The Words of the Wells Family

The Fifth God Conference

Jonathan Wells
February 1987

Rev. C. H. Kwak addresses the Fifth God Conference.

The Fifth International conference on "God: The Contemporary Discussion:' better known as the God Conference, met in Coronado, California, from December 29, 1986, through January 3, 1987. Most of the previous God Conferences have taken place over the celebration of God's Day, thereby linking the internal, providential celebration of God with an external event dedicated to God and to generating serious inter-religious discussion on God.

The God Conference has always acknowledged, and indeed thrives upon, the variety of relationships that human beings have with the Divine. As stated by Rev. C. H. Kwak in his welcoming remarks to the conference, "What is needed is not a monolithic uniformity of belief and practice, but a unity based on an awareness of divine love, mutual respect, and shared goals:' The God Conference seeks to bring scholars together centering upon the highest aspirations and deepest insights of religion, and to inspire these scholars to disseminate the ideal of religious harmony and cooperation. "If you find this conference fruitful," declared Rev. Kwak, "I would urge you to communicate your impression to others, and especially to the leaders of your respective religious traditions. Through your influence, those leaders might...devote more of their energies to meetings that heal inter-religious divisions and that deal with urgent social problems.

With this as the vision of the conference, the participants gathered from around the world. One hundred twenty scholars of religion, who were in many cases religious and/or interfaith leaders as well, convened in the beautiful century-old Hotel del Coronado on the coast of Southern California. Under the able guidance of Dr. Robert Scharlemann, chairman of the conference, the New Ecumenical Research Association (New ERA) brought a diverse range of scholars from every continent: 10 from Africa, 8 from the Far East, 19 from Europe and the Middle East, 20 from the Indian subcontinent, 3 from Australia, and the remainder from North and South America.

Themes of Mutual Concern

Representing a dozen religious traditions and as many or more academic disciplines, the participants worked within a structure of seven different theme groups (see box). Each had written an article-length paper for group discussion, as well as a response to another paper in the group. The groups were designed to promote cross-cultural discussion on topics of mutual concern to the globe's religious, theological, and philosophical communities.

The conference began each morning at 7:00 a.m. with a prayer or meditation service. On four different mornings, participants attended Jewish, Hindu, Christian, and Buddhist services. From 8:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m., with only a brief afternoon break, the theme discussions ranged widely over their topics, challenging many participants to see things from viewpoints they had never encountered before. Films on the Religious Youth Service and the Assembly of the World's Religions sparked discussion of practical modes of service to the world and how we might contribute most effectively toward the development of a family of faiths and a lessening of inter-religious conflict.

As the "flag-ship" event of New ERA's yearly calendar, the Fifth God Conference brought 1986 to a victorious conclusion and provided 1987 with an auspicious start. Rev. Kwak encouraged the participants to "see this conference on 'God: The Contemporary Discussion' as a starting point for something much greater," and especially as a vehicle to fulfill the purpose of the International Religious Foundation: world peace through religious dialogue and harmony.

Theme Group 1: God, Nothing, and the Ultimate
Moderators: Ray Hart, Daniel Charles, and Durwood Foster

Theme Group 2: The Human as a Medium of the Divine
Moderators: Michael Von Bruck and Betty Rubenstein

Theme Group 3: God and Ritual
Moderators: Margaret Chatterjee and Asa Kasher

Theme Group 4: The Rationality of God and the Rationality of Nature
Moderators: Frank Harrison and Ramakant Sinari

Theme Group 5: The Future of Onto-Theology
Moderators: Huston Smith and Henry Ruf

Theme Group 6: The Social Consequences of Belief in God
Moderators: Richard Quebedeaux and James Wood

Theme Group 7: God as Healer, God as Destroyer
Moderators: Friday Mbon and K. L. Seshagiri Rao 

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