Bahai News - Questions Remain After World Religions Summit

Questions Remain After World Religions Summit

Received by the WFN Archive: Sep 2 2000 0:31 AM

From: APD <>
Subject: Title: Questions Remain After World Religions Summit
Title: Questions Remain After World Religions Summit

September 2, 2000
Adventist Press Service (APD)
Christian B. Schaeffler, Editor-in-chief
CH-4003 Basel, Switzerland
Fax +41-61-261 61 18

Questions Remain After World Religions Summit:
World Peace Or One World Order?

New York, NY, USA.     Meeting in New York August 28-31, the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders brought together over 1,000 leaders of many faiths to debate current challenges and to plan towards a proposed International Advisory Council of Religious and Spiritual Leaders that would provide a religious voice at the United Nations.

Though the Summit was truly a momentous event and provided a unique and historic opportunity for inter-faith dialogue, questions remain over the choice of delegates and the Summit's agenda and purpose.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his address to the Summit on August 29 called for a recognition of the importance of religion and the need to defend religious freedoms.

"Religion helps us find our place in the cosmos; it knits families and communities together; it endows individuals with compassion and morality," said Annan. "Religious practices and beliefs are among the phenomena that define us as human. So let us today, from this great center of global community, reaffirm every man and woman's fundamental right to freedom of religion: to worship; to establish and maintain places of worship; to write, publish and teach; to celebrate holidays, to choose their own religious leaders, and to communicate with others at home and abroad. Where religions and their adherents are persecuted, defamed, assaulted or denied due process, we are all diminished, our societies undermined. There must be no room in the 21st century for religious bigotry and intolerance."

Similarly the Vatican representative, Cardinal Francis A. Arinze, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, pointed to the need to work together for religious harmony.

"Collaboration between people of all the religions of the world is needed for the proper motivation of hearts and consciences. Pope John Paul II gives a personal example as a promoter of reconciliation and harmony between peoples of different religions, cultures and languages. The promotion of peace is part and parcel of what it means to be a Catholic."

In a written statement, Pope John Paul II said that "It is a sign of hope when religious and spiritual rldwide Faith News leaders can say to the world with one voice that peace is possible, that peace is our sacred duty, that peace is the future willed by God. I assure all the participants that I am spiritually close to them as they seek to promote the good of the whole human family."

Many other speakers shared similar viewpoints on the need for tolerance, condemning anti-religious violence and persecution. Dr. Han Wenzao, president of the state-run China Christian Council spoke of the need for peace and understanding, even as the organization Human Rights Without Frontiers was reporting on a new government crackdown on Christians in China.

The "China question" was at the heart over the controversial decision by the Summit organizers not to invite the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader now in exile in India. The decision-made to avoid antagonizing the Beijing government-was eventually reversed after pressure from religious groups, at which point the Dalai Lama responded that he did not wish to attend in such a situation.

Other religious groups were absent from the Summit, including a number who did not receive any invitation. Significant among the uninvited were evangelical and Protestant churches, including the Southern Baptists, as well as the 11-million member Seventh-day Adventist Church, a well known Christian World Communion.

Some delegates questioned the composition of the Summit, and also its agenda and purpose, pointing to what seemed to be an imbalance in representation. Others took issue with the lack of true debate and discussion in terms of drafting statements and declarations, as well as the role and function of the proposed International Advisory Council of Religious and Spiritual Leaders to the United Nations.

Problems debated at the Summit included the impact of religion in the Balkan conflicts, Ethiopia and Eritrea, the Sudan, and Nigeria; inter-religious conflict in Central Asia; poverty and debt reduction; religion and the environment; and the role of religion in world affairs.

"This Summit of religious leaders, held before the Millennium Summit of world leaders next week, is a defining moment for the humanity of the world," commented Rabbi Arthur Schneier of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation.

"This is a key event in the United Nations decade of culture and dialogue between nations," added Russian mufti Ravil Gainutdin.

"It will be interesting to see in what way the UN can respond," said the Rev. Dr Hans Ucko, executive secretary of the World Council of Churches' (WCC) team on Interreligious Relations and Dialogue, on the final day of the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders.

Ucko noted that holding the first two days of the gathering in the General Assembly Hall of the UN headquarters was a unique development. "We have prayed in their house. This shows the eagerness of the followers of the different religions to support the UN." But, despite the support given to the summit by UN secretary-general Kofi A. Annan, the attitude of the UN as a whole to the religious community remains uncertain, Ucko said.

The World Council of Churches had accepted an invitation for its general secretary, the Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, to address the summit and had supplied names of people from its constituency who might be invited to participate. "We couldn't be absent from a gathering of this kind," Ucko said.

The Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), told the gathering of religious leaders that he hoped they would "deny the sanction of religion to those who seek to make it a tool of violence".

"All true religion wills justice, peace and harmony," he said to an international interreligious audience which filled the UN General Assembly Hall. "Yet, as we engage here in dialogue, we are conscious of the facct that wars are being fought in many parts of the world appealing to the name of religion."

Raiser said summit participants were gathering at a time of movement away from "an age of secularism which tended to despise religion", and when people were again looking to religion as a source of spiritual values. But religion continues to suffer misuse by powerful people "whose interests have little to do with religion, faith or the spirituality of believers," he said.

In a passage that drew applause, he lamented "the lack of civil courage and statesmanship of many government leaders who have been more concerned about the preservation of national self-interests - and often their own personal privileges - than for the collective interests of the peoples of the United Nations".

"We must know and respect each other, and talk to each other," said Archbishop of Newark, Theodore E. McCarrick. "In our different religious traditions we have the answer to conflicts. We are brothers and sisters in God's human family. Religious leaders must be courageous, must speak out when it is difficult to do so, and must remain faithful to God."

Prepared in advance by the organizing committee and revised only slightly during the meeting, a summit declaration entitled "Commitment to Global Peace" appealed to people of all religious traditions "to cooperate in building peaceful societies, to seek mutual understanding through dialogue where there are differences, to refrain from violence, to practise compassion and to uphold the dignity of all life."

Ucko described the declaration as "quite good" and commended its tone. However, he felt the summit would have benefited from a broader constituency base. The WCC had not been invited to help organize it, and has accepted no role in its follow-up.

According to Ucko, plans to set up a steering committee to create an interreligious body that would seek to bring religious thinking and interests into relationship with UN peace efforts are premature. An indication of what the UN expects from the religious community, and what possibilities the UN has for using already established resources are needed first. The UN might well rely, Ucko said, on an established body such as the World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP), an interreligious agency based at the Church Center for the UN, directly across the street from the UN's New York headquarters.

Ucko said the summit came at a time when the WCC is thinking about how to respond to "the many interreligious initiatives that are taking place". There is a growing push for action in this area, and the WCC will hold a consultation on this subject next year, he reported.

"Religion can provide the vision and unleash the spiritual energy necessary to guide humanity to a New World Order worthy of its destiny," stated Dr. Albert Lincoln, Secretary-General of the Baha'i International Community.

Religious leaders signed a declaration committing themselves to global peace, declaring all religions equal and recognizing equality between women and men. The document, titled, "Commitment to Global Peace," condemns all violence committed in the name of religion and has been signed by the 1,000 envoys before they ended their four-day meeting.

The Summit concluded with a ceremony of "sharing of the waters from around the world," together with many commitments to continued discussion and dialogue between religious faiths. (267/2000)

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