John Adam doesn’t want to create another interfaith organization in San Diego, California. Instead, he and a small group of individuals are developing the San Diego Regional Interfaith Collaborative (SDRIC) as a network that will “connect the dots” of San Diego’s diverse religious communities and interfaith groups. Adam, described by others as the initiative’s “instigator,” hopes the structure will provide “a forum where everyone feels safe, and a venue from which religious communities can collaborate effectively around issues.” Adam acknowledges that challenges often arise when bringing together so many diverse voices: he understands they may not always be in agreement, but aims to put them in conversation. He understands his own involvement “not as a leader but as an aide and resource.”
Adam’s inspiration for creating the SDRIC came when his life-long interest in religion led him to the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia. From exposure to the Parliament’s Partner Cities program, he realized that “[religions] were trying to work together in a way that was at the local level and and engaged with groups in the broader community.” Adam was impressed that these leaders from around the world, both ordained and lay, could come together to create a network that was at once global and focused on the local. He left with a commitment to bring his region’s existing religious and interfaith groups together in order to foster conversation about community issues of both regional and national import. Adam’s position on catalyzing across-the-board involvement is clear: collaboration and inclusivity are key.
Thinking strategically about the network, he is committed to promoting what he calls a “global ethic” that can become a kind of common language among members of the Collaborative. He borrows the term “global ethic” from the Parliament of the World’s Religions’ 1993 document Declaration Toward a Global Ethic which refers to a “consensus among the religions” that there exists “binding values, irrevocable standards, and fundamental moral attitudes” that provide a starting point for creating a more peaceful world.[i] In this view, interfaith dialogue and relationship-building without ethical standards is insufficient. Adam explains, “[if] we can get to a place where that global ethic is discussed and people are familiar with it, that would ensure a common foundation for everybody.”
When this vision is put into practice, Adam hopes that a sense of community will be built across religious lines in San Diego. He explains that SDRIC will be exploring the “limits and boundaries” of collaboration around community issues, while also engaging in fellowship and education. The network will play “a servant role in knitting together disparate parts of the religious landscape.” Adam seeks to build dialogue around the model of “World Café,” which begins with small group discussions in a café environment, and builds to a plenary session with the larger group. Currently, SDRIC sponsors a monthly newsletter, “Focus on Faith,” to keep readers abreast of issues relevant to the religious communities of San Diego. He envisions “advisory boards” to provide focus on issues important to certain groups such as youth, clergy, and laity.
Adam shares the view of many interfaith leaders in San Diego, who describe a rich landscape of diverse religious communities and a range of interfaith organizations. Accordingly, SDRIC seeks not to radically alter what exists, but to channel these resources and leverage local assets for a more substantial impact. Although the San Diego Regional Interfaith Collaborative is still in its infancy, the initiative is already encountering tremendous interest, bringing together Mainline Protestant, Catholic, New Age, Muslim, and Sikh partners, to name a few. In addition, many of the city’s most influential leaders in the interfaith movement are supporting the effort, and helping to generate enthusiasm for the emerging group.
While many of SDRIC’s accomplishments may lie ahead, the group’s intention to create a network—rather than another organization or program—offers an example for other cities with diverse and diffuse interfaith efforts. The future for SDRIC looks promising; for Adam, it also may represent coming full circle. First inspired by the Parliament of the World’s Religions, he hopes that one day, San Diego will become a Partner City of the Parliament, and a global model for successful interfaith engagement.
[i] “Declaration Toward a Global Ethic.” The Parliament for the World’s Religions. 1993. http://www.parliamentofreligions.org/_includes/FCKcontent/File/TowardsAGlobalEthic.pdf.