Vol. 14, Iss. 2
Socially Responsible Travel
The Rev. Peter J. Miano
Sometimes well meaning travelers support harmful endeavors without realizing it. Sometimes the effect of high volume tourism on a local environment and local people is inconsistent with the traveler's own value systems. This is why we have developed our leading edge standard of socially responsible travel. Fundamental to our mission, we seek to redeem the concept of pilgrimage from the corrosive effects of commercial tourism. More often than not, commercial tourism is uninterested in the moral and political dimensions of travel. This means that the interests of commercial tourism are inconsistent with the ambitions of Christian pilgrimage which, historically, has always involved relationship with local people and engagement of social issues. We seek to enable our travelers to experience authentic pilgrimage. We believe that the biblical faith is spiritually redemptive only when it is socially responsible.
All journeys with The Society for Biblical Studies feature its unique blend of historical, biblical and contemporary studies. We want our travelers to experience the satisfaction of walking in the places associated with biblical history, i.e., to walk where Jesus walked. We also want them to walk where Jesus is walking right now. Socially responsible travel is a faith experience, because there is no holiness without social holiness.
For The Society for Biblical Studies, socially responsible travel is primarily a posture of faith. We believe that sincerity to the biblical faith has moral, social, political, economic and environmental dimensions, especially when we are traveling in conflict bound regions, such as Israel/Palestine or regions in which economic disparities are enormous, such as Brazil. In the course of planning our journeys, we are deliberate in investing monies in financially challenged environments, such as the Palestinian economy. We encourage and facilitate establishing of ongoing relationships between our travelers and the new friends and partners they meet along the way of their pilgrimages. We lodge in locally owned and operated hotels wherever possible, rather than corporate hotel chains. We are particularly interested in supporting stressed communities such as Christian communities in Palestine, Egypt and Jordan. We do not lodge in hotels that are built in occupied territories by occupying powers, such as Israeli hotels in East Jersualem. We utilize local travel services. We do not engage in anti-competitive business practices like making profitable business arrangements with restaurants and souvenir shops. Nor do we force our staff, neither guides nor drivers, to seek to enrich themselves by earning commissions by shopping and the selling of various services, as typical travel companies routinely do. We seek to work with environmentally sustainable vendors of tourist services. In every case, our itineraries illuminate the dynamics of the contemporary contexts in which we travel. We educate our travelers about the backgrounds, history and continuing dimensions of political conflict and economic injustice and especially Christian obligations to engage these issues responsibly. We introduce our travelers to local partners who are engaged in church work, human rights work, social justice work, peacemaking and interfaith relationship building. The Society for Biblical Studies is second to none in pioneering and promoting socially responsible travel. Our standards are far higher than those of any other educational travel organization. The Christian Science Monitor (25 September 2006) took special note of our distinctive approach to socially responsible travel. We exceed the prescribed standards of any church's position on socially responsible travel.
The Society for Biblical Studies pioneered its distinctive programs that blend historical and contemporary studies. We continue to lead in the field of Holy Land and biblically based travel. Not only do we introduce our travelers to authentic spiritual pilgrimage and leading edge biblical and historical studies, we believe that all biblical exploration requires us to apply the biblical faith in and for the world. This means that we are also committed to introducing our travelers to the relevance and relevance of the Bible and the biblical faith. Especially in the context of travel in the conflict bound Holy Land, but elsewhere, too, we believe that it is morally irresponsible to ignore pressing social and political issues. Our experience has shown us that our travelers are enriched and rewarded when they learn that their pilgrimage is not only an historical tour, but a matter of contemporary import as well.
The Society for Biblical Studies promotes socially responsible travel, not because it is "politically correct" or because some churches encourage it, but because it is consistent with the best traditions of Christian pilgrimage, because it is enriching for our travelers and because it makes no sense to us to "walk where Jesus walked" 2,000 years ago, if we do not also walk where Jesus is walking today.
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