On Thursday, April 3, 2014, two Pagans were inducted into the Martin Luther King, Jr. International College of Ministries and Laity at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. Andras Corban-Arthen and Phyllis Curott were given this honorary designation for their ongoing efforts in the interfaith movement namely for the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religion. The special ceremony was one part of a much larger event celebrating Karen Armstrong’s Charter of Compassion.
In 2008 Karen Armstrong, author and fellow at the Society of Literature, received a $100,000 TED prize for her global messages of peace and compassion. Dr. Armstrong took that money and launched a campaign called the “Charter for Compassion” which would embody her message and grow a movement. The Charter is described as:
a cooperative effort to restore no only compassionate thinking but, more importantly, compassionate action to the center of religious, moral and political life. Compassion is the principled determination to put ourselves in the shoes of the other and lies at the heart of all religious and ethical systems.
In February 2014 the city council of Atlanta joined the movement by unanimously voting to become a “Compassionate City.” The declaration was the result of a grassroots effort by a group called Compassionate Atlanta. The local movement garnered a number of supporters including The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions and the Martin Luther King Jr International Chapel at Morehouse College.
Dr. Lawrence Carter, the dean of the Chapel at Morehouse, happens to also be a Parliament trustee. As Andras explains:
Through his involvement on our Board, Dr. Carter, who has been Dean of the MLK Chapel since its inception, felt that it would be significant for the Chapel to recognize the longstanding interfaith efforts of the Parliament, so he proposed that the current trustees be inducted as honorary ministers.
Dr. Carter scheduled the “investiture ceremony” to coincide with Atlanta’s “Celebration of Compassion” and the honoring of Dr. Karen Armstrong. All events were held on Morehouse College’s campus in downtown Atlanta.
Prior to Thursday’s ceremonies, Andras and Phyllis met with local Pagans and Interfaith representatives to discuss “Pagans in the Parliament.” This talk was held north of the city in Sandy Springs at The Phoenix and Dragon, a local metaphysical bookstore and Charter for Compassion Partner.
After a digital slide-show highlighting the 20 years of Pagan involvement in the Parliament, the elders discussed the positive effects that global interfaith work has had on Paganism in general. Lydia M. N. Crabtree, author with Immanion Press was one of those in attendance. She said:
It was interesting to see where much of interreligious tolerance for Paganism has come from. Without Phyllis Curott, Andras Corban-Arthen and many other, often unnamed and unrecognized leaders, working on a global level, interreligious work done by Pagans at the local level would be a pothole-riddled road to try and travel upon.
Then on Thursday morning, Andras and Phyllis gathered at the Martin Luther King Jr International Chapel for their induction ceremony. Andras says:
I feel deeply honored and also overwhelmed, since MLK was my childhood hero, someone I’ve looked to for inspiration all of my life. It’s truly a humbling experience to walk down the photo-lined halls of the Martin Luther King Memorial Chapel, seeing all the faces of the remarkable women and men who put their lives on the line in the struggle for civil rights.
As part of its interfaith programming the Chapel has been “conferring honorary inductions” to those people whose work is “congruent with the principles set forth by Gandhi, King and Ikeda,” as Andras explains. He and Phyllis became the first two Pagans, of any tradition, to receive this honor. Andras adds:
To have two of us welcomed into the ranks of a storied Southern Baptist institution; to sit on a stage along with Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Jains, Catholics, Indigenous, Hindus, Sikhs, and Bahá’ís while the first African-American bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta stirred up the audience with all the zeal of an old-time black preacher; to be treated not just with openness and respect, but with actual deference by everyone at Morehouse — it really brought home just how far we’ve come. That scene would not have taken place as recently as 20 years ago, when the Parliament, much to its credit, first let us in the door.
Later that evening at the same Chapel, Compassionate Atlanta held its own reception and ceremony to honor Karen Armstrong and her work. Mr. Ajit Jumar of the consul General of India, Mr. Martin Luther King III, son of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Mr. Shigeo Hasegawa, Vice President of Soko Gakkai International presented Dr. Armstrong with three different peace awards and an honorary degree. In addition, they unveiled a commissioned painting of her which will hang in the King Center Hall of Fame Gallery.
Sitting on the stage during the evening ceremonies were both Andras and Phyllis as trustees of the Parliament. Andras says:
It’s not every day that I get to share a stage with both the son of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi — a fascinating, educational, inspirational and productive visit to Morehouse College in Atlanta!
Several local pagans attended the event including Eibhlean, Priestess and member of the Interfaith Community Initiative in Atlanta. She says:
Dr. Armstrong was engaging and thought provoking as she cited example after example of the existence of Compassion as a core tenet in religious faiths around the world. She ended her presentation with a statement that we could move closer to God by opening ourselves to seeing the Divine in everyone’s eyes – most especially in those who have caused us the most heartache. Compassion is not comfortable – it is standing in integrity and strength to embrace the world in its entirety. It was an honor and a joy to feel that embrace include me as a Witch and Druid.
Compassionate Atlanta has a complete overview of the entire event including photos, music samples and prayers read. Want to know if your city is Compassionate? Go to the Charter for Compassion to see which cities have signed up for Dr. Armstrong’s “Compassionate City Initiative” and which local venues are Compassion Partners.