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Rev Dr Marcus Braybrooke: UN Inter-Religious Council

I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words and to add my welcome Rev and Mrs Hyung Jin Moon on their first visit to this country. I am also glad to express my personal support for the call for an Inter-Religious Council at the UN made ten years ago by Revd. Dr. Moon.

The need for a religious or spiritual presence at the UN has long been recognised by the World Congress of Faiths. Soon after the outbreak of the Second World War, Sir Francis Younghusband, the founder of the World Congress of Faiths, said, 'No reconstituted League of Nations will be of the slightest avail unless it is inspired  by an irresistible spiritual impulse.' In 1943, George Bell, Bishop of Chichester and  a leading member of WCF, said in the House that 'an association between the International authority and representatives of the living religions of the world' was of vital importance.


Efforts after the war to establish such a body were thwarted by the Soviet block. The situation now has changed and the UN General assembly has itself now recognised the importance of interfaith dialogue.

The need for an Interfaith Advisory Body at the UN remains.

There are several reasons for this.

1. The great religions agree that healthy societies – national or international – require a moral framework. And as the Global Ethic shows there is much agreement on what this should be. Laws are important – and it is right to hear to pay tribute to those who are law-makers – but society depends on trust and mutual care and concern. I remember Martin Luther King saying when he spoke in London that 'The law can stop   men lynching me, but it cannot make them love me.' Laws against stirring up religious hatred are important, but even more so is long term educational work to remove ignorance and prejudice.

2.  At a time when religion is abused by some to justify violence and religious differences are used to enflame economic and political disputes, politicians need the support of mainline religious leaders to persuade the faithful to repudiate extremism. The moral authority to religious leaders may also add weight to UN calls for a ceasefire, even if they were unable to stop the Iraq War.

3. Efforts after the war to establish such a body were thwarted by the Soviet block. The situation now has changed and the UN General assembly has itself now recognised the importance of interfaith dialogue.

The need for an Interfaith Advisory Body at the UN remains.

There are several reasons for this.

1. The great religions agree that healthy societies – national or international – require a moral framework. And as the Global Ethic shows there is much agreement on what this should be. Laws are important – and it is right to hear to pay tribute to those who are law-makers – but society depends on trust and mutual care and concern. I remember Martin Luther King saying when he spoke in London that 'The law can stop   men lynching me, but it cannot make them love me.' Laws against stirring up religious hatred are important, but even more so is long term educational work to remove ignorance and prejudice.

2.  At a time when religion is abused by some to justify violence and religious differences are used to enflame economic and political disputes, politicians need the support of mainline religious leaders to persuade the faithful to repudiate extremism. The moral authority to religious leaders may also add weight to UN calls for a ceasefire, even if they were unable to stop the Iraq War.

3. Much healthcare/relief work and education is delivered by faith-based organisations. The partnership between UN agencies and NGOs and civil society needs to be strengthened. Religions often reach down into local communities more effectively than many governmental otr international bodies.

What I think is now needed are detailed suggestions of how such an Interfaith Advisory Body to the UN might work . In the year 2000 there was a Millenium religious 'summit';  The World Economic Forum set up a senior council of 100 leaders, which included religious leaders. There are several interfaith NGOs.

But they are not integrated into the UN system and perhaps a working party should try to produce models for an Interfaith Advisory Body?

How do you identify religious leaders – by office or by charisma. Would you ask the Archbishop of Canterbury to represent the Anglican Communion or Archbishop Desmond Tutu?

How do you ensure the participation of women, young people and religious minorities?

How do you ensure that faith communities have the necessary expertise to translate lofty ideas into practical policies. It seems to me that besides an annual meeting of leaders, there would be need for each religion to have permanent representatives working together at the UN?

There will also be need to ensure that religious leaders do not try to usurp the role of heads of state and that nations do not use religion to give a cloak of respectability to questionable policies.Careful thought is needed about the scope and nature of an Interfaith Advisory Body – but the need for such a body is more urgent than ever.

Rev Dr Marcus Braybrooke President of the World Congress of Faith