The United Religions Initiative (URI) gained controversy and publicity in recent years for its attempt to create a sort of United Nations of religions, but the organization is already showing signs of division.
The evangelical anti-cultist SCP Journal (Vol. 21:4-22:1) takes a critical look at the organization, noting that it has undergone a number of changes since it was started two years ago by Episcopal Bishop William Swing of San Francisco. Swing conceived of the URI as the religious counterpart of the United Nations, as it would draw together the world’s “great faiths” to deliberate and act together on common issues.
But as Swing passed his vision on to other religious leaders and activists, the focus on traditional religions began to change. By 1997 Swing himself dropped the “religious” requirement for URI, as it was decided that groups claiming a “spiritual” identity as well should be included. Leaders from New Age (Barbara Marx Hubbard) and other alternative movements, such as Neopaganism, soon joined the group.
At the same time, a more pragmatic, secular dimension has also emerged in URI. A team from the Social Innovations in Global Management at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland has been instrumental in the organization’s development. They, and other secular supporters of the URI (such as the Gorbachev and Soros foundations), see the group, and religion in general, as a tool for promoting the notion of the “global good.” For the URI to become a major interfaith forum, it will have to include more traditional-conservative religionists, such as the Catholics (although individual Catholic leaders have signed on) and evangelicals.
This goal may difficult to achieve, since many of the more recent alternative-New Age groups have called for the exclusion of Christian “fundamentalism” from the URI platform — a change from Swing’s more tolerant position that the initiative should “leave the porch light on for everyone.”
(SCP Journal, Box 4308, Berkeley, CA 94704)