The Role of Faith in International Affairs: Securing People’s Wellbeing and Planetary Sustainability

More than 600 people attended the Ninth Annual Symposium on the Role of Religion and Faith-based Organizations in International Affairs, held online on 24 January.

Exploring the theme “Securing People’s Wellbeing and Planetary Sustainability,” the symposium was organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and a coalition of faith-based and UN partners. The event featured UN officials, representatives of international faith-based organizations, and other experts on climate change, disarmament, and other relevant topics.

WCC central committee moderator Bishop Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, who spoke at the symposium, noted that religion reaches not only people’s heads but also their hearts. “That is why religious communities are so important in issues like human wellbeing and planetary sustainability that are highly linked to our attitudes and lifestyles and can only be successfully pushed if political change is connected with a change of heart,” he said. “All together we want to secure people’s wellbeing and planetary sustainability as religious communities.”

Symposium attendees included the Rev. Dr. Liberato C. Bautista, assistant general secretary for United Nations and international affairs of the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church, who served as chair of the 2023 Symposium Planning Team; Ms. Nika Saeedi, global focal point on Religion, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support, and Hate Speech for UNDP; Mr. Jonathan Granoff, Senior Advisor and Representative to the United Nations of the Permanent Secretariat of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates; and Dr. Ganoune Diop, Director, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty, Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Address by Jonathan Granoff, President of Global Security institute

Address by Global Security Institute Advisory Board Member Ambassador Sergio Duarte

Reverend Liberato Bautista, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,
I am honored by the invitation to speak at this Ninth Annual Symposium on the Role of Religion and Faith Based Organizations.

For many years as a diplomat I have dealt with one of the most vexing problems confronted by humankind, known simply as disarmament, that is, helping find agreement to reduce, with a view to eliminating, the danger represented by the accumulation of weapons.
It has become commonplace to identify climate change and the existence of nuclear weapons as the two greatest existential threats to human life and civilization upon our planet. The clear link between these two threats can be illustrated by the fact that if less than 1% of the current nuclear arsenals were to go off, approximately five million tons of soot would be thrown into the stratosphere and render the agricultural base of the planet dysfunctional. Those who do not die by heat and radiation would perish by starvation.

It seems clear that we may not be able to offset some of the consequences of centuries of our own neglect toward our environment. We know that we cannot completely control the cosmic forces that shape our climate, but by working together we may avert disaster. Disarmament, on the other hand, depends entirely on our ability to muster the necessary political will.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Seventy-seven years ago the peoples of the United Nations decided that armed forces should not be used, save in the common interest. Alas, to this day this lofty endeavor has not been realized. Many bloody conflicts have erupted in several regions. Even as we meet the world is witnessing a war waged by Russia against Ukraine that contradicts the commitments embodied in the Charter of the United Nations. Irresponsible statements by leaders make clear that the use of nuclear weapons has not been ruled out.

The advent of nuclear weapons led some of the most distinguished minds of the world to join Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein in 1955 as signatories of a Manifesto calling on scientists “to appraise the perils that have arisen as a result of the development of weapons of mass destruction”. Their appeal is still eloquent today: “Remember your humanity, and forget the rest”.

Inspired by the Manifesto, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs was founded two years later. Pugwash is credited with playing a useful role in opening communication channels during the Cold War and with providing background scientific support to the negotiation of a number of major agreements. It has also been active in fostering dialogue across divides to reinforce security in troubled regions, such as the Middle East, South-Central and Northeast Asia.

Ladies and gentlemen,
The yearning for peace and security through disarmament is as old as mankind itself.
It is fitting to recall in this connection the inscription from the Book of Isaiah carved on a wall facing the entrance of the United Nations Secretariat building, very close to the Church Center, by which I used to walk every morning when I came to my office at the UN. It says: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”.

All major religions in the world preach a version of the maxim generally known as the Golden Rule: “Treat others as you would like others to treat you”. Unfortunately, however, over the ages these teachings have often been neglected. The political outgrowth of the observance of these principles is the building of an international order based on cooperation, equity and the rule of law.

Instead, the current state of affairs in the world is characterized by a precarious equilibrium and irrational accumulation of nuclear weapons by both major and lesser possessors. A system of international security predicated on the possession and threat of use of weapons of mass destruction by a few is neither universal nor can it be lasting. Peace and security are public goods that belong to mankind as a whole..

An effective security paradigm must be non-discriminatory and inclusive in order to provide reliable assurances for all and not just for a few. No nation can feel secure unless all nations feel secure. The necessary conditions for this are well known: adherence to established norms and principles of international law, respect for generally accepted standards of healthy interaction among nations and good faith compliance with accepted commitments – in a word, ethical behavior. This is the foundation on which people’s well-being and planetary sustainability can be achieved.

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