ENID, Okla. — "There is a commonality in our faith, in something beyond ourselves and beyond our particular perspective."
The Rev. Jerry Galbreath, former pastor at University Place Christian Church, said that was one of the key messages he wanted to bring back to Enid from the seventh Parliament of the World's Religions, which convened Nov. 1-7 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Galbreath was one of more than 8,000 attendees, representing about 200 faith traditions from 80 countries, in what is billed as the world's largest and most inclusive interfaith event. The first Parliament of the World's Religions met in Chicago, Ill. in 1893, then again in 1993, then at irregular intervals leading up to this month's meeting in Toronto.
The gathering featured more than 500 workshops and events aimed at promoting interfaith approaches to issues such as war, famine, genocide, climate change and challenges facing indigenous peoples and women.
A long-time pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Galbreath said he was drawn to the parliament's 2018 theme, "The Promise of Inclusion, The Power of Love: Pursuing Global Understanding, Reconciliation and Change," and wanted to bring that message back to Enid.
"We don't really choose our particular stance by looking at the intellectual layout of things and saying 'I'll choose that,'" Galbreath said. "We are born into a religion, a geography and a race, and that pretty well sets how we think. To get out of that and try to see the perspective of someone who is Bahá'í, or Hindu or Buddhist ... helps us break out of the eggshell we're born into, to see there's another world out there.
"To experience something of that diversity, and then bring back that experience to others, helps to communicate to the larger public that such diversity exists," Galbreath said, "and that the environment of today is a multi-faith environment."
According to a Parliament of the World's Religions press release, the objective of the parliament is to promote interfaith understanding and harmony, rather than unity.
"The problem with seeking unity among religions is the risk of loss of the unique and precious character of each individual religious and spiritual tradition," according to the press release. "We live in a world of difference. Yet, we are interdependent ... Too often, religion is misused as an instrument for division and injustice, betraying the very ideals and teachings that lie at the heart of each of the world's great traditions."
Parliament of the World's Religions Executive Director Larry Greenfield said the 2018 event was "an extraordinary opportunity for people of the globe to engage the crucial issues of our world, such as climate change, poverty, and violence."
Galbreath said that spirit of finding common ground to tackle common problems can get lost in fear that comes from lack of understanding.
"As I am an adherent and advocate for Christianity, I need to recognize there are others in the world who are just as adamant and convinced in their faith," Galbreath said. "As long as they're not fanatics, and as long as I'm not a fanatic, we can work together toward common goals such as climate action and reducing hate."
Some may fear learning about other's faith would diminish their own. Galbreath said the opposite is true.
"Christians have a responsibility to learn more about and go deeper into Christian faith," Galbreath said, "while also learning to live more peacefully and with better understanding alongside other faiths."
Galbreath said many of the world's faiths share "a common thread of compassion, and if we look to that, we can develop a more just and peaceful world."
Failure to embrace those "common threads" and work together could have dire consequences, Galbreath said.
"It's not in anyone's interest to give our children a scorched earth," he said. "We need to see each other as members of one human family, residing together on this fragile blue marble. We must learn to live together, or else we are destined for extinction — killing each other off, or setting conditions to ... condemn ourselves to living in a poisonous environment."
For more information on Parliament of the World's Religions, and its ongoing efforts "for a more just, peaceful and sustainable world," visit https://www.parliamentofreligions.org.