Baha'is participate in interreligious dialogue on faith and ecology

6 September 2001

Reflecting the increasing Baha'i involvement in interfaith dialogue and consultation about major social issues, the Baha'i view on the environment was presented at an interreligious conference on religion and ecology at Xavier University in September.

Held 5-6 September 2001, the Symposium on Religion and Ecology was the first major program of the Brueggeman Center for Interreligious Dialogue, which was inaugurated last year.

The program included the presentation of Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish and Native American perspectives on the environment and its relationship to religious faith.

The Baha'i presentation was made by Dr. Roxanne Lalonde, faculty lecturer in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, and Mr. Peter Adriance, liaison with non-governmental organizations for the National Spiritual Assembly in its Office of External Affairs in Washington.

In a joint presentation, Dr. Lalonde spoke on the spiritual principles underlying the Baha'i approach to the environment, while Mr. Adriance spoke about Baha'i efforts internationally to advance those principles.

In her presentation, Dr. Lalonde noted that the Baha'i Writings speak of nature as a reflection of the Divine and see all life as interconnected and interdependent. The Baha'i teachings uphold principles of moderation, humility and respect for ecological balance.

"The Baha'i vision of a civilization that extends thousands of years into the future implies that human beings have a profound responsibility for stewardship of God's creation," Dr. Lalonde said, adding that a global vision is essential to carry out such stewardship.

She noted that the Baha'i teachings clearly make humanity's acceptance of the principle of the oneness of the human family a prerequisite for achieving sustainable development, citing Baha'u'llah's injunction: "The well- being of mankind, its peace and security are unattainable, unless and until its unity is firmly established."

Mr. Adriance's presentation focused on three examples of Baha'i efforts internationally to advance such spiritual principles: Baha'i involvement in the '92 Earth Summit; Baha'i contributions toward the development of the Earth Charter; and the application of conservation measures in the Baha'i gardens and terraces on Mt. Carmel.

"During preparations for the Earth Summit, the Baha'i International Community issued numerous official statements advancing spiritual principles, and it initiated projects that conveyed those principles in different ways," said Mr. Adriance, referring to the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro.

The projects sponsored by the Baha'i International Community at the Earth Summit included a symposium on leadership qualities for a sustainable civilization, a book of children's art and essays on the future, a Peace Monument and a series of unifying cultural events at the '92 Global Forum, a gathering of non-governmental organizations held during the summit.

Mr. Adriance also said that the Baha'i representatives contributed to the development of the Earth Charter - a statement of ethics for living sustainably on Earth, and an expected product of the '92 Summit.

"Determining the content of the Earth Charter evolved into a decade-long consultative process," Mr. Adriance said. "During that process, the principles of consultation often helped foster a sense of unity among the diverse participants. When the final Earth Charter was released in early 2000, many principles important to the Baha'is were reflected in the document."

Mr. Adriance also clarified the Baha'i position on the Charter. "While not officially endorsing the Earth Charter, the Baha'i International Community considers the effort toward drafting it and activities in support of its essential objectives to be highly commendable, and it will continue to participate in related activities, such as conferences, forums and the like," he noted.

The last section of Mr. Adriance's talk focused on the newly completed Baha'i gardens and terraces in Haifa, Israel. In addition to addressing the practical measures associated with the development of the gardens and terraces - such as water conservation, organic planting methods, reduction of pesticide and herbicide use and related educational components - Mr. Adriance emphasized the spiritual purpose of the gardens in preparing pilgrims and visitors to approach one of the holiest sites to Baha'is.

His presentation included a series of images of the widely praised results of the project. The audience expressed great enthusiasm with the way the gardens reflected a dynamic balance between the practical and the spiritual.

At the end of his talk, on behalf of the National Spiritual Assembly Mr. Adriance presented a coffee table book of photographs of the new garden terraces, published by the Haifa Tourist Board, to Father Joseph Bracken, Director of the Brueggeman Center.

Baha'i participation in the symposium was facilitated by the efforts of Faramarz Samadany, a member of the Cincinnati Baha'i community and a Trustee of the Brueggeman Center. One of the Center's inaugural events was a 1999 millennium peace gathering that drew an audience of more than 8,000. A Baha'i Youth Workshop performed a dance on the unity of religions at that event.

The Brueggeman center is named after a Xavier faculty member known for promoting understanding among Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Jews. "By bringing together diverse faith groups the Center is able to benefit from a range of views in seeking solutions to the human and environmental challenges facing humanity," noted Father Bracken.

In recent years, the Baha'i International Community has participated in a number of major interfaith events on social issues, ranging from the Summit on Religions and Conservation, held in 1995 at Windsor Castle, UK, to the World Faiths Development Dialogue, sponsored by the World Bank.

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