Winnipeg will host more than 80 religious leaders from around the world from June 21 to 23. This will be the fifth G8 Religious Leaders Summit, this year to include representatives from Africa, Asia and Latin America as well as G8 and G20 countries. The purpose of the meeting is to collaborate on a unified message from religious communities to government leaders attending the G8/G20 meetings in Huntsville and Toronto from June 25 to 28.
The University of Winnipeg is the site for this year’s event, generously provided by the University and its President, Dr. Lloyd Axworthy, former Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs. Over the past months, Baha’i representatives have been active members of the Steering Committee, the Statement Writing Committee and the local organizing committee in Winnipeg. There will be an official Baha’i delegate among the religious leaders and Baha’i representatives attending as international observers from France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The statement under consideration by the Religious Leaders has been drafted and is available at www.faithchallengeg8.com along with commentaries from 16 religious communities and organizations, including one from the Baha’i Community of Canada. Also available on the website of the G8 Religious Leaders Summit, the Baha’i commentary follows.
Commentary on the G8 Religious Leaders’ Statement: A Baha’i Perspective
The eight Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs, represent standards that must be achieved sooner rather than later. The three MDGs that are highlighted in the G8 Religious Leaders’ Statement address poverty, the environment and peace. These three goals are especially relevant to a gathering of the world’s political leaders as they require coordinated global action. But the leaders have met before, and answers seem more distant than ever.
Why is progress so halting?
Baha’is believe humanity has the material and scientific resources required to achieve the MDG goals and establish a just and peaceful world civilization. It should also be a world that is prosperous by which we mean the flourishing of human life that would result if everyone is given the opportunity to contribute her or his part to the well-being of humanity as a whole.
To respond effectively to the MDGs do governments need the assurance that people, to whom they owe their legitimacy, have a commitment to the world that goes beyond their understandable sympathy for their own country’s well-being and a consciousness of the oneness and wholeness of humankind? Such a broad commitment to the unity and solidarity of humanity is essential if we are to expect governments to set aside narrow, national self-interests. Without this assurance of widespread support by their people, governments will continue to practice a so-called political realism that is parochial, counterproductive and self-serving. The result is a global community ever more fragmented, inequitable and insecure – an international community that fails to reflect the dignity and honour that God has destined for the human family.
The assurance that we are all members of one human family is given credible testimony in the G8 Religious Leaders’ Statement. Here we have a harmony of purpose expressed by a diversity of religions, an indication that people may be ahead of their leaders in understanding that our unity is essential if the world is to move forward.
“The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established”, wrote Baha’u’llah, the Founder of the Baha’i Faith, at a time in the 19th century when militant nationalism and rising materialism were met, unfortunately, by a failure on the part of religious leaders to defend the true spirit of religious truth, instead of merely the form. This gave an opening to those forces of irreligion and power for the sake of power that brought a century of disaster and hastened the decline of spiritual verities and moral principles in the life of society, the very principles and social practices best summed up in the golden rule, central to all the great religions.
Pushed into the private sphere, religion has recently erupted onto the public stage, sometimes, however, as another problem rather than a solution. Despite this, Baha’is, like those who are partners to the G8 Religious Leaders’ Statement, believe that religion can, and will, become a responsible public partner to people and politicians. When examined dispassionately, religions continue the world over to provide more health care and educational services than many national governments do. For centuries religion has brought diverse peoples together in ever larger and more complex societies. Religious communities were global well before “globalization” of the economy. Religion needs again to find a place and a voice in the global public sphere.
More than mere service providers and cheerleaders (sometimes hecklers) of governments, the world needs the inspirational and motivational capacity religions have that can unleash the will and the action required to overcome a status quo that is unacceptable.
Religious communities are membership-based, so they understand the suffering that poverty, economic instability and inequity, and environmental distress causes individuals, families, and local communities. They are not single-issue organizations but communities that are often complex and diverse in their make-up. Yet, through shared values across diverse memberships and now across different religious communities, religions know those values that define human reality in ways that highlight the human potential to overcome life’s problems. They have faith that God has endowed the human spirit with the capacity to overcome sorrow and despair.
These characteristics of religion ought not remain a private matter, but should inform and inspire the public sphere by helping in the development of broad, public commitment to solidarity across national borders, cooperation, generosity, and a deepening of people’s willingness to serve the public good. Too often people think that unity and harmony, fellowship, friendliness and loving-kindness, come after other practical problems are overcome. Religions, however, understand that these spiritual capacities, along with our God-given ability to understand the workings of the natural world and use science for our well-being, are actually the most practical capacities we have as a species. They are necessary if we are to survive and prosper as one human family across the face of the planet. If we are honest with ourselves, we would understand that the level of current suffering and injustice in the world calls on leaders and people generally to respond by taking advantage of those qualities of mutual reliance, trust and sacrifice for each other that are among the most important teachings of all religions.
“Blessed and happy is he that ariseth to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth… It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world.” This is the standard which Baha’u’llah invokes, recalling the teachings of other Messengers of God down through the ages. He invites us, in the face of poverty and injustice, to “tell the rich of the midnight sighing of the poor, lest heedlessness lead them into the path of destruction, and deprive them of the Tree of Wealth.”
The G8 Religious Leaders Summit may be only one step towards kindling the spirit of faith in the midst of a world polity that remains far from the ideals religion has always taught, but it is to be applauded as one important initiative that helps in that process.