SALT LAKE CITY — To understand the roots of poverty in the United States, look no further than the nation's criminal justice system, says Rami Nashashibi, executive director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network of Chicago.
"We still, unfortunately have to own the dubious distinction of incarcerating more people than any other Western, industrialized nation in the world. That is not just an indictment on one group of people. That’s an indictment of all of us, including all faith communities represented here," said Nashashibi speaking Saturday during the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions.
Nashashibi, who is a visiting assistant professor of sociology, religion and Muslim studies at Chicago Theological Seminary, called on hundreds of Parliament participants attending a plenary session on income inequality to actively support efforts to help people expunge criminal records as well as restorative justice initiatives, alternatives to incarceration and "ban the box" policies, which eliminate questions about criminal convictions on job applications.
"It is time brothers and sisters we do more than just pay lip service to this issue, more than simply hash tag on Twitter on this issue," Nashashibi said.
The Rev. Jim Wallis, president and founder of Sojourners, a nonprofit faith-based organization in Washington, D.C. that advocates for social justice, said poverty is an economic issue as well as a political issue, where "wealth and the wealthy control our politics."
For people who believe loving their neighbor as themselves is second only to loving God, "then income inequality is a spiritual issue, a moral issue and a religious test."
Rev. Michael Beckwith, a New Thought minister and founder of the Agape International Spiritual Center based in Culver City, California, said the staggering numbers of people worldwide who lack the basics of life "behooves us to create a new narrative by which we do our work."
One way is redefine the western notion of success, which has traditionally meant getting rich, which leads to mass consumption and other trappings of wealth.
To address income inequality, "people must come into the bottom line."
Moreover, people of faith treat their fellow travelers with compassion. "Compassion goes beyond sympathy and empathy. Compassion is a high form of love. It says 'How can I serve you?' " Beckwith said.
Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group, addressed the group in a pre-recorded video, calling on people of faith to be partners in ending poverty and disease in the world. The World Bank Group's twin goals are ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity.
There are recent and historical lessons of great societal change driven by faith groups, whether it was ending apartheid in South Africa and Jim Crow laws in the United States or more recently, the work of imams in Nigeria to wipe out polio in Nigeria, Kim said.
"We need citizen demand for change. We need a movement," he said.
The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet also spoke to the Parliament in a recorded message because he was unable to attend in person due to health concerns.
He urged the Parliament to become more active in ending poverty worldwide.
"Love should be action-oriented," he said.
People attending the plenary session were also encouraged to support an interfaith declaration "to work together to discuss the pernicious effects of greed and the exploitative economic policies that they yield."
The declaration, in part, reminds religious communities and leaders of their "significant moral authority, courageous voices and organized people power."
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