Sharing Wisdom - Religious and Interreligious Leadership

Elijah Interfaith Institute

Źródło: Elijah Interfaith Institute

The World's Most Prominent Religious Leaders Call On Everyone To Make Friends Across Religions

  • Invitation to Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders Opening Event
  • Religious Leadership in Times of Crisis
  • Praying together in (and with) Jerusalem

Invitation to Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders Opening Event

The Elijah Board of World Religious Leader is the flagship forum of the Elijah Interfaith Institute. Meeting every two years and speaking out on matters of global importance between meetings, the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders is unique in mission and scope. It brings together an unparalleled group of religious leaders from all over the world in a profound exchange of ideas that leads to deep engagement with each leader and spiritual friendship between participants. This paves the way for transformation within religions and their teachings. It provides a platform and an opportunity for these religious leaders to collectively address today’s problems from within the resources of their own traditions.

Usually, the meetings of the Board hosted by one of its members and the single public event which is part of every program is limited to those within the geographic location. 2020 is different. The meeting will be broadcast live on our Facebook page and on our Youtube channel. So, wherever you are in the world, you will be able to tune in to see the leaders together and hear some of their wisdom.

The opening event will take place on Monday 30th November from 9:00 am – 9:50 am EST.

We will begin with prayers from leaders of different religious traditions. You will hear brief eulogies for members of the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders who have passed since our last meeting, offered by members of other faiths, who will reflect on how they experienced them, and what their impact on them has been - Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi Doron, Dadi Janki, Patriarch Mesrob and Dr. Adamou Ndam Njoya.

You will hear wisdom from Cardinal Christoph Schonborn(Vienna), Elder Jeffrey Holland (Salt Lake City) and Ven. Khandro Rinpoche (Dehradun) as they share reflections on how the pandemic has affected their faith and roles as religious leaders. It will be a moving and inspiring hour. Please join us on Facebook or Youtube.

Religious Leadership in Times of Crisis

The annual Elijah Interfaith Summer School also took place over Zoom this year, allowing teachers and participants from around the globe to join in meaningful conversations.

Ven. Geshe Tashi Tsering is abbot of Sera Mey Monastic University in India where he is responsible for 5,000 monks living in the complex and many followers beyond. A Tibetan Lama, he was based at the Jamyang Buddhist Centre in London, for a number of years and there he gained a reputation for his ability to make philosophical teachings accessible to students. Ven. Geshe Tashi represented His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders and now is a member in his own right.

Patriarch Sahak Mashalian is the recently elected Patriarch of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople. His Eminence, born in Istanbul, was ordained as a priest in 1992 and as a bishop in 2008. He was the Director of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul and a lecturer in Armenian College Sahakian. He joined the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders in 2016.

Bringing together these two leaders from different religious traditions, with different sets of responsibilities, and in different geographic and cultural settings created the possibility for a fascinating discussion about religious leadership in general and in this time of crisis specifically.

In his introductory remarks, the Patriarch stated that the current situation has led to a marked shift in his leadership and his relationship with his congregations. In this time of crisis, he is increasingly called upon for spiritual guidance, which previously was a small component of his job. The Abbot said that his role has been to keep the community calm and create a sense of security. He asserted that that is always a key responsibility of a leader, perhaps more challenging in times of crisis but an ongoing role for anyone in leadership.

Abbot Geshe Tashi raised the issue of the importance of a leader not being detached from her followers. Effective leadership needs to create a sense of common challenges and partnership in resolving them. He said there were three analogies that can be applied to a leader: a shepherd, a king and a fellow passenger in a ship crossing an ocean. He identifies more with the third. He sees his role as understanding the community’s fears and anxieties and providing spiritual as well as practical advice.

The Abbot said that the first quality of a true leader is integrity - that s/he lives by the values s/he teaches. He used the adjectives “honest” and “sincere” to describe the Buddhist model of leadership. Although these values can come more easily to some people, becoming a leader requires years of training and practice to nurture love and compassion as well as becoming intimately familiar with the teachings of the religion – in this case, the Buddha’s teachings.

The Patriarch said that his first job was to be the bearer of a heritage – in all its aspects: spiritual, historical, scriptural and practical. In his case, there is an overlap between religion and nationality, and his job is to nurture identity and keep religion relevant to his diverse community. He feels a great responsibility to transmit an ancient tradition so that it will be relevant in the future. The spiritual aspects of this tradition are central to the Patriarch’s personal life and faith but his community does not always relate to them. They expect the leader to be a figure-head who lives the spiritual life but do not necessarily expect to emulate him. This is a huge challenge to the person in the leadership role. In a spiritual community, the leader knows that her/his role is to uplift and nurture the followers in their spiritual life but in a diverse religious community, the role is often far from upmost in the daily responsibilities.

Despite the differences, these leaders identified similarities. A religious leader must be a religious person and exemplify the values s/he teaches. Religious leaders grow from within the community, gaining the attention of teachers, superiors and followers, being called to advance themselves because of their recognised qualities and skills and constantly needing to prove themselves.

The qualities the Patriarch identified were charisma, education and dedication. He said that there can be flaws in a system that relies on the popularity of a leader and that there are cases when a less-than-worthy person can rise in the hierarchy. However, ultimately, the followers expect the religious leader to be a spiritual person and the authority gained through appointment to a position will only be sustained through the right personal qualities.

These two leaders offered some important insights into religious leadership:

  • A leader is responsible not just for their own spiritual life but also for the spiritual life of the whole community.
  • Leadership is like a marriage – there must be compromise with the partner in order to maintain the relationship.
  • Leaders have multiple roles as diverse as teachers, spiritual advisers and administrators.
  • One challenge is how to maintain tradition while being modern and relevant.
  • Leaders are continually evolving and learning.
  • In times of crisis, the leader may offer spiritual advice but must also help followers to develop their own spiritual resilience.
  • This crisis has brought a heightened awareness of our impotence – leaders do not have all the solutions; we are not able to plan our future. We have to learn patience and humility.
  • Today, leaders are able to expand their influence as well as their own growth through technology that connects the world.

The leaders also addressed questions about the responsibility of leaders to address economic questions, particularly the question of inequity. The Patriarch said that the youths in his Church were asking many questions about justice and wanted to discover a way to have a society that is human-centred and not money-centred. The Abbott said, unequivocally, that greed is not the solution. Both agreed that the current education system, economic structures and political discourse lack the human qualities and values that they, as religious leaders, want to model: compassion, justice, love, generosity.

The mutual respect and points of agreement between these leaders, from their different backgrounds and positions, highlighted a thread that wove throughout the entire discussion and the previous one (see September newsletter): true religious leadership is exemplified by the spirituality of the leader, evident to all whom they meet.

Praying together in (and with) Jerusalem

Our next session will take place on Thursday, December 3rd at 9:00 am EST.

This is another wonderful opportunity to learn with seekers of wisdom around the world and to pray side-by-side with people of diverse faiths. Our topic will be “Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem” and we will be sharing inspirational words and teachings from teachers from four different traditions before engaging in prayers.

Our recorded teachers will include Abbot Timothy Wright (dec’d), Muzaffar Iqbal, Mufti Ceric, Professor Haviva Pedaya and Shrivatsa Goswami.