IARF U.S. Chapter Newsletter
Volume 17 Issue 1 Spring 2018
You can show your support of these values by becoming a member of the U.S. chapter of the IARF. Please complete the enclosed membership form and mail it to our office, and plan to attend the upcoming World IARF Congress in Washington, D.C.in July, 2018. We invite you to peruse this newsletter and learn more about the important work that we do in our effort to promote tolerance and understanding around the world.
HERE’S YOUR CHANCE TO ENSURE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM!
The values and message of the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) are especially relevant today. You can be proud to be part of an organization founded early in the last century that celebrates and promotes inter-religious relationships and cooperation. You are vital to this movement! Planning for the 2018 IARF World Congress in Washington, D.C. is already underway.
Please join or renew your membership with the IARF United States chapter today.
Individual Membership: $30 Household Membership: $50
Donations can also be made to the Diether Gehrmann Fund and the Fairfield Children’s Home. The Gehrmann Fund honors our beloved former IARF director by enabling young adults to participate in IARF trainings and conferences. The Fairfield Children’s Home is an orphanage housing 80 children in Old Mutare, Zimbabwe.
Please send your dues and donations by check or money order (made out to IARF US Chapter) to: Nyla McCulloch, Membership
100 Woodland Road
Malden, MA 02148
Reimagining Interfaith Conference
Plans for the Reimagining Interfaith conference in Washington D.C. this summer are moving ahead. Speakers and tracks are being finalized and it promises to be an important event. In this time of social and political unrest in the United States and around the world, participants will derive a sense of the many shared interests that we have and become grounded and united as we make preparations for a peaceful and inclusive future together.
The Conference will take place from July 29-August 1st at George Washington University. Six program tracks will focus on equipping and empowering activists to work across lines of differences to make interfaith movements more inclusive and powerful. Time will be allocated for networking, dialogues, cultural activities, and participant-driven programming. PLEASE JOIN US IN D.C. THIS SUMMER! 
Prospective registrants can use this online form to sign up: http://www.reimagineinterfaith.org/ 
More than half a century ago, sociologist C. W. Mills noted the impact that media overload was having on society. The avalanche of information was forcing people to choose what to monitor. The volume was getting beyond our ability to digest it. Sound familiar? You can multiply that situation by a factor of ten today. No one would dispute the fact that life now in the United States is far more frenetic and characterized by information overload than it was when Mills wrote about it.
Beyond the obvious problems associated with trying to assimilate the voluminous amount of data thrust upon us and the myriad sources of information e.g. print and electronic, is the question concerning the veracity of the information we receive. Distinguishing real versus fake news is a lingering issue that has gained prominence since the election of President Donald J. Trump, and we can thank him and his administration for bringing the issue to the forefront.
With the advent of smart phones and other convenient electronic devices, we have at our disposal the power to access more information and knowledge than ever before. People are overwhelmed with the volume of information they receive and must choose what they wish to believe. What people wish to believe may be gratifying and fulfilling, but it may be incorrect. Yet, merely labeling something as “fake news” does not make it false, no more than assuming the facts presented by the so-called “legacy” media (long-established sources of information e.g. The New York Times and Washington Post) are always true.
The dilemma of determining fact from fiction was further complicated when one of President Trump’s advisers, Kellyanne Conway, introduced the concept of “alternative facts” on January 22, 2017 as justification for believing then White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer’s, observation about the size of the crowd at President Trump’s inauguration. The subsequent bashing of the major television networks, the Cable News Network (CNN), and print media stalwarts by the Trump Administration, and the simultaneous elevation of the Fox News Network to the preferred status of “reputable” despite research by multiple sources (The New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Press, Forbes Magazine PolitiFact) that shows bias, distortions, and falsity of reporting on this network, reinforces the necessity for people to engage one another in candid dialogue.
The IARF promotes activities designed to break down myths and stereotypes that separate and divide people. In our informationally challenged society, taking the time to dialogue with people from different faiths and socioeconomic backgrounds is an activity that can reap large rewards. You can share perspectives about life now and beyond and in the process develop an appreciation of the divergent interests and orientations of people from different religious traditions. And, heaven only knows, we can use a modicum of decorum, trust and objectivity garnered through such human interaction in this day of information overload. In future issues of this newsletter we will discuss new initiatives by the United States chapter of the IARF to promote interfaith dialogue in your community. We hope you will join these initiatives and we welcome your suggestions for improving communication and interaction in your community.
—H. Roy Kaplan, Ph.D.
FEEDBACK FOR THE FUTURE
To ascertain the present and future status of the U.S. chapter of the IARF, an open-ended questionnaire was sent to members and associates of the U.S. chapter. The survey was designed by Rev. Kim Beach, a member of the U.S. Board, and he is engaged in an analysis of the results. Preliminary responses indicate active members have derived satisfaction and knowledge from participating in international conferences and trips. They noted the benefits from cross cultural interaction and look forward to continuing these interfaith experiences.
Respondents were unanimous in their belief that the IARF should promote interfaith comity and develop lines of communication and friendships throughout the world. Paramount among the responses was the emphasis on ensuring religious freedom for everyone and interfaith understanding.
As to the vision, participants felt that the organization should seek alignment with other like-minded interfaith organizations toward the goal of educating the public about the importance of religious liberty and interfaith cooperation. To that end, some respondents re-stated the important role that the IARF should play in establishing programs that promote understanding and friendships around the world.
More information based on responses to this survey will be presented at the forthcoming Reimagining Interfaith conference this summer at George Washington University. A special planning/visioning meeting will be conducted at the Reimagining Interfaith Conference when specific projects will be selected for development. Chapter members will receive notification of the date, time and place shortly. Please join us to provide your input about the future of the IARF U.S. chapter.
U.S. CHAPTER NEWS
On March 17, 2018 the board of the PFARRER GEHRMANN STIFTUNG met and agreed to match the amount raised by the IARF U.S. chapter. This additional $750 will bring the fund to $6,500 which will be invested for the purpose of providing support for young scholars engaged in interfaith activities. THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS TO THIS FUND. If you are interested in contributing to it please send your donation to: Nyla McCulloch, Membership, 100 Woodland Road, Malden, Massachusetts 02148
On Friday, February 2, 2018 the annual Candelmas experience was held at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City, Missouri. Vern Barnet, longtime IARF chapter member, was instrumental in developing the event attended by hundreds of people. The event, which is derived from an ancient celebration of light and interfaith friendship, also commemorates the presentation of the infant Jesus by his parents to the Temple in Jerusalem. Original poetry and musical compositions enabled participants to share in the evening’s festivities which were sponsored by the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council representing 22 distinct faith traditions.
The United Religions Initiative (URI) in Bangladesh, in conjunction with the IARF Bangladesh chapter, jointly organized an “International Conference on Religions for Peace and Understanding: Caodai, Baha’i, and Sikh Perspective”. The event was held on March 6, 2018 in the Social Science Conference Hall at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. A presentation by Rev. Nguyen Tuan Em clarified the role of Caodaism in Vietnam and its influence on promoting the unity of God, religions and mankind. Dr. Jena Hamadani discussed the Baha’I religious tradition and its emphasis on respect for other faiths, and Professor Jahangir Alam enlightened the participants about Sikhism’s approach to promoting peace and harmony on the Indian subcontinent. Rounding out the forum was a presentation by Professor Abu Taher on religious symbols and their significance, and the messages they convey
IARF chapters in India, especially those involved with youth, have, once again, been actively promoting tolerance and understanding. A National Youth Meet was held from February 17-18, 2018 at the Beta Matriculation School in Chennai where lectures and group discussions were conducted to promote religious harmony and respect for elders. The keynote address was given by Mr. Rengapashyam who emphasized the importance of being different and how that can lead to innovation. In attendance was Dr. Alexander Jesudasan, Principal and Secretary of the Madras Christian College. Following sessions on religious harmony, peace and tolerance, student participants recommended the establishment of a vigilance committee to oversee local religious issues; the education and organization of citizens about the goals of the group; and the creation of a youth group of ambassadors functioning under the motto “Live and Let Live”. These suggestions were made in the spirit of promoting healthy communications to create peace and harmony.
Youth National Meeting in India
[Participants at Youth National Meeting in India]
The National Assembly of Religious Brothers India (NARBI) under the leadership of Brother Albert Xaviour functions as a religious forum in India that is working for brotherhood and peace among religious Brothers in that country. Begun in 1979, it now has 980 Religious Brothers as members and is trying to unite religious leaders and the public by organizing a two-day International Interfaith Convention for Peace on May 13-14, 2018 at the CRI Brothers Institute in Bangalore, India in collaboration with Vidya Deep College and other organizations. Participants will be involved in peace-building activities and interact with religious leaders from Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, Jain, Baha’I, Brahma Samaj and other faith traditions. Foreign delegates will be invited on an interfaith tour on May 15. For further information, contact Bro. Albert Xavier at:
Students in the Middle East conducted three events over the last year using the Model United Nations framework. On July 17, 2017, 70 students from a dozen schools and cities participated in a conference in Kufr Qara, Israel on the theme of “Religion”.
On September 15, 2017 students from 30 schools conducted a Model United Nations meeting at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel and explored ways of involving Arab and Jewish peers in the future. A month later, Jewish students were joined by 12 students from a Bedouin school, Ort Abu Tlul, and a discussion was held about the significance of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot as well the Hadith and the Qu’ran. Christian and Muslim students were invited into the homes of Jewish students for the New Year celebration of Rosh Hashana and Sukkot meals.
“The real struggle is not between East and West, or capitalism and communism, but between education and propaganda.”
IARF US CHAPTER | 183 22nd Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94121
U.S. Chapter Board
Barbara Kres Beach
H. Roy Kaplan
Betsy Darr- to the Council
Rev. Richard Boeke
Rev. Eric Cherry
Rev. Abhi Janamanchi
Rev. Richard Kellaway
Rev. Peter Richardson
Rev. William Schulz