United Religions Initiative’s purpose is to fill the space between religions with interfaith bridges so that the grassroots people of all faith traditions, indigenous communities and humanistic groups can cross over, and discover other believers, and take positive actions together.
William E. Swing
United Religions Initiative
Topic: Society & Civil Religion
“United Religion Initiative’s purpose is to fill the space between religions with interfaith bridges so that the grassroots people of all faith traditions, indigenous communities and humanistic groups can cross over, and discover other believers, and take positive actions together. URI is not a religion, nor a United Nations of Religions. URI is grassroots and singularly tries to fill the void between religions with something that the world needs desperately: bridges between cultural, religious and spiritual differences.
Religions are about salvation. URI is about civilization. People around the world have responded to this mission of URI; in a few years, URI has expanded to more than 665 Cooperation Circles in 85 countries, touching the lives of over three million people daily.”
William E. Swing
Civil Religion, Civil Society
Beversluis, Joel. Sourcebook of the World's Religions an Interfaith Guide to Religion and Spirituality. New World Library, 2000, pp. 154-155 [Bishop Swing: Responding to George Shultz's Testimony 2 February, 2015].
William E. Swing
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United Religions Initiative (URI)
The URI began during the planning for the 1995 commemoration of the United Nations Charter in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. Since then, Bishop William Swing and many others have promoted the vision… of an organization where members of religions would meet on a daily basis “for the sake of peace and healing between religions, peoples, and nations, and to bring the wisdom of religious traditions to bear on economic, environmental, and social crises…” (URI 2000: Declaration of Vision and Purpose”). Since then, this vision has grown and changed in many ways, based on a series of consultations and conferences….
These activities were organized by founding URI Affiliates and Cooperations Circles, whose supporters acclaim these foundational tenets of their Charter and global network:
–Joel Beversluis [Editor, Sourcebook of the World’s Religions: An Interfaith Guide to Religion and Spirituality (United Religions Initiative’s Preamble, Purpose and Principles)].
Bishop William E. Swing’s Quest: Founding a United Religions
At the launch event for his book about the founding of URI [see link in Resources] Bishop William Swing has a lively and revealing dialogue with George P. Schultz. He told the story about his original inspiration for United Religions during the planning process for the 50th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations charter. His initial attempts to convince leaders of global churches and religious organizations to join in the project received either ambiguous responses or rejection. “Most see their job as defending the faith and they did not feel free to pursue global good on behalf of all faiths.” His dream of creating a spiritual counterpart to the United Nations in working for peace seemed to be ending in failure.
However, he attracted the interest of a couple of transformative organizational design practitioners–David Cooperrider and his colleague Diana Whitney–who pioneered the Appreciative Inquiry movement and were inspired by the URI vision. Their consultation and contacts helped the United Religions Initiative develop an international network. They put Bishop Swing in touch with Dee Hock, the founder of VISA and inventor of the VISA card and its global financial system.
Dee Hock told Bishop Swing “Don’t build an organization that grows top-down, build an organism that grows bottom-up. If you get the right principles and organizational design in place it will grow itself.” He helped implement URI’s unique system of Cooperation Circles (CCs) that grow organically and keep “the greatest amount of authority in the smallest unit.” Each CC has a minimum of seven members representing three distinct religions or faith traditions. Each CC determines its purpose in accordance with the URI Charter; and each is self-funded, self-organized and self-governed. The CCs work cooperatively for the larger whole, rather than wasting energy in zero-sum competition with each other.
According to Bishop Swing this plan has been remarkably successful. By the time this video was made in 2015 URI had an annual growth rate of 14-18% year-after-year, was established in 85 countries, had 650 cooperation circles, representing 650,000 members, a multi-million dollar budget (raised from the private sector), all managed by 36 mostly part-time employees. He believes the upside potential of this decentralized grass-roots model is unlimited.
–Carol Barnwell [United Religions is Bishop Swing’s Goal].