9th Annual Symposium on the Role of Religion and Faith-Based Organizations in International Affairs

Rev. Dr. Liberato C. Bautista (third from left), Assistant General Secretary for United Nations and International Affairs, General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church, served as chair of the 2023 Symposium Planning Team. In this photo taken during the concluding session of the symposium, he is accompanied by Ms. Nika Saeedi (fourth from left), global focal point on Religion, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support, and Hate Speech for UNDP, Mr. Jonathan Granoff (first from left), 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.


WCC central committee moderator Bishop Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, who spoke at the symposium, noted that religion reaches not only peoples 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 peoples wellbeing and planetary sustainability as religious communities.”

On a personal note, Bedford-Strohm said this task comes closer to him when he thinks of his 3-year-old grandson. I love him deeply,” he said. He will be as old as I am now, in the year 2081. As every grandfather, I want him to have at least as good a life as I have now.”

Bedford-Strohm said he is convinced that churches and religious communities in general are the ideal agents of global civil society. They are deeply rooted in local congregations and at the same time live in a global horizon by affirming their belief in a God who has created heaven and earth,” he said.

Many UN officials and civil society leaders reflected on why faith actors are critical players.

Ulrika Modéer, UN assistant secretary-general and director of the Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), spoke on how gender inequality intersects with human insecurity.

The rise of hate speech, radicalization, inequality, and political extremism are undoubtedly among the most pressing threats to human security, pushing back development gains by decades with a significant implication on women and girls,” she said. Not to forget that at the current rate of progress, it may take close to 300 years to achieve full gender equality.”

Faith actors are a critical player, she said. Historically, many faith actors have extended vital social services to local communities, especially humanitarian relief, health, and education,” Modéer said. In fact, in many countries, they are the dominant civil society actors.”

9th Annual Symposium on the Role of Religion and Faith-Based Organizations in International Affairs

Some moderators and speakers took part of the symposium from a studio hub set especially for the event at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York City.


Discussions laid bare a variety of existential threats to human and planetary security, among them the threat of nuclear weapons.

Ambassador Sergio Duarte, a retired Brazilian ambassador and former UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, spoke on disarmament. 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,” he said. 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.”

Speakers and participants also highlighted key learnings that relate to work for human security and the roles different actors can play. The symposium addressed, in concrete ways, the development of unity, solidarity, international cooperation, and global coordinated action necessary to make human security real. 

Dr Ganoune Diop, director of public affairs for the World Headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and secretary general of the International Religious Liberty Association, reflected on envisioning and building a better future. Nearly every area of human experience is connected to the undergirding issue of human security,” noted Diop. "From threats to personal security, to collective predicaments, to regional, national rifts in human solidarity, to needed global security, human security is in fact a lens through which to look at various aspects of human experience.”

WCC Director for International Affairs Peter Prove who attended the event in person remarked that “after 9 years, the Annual Symposium has become a fixture in the agenda of faith-based and UN partners in New York, and a key forum for the expression and development of shared priorities in the international agenda.” 

The WCCs participation in the promotion of all editions of the symposium has been facilitated by the Ecumenical Office to the United Nations, the WCC and ACT Alliances focal point for advocacy initiatives at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

Learn more about the 9th Annual Symposium on the Role of Religion and Faith-Based Organizations in International Affairs

Watch the recording of the event

Ecumenical Office to the United Nations