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Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders

28 August 2000

A Call to Dialogue, address by Konrad Raiser, United Nations, New York, 28-31 August 2000.

Mr. Secretary-General, Mr. President of the General Assembly, Mr Secretary-General of the World Peace Summit, Excellencies, Eminences, fellow participants, friends.

We gather here in this Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders at a time when many millions of our sisters and brothers hunger and thirst for righteousness, for justice, for peace. We have come as those who bear responsibility for keeping alive hope for the least of these, our sisters and brothers. In an age of the cynical use of power, we come as religious leaders to assert the truth that it is God who reigns over all for the good of the whole Creation and those who dwell in it.

We meet in a time of great transition from an age of secularism which tended to despise religion. Today, peoples around the world are looking again to religion as a source of spiritual values which transcend earthly power. In religion people are finding new sources of community bonds, of human solidarity, of hope for a better future

As General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, a fellowship of 337 Christian member churches in over 100 countries in all the world's regions, I speak to you this morning out of the experience of more than fifty years of efforts to promote dialogue among Christian churches and between them and people of other faiths.

All true religion wills justice, peace and harmony. Yet, as we engage here in dialogue we are conscious of the fact that wars are being fought in many parts of the world appealing to the name of religion. Our own religious communities are being divided along lines of competing doctrines or as a result of alliances between religious and national, ethnic and other secular groupings which have assumed a holy character. As was the case in the age of secularism, religion continues to be misused by those controlling power whose interests have little to do with religion, faith or the spirituality of believers.

Mr Secretary-General,

Dialogue within and between religions requires not just tolerance but deep respect for the other in his or her authentic relationship with the Holy. True dialogue should enable each partner to deepen his or her own faith or belief, not to weaken or abandon it. We seek not an amalgam of spiritual truths, some sort of global set of minimum religious values or a shared code of behaviour comprised of eternal truths drawn from our various faiths. Rather we seek ways to create a global culture of mutual respect which will provide a model to those who bear responsibility for governance at all levels of society, be it in the private, communal or public spheres.

Most of us will agree, I think, that the spirit of secularism which either sought to abolish religion, or to restrict it to the sphere of personal spirituality has contributed to a breakdown in both public and private morality. But as religious and spiritual leaders we should be honest with ourselves and with the world and therefore admit that we have too often remained silent in the face of this breakdown in ethics and morality. Some of our own institutions have at times been complicit with or have even succumbed themselves to such abuses of public trust and responsibility to God.

Here in the Main Hall of the United Nations General Assembly where normally leaders of the world's governments meet, we who respond to a higher power must have something to say about dialogue in the sphere of global governance. The international community has failed to eradicate poverty, to provide for the general social welfare of all peoples, to resolve conflict short of the use of overwhelming military power and to rid the world of the scourge of weapons of mass destruction. We still do not have a truly democratic forum in which rich and poor, powerful and weak nations alike can share equitably and fully in responsibility for global affairs. All of this defies the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations and the lofty aims set out in its Preamble. We cannot blame the United Nations alone for these failures which have allowed the law of the most powerful to dominate over the international rule of law. We must assume collective responsibility. Yet there is reason to lament the lack of civil courage and statesmanship of many government leaders who have been more concerned about the preservation of national self-interests - and often their own personal privileges - than for the collective interest of the peoples of the United Nations.

Is it possible that we who are gathered here, without any pretense of assuming the responsibilities of governments, can provide a global free space within which accountability, public morality, ethical standards, and spiritual values can be fostered?

There is an emerging global civil society movement which seeks to hold global institutions and the instruments of global capital accountable to the peoples, especially the victims of globalization. Many of those involved in this movement do so out of their spiritual understandings and religious convictions. Is it possible that religions together can help widen a global free space for this new, vital expression of the global popular will?

Mr Secretary-General, Eminences and friends,

The last Assembly of the World Council of Churches, held in Harare, Zimbabwe, declared an ecumenical Decade to Overcome Violence. It will be launched next January in Berlin. It is based on our conviction that dialogue today must have at its centre the overcoming of violence in our world and the creation of a global culture of peace.

The dimensions of this task are manifold, and in all of them religions have a crucial role to play together. Nowhere, however, is our concerted effort more urgently needed as in the address to international and internal conflicts in which religions are involved, or that are being fought in the name of religion. It is my sincere prayer and hope that in the dialogue we shall pursue in these days, and in close collaboration with the United Nations, we can strengthen the commitment to a culture of peace and in particular deny the sanction of religion to those who seek to make it a tool of violence.

May God guide our deliberations in the paths of righteousness and of peace for God's sake, for the sake of God's world and for the sake of all God's people.

In the certainty that you all share this prayer, I bid you peace and thank you sincerely.