Saturday, May 1, 2010
An Interesting Mix of Religion and Politics
At the common table everyone has a place and every voice is honored. New York Theological Seminary gathers people from six continents with a myriad of cultural backgrounds and faiths from Buddhists and Muslims to Jewish and Christian religions. It is with that spirit of inclusivity that I attended an Interreligious Dialogue Event at the United Nations recently.
Should faith have a seat at the political table?
Sister Joan Kirby presented a proposal for a Decade of Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, Understanding and Cooperation for Peace. The thrust of the proposal is to promote partnerships between UN member states and religious communities to further social good. A lively conversation ensued around the changing world order, fear of anything “religious” by politicians, even the use of terminology was seen as a possible deterrent to gaining the needed “buy-in” by a state to introduce the proposal, and several supporting states to move it forward.
Is dialogue stalled by terms and shifting power structures?
The point was made that religions or faiths (a term some from the eastern tradition were more comfortable with) are seen as a subset of culture. Kirby underscored, “religions transcend country boundaries and cultures.” Perception is key here. I raised the issue of changing world order. As countries like China and India surge forward the need to understand other cultures and faiths around the globe becomes more important than ever. The political, economic and faith sectors will need to work together.
Do faith-based efforts address social issues better?
One person shared her view that religious communities have addressed problems of poverty in developing countries more successfully through missionaries than some UN programs. The resources and efforts put forth from this sector have certainly assisted in a substantial way to disasters, health epidemics and poverty. That is why the sector should have a voice at the political table.
How can an interfaith effort gain support?
Unpredictable partnerships within the faith sector as well as other sectors could help gain the necessary backing. Already Europe has come out against this proposal which was compiled by interreligious and faith-based organizations at a conference in Geneva, Switzerland in 2008 hosted by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Conference of NGOs in a Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CONGO). While the effort is laudable, many felt it may need a smaller test program to fine tune it before moving forward at the UN.
Peter Zehren is Vice President for Development and Insitutional Advancement at New York Theological Seminary.