It is the 11th of September 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
I love the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. It’s dirty and problematic and fascinating and grandiose. A kind of coming out party for post-Civil War America. It was here that George Washington Gale Ferris Jr built his giant wheel that would soon bear his name. From this we got the first brownie, Juicy Fruit gum, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Aunt Jemima… and there were giant global cultural gatherings as well. Put a pin here.
I also love the wild and wooly expanding west at the time and the dying embers of the second Great Awakening that spawned new religious movements across the Northeast.
And what if we could connect that sprawling, ambitious, sometimes weird religious world and connect it to the Chicago Worlds Fair? Lucky us, as it just so happens that it was on this, September 11th in 1893 that the World’s Parliament of Religions met for its first conference at the Chicago Worlds Fair.
The conference was the brainchild of Charles Carrol Bonney. Bonney was a noted Swedenborgian- you know, the group named after Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg? He claimed special Revelation from Jesus to set up a new universal church. So… do what you will with this. But, please note the ecumenical note that would go on to pervade the Parliament.
In 1891 hundreds of invites were sent around the world inviting leaders of all world religions to the parliament. The stated aims were to:
- Be the first of its kind
- See what the religions hold in common
- A mutual understanding, but without any formal unity
- A unified pro-theism and immortality agreement
- Ideas from the religions on the social problems of the day (labor, poverty, temperance)
- A view to world peace.
As you might imagine, many would have nothing to do with it. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the European Catholic leadership, the Sultan of Turkey, and evangelist D.L Moody all rejected the invitation and denounced the Parliament. A southern baptist professor at SBTS Louisville stated, however, “Let an honest effort be made to get at the facts of religious experience, and the truth of God will take care of itself.”
While it was billed as a parliament of all world religions, the tone was overwhelmingly Christian. 152 of the 194 papers given were by English-speaking Christians. The parliament opened with Isaac Watts's doxology based on Psalm 100 (Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow) and each morning began with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.
Christian new religious movements, the ones taking off in upstate New York- most notably, Mormons, were not invited to the Congress. Neither were any indigenous North American religions, perhaps an irony considering the Fair was the celebration of Colombus “discovering America”.
It was the first of its kind but there would not be another meeting of the Parliament for 100 years.
In this story, we see something of the template for the coming American church. First, the “American church” was becoming synonymous with mainline Protestantism. And as it sought inclusivity, the conservative elements in American Christianity began to isolate.
The parliament seems an appropriate event for the context of this “World’s Fair”- both globally and in light of the spectacle of the larger event- but the ecumenical movement would take a hit by the coming wars, etc…
Today we remember the opening of the First Parliament of Worlds Religions on this, the 11th of September in 1893.
The last word for today is from John 14:
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 11th of September 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite breakfast consists of juicy fruit gum, brownies, and Pabst Blue Ribbon. He is Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man afraid of most Ferris Wheels, I am Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.