Bush Praises URI Initiative

By Lee Penn
January 5, 2002
The Christian Challenge (Washington, DC)

Was it a Freudian slip, or just a coincidence?

It's hard to say. But a lot of Christians reading the current issue of the URI Update, the official newsletter of the United Religions Initiative, might be surprised to learn that "a lowerarchy, not a hierarchy" was recommended as a structural model for the URI--the controversial interfaith venture founded by California Episcopal Bishop William Swing.

Attentive readers of C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters may remember that Screwtape, a senior demon, tells his nephew, Wormwood, that some strategies for tempting people are "decided for us by spirits far deeper down in the Lowerarchy than you and I."

The eye-catching reference appears in an article in the latest URI Update about selecting the URI Global Council (the board of directors). Its author, Sally Mahé, noted that:  "At the 1999 URI Global Summit, 100 participants offered their highest vision for the URI Global Council.  Some comments: 'Encourages a lowerarchy, not a hierarchy.'  'Service of love, not power.'  'Inspires spiritual citizenship.'  Visions like these have inspired and carried the URI into being."  

Organizational activities apparently according with this "vision" in the U.S. and overseas show what the URI means by its stated mission to "create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the earth and all living beings."  In one of them, the URI "Cooperation Circle" (local chapter) in Asheville, North Carolina "held the Council of All Beings for people to experience being part of a ritual where the human species is only one voice among many."  It was not disclosed whether the non-human participants in the ceremony were animals, plants, rocks, spirits, or all of the above.

MEANWHILE, TCC has learned that President George W. Bush has lauded the URI and Swing--who was recently in the news for blaming all religions for fostering terror, albeit with a sterner eye toward Christianity than Muslim extremism.

In a November 6 letter from the White House, Bush congratulated Swing for receiving the 2001 Citizen Diplomacy Award from the International Diplomacy Council, a private organization that works closely with high-level State Department officials to assist overseas groups who visit the US. At the end of the letter, Bush said, "Both the United Religions Initiative and the International Diplomacy Council exist to foster a greater understanding among peoples.  I salute these organizations for their roles in facilitating interaction among people and nations."

Gray Davis, the Democratic governor of California, joined Bush's tribute. In a November 14 letter from his office in Sacramento, Davis said, "By promoting peace and tolerance through the United Religions Initiative, you have made a positive and lasting impact.  Your outstanding dedication to fostering international goodwill is an inspiration to us all."

Frank Damann, manager of membership for the International Diplomacy Council (IDC), said that the Secretary of State is familiar with the work of IDC; in addition, George Shultz, Secretary of State in the Reagan administration, is a member of the IDC Advisory Council.  It appears that Bush's commendation of the IDC and the URI was at the suggestion of senior officials in the State Department. It was not clear that the President was aware of Swing's post-September 11 statements claiming that the terrorists did not hold a corrupted view of Islam, since all religions foster terror, a view Bush would be unlikely to endorse.

URI staff did not return phone calls asking for comment on these developments.

The letters from Bush and Davis praising the URI are - as of December 20, 2001 - on the Internet at http://www.diplomacy.org/PresLet.html and http://www.diplomacy.org/GrayDavis.html.

Sources for this story also included ch. 20 of C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters, and issue 10 of the URI Update, pp. 1,3, 7, and 8

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