For 2002 Winter Games, Faiths Agree Cooperation Is in, Indoctrination Out

For 2002 Winter Games, Faiths Agree
Cooperation Is in, Indoctrination Out

BY BOB MIMS
THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE


Bishop William Swing, arguably the poster cleric for ecumenism, was pleasantly taken aback by the desire for interfaith cooperation he found while leading a two-day seminar on spirituality in the upcoming 2002 Winter Games.
"We were surprised by the breadth of religious diversity present and the willingness of people to rise up and make commitments to each other," said Swing, spiritual leader of California's Episcopalians and founder of the 7-year-old United Religions Initiative (URI).
"The quality of the exchange was from the heart. We were able to address hard issues without people forming into opposition."
Besides the predominant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, faiths represented included Islam, Buddhism, Unitarian, Unity, Baha'i, Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, United Church of Christ, Lutheran, Southern Baptist, Jewish, Episcopalian, Quakers and Christian Science.
"I can't remember a time in Salt Lake when there was as much diversity as there was at this conference. This was a good beginning," said Dave Randle, chairman of the Olympic Chaplain Committee, a co-sponsor of the meetings with URI and the Salt Lake Olympic Interfaith Round Table.
Notes and impressions from the seminar will be compiled into a report to be presented to the round table meeting Feb. 8.
In addition to providing 40 chaplains for Olympic venues, the interfaith coalition is exploring other ways to serve the hundreds of thousands of athletes and fans expected to visit Utah during the Games. Hospitality ventures, interfaith worship and cultural events topped that list.
"In Atlanta [home of the 1996 Summer Games], families of athletes from poor countries who couldn't afford to come otherwise were hosted and housed by some of the congregations there," Randle said.
Swing agreed that hospitality will be key to delivering the message of love all faiths profess to share.
"It might be anything from having a pilgrimage around Salt Lake area sites during the Olympics to having a sort of 'prayer wall' where people could come from all over the world to put their prayers in cracks, like they do at [Jerusalem's] Wailing Wall," he said. "Or it could just be having hot chocolate and directions to places of worship; it might be having a meditation center."
What representatives unanimously ruled out, Swing and Randle said, was pushing any one belief system over another. Service, not indoctrination, will hold the interfaith endeavor together during the Olympics.
"We all see this. We are all in agreement that this is not an occasion to proselytize, but to form a common posture of faith hospitality to all people," Swing said.
"We're saying to the world that Salt Lake wants to be about different kinds of values for the new millennium, to go forth as an international community," added Randle. "There is a spirit of really wanting to work together in a way that hasn't been done before. The Olympics are serving as a wonderful catalyst."
That is the kind of talk that warms Swing's ecumenical heart.
"Faith has much to offer as either being part of the problem for total civilization or a solution," he said. "Religions will either slow down life with their prejudices or enrich the total life of the world."


©Copyright 2000, THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
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