future of Religion,” The Dawn of Religious Pluralism: Voices from the World’s Parliament of Religions, 1893 (Open Court Publishing/Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, 1993, edited by Richard Hughes Seager), p.174.
11 Emil Gustav Hirsch, “Elements of Universal Religion,” The Dawn of Religious Pluralism: Voices from the World’s Parliament of Religions, 1893 (Open Court Publishing/Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, 1993, edited by Richard Hughes Seager), p.224.
12 His Holiness Swami Shuddhanandaa Brahmachari, 2004 Parliament of the World’s Religions, opinion piece, “The Needle and Thread” [accessed August 25, 2004, www.cpwr.org/2004Parliament/news/opiniobrahma.htm]
Index to previous articles by Carl Teichrib