The Charter for Compassion

Karen Armstrong is a British author who has written many books on comparative religions. A former Catholic sister, she won the prestigious TED Prize for ideas to change the world. Her idea was to formulate a “Charter for Compassion” that could be endorsed by people of all faiths all over the world.

The charter would be based on the Golden Rule. We Christians associate the Golden Rule with Jesus’ “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” found in Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31. But the Golden Rule is also found in the other two Abrahamic religions: Judaism and Islam. In addition it is found in the ancient religions of Egypt, China, India, Greece, Persia, and Rome.

TED gave Armstrong the resources to formulate the charter. She set up a website soliciting ideas. Literally thousands of individuals from 100 different countries offered suggestions. The Charter of Compassion was unveiled on November 12, 2009 in Washington D.C. At its launch it was endorsed by the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and many other notable religious leaders.

The charter’s supporting organization is called Charter for Compassion International (CCI) which has 311 communities in 45 countries worldwide. Each year the ICC names a city as its model city of compassion. From 2012 to 2015 Louisville, Kentucky took that honor. Their signature event was a city-wide volunteer day. In 2015 over 166,000 Individuals in Louisville volunteered on that one particular day. After an Islamic Center was vandalized in Louisville, the city organized a clean-up day. The very next day over 1,000 people came to help clean up what had been vandalized.

Some of you are probably familiar with the Charter. Some of you may even have endorsed the Charter. The Charter has been translated into 30 languages and over 2 million people have endorsed it. Here is a link to their website:

And now, I offer three short videos. In this first one (3 1/2 mins.) Karen Armstrong herself explains why and how she came up with the idea for this charter:


The second video is a group of individuals reciting the Charter for Compassion (2 mins.):


The third video is a song entitled “Compassion” by Andrew Witt. My favorite line: Maybe I can’t change the world, “but I can change the world for one.”

I would love to hear your ideas concerning the Charter for Compassion and/or the song.

PS: I will be giving a presentation at the St. Cyril Spiritual Center this Saturday morning, March 25, in Danville, PA (phone: 570-275-3581). The presentation is entitled “Four Traits of a Healthy Spirituality: Wonder, Friendship, Courage, and Hope.” I hope to see a few of you there!

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  1. John Hopkins on March 20, 2017 at 5:41 am

    Good Morning Sister Melannie,
    I have long been an admirer of Karen Armstrong. I remember reading her book “A Case for God” and being heartened and strengthened by it, as it served somewhat as a rebuttal to the books of Dawkins and Hitchens, the new atheists. I also heard her TED talk and found it quite powerful! It seems to me our Pope lives the charter of compassion. When I think of him, I think of mercy and compassion and love — three virtues we need so much these days! And, paradoxically, three virtues that seem to rankle certain members of our church. I noticed you said The Charter of Compassion has been endorsed by the Dali Lama and Desmond Tutu. Has anyone from our church endorsed it? Perhaps the Council of Bishops? Let us make today a pilgrimage of compassion!

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on March 20, 2017 at 12:43 pm

      Dear John,
      I tried to find out more about who has endorsed this Charter. The list on their website includes an Episcopal Bishop, a monk, several Islamic leaders, a Rabbi, a Methodist minister. The list also includes a wide range of individuals like Goldie Hawn, Paul Simon, Mohammed Ali, Melissa Etheridge, Forest Whitaker, Sr. Joan Chittister, Queen Noor of Jordan… and the list goes on. The main criticism of the Charter is that it’s “mushy religion,” it is “well-intentioned silliness,” and it is too simplistic… Thanks for calling our attention to Pope Francis and his example of compassion. Thanks for writing! Melannie

  2. Marietta Wethington on March 20, 2017 at 11:26 am

    Sister Melannie,
    Wow! This is so powerful. I sometimes forget that the way we change something is one by one. I have not heard Karen Armstrong’s TED talk but I will listen to it soon. I will also visit the Charter of Compassion website to learn more. Thanks for sharing this.
    Marietta Wethington, OSU

  3. JoAnn Welch on March 20, 2017 at 11:36 am

    I wish I could say that I have heard of Karen Armstrong and the Charter of Compassion…I need to look it up and get a copy…thanks so much for enlightening me to this important document and group of people!!

  4. Chris Keil on March 20, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    I am going to send this to everyone I know! After the election I remember telling my sons, who thought about living off the grid, a funny thought in itself, at I couldn’t change the worl but I could change my little corner of the world.
    I have never heard of Karen Armstrong or the charter of compassion but I will certainly find more information about both!
    When are you coming to Texas?

  5. Diane Butler on March 20, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    Thanks Sr Melanie you hit a home run with this one.
    Have never heard of this group. You are a blessing thank you!

  6. Marla on March 20, 2017 at 8:21 pm

    Hi Melannie, thank you for this. I have heard of and read an article by Karen Armstrong, cannot recall the title. BUT I have never heard of this Charter of Comassion. Want to read more.
    One an additional comment. There is a marvelous book out, published in 2016, called THE BOOK OF JOY: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. It is a five day conversation between His Holiness the Dali Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams. Just a FYI.

  7. Kim on March 22, 2017 at 10:33 am

    Thank You

  8. Linda MacDonald on March 23, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    One hardly knows where to start when it frequently becomes necessary to refute the drivel that comes forth from Karen Armstrong. However, I believe St. Paul said it best:
    “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but
    after their own desires, they will heap unto themselves teachers, having itching ears. And they will turn away their ears from the truth, and the truth shall be turned into fables.” (Titus 1:3,4)

    For those of you not familiar with Karen Armstrong, read cautiously and carefully!

    • Frances on March 25, 2017 at 10:03 am

      So, then, there may be some reason why the Charter for Compassion is not endorsed by a Catholic entity? Perhaps there could be a follow-up to this week’s discussion to give us the Church’s view?

  9. Susan on March 27, 2017 at 7:28 am

    Hi. If anyone finds out why the Catholic Church has not endorsed the Charter for Compassion please share with us.
    I myself was brought to tears listening to it. I don’t feel at all like it is trying to water down anyone’s religious faith or beliefs. Instead I feel the opposite that it is trying to protect them. The way you interpret the charter depends on the place where you are coming from. Is it a place of fear or love?

    • Linda MacDonald on March 27, 2017 at 6:07 pm

      The Catholic Church has not endorsed the Charter for Compassion–not because it is coming from a place of fear, but because it is far
      too intelligent to do so. Perhaps it has something to do with several of
      Ms. Armstrong’s more asinine statements, such as the brilliant one
      that follows:
      “Islam is a religion of success. Unlike Christianity which has as it’s main image, a man dying a devastating, disgraceful, helpless death.
      Mohammad was not an apparent failure, he was a dazzling success,
      Politically and spiritually, as Islam went from strength to strength to strength.”
      Or, perhaps it has something to do with her pro-choice stance.
      I encourage people to do their own research on Karen Armstrong,
      I guarantee it won’t take long to understand why the church has
      ignored her.

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