Alicia Philipp, President of Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, shares thoughts on Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto

Life is a journey. Our relationship with a higher being is a journey too. Mine is a familiar one in some respects – 16 years of Catholic education, raising my children in the Methodist faith and then a time in the Presbyterian Church. And for a time I had another key experience as part of a teenage Jewish girl’s life as she prepared for bat mitzvah. I was wandering in terms of organized religion but always maintaining a belief in God.

This journey was enhanced even more when I traveled the Middle East under the leadership of Max Miller who tied the people, places and key events in the Abrahamic faiths together. That experience made me realize we are much more like a tree with different branches than different trees – we share so much more than what divides us.

The best ever example of this came when the Community Foundation launched the Higher Ground Group – an amazing, faith-filled and joyful foursome of Rabbi Alvin Sugarman, Rev. Joanna Adams, Rev. Joseph Roberts and Iman Plemon El-Amin. For five years, I sat in meeting rooms and public forums as they discussed the toughest problems in our world and community, always faced through a faith lens. I heard them all quote from the Old and New Testaments and the Koran. They understood and respected each other’s faith while being grounded in their own. It was civil discourse in its purest and finest form.

The Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto is the vehicle that takes this civil discourse, curiosity and belief out to each of us to shape for ourselves in our sphere of influence. You don’t have to be ‘churched’ to join, you simply have to be open to thoughtful dialog that may take you out of your comfort zone, but in a good way if you are open to it! Bring your desire to see a community with cooperation and respect. To get inspired, read some of the blogs done by Higher Ground from 2011 to 2015 here.


ALICIA PHILIPP is president of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, one of the largest and fastest growing philanthropic service organizations in the country. This year she is celebrating her 40th year with the Foundation. When she joined in 1977 its assets were $7 million, today they are approximately $955 million. The Community Foundation strengthens the 23-county Atlanta region by providing quality services to donors and innovative leadership on community issues. They do this by connecting the passions of philanthropists with the purposes of nonprofits doing that work. To that end, in 2016, the Community Foundation received $135 million in gifts from donors and granted out more than $125 million via 7,300 grants to more than 2,400 nonprofits locally, nationally and abroad.

Philipp has served on the board of the Council on Foundations, the Southeastern Council of Foundations, Independent Sector and the National Center on Family Philanthropy. In 2017 she was named to Georgia Trend magazine’s Business Hall of Fame after being on its “100 Most Influential Georgians” list for many years. She has also been named one of the “100 Most Influential Atlantans” by the Atlanta Business Chronicle and the ninth most powerful Atlantan by Atlanta magazine.

Philipp received a bachelor’s degree from Emory University and a master’s in business administration from Georgia State University. She lives in Decatur and has two adult children, both of whom live in Europe.

Hope for the Future: Why the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto is Important

 

Growing up Methodist, a tiny minority religious community in overwhelmingly Lutheran/Roman Catholic Germany, left me with a strong desire for greater interaction and understanding among religious groups. This feeling was deepened through learning and remembering of the Holocaust and what my forebears had done primarily to Jews, but also to other minorities like homosexuals or Roma and Sinti. I found opportunities to engage in interfaith dialogue as I discovered on the global level The United Methodist Church, a communion of over 12 million people of faith worldwide, is often called upon to promote multi-faith advocacy and action.

No experience so solidified my commitment to strong interfaith collaboration as what happened on June 28, 2016, when I was suddenly awakened from a nap in the transit lounge of the international airport in Istanbul, Turkey, by terrorists’ bombs. They killed more than 40 people and injured some 240 others. We ran this way and that, Christians, Muslims, and devotees of other faith, all focused on survival and all sharing a deep desire to get home, to be with our loved ones.

None of us knew what was happening; we knew we were threatened; we knew we needed a way out. As I sought shelter in a kitchen closet with an Asian man with whom I could communicate only with frightened eyes, I knew in a flash that until all faiths and cultures stand together against hate and violence, the world is doomed. It was a moment of solidarity with all people who face uncertain futures—and that is all of us. I felt this common humanity among us, a desire to reach out and take one another’s hands, to change the patterns of violence and xenophobia that plague our world.

This awareness was confirmed as we gathered for evacuation and I spoke with a family returning to Somalia, another going home to Egypt from a trip to Europe, and a young local woman caught in the melee without a passport while seeing off a friend. There was a sense of oneness in the bus that took us to a local hotel.

The Istanbul experience became part of my personal narrative as I, the head of a large international organization, had the opportunity to tell my story to the press and to various live audiences. The importance of interfaith collaboration also became more self-consciously a part of my professional agenda, linked to my organization’s goal of promoting justice, peace, and freedom.

Not long after this experience in Turkey, the agency that I lead, the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, moved from New York City to Atlanta where I learned of the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto. I took the opportunity to join the cause it represents and to contribute to this blog. Given its leadership in civil rights, building on the deep legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Atlanta is a fitting place for the Manifesto, which calls for interfaith cooperation and a reduction of religious bigotry in the state, nation, and world. I am impressed by the number of people of many religious traditions who have signed the Manifesto and I plan to share that opportunity with colleagues and friends.

If people of faith and their leaders do not stand together in affirming a common humanity, there is no hope for the future. We must lead the way.

 

– Thomas Kemper, General Secretary, Global Ministries United Methodist Church

Reverend Sam G. Candler Invocation Remarks for the 2017 Peachtree Road Race

BLESSINGS! BLESSINGS! BLESSINGS!

An Invocation for the Peachtree Road Race, 4 July 2017
By The Very Reverend Sam G. Candler

From all over America, from all over the world, we gather today for the blessings of running and rejoicing, for the blessings of diversity and freedom!

We are different today! We are runners, we are walkers, we are wheelchairs. We are elite, we are not-so-elite – we are ordinary, and we are extraordinary. We are believers in God, and we are not believers in God.

But, today, we are One. We believe in the Peachtree Road Race, and its ability to gather all sorts and conditions of humanity in blessing America on this Fourth of July.

In the name of God, and in all the names of God, we bless each other in the Peachtree Road Race.

Blessings to Muslims: Asalamu Aleikum!

Blessings to Jews: Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu!

Blessings to Christians: Jesus loves you! Benedicite Deus!

To Hindus, to Buddhists, to atheists, to agnostics.

God blesses each and every one of us. Dios les bendiga!

May this Peachtree Road Race be safe and fun, may it be challenging and relaxing. May today be a holiday, a holy day, of blessing and grace, of vigor and energy!

In the Name of God, and in all the Names of God – the God above us and the God beside us, the God at the starting line and the God at the finish line – we bless each other. In the running of the Peachtree Road Race today, in Atlanta, God bless all of America. AMEN.

The Very Reverend Sam G. Candler
4 July 2017

Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto and Atlanta Habitat for Humanity: Engaging and Uniting Our City

Often times, the non-profit that I work for, Atlanta Habitat for Humanity, is noted for its strong Christian roots in Americus, Georgia due to its founder, Millard Fuller. What people usually do not know of this is that Atlanta Habitat was founded south of Atlanta on Koinonia Farm— an intentionally mixed-race community that persisted during the middle of the Jim Crow era. In the 1940s, Koinonia Farm was a progressive community whose simple focus was to bring different races together and provide a space for them to work and live as equals.

Fast forwarding 60 years later to my role at Atlanta Habitat, an affiliate of what is now Habitat for Humanity International; I see those roots and basic principles played out in our current religious climate. After 9-11, Atlanta Habitat saw the need to bring diverse religious congregations together to serve in a peaceful and meaningful way. Since 2002, Atlanta Habitat has built 10 interfaith houses; meaning, Atlanta Habitat has provided the space and opportunity for dozens of diverse congregations and interfaith groups to build a home in partnership. Atlanta Habitat provides a safe space where everyone can put their ‘faith into action’ and serve a greater good – building alongside a qualified and working family who will ultimately purchase an affordable home.

In being a safe space for interfaith religious cooperation, there have been many growth opportunities in Atlanta that Atlanta Habitat has had the pleasure of witnessing. The Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto is just that, an opportunity to transform Atlanta through engaging and uniting. With the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto’s goals being to advance interfaith cooperation, marshal religious diversity, and celebrate Atlanta’s diversity, I feel the concept that Millard Fuller lived out in the 1940’s, has re-grounded itself presently in Atlanta, with a focus on working across both racial and religious lines. It is exciting to see support grow for working across lines of differences to advance the common good. Atlanta Habitat is in support of the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto and will continue to partner in order to advance interfaith harmony in our city.

We will continue to work, build, and partner with organizations, individuals, and congregations to remind Atlanta – and beyond – that our similarities are much greater than our differences.


Haley Hart is a social and civic advocate whose work passionately supports issues she cares deeply for: education and service opportunities across diverse religions and environmental sustainability. Currently, Haley serves as a Sponsorship Coordinator for Atlanta Habitat for Humanity, the sixth largest Habitat affiliate in the world which has been recognized as an ‘Affiliate of Distinction’. Haley’s team raises over $4 million dollars annually and she works directly with 70+ diverse faith groups where she facilitates opportunities for congregations to build together across racial, socio-economic, and faith identity boundaries. These efforts directly support Atlanta Habitat’s home-building programming. Haley serves on the Faith-Advisory Committee for Habitat for Humanity International where she shares her broad experience in helping to create programs and tools for other organizations faith and interfaith engagement programs.

Deanna Ferree Womack: The Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto Calls Us into a Common Future

What distinguishes humans from other living beings is not primarily our wisdom but rather our ability to look toward the future. According to a New York Times article by psychology professor Martin Seligman and science columnist John Tierney, we ought to call ourselves Homo prospectus instead of Homo sapiens because human wisdom arises from our power of prospection. We are drawn to the future, they say, far more than we are driven by the past. This understanding of human life resonates with me as a Christian with a faith centered on future hope. Yet as a historian and professor of multifaith relations, I also believe that the way we speak about the past (and how accurately we remember it) matters for our visioning of the future. This is why I so deeply appreciate how the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto points us back to our history as Americans and as Atlantans and then calls us into a common future.

With the growing religious diversity in the United States and transnational networks of communication, trade, and travel that connect us to communities across the globe, our future promises to be full of interfaith encounters. The prospect of living alongside members of multiple religious traditions may seem new to some American Christians, especially those in rural areas like the Midwestern farming town where I grew up. Interreligious engagement, however, became an American reality long before anyone now living in the US could claim an American identity. Even before our Constitution enshrined religious freedom as a foundational right, the first Jewish synagogues were founded in the eighteenth-century American colonies. The earliest Buddhist temple in the US was erected in the 1850s, and our nation’s first documented Muslim communal prayer was held in North Dakota in 1900, although the Muslim presence in America dates to the colonial period. We have a multifaith past. Indeed, despite Euro-centric imaginings of the Western Christian story, our society has become what it is today through a long history of cultural interconnections, civilizational interdependence, and interreligious collaboration.

Considering contemporary American conversations, it may be particularly helpful to note what we could learn from Islamic history. For example, the works of Greek philosophy and science that have so profoundly shaped Western culture were translated into Arabic and preserved in early-medieval Baghdad during the Abbasid Caliphate. This Muslim dynasty supported the city’s thriving translation movement and other pursuits of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish scholars. Along with developments in medicine, navigation, printing, and other technologies, these ancient Greek texts traveled through Muslim Spain into the Latin West, paving the way for the Renaissance and the Reformation. In Iberia itself until the late Middle Ages, Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived and worked together in an environment of convivencia, or coexistence. Although our modern conception of minority rights did not exist in these medieval societies, the level of religious tolerance under Islamic rule far surpassed anything one could find in Christian Europe at the time.

For similar examples in more recent history, we might look to the Arab regions of the Ottoman Empire in the late-nineteenth century, where an ethos of intellectual exchange emerged among members of the Abrahamic faiths during the Nahda (modern Arab renaissance). In my research on this period, I have discovered that Arabic-speaking women in Ottoman Syria participated in these cultural currents by publishing books, articles, and poetry through the modern Arabic press. What I find particularly enlightening is that Christian and Jewish women authors claimed Arab-Islamic heritage as central to their own identities and spoke with pride in the achievements of Islamic civilization dating back to the Abbasid era. This common heritage also bound together the Syrian Christian and Muslim immigrants who arrived in the US in the decades before World War I. Muslims were the minority in the Arab American communities that grew in the Northeast and Midwest, but it is significant to note that this was the second wave of Muslim migration to the US and that it took place more than a century ago. The earliest wave consisted of West African Muslims forcibly brought here as slaves.

Interfaith encounters are not a new reality in America or in Atlanta, as the Interfaith Manifesto reminds us. Religious diversity enriched the Civil Rights Movement in this city, and here today we have countless opportunities for building multifaith relations. For this reason, Atlanta is an ideal setting for training the next generation of interfaith leaders, which we seek to do at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and at Georgia Tech, Candler’s partner in the Leadership and Multifaith Program (LAMP). Looking to the future, these young leaders – and all of us – can draw wisdom and inspiration from local and global histories.

The stories I have highlighted of religious exchange in medieval Baghdad, in Islamic Iberia, in Ottoman Syria, and in our own nation’s history do not represent perfect models that we could fully replicate today. As we have seen too many times before, attempts to preserve or recreate the past usually end with one group’s imagined past becoming a source of oppression for others. Instead, we should allow history to teach us that interreligious cooperation is possible and is necessary for human flourishing. Then we will find the courage to take up the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto’s challenge to stand against religious intolerance and marshal religious diversity in new and more fitting ways. Join me in answering this call to build a common future.


Deanna Ferree Womack is Assistant Professor of History of Religions and Multifaith Relations at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, where she teaches on Islam in America, Christian-Muslim relations, interfaith dialogue, and global religions. She also directs public programming for the Leadership and Multifaith Program (LAMP), a joint endeavor between Candler and the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts at Georgia Tech. Womack is ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and came to Candler from Princeton Theological Seminary, where she completed her PhD. Her research focuses on Christian-Muslim and American-Arab encounters in Ottoman Syria in the pre-World War I period.