The Words of the Smalls Family

The Fourth International Conference on God: The Contemporary Discussion

Yolanda Smalls
August 9-15, 1984
Seoul, South Korea

O God, we give you thanks for this moment in time! We come here this afternoon as sisters and brothers in the one human family from the four corners of the globe, to share, to dialogue about You, our "contemporary discussion."

Though many, may we truly be one in You through our efforts to understand the deep insights that will be shared from the heart of each one. As we do so----help us bridge the gulfs of mutual ignorance and misunderstandings between our different cultures and religions and those of all the world.

We believe that if our sharing is sincere, totally loyal to You who are truth, and open to You who are reality, we shall indeed "lose our lives" and be "born again" in and through our interdisciplinary and inter-religious encounters during these next few days.

In this "Land of the Morning Calm" may each word uttered about You, O God, be a gift, an experience of You in the very depths of our hearts.

With these words Sister Pascaline Coff opened the plenary session of the fourth conference on "God: The Contemporary Discussion," held in Seoul, South Korea, August 9-15, 1984. With the 235 God Conference participants at the plenary session were the 150 participants of the Youth Seminar on World Religions, which was ending its pilgrimage in Korea, and many Korean guests. The opening address of the conference by it. chairman, Dr. Huston Smith, the Founder's Address of Rev. Sun Myung Moon (read in his absence by Rev. Chung Hwan Kwak) and the message from His Holiness the Dalai Lama (read by a Buddhist monk).

Many of the participants visited the Orient for the first time and took advantage of the opportunity of being in Asia to visit not only Seoul and Kyong Ju, the ancient Silla capital with its historic temples and shrines, but also to visit Japan and go to the shrines in Kyoto and Nara, or to visit the People's Republic of China and walk up the steps of the Temple of Heaven in Peking and climb the Great Wall.

Hot, noisy, bustling and friendly, Seoul was a revelation to many of us of one of the most rapidly industrializing third world countries in the world. From the 36th floor of the Hotel Lotte where the meeting rooms of the conference were situated, there was a panoramic view of downtown Seoul, the high-rise hotels and office buildings, the surrounding mountains, the streams of buses and taxis, which provide very efficient mass transportation for the citizens and visitors to Seoul.

As in previous years, the international, inter-religious and intercultural mixture of participants from 36 different countries provided an intoxicating environment for dialogue -- meeting old friends, making new ones, or finally meeting face to face someone known for ten or twenty years as the author of books one has studied and taught.

As a result of the preparatory work of writing their own papers, writing a response to someone else's and reading the contributions in advance, the discussions were very stimulating and enjoyable.

A total of 230 papers were presented in ten different groups, the topics of which were:

Is there a Divine Intention for Male- Female Relationships?

What Effect does Language as a Medium have on Knowledge of God?

Religious Art: Images of the Divine

Women's Experience of God and/or the Ultimate

Science and the Ultimate: How are Divine and Natural Causality Related to One Another?

Death and Immortality in the Religions of the World

Is Faith in God Necessary to the Creation of a Just Society?

Faith and Reason in the Great Traditions

The Encounter of Eastern and Western Understandings of God in the Making of Modem Asia

"Death and Immortality in the Religions of the World" was so popular that it had to be divided into two groups of twenty participants each, while all the others had about twenty or more paper presenters and two or three observers.

There was deep disappointment that Rev. Moon could not be present to give his address at the opening of the conference. Many had looked forward to meeting and hearing him for the first time. As an expression of their solidarity and support, a letter addressed to Rev. Moon was composed by one of the participants and signed by most of those present. This letter was presented to Rev. Moon by Rev. Kwak on his return to the United States.

A participant from England wrote the following about his experience at the conference:

In my theme group there were Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, as well as Humanists and psychic researchers -- all preoccupied with the issue of death and immortality. As a rabbi, I had never before encountered such an astonishingly broad range of opinions.

The session on "Is there a Divine Intention for Male-Female Relation- ships?" ended on the following note:

This session revealed to me how parochial I am in my religiosity. Into my holy place have come new treasures from the East. Indeed God has a divine intention for male-female relationships, for East and West, North and South.

One of the moderators of the session "Faith and Reason in the Great Traditions" ended his reflections by saying:

The discussions were distinguished by coherence and comprehensiveness though not necessarily by agreement, which is all to the good -- otherwise what will be left for discussion at the next God Conference?

The fifth God Conference will be chaired by a professor of religious studies, Dr. Robert Scharlemann and is scheduled for December 1986. Until now the conference has been held annually, in 1981 in Hawaii, 1982 in Fort Lauderdale and in 1983 in Puerto Rico.

A new project is being initiated with the help and support of the participants of the God Conference and under the auspices of the International Religious Foundation. The Assembly of the World Religions will hold three meetings. The first, to be convened in November 1985 near New York City on the theme "Recovering Our Classical Roots," will bring together seven hundred spiritual teachers, scholars, lay leaders, artists and young people in preparation for two more, one in 1989 and one in 1993.

As in the past, most of the papers will appear as volumes in the series "God: The Contemporary Discussion," three of which are already in print: a volume of select essays from the first conference, God and Temporality, edited by Bowman L. Clarke and Eugene T. Long, and Ultimate Reality and Spiritual Discipline, edited by James Duerlinger.

The end of the conference was celebrated with a banquet at the Little Angels School, where an inter-religious candle service, and farewell speeches were followed by a spectacular production of dancing, singing and musical fountains performed by students from the school. It was truly an unforgettable experience for everyone.

Message From His Holiness the Dalai Lama to God Conference Participants
April 19, 1984

I have always recognized the importance of the existence of each of the many different religions that the vast majority of mankind believes in and many practice. While pointing out the fundamental commonalities of the various religions, I would not advocate one particular religion in favor of the other or a "new world religion." Certain people find Christianity more appealing while others prefer Buddhism because of its emphasis on one's own action rather than that of a creator. We can put forth similar arguments for other religions as well but the point is humanity needs all of them to suit each people's way of life, and diverse spiritual needs.

I see two basic tasks before the religious leaders who are concerned with world peace and harmony. First, we must promote better interfaith understanding so as to create a workable degree of unity among each other's beliefs and by emphasizing common concerns for human welfare. Second, we must bring about another workable degree of consensus of fundamental spiritual values that touch every human heart and enhance greater understanding among the humanity. This means we must emphasize the common denominator of all religions; humanitarian ideals. These two steps will enable us to act either in concert or severally to create the necessary spiritual conditions for world peace.

I extend my greetings and prayers for the success of this Conference.

An Open Letter to the President of the United States From Participants in the Fourth God Conference

August 14, 1984

Dear Mr. President:

We are deeply concerned about the sorry state of religious liberty in the United States, as shown by thousands of cases against religious leaders and churches.

We are particularly concerned about the jailing of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.

Although we are not ourselves members of the Unification Church, we have come to respect Rev. Moon for his deep commitment to seeking peace through worldwide religious dialogue. As scholars of religion, we can attest to his profound religious faith as well as to the many noble institutions and activities that he has founded and supports magnanimously. These projects seek to ameliorate the crucial problems of our time.

We are attending the Fourth International Conference on "God: The Contemporary Discussion," meeting in Seoul, Republic of Korea. This conference was founded and is supported by Rev. Moon. It is indeed ironic that while we attend this conference as his guests, he is in jail over a tax dispute. His absence from this conference distressed participants from over thirty-five nations who look to America as a symbol of freedom, particularly religious freedom.

As you know, America was initially settled by men and women who braved the perils of an ocean and an unknown continent for freedom to worship God as they felt called. Untold millions have drawn hope and inspiration from the guarantee of religious freedom in the Bill of Rights. So much greater the tragedy that the practice of the United States has fallen short of its preachment. Quakers, Shakers, Mormons and Catholics, among others, have been victims of religious intolerance. The case of Rev. Moon appears to us to be the latest chapter in this long and painful history.

Under these circumstances, we cannot remain silent. We are convinced that a great injustice has been done. This injustice must be rectified not only for the sake of Rev. Moon but also for the sake of the ideal of religious freedom for which America stands.

We urge you to give your thoughtful presidential consideration to the situation of Rev. Moon and other cases involving religious freedom. 

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