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Multi-Faith Forum – Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

posted Aug 25, 2010, 5:59 PM by Tayo Jolaoso   [ updated Aug 25, 2010, 6:03 PM ]
ATLANTA — Dialogue and increased understanding were the results of the first leg of a 10-day, two-city tour by a delegation of Chinese religious leaders and their American counterparts that began in Atlanta Sept. 5.

The delegation included the leaders of the five government-recognized religions in China – Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism and Taoism. Hosted by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Ministry to Internationals of Forest Hills Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., and World Pilgrims of Atlanta, the delegation visited Atlanta religious sites such as the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Martin Luther King National Historical Site, Al Farooq Mosque and Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church.

The delegation also attended an Atlanta Braves game at Turner Field; traveled to Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga., to attend President Jimmy Carter’s Sunday School class; met with Georgia Rep. Charlice Byrd, R-Woodstock, and Georgia Sen. Judson Hill, R-Marietta, the Rev. Gerald Durley, pastor of Providence Missionary Baptist Church and chair of Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin’s Multi-faith Council, at a business and civic leaders forum; and participated in a multi-faith dialogue at Mercer University with their American counterparts.

“People in the United States have stereotypes of the way religion is treated in China and vice versa,” said Davis “Dee” Frober, minister to internationals at Forest Hills Baptist Church and the chief organizer of the trip. “The best way to overcome these misconceptions is to meet face to face, eat together, sit at table together and build relationships.”

During the business and civic leaders forum Sept. 8, Byrd and Hill spoke on the way faith influences government and how religious belief provides a foundation for values. Durley, a veteran of the Civil Rights movement, described the higher authority that leaders must answer to in order to be effective public servants.

“Any effective leader must realize they are human,” Durley said. “They will reach a point when they don’t know what to do. When they reach that point, they must call on a higher authority than themselves.”

Gao Feng, president of the China Christian Council, spoke of the ways religion contributes to a stable and harmonious society, allowing both government and business to prosper.

“Without the harmony in religions, they cannot have any positive influence on the society,” Gao said. “Harmonious religions should encourage their members to love the country and love the faith, to abide by the laws and regulations, to adapt themselves to the society and keep pace with the times, to stress the moral development and social services and care, to emphasize the cultural heritages and personal training, to tolerate and to set up dialogues and cooperation.”

The Multi-faith Dialogue Sept. 9 focused on religion and family. Moderated by Graham Walker, associate dean and professor at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology, the dialogue featured presentations from Jing Yin, member of the standing committee of the Buddhist Association of China; Ding Changyun, deputy president of the China Taoist association; Abbott Michael Elliston of the Atlanta Soto Zen Center; and Monsignor Henry Gracz, pastor of Atlanta’s Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Exploring the impact of single child families in China on the well being, Jing said there was often a conflict between pursuit of wealth and happiness. He suggested religion and family can and should work together to achieve happiness and fulfillment.

In his presentation, Gracz described the media as replacing the family and religion in imparting values to successive generations. “The role of faith as lived in the context of the Christian church, of course Catholics, is paramount in the modern age. All humanity function with certain paradigms, that is, those principles that are the very basis of their decision, which form their values.”

From the Taoist perspective, Ding said family and society benefit from the principles of selflessness and “curtailing desires.”

“We say ‘no crime is greater than having desires. No calamity is greater than not knowing contentment,’” Ding said. “Same as Buddhism, Confucianism and other world religions, Taoism is aware of the different demanding levels on life, and indicates the danger that the material desires destroy human nature…”

Elliston, a Buddhist, expanded the idea of family and applied the principles to society in general. 

“Buddhism is adapting to the American culture and vice versa,” Elliston said. “Imagine Buddhism as American as apple pie… The Buddhist family, or community, is a legacy of optimistic inclusion. All are invited to join.”

The Chinese delegation will be in Washington, D.C., Sept. 9-14, where they will be hosted by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. There they will participate in several forums on the intersection of religion and government in the United States and China. U.S. Rep. David Price, D-N.C., and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., will serve as honorary co-hosts for an event sponsored by the Faith and Politics Institute, The Interfaith Conference for Metropolitan Washington and the Ministry to Internationals of Forest Hills Baptist Church.

Also, Ambassador Jeffrey Bader of the Brookings Institution will host a forum where representatives of the China Christian Council, State Administration for Religious Affairs and numerous other Chinese religious leaders will speak and allow questions following their presentations. The event is from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Thurs., Sept. 11, at the Brookings Institution at 1775 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, in Washington. The Deputy Administrator for the State Administration for Religious Affairs, Wang Zuo’an, will provide an overview of religious policy in China, and the general secretary of the China Christian Council, Kan Baoping, will give an overview of Christianity in China, including the influence, major challenges and trends of Christianity in the country.

“Trusting relationships are being formed in these few short days,” Frober said. “Dialogue about substantive issues has taken place, and vision and dreams for the future are being cast that will form new realities to help us accomplish these goals.” 

CBF is a fellowship of Baptist Christians and churches who share a passion for the Great Commission and a commitment to Baptist principles of faith and practice. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.

Lance Wallace, CBF Communications