A logical examination of Kansas City interfaith history begins in 1893, with a look at interfaith activity nationally and globally. Such reflection of study is necessary to encompass the complete picture of ecumenical and interfaith development at a regional level. In 1893, Rev. John Henry Barrows wrote,” But religion, like the white light of Heaven, has been broken into many-colored fragments by the prisms of men. One of the objects of the Parliament of Religions has been to change this many-colored radiance back into the white light of heavenly truth.” There really is no better introduction to interfaith than the discussion of the first Parliament of the World’s Religions, held in 1893. Planning for the Parliament began in 1891 with the General Committee on Religious Congresses of the World’s Congress Auxiliary, appointed by President Charles C. Bonney. The committee sent out a preliminary address in 1891 which brought to light the impact of religion on human development and the necessity for cooperation among representatives of all the world’s faiths.[1]

Over time, the committee discovered that the religious world was becoming increasingly interested in a Congress of Religions. The general committee sent out their first report on 25 February 1892, which expanded further interest in the movement. [2] A list of ten objectives were proposed for the Parliament of Religions. These items were as follows:

  1. To bring together in conference, for the first time in history, the leading representatives of the great Historic Religions of the world.
  2. To show men, in the most impressive way, what and how many important truths the various Religions hold and teach in common.
  3. To promote and deepen the spirit of human brotherhood among religious men of diverse faiths, through friendly conference and mutual good understanding, while not seeking to foster the temper of indifferentism, and not striving to achieve any formal and outward unity.
  4. To set forth, by those most competent to speak, what are deemed the important distinctive truths held and taught by each Religion, and by the various chief branches of Christendom.
  5. To indicate the impregnable foundations of Theism, and the reasons for man’s faith in immortality, and thus to unite and strengthen the forces which are adverse, to a materialistic philosophy of the universe.
  6. To secure from leading scholars, representing Brahman, Buddhist, Confucian, Parsee, Mohammedan, Jewish, and other Faiths, and from representatives of the various Churches of Christendom, full and accurate statements of the spiritual and other effects of the Religions which they hold upon Literature, Art, Commerce, Government, Domestic and Social life of the peoples among whom these Faiths have prevailed.
  7. To inquire what light each Religion has afforded, or may afford, to the other Religions of the world.
  8. To set forth, for permanent record to be published to the world, an accurate and authoritative account of the present condition and outlook of Religion among the leading nations of the earth.
  9. To discover, from competent men, what light Religion has to throw on the great problems of the present age, especially the important questions connected with Temperance, Labor, Education, Wealth and Poverty, 10. To bring the nations of the earth into a more friendly fellowship, in the hope of securing permanent international peace.[3]

Despite the Parliament’s call for unity, many religious organizations voiced direct opposition to the proposition of the Parliament. After two years of preparation and discourse, the inauguration of the Parliament of Religions commenced on 11 September 1893 and continued until 27 September 1893.[4]

[1] Barrows, John Henry. The World’s Parliament of Religions: an illustrated and popular story of the World’s first Parliament of Religions. Chicago: The Parliament Publishing Company, 1893, 3-10.

[2] Ibid, 15.

[3] Ibid, 18.

[4] Ibid, 62.