On the 25th anniversary of WNRF, it asked its Earl Award members to reflect on their experience with the religious futurists community and share a challenge. Jay Gary, evangelical author, missiologist and leadership scholar, who received the Earl Award in 1996 shared this.
It was Friday, August 11, 1995. A friend of mine suggested I contact Dr. Richard Kirby, chairman of the World Network of Religious Futurists (WNRF).
I sent Dr. Kirby a short email introducing myself and saying, "I am interested in learning more about how religious futurists look at the 21st century and beyond. Could you steer me to online resources, books, articles, etc.?" Below my signature was a quote by John Miles, "Follow the brightest star, as far as the brave may dare."
From that first inquiry, I received an answer, and then sent another question. At that point, Dr. Kirby replied it might be best if I come out to Seattle for a weekend and talk further. In January of 1996 I visited Seattle to meet Dr. Kirby and Dr. Spady, with the Forum Foundation. That next summer Dr. Kirby invited me to join him on a panel at the World Future Society on the future of religion and technology with Dr. Ed Wenk, that year's Earl Award winner.
A year later the World Network of Religious Futurist honored me with the Earl Award, in recognition of my service to make the year 2000 a milestone for both faith and society, and thereby advance the future of religion in the service of humanity.
My interest in the future of religion went back nearly twenty-five years earlier when I decided to follow Jesus. In the WNRF, however, I met other professional futurists from different religious backgrounds, whether Islamic, Jewish, Esoteric, Buddhist or Neo-humanist. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I keep telling myself and Toto, "this isn't Kansas anymore!" Yet I felt this commitment to challenge others outside my community was worth the risk of being misunderstood. After all, Abraham met with Melchizedek, king of Salem, and both received and gave a blessing. Following September 11th, we can no longer live within our own fortresses. We must both help and challenge others who are committed to serve the God--Most High.
Later in 1998 I helped launch the website of WNRF and co-write its FAQ, to give shape to the religious futurist vocation. The following year, Dr. Todd Johnson and I hosted the first of many consultations of the Christian Futures network. Today under this separate effort I keep active with non-profit ministry leaders, conducting "Future Proof Your Ministry" workshops and mentoring Christian leaders in futures thinking. And for the past four years, I have taught strategic foresight, at Regent University, to graduate students.
Why would I as an Evangelical, want to keep in touch with futurists, from a plurality of religious backgrounds? I welcome a plurality of views not because it is political correct, but precisely because it helps correct my own cultural biases in the service of great things, as Richard Hughes writes. Approached in this way, I believe the hope found in Jesus Christ, both can renew the mind and release the imagination, to sustain our common work for world peace and justice. My way of doing that is through futures thinking, futures action, and futures influence, that springs from our own faith community.
To reinforce this conviction about hope, I presently serve as WNRF's Senior Associate for Futures Studies. In this role I challenge all those WNRF encounters to create learning communities of practicing futurists, within their own religious traditions. Futures thinking needs to be taught and caught within Christain seminaries, Buddhist shangas, Jewish yeshivas, Islamic academies, Bahai schools and Hindu ashrams.
We need contextual futures education for different religious traditions. One example of this contextual work is Dr. Ziauddin Sardar. Sardar set out on a new "Ijtihad." Jihad means struggle, but "Ijtihad" means a struggle to know, to reason, to rethink. In the 1980s Sardar created a new language and contextual paradigms for a new field of Islamic futures. I look toward the day when in London, in Cairo, in Karachi, in Jakarta, and in Detroit thousands of Muslim scholars are re-opening the gates of Ijtihad, and Islamic civilization is reclaiming its own future from its classical tradition, which includes Jesus and the prophets.
We also need a shared tradition of futures learning across various faiths and cultures. Associations such as the World Futures Studies Federation have provided a multi-cultural forum for futurists from different cultures. But there is room for a parallel multi-faith association to nurture futurists, under a sacred canopy. This is a great opportunity for WNRF.
WNRF's destiny is to come alongside thousands of mid-career leaders and give them futures theory, futures methods and futures communities, in order to empower their service.
At the birth of Christ, wise men from the east saw a great light. May we have the courage again to set out on a common journey to build the civilizations of tomorrow, to "follow the brightest star, as far as the brave may dare."