Religious Actors Influence Foreign Policy

“The pursuit of peace is a universal longing. It is a fervent prayer of all religions, and it is a pilgrimage on which the ecumenical community continues to embark.”

The Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe addressed the third annual Symposium on the Role of Religion and Faith-Based Organizations in International Affairs on Monday, January 23: a gathering organized by the General Board of Church and Society along with the World Council of Churches and the General Conference of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

Faith-based leaders gathered

This symposium, which took place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, had a focus of “Just, Inclusive and Sustainable Peace.” Some 130 individuals representing faith-based organizations and non-governmental organizations, as well as diplomats of UN member-states and officials and staff of the United Nations participated in the day’s discussions.

In her opening remarks, Henry-Crowe lifted up the United Methodist resolution on peace and spoke to human rights, disarmament, multilateral cooperation, and economic justice and sustainable development.

The Rev. Liberato Bautista, General Board of Church and Society executive who represents the agency at the United Nations and one of the symposium organizers, noted the increased engagement of religion and religious actors in the multilateral process, especially at the United Nations. He shared the view among diplomats and UN officials at the symposium that there is today “a wider recognition of what religion plays in foreign policy and international relations”.

Faith as an "incontrovertible dimension" of the human experience

Echoing the importance of faith in the peace process, H.E. Mr. Pekka Metso, the ambassador-at-large for intercultural and interreligious dialogue processes in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, shared, “Faith-based organizations are necessary and can help provide structure when institutions or government systems collapse.”

“Peace must be grounded on moral imperatives,” shared Dr. Ganoune Diop of the General Conference of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. “To achieve peace requires a partnership with an incontrovertible dimension of human experience: faith.”

In his remarks about how the ecumenical community can come together and advocate for peace, Rudelmar Bueno de Faria of the World Council of Churches explained that, “Just peace is a journey into God’s purpose for humanity and all Creation. And that journey invites us to testify with our lives.”

Throughout the day-long gathering, speakers repeatedly addressed how faith communities and religiously-inspired actors can influence peace processes.

Case studies on peace

In the afternoon session of the symposium, participants were able to learn from two case studies where peace is ongoing in varied stages.

Bautista noted that in his recollection, the symposium is the first in a United Nations setting to feature a panel that included three parties in a peace talks—one representing the government, another from civil society monitoring the peace process, and a third party facilitating government which, in the case for both Philippines and Colombia, was the Norwegian government.

The Norwegian ambassador at the UN, Mr. Geir Pedersen, remarked that there is broad consensus, willingness and readiness in Norway “to assist and advise”.

Addressing the symposium, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, Mr. Thomas Gass, underlined the importance of achieving Agenda 2030, simply referred to as SDGs. “Let’s ensure that no one is left behind”, he said, referring to the success, achievement and consolidation of a just, inclusive and sustainable peace.

This symposium follows the gathering in 2016, which focused on religious extremism, and the inaugural symposium in 2015 that set human rights and human dignity as the overriding focus for all of the symposiums in the annual series.

At this third symposium, there was remarkable agreement that these symposiums provide much-needed venues for secular partners and decision-makers to hear how faith-based organizations and religious actors influence foreign policy and international affairs.

Mr. Metso of Finland offered, “It is so difficult to understand the world without a basic understanding of the world’s religions.”

A full archive of the symposium may be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/search/part-2-third-annual-symposium-the-role-of-religion-and-faith-based-organizations-in-international-affairs/5294810050001?term=religion

Plans are already underway for a symposium in 2018.

Editor's Note: Photos from the symposium can be found here

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