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Midwives of a Common God : The Myriad Friends of the United Religions Initiative
By Lee Penn
Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity,  June 2000, Vol. 13, no. 5, pp. 44-46

Lee Penn is a health care information systems consultant who is also active as a researcher and writer on Church affairs, covering the United Religions Initiative and the New Age movement.
Website: http://fatima.freehosting.net/

His work has appeared in
the New Oxford Review,
Journal of the Spiritual Counterfeits Project,
and the Christian Challenge.
Episcopalian by background, Penn was received into the Russian Catholic Church, an Eastern Rite Church in communion with Rome, in 1995.

* * * * *
" San Francisco's Episcopal Bishop William E.
Swing expects "tens of thousands of leaders of the world's religions, spiritualities, and indigenous traditions" to attend the signing of the United Religions Initiative (URI)
Charter in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on June 26, 2000. The URI also expects United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Dalai Lama to attend.

Bishop Swing founded the United Religions Initiative in 1995.
The URI intends to become
"a permanent assembly, with the stature and visibility of the United Nations"
encompassing "all religions, spiritual expressions, and indigenous traditions.

While the URI actually may not see its "tens of thousands" show up in Pittsburgh in June, it has been highly successful in extending its reach in only five years, and is growing steadily.
So far, URI activities have occurred in 58 countries on all continents, and in 33 states in the United States. The URI claims that one million people participated in its three-day global "religious cease-fire" from December 31, 1999, to January 2, 2000 - a millennial bash dedicated to the propositions that good intentions are the road to peace, and that all religions really intend the same thing.

Birthing & Funding the "New Hope"

The leaders of the URI hope to assist in creating an earthly utopia. The proposed URI charter says that the organization's purpose is "to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation" and
to "end religiously motivated violence."
[ AH ed note: perverted to mean 'Christians' ]

The URI also plans to "create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings." 
Bishop Swing told the 1997 URI summit conference:
"If you have come here because a spirit of colossal energy is being born in the loins of earth, then come here and be a midwife.
Assist, in awe, at the birth of new hope."
This "new hope" will have the Earth, not the Church or the Virgin Mary, as its mother.

In a sermon given during the 1999
Parliament of World Religions, Bishop Swing said, "What a time to wait
on God. . . . for the coming
new light among religions, spiritual expressions, and indigenous traditions."
This "new light" will not be the light of Christ." [ AH ed note: that's for sure ! it will be "strange fire"]

As a parallel effort with the URI, Bishop Swing has formed the
Inter-Religious Friendship Group (IRFG). Other leaders of the IRFG are the Dalai Lama and

Richard Blum, a wealthy San Francisco investment banker -
and the husband of United States Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

The founders of the IRFG say that their goal is to "create a confidential and relatively unstructured forum where the
leaders of the world's religions can have regular conversations with one another."

The IRFG has met three times, most recently in November 1999 at the

Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia. The Reverend Dr. Gary Gunderson, director of the
Carter Center's Interfaith Health Program, says that the URI
"is one of the most promising global initiatives," a "long term alignment that will bear
fruit for decades."

He said, "While not a formal member of the URI, President Carter stressed how much the Center valued the role of religious leaders in conflict situations. . . . He asked the group to request his involvement in the future as specific interventions or projects crystallize."
President Carter may become an open ally of the URI.

The URI has recently acquired substantial funding. In October 1999, Bishop Swing announced that the URI had received a $1.7 million grant from a

Pittsburgh-area foundation, and that the URI will move its headquarters there from San Francisco.

Swing noted that many people have not wanted to cooperate with the URI because the current San Francisco location carries "negative connotations." A source in close contact with the ECUSA hierarchy indicates
that "the move is being sponsored by some foundations with deep pockets and a strong liberal agenda that includes putting pressure on the Episcopal diocesan structure"; one of these foundations is the
Hillman Foundation,
associated with a wealthy, nationally
prominent liberal Republican family and with Calvary Church, "one of the few remaining liberal parishes in Pittsburgh."

UR connected with UN

The Pittsburgh URI coordinator
is a UN employee, Karen Plavan; she is also associated with the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation.

The URI has applied for UN recognition as a nongovernmental organization, showing that it seeks a UN seal of approval.

The URI has received grants from the Soros Foundation and the Copen Family Foundation, the Christopher Columbus Foundation, the Surdna Fund, the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, the Community Foundation of Monterey County, the San Francisco Foundation, the International Education and Resource Network, the Worldwide Education and Research Institute, and the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation. Foundation money has been essential to the URI from the start.
In 1998, Bishop Swing said that "ninety-nine percent" of URI funding "is raised from private, nonreligious sources."

Gathering Religious Partners

Numerous leaders of
Asian religions - most notably, the Dalai Lama - support the URI.

Muslim URI supporters include URI board member Iftekhar Hai, of the United Muslims of America; Javid Iqbal, a former Pakistani supreme court justice; and W. D. Mohammed. URI outreach now also includes Iranian Shiites.

The URI in Zimbabwe "has formed a unique and innovative Partnership with the Iranian Embassy in Harare.
The URI convened a meeting to be funded by the
Iranian Embassy at which the URI Preamble, Purpose & Principles was discussed, and more members were received into the URI community."

Meanwhile, URI Vice President William Rankin has provided an excuse for the crimes of the Islamic regime in Sudan: "In North Sudan the government, in some measure, is forced into strong Muslim identity by the history of overthrows when a more tolerant attitude was promulgated."

The URI has the tacit support or active cooperation of most of the other active
interfaith organizations - including the Millennium Forum, the International Interfaith Centre, the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions, the Global Education Associates, the Interfaith Center of New York, the Interfaith Youth Corps, the Temple of Understanding, the North American Interfaith Network, the International Association for Religious Freedom, the World Congress of Faiths, the Peace Council, and the World Conference on Religion and Peace.

The URI has support among liberal Protestants and Jews, dissident Catholics, a few bishops of non-Chalcedonian East Syriac and Coptic Churches, and the leaders of the China Christian Council, the state-approved Protestant church
in China. In November 1999, URI Vice President William Rankin spoke to an
interfaith forum at Foundry Methodist Church - the church usually attended by the First Family. [ Clintons ]

Catholic supporters of the URI include Cardinal Paul Evaristo Arns, the retired Archbishop of Săo Paulo, Brazil; Archbishop Anthony Pantin, from Trinidad; and the auxiliary Bishop of Detroit, Thomas Gumbleton. Other
Catholic URI activists include two URI board members - Fr. John LoSchiavo, S.J. (former president of the University of San Francisco), and Fr. Gerard O'Rourke, director of ecumenical affairs for the Catholic Archdiocese of San
Francisco - URI treasurer Rick Murray,
and Latin American URI Coordinator Fr. Luis Dolan. Sister Joan Kirby, of the Temple of Understanding, also supports the URI. Theologians supporting the URI include Paul Knitter, senior editor
at Orbis Books and professor of theology at Xavier University; Leonard Swidler, professor at Temple University; and Hans Küng; all are dissenters from Church teachings.

Catholic religious groups supported the URI's global "religious cease-fire":
the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Monastic Inter-Religious Dialogue, the Pakistani Catholic Bishops National Commission for Christian Muslim Relations, the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Saco, Maine, the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor in New York and New Jersey, the Sisters of St. Joseph in Wheeling, West Virginia and in
Philadelphia, the Sisters of St. Francis in Philadelphia, the Medical Mission Sisters in Philadelphia, the Sisters of the Humility of Mary in Villa Maria, Pennsylvania,
40,000 Benedictine and Cistercian monks worldwide, Pax Christi of Cleveland, Ohio, the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine in Richfield, Ohio, the Notre Dame Sisters in Omaha, Nebraska, Pax Christi USA and the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, the Holy Redeemer Retreat Center in Oakland,
California, the Justice and Peace Committee of the California province of the Sisters of the Holy Name, the Sisters of Providence in St. Mary-in-the-Woods in Indiana and

the Religious Orders Partnership
(associated with Global Education Associates and more than 165 religious orders worldwide),

the Maryknoll religious, and the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in the Philippines.

In addition to Bishop Swing, the Anglican bishops who publicly support the URI include Frank Griswold, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA); Bishop James Ottley, formerly the Anglican
Observer at the UN; Samir Kafity, formerly the Bishop of Jerusalem; Bishop Michael Ingham, of the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada; and the Nobel laureate Archbishop from South Africa, Desmond Tutu. Bishop Clark Grew of
Ohio, who is one of 11 members of Griswold's "Council of Advice," asked his diocese to participate in the URI's three-day global "religious cease-fire."
The annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles has likewise endorsed the "cease-fire"; Bishop Talton, suffragan Bishop for this diocese, is also a member of Griswold's "Council of Advice."

Not Everyone Is Friendly

The Archbishop of Canterbury has not spoken publicly about the URI, although the Church of England newspaper offered gentle criticism in an October 1999 editorial. One active Anglican bishop - Archbishop
Harry Goodhew, of
Australia - has publicly criticized the URI. Bishop
Charles Murphy, recently consecrated in Singapore by two conservative Anglican Archbishops, has denounced the URI as part of the "crisis of faith" in ECUSA - but the
Archbishop of Canterbury will not recognize Murphy as an Anglican Bishop because of his belief that the Singapore consecrations were "irresponsible and irregular."

No Eastern Orthodox bishops support the URI. Evangelical Protestants and the Vatican oppose the URI.
[ if so, then why are all their religious orders backing it ????]
In 1996, Cardinal Arinze declined Bishop Swing's invitation to participate in the URI. In mid-1999, a representative of the Vatican department responsible for
interfaith work stated:

"Religious syncretism is a theological error. That is why the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue does not approve of the United Religions Initiative and does not work with it." In a January 28, 2000 message to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Pope said, "It is erroneous to consider the Church as a way of salvation equal to those of other religions, which would be complementary to the Church."

[ AH : The above statement is true...however they do not put this into practice ]

No Fundamentalists, No Martyrs

Faithful Christians have good reason to shun the URI.
Bishop Swing condemns Christian evangelism, which he calls "proselytizing." Swing says that
"proselytizing, condemning, murdering, or dominating" will "not be tolerated in
the United Religions zone" - the  whole world. [ AH: by what right?? ]
[ AH: Swing claims that teaching is in the same category as murder ?????? baloney !!!!! ]

URI leaders say "proselytizing" is the work of  "fundamentalists," and URI board member Paul Chafee said in 1997 that "We can't afford fundamentalists in a world this small."
ECUSA Presiding Bishop Griswold shares the URI's loathing of "fundamentalism." When denouncing the Singapore consecrations of two evangelical bishops to serve in the United States, Griswold condemned "the dangerous fundamentalism - both within Islam and our own Christian community - which threatens to turn our God of compassion into a [sic] idol of wrath."

Bishop Swing has said, "The United Religions will not be a rejection of ancient religion but will be found buried in the depths of these religions." If United Religions were "buried in the depths" of Christianity, countless martyrs could have avoided death by burning incense before the statue of the Roman emperor, and today's martyrs in Sudan and China could apostatize with a clear conscience.
[ AH: So much for TRUTH...."Thy WORD is TRUTH" ]

Maybe martyrs are passé; URI Vice President William Rankin says, "The United Religions Initiative exists to bring people together from all the religions of the world, to create a world where no one has to die because of God, or
for God, any more."  Rankin, formerly the president of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, joined the URI staff in 1998.

Regarding the ecclesiastical trial of Episcopal Bishop Walter Righter for ordaining
an openly homosexual deacon,
Rankin said in 1995,
"Heresy implies orthodoxy, and we have no such thing in the Episcopal Church."
[ AH: Heresy implies that there is absolute TRUTH. URI has no TRUTH ]

Despite the URI's insistent
denial that it intends to mix the world's religions or start a new religion, URI ceremonies point in that direction. Lex orandi, lex credendi - the law of praying is the law of believing.

At the 1995
interfaith service that launched the URI, "holy water from the Ganges [India...all Eastern Religions],
the Amazon,
[ South America...all of Catholic Latin America ]
the Red Sea, the River Jordan,
[ MidEast religion...Islam] and other sacred streams" was mixed in a single "bowl of unity" on the altar of Grace Cathedral.

Bishop Swing made the meaning of the ritual clear: "As these sacred waters find confluence here . . . may the city that chartered the nations of the world
[ New York City...Harlot Babylon] bring together the religions of the world."

Anglican Bishop Michael Ingham said in support of the URI that "I can imagine a time when the founders and saints of all the traditions - Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Guru Nanak, and so on - are honoured and cherished in all of them." In The Coming United Religions, Bishop Swing says, "The time comes, though, when common language and a common purpose for all religions and spiritual movements must be discerned and agreed upon. Merely respecting and understanding other religions is not enough."

Since the purpose of religion is the service and worship of God, Bishop Swing's call for "all religions and spiritual movements" to have "common language and a common purpose" is, in effect, a call for all to worship
a common god. [ AH: the god of this world is Satan... 2 Corinthians 4:4..he is the common god.
Almighty God is Jesus Christ.... John 14:6
" I am the Way the TRUTH and the Life: No man cometh unto the Father but by Me" ]

No Closed Doors

Organizations should be known by the company they keep. Enthusiastic URI supporters include New Age authors
Robert Muller (former Assistant Secretary-General of the UN), Neale Donald Walsch (author of the best-selling
Conversations With God books), and Barbara Marx Hubbard. Ms. Hubbard introduced Dee Hock, the founder of VISA, to the URI and to Bishop Swing; he is now an active supporter of the URI. Ms. Hubbard was also active in the
early 1998 preparation of the draft URI Charter. The Rudolf Steiner Foundation, which promotes theosophical schools, has recently made a grant to the URI. The New York-based Lucis Trust, which spreads the teachings of American theosophist Alice Bailey, praised the URI in two 1999 issues of its newsletter World Goodwill, citing it as part of a "global shift in consciousness"that will usher in "an era in which the glory of the One will be free to shine forth in
all human actions."

The URI proclaims its openness to all "spiritual expressions," and its logo, 15 miniature religious symbols in a circle around the letters "URI", includes a
Wiccan pentagram, as well as an empty circle to represent
"the people of all beliefs yet to come."
A motley crew has responded to the invitation.

Participants in URI events have included the Association for Global New Thought, Unity Church, the founder of "The Order of Divinity,"
the "New Cult Awareness Network" - dominated by Scientologists since they sued the former Cult Awareness Network out of existence in 1996, Reiki circles, the World Federalist Association, followers of "Supreme Master Ching Hai," the Pagan Sanctuary Network, Druids, the Temple of Isis, the "Goddess Holding the World Mural Project," the Covenant of the Goddess, the Coven of the Stone and the Mirror, the Wittenberg Center for Alternative Resources (an interfaith seminary whose core courses include such topics as "crystal & etheric healing"), and the Western Federation Church and Tribe. The Tribe has adopted the URI as part of its "by-laws and tenets," and declares that Mars and "the Earth's Moon" are "entirely owned by the Western Federation Church and Tribe."

It does seem that maybe the sky is the limit. Bishop Swing has vowed that the URI will remain
all-inclusive, saying, "Once you open the door, you have to keep it open." Perhaps the Episcopalian prelate now wishes he had kept the key to the front door. [ AH: PANDORA's BOX]



A footnoted version of this report will be available soon, when the June issue is posted on the Web.  See the issue on the Touchstone web site (

Letter to New Oxford Review
Spiritual Counterfeits Project http://www.scp-inc.org/body.html
Tyranny in the Name of Tolerance
Blood-Lust of the Compassionate
Apologetics Index
Expose of New Age
New Age Movement in the Episcopal Church
The Labyrinth Fad

You may disseminate this story freely, as long as you credit the author Lee Penn, and Touchstone magazine as the publisher, and as long as you do not alter the text.
Lee Penn

[ all brackets and emphasis are by Hope To The End ]

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