In the name of world peace, the United Nations appears to have
embraced a sort of religious universalism that views all religions as
equals and is seeking to ban proselytizing.
Bawa Jain, secretary-general of the Millennium Peace Summit, says
he thinks all religions and spiritualists, as well as assorted witch
doctors, shamans and medicine men, draw their wisdom from the same
source. But he applauds efforts to outlaw proselytizing since it
matters little whether one worships a downed World War II airplane
with a cargo cult, is a snakehandling Baptist or a Roman Catholic.
That view has been met with strict opposition from the Vatican and
mainline Protestants, who oppose the notion that all religions are
As host of the U N: s Millennium Peace Summit of Religious and
Spiritual Leaders, Jain told an international meeting of 1,000
delegates that religions need to accept the validity of all beliefs
to attain world peace. The summit, the first of its kind to be
sponsored by the United Nations, was held in New York City Aug. 28-
31 just before political leaders gathered for the U N. Millennium
Assembly The timing was perfect, says Jain, as it allowed religious
leaders to update their political counterparts on how to usher in the
peace of the new world order through religious universalism.
According to Francis Cardinal Arinze, president for interreligious
dialogue at the Vatican and a speaker at the summit, the Catholic
Church also would favor one religion in the world - if it were Roman
Catholicism. Assorted grand muftis and other true believers hold the
same view, again so long as it is their faith that is universally
recognized. That each is out to convert the world is to be expected,
so the proposed ban on proselytizing is surprising.
Less than a week after the summit the Vatican released a 36-page
declaration rejecting what it said are growing attempts to depict all
religions as equally true. A spokesman for the National Association
of Evangelicals says they were astonished that a U N.endorsed summit
would take a stand against proselytizing when the U N. charter
proposes.to guarantee the human right to choose one's own religion.
The goal of world peace has been sought by religious leaders,
philanthropists and philosophers alike throughout the centuries.
However, for a decade there has been a resurgence among postmodern
scholars and liberal theologians to try to achieve that goal through
religious partnerships, even unification. The peace summit is their
latest attempt to gain legitimacy at an international level with
hopes of securing UN. funding and endorsement.
With the financial backing of such heavyweights as media mogul Ted
Turner and Canadian billionaire Maurice Strong, this interfaith
movement has had no shortage of cash. Turner, the honorary chairman
of the peace summit, addressed the 1,000 delegates on the second
morning of the convention after being praised by Strong as the man
who has done more for peace, the environment and the United Nations
than any other.
According to Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and
Human Rights Institute, or C-FAM, and one of those in attendance at
the summit, Turner took the opportunity to denounce his own childhood
faith. The vice chairman of Time Warner said he turned away from
Christianity when he discovered "it was intolerant because it taught
we were the only ones going to heaven." The crowd responded with
laughter and approving whoops, says Ruse.
The question of tolerance is a central issue for those aligned
with the peace summit and its objectives. Summit organizers say
religious and spirittual groups need to realize what they believe is
part of a greater wisdom and not unique to them.
Opening prayers: Buddhists were among the religious groups
participating at peace summit.
"What we need to engage in is an education factor of the dif
ferent religious traditions and the different theologies and
philosophies and practices. That would give us a better
understanding, and then I think [we have to deal with] the claims of
absolute truth - we will recognize there is not just one claim of
absolute truth, but there is truth in every tradition. That is
happening more and more when you have gatherings such as these," Jain
Summit organizers hoped to have religious leaders sign a Decla
ration for World Peace, a goal that was realized, says Jain. But
their second objective was not. The original intention was to create
"an International Advisory Council of Religious and Spiritual Leaders
that is designed to serve as an ongoing interfaith ally to the U.N.
in its quest for peace, global understanding and international
cooperation," according to summit documents. The summit failed to
appoint such a council when delegates were unable to agree on who
should represent their individual faiths.
Instead, Jain tells Insight, he has been mandated to structure a
steering committee for the new group with the help of what he calls
"strategic partners." He says these will be "some members of our
international advisory board and some of the key people who have been
helping me in the process." During the next 90 days Jain also will
start tapping religious leaders the world over, putting together his
A soft-spoken Indian, Jain worked for two years with U N.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his office to arrange the peace
summit. He is one of the founders of the World Movement for
Nonviolence, vice chairman of the Council for the Parliament of the
World's Religions, vice president of the Interfaith Center of New
York and a leader of the United Religions Initiative, or URI.
Upon whom is Jain likely to call to give direction to the United
Nations and help steer the course to unified religion in the interest
of world peace? A front-runner is said to be Episcopal Bishop William
Swing, a prominent figure in the interfaith movement, coming off a
summer in which he realized a seven-year dream: This summer Swing
gathered 300 people representing 39 religions for a charter signing
in Pittsburgh, officially launching the URI. This group is an
anticipated melting pot of religious belief, for which a 1998 draft
charter declared that all religions draw their wisdom from one
ultimate source. In 1995 Swing said the world is moving toward "unity
in terms of global economy, global media and global ecological
system. What is missing is a global soul"
So who will fund this quest for a global soul? Men such as Turner
and Strong seem willing to lay a few extra dollars down for such
movements and lend their support at the podium of conferences and
conventions. Neither is a stranger to the interfaith scene
particularly Strong, who has plenty of
influence with the leading global organizations. Chairman of the
Earth Council and senior adviser to both the sec
retary-general of the United Nations and to the president of the
World Bank, Strong is an international figure of such
New Yorker magazine recently sighed that, "The survival of
civilization in something like its present form might depend
significantly on the efforts of a single man;' referring to Strong.
He always is on the short list of candidates for U N. secretary-
Turner's wealth is better known than Strong's, and the billionaire
media mogul has gone even further to promote the United Nations. In
1997 he donated $1 billion in support for U N. causes, the most
recent being the Millennium Peace Summit at which he expressed his
disdain for Christianity He remains chairman of the United Nations
Foundation and the Better World Fund, the organizations that manage
So what is the objective here? Is it religious tolerance,
unification or subversion of religious faith? Jain tells Insight that
he looks forward to a day when religious people no longer insist on a
single truth. And the URI, in which Jain is active and which was one
of the partners for the summit, takes it even further. URI president
Swing says, "There will have to be a godly cease-fire, a temporary
truce where the absolute exclusive claims of each [religion] will be
honored but an agreed-upon neutrality will be exercised in terms of
proselytizing, condemning, murdering or dominating. These will not be
tolerated in the United Religions zone."
While Swing does not elaborate on what territory that zone might
encompass, sources say he is prepared to follow the U.N. lead. And
certainly the guest list at the peace summit was impressive,
including Cardinal Arinze, Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Kirill,
Israel's Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Sheik Ahmad Kuftaro of the
Muslim World League, the Rev Jesse Jackson and Anne Graham Lotz,
daughter of Billy Graham.
The guests represented a broad spectrum of faith traditions,
including Ba'hai, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism,
Indigenous, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Shinto, Sikhism, Taoism and
While Jain and others are calling the summit a success, other
delegates still are uncomfortable about it. Ruse complains that it
was manipulated by the left-leaning agenda of Turner and Strong.
Richard Cizik, director of the National Association of Evangelicals
office in Washington, says, "There was a whole premise which I don't
accept, which came from the keynote address by Ted Turner and was
manifested throughout the programming\-namely, the premise that all
religions are equal." Equal at the summit perhaps, but assuredly not
Very little faith: Turner denounced Christianity as intolerant -
to the delight of peace summiteers.
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