The last five-day parliament in October in Salt Lake City was attended by nearly 10,500 people from 45 religious traditions and 75 countries, including a number of people from Fresno.
Reza Nekumanesh, director of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno, says he hopes Sellers’ Fresno visit re-energizes local leaders and highlights peace-building work and interfaith partnerships in the city.
“As the chairman of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, he shares in the great responsibility and honor of bringing together leaders and activists of all of the world’s religions, whether they be local tribal expressions or the expressions of more than a billion,” Nekumanesh says. “Through the wonderful interfaith work that Dr. Sellers performs, he works to ensure that all have a voice and no belief system is lost in the void.”
Sellers is a professor of theology at Hardin-Simmons University, a private Baptist university in Abilene, Texas, where he has taught for 18 years. His visit to the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno was arranged through Sellers’ longtime friend, retired pastor Arville Earl; Earl’s son-in-law, Rev. Christopher Breedlove, senior pastor of Community United Church of Christ in Fresno; and Nekumanesh.
Sellers talks with The Bee about his work:
Q: What impact would you like the Parliament of the World’s Religions to have on its participants?
A: The mission of the Parliament is to promote harmony among the world’s religions and to work with its guiding institutions to help bring about peace, justice and sustainability in the world.
I will be very pleased if people who have never thought that their voices counted might join the growing interfaith effort around the globe to make the future brighter and more secure for our children and grandchildren.
Q: What are the core beliefs of Baptists?
A: There are, of course, many kinds of Baptists. Regrettably, many Baptists who get the microphone or who engage in public pronouncements focus on religious exclusivity, legalistic judgments of others, and a kind of isolationism that is unhelpful in our fractured world that needs all of us to be part of the solution rather than a source of the problem.
My own Baptist core beliefs are centered around the person of Jesus, whose life was a challenging example to me of how to live sacrificially, compassionately, humbly and courageously with others as I join with others to try to carry on the kind of work that he initiated.
Q: What do you primarily teach at Hardin-Simmons University?
A: About half of my undergraduate classes and graduate seminars are in theology, with course titles like Liberation Theology, World Religions, Two-Thirds World Theologies (i.e., Latin American, African and Asian), or Christ and Empire, while the other half of my classes and seminars are in missions, with course titles like Cross-Cultural Missions, The Church’s Mission to North America, History of Missions, or (specific, world regions) Area Studies.
Q: What inspired you to teach in more than 40 countries, and what have you primarily taught? What do you hope these teachings do for people?
A: Along with my wife, Janie, I have lived for almost 25 years in Asia, but we have traveled, studied, taught and worked in many, many countries. I love the adventure of travel, the fascination of cultures, the graciousness of so many of the world’s peoples, the wisdom of spiritual teachers and their traditions, the allure of exotic food and entertainment, the benefit of learning from others who are different, and the joy of shared time with new friends.
In most of these travels, I have been teaching subjects related to Christian theology, although in my new role as chair of the Parliament, I anticipate more opportunities to teach principles of interfaith relations, cooperation and dialogue.
Of course, I hope that what I teach will be meaningful to people and that it might make a change, even a small change, in their own lives and work.