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The Arc of Justice: The World’s Religions Launch Strategic Priorities for Peace

March 09, 2020

DoveAs the coronavirus public health crisis grows increasingly urgent, prominent global actors and institutions, including the United Nations, are wrestling with the realization that all hands on deck are required to address the cross-cutting global challenges we face. The latest disease pandemic is but one of the major global challenges demanding coordinated and effective responses from diverse institutions and civil society networks. Another, income inequality, continues to widen, with the world's richest 1 percent in 2020 holding twice as much wealth as 6.9 billion of the planet's people. And while the political and economic will to combat climate change is needed more than ever, virtually every sovereign state is behind in its commitments to the Paris Agreement.

With communities ravaged by ongoing conflict, a record 70 million people have fled their homes. As calls for change echo across the globe, the percentage of people in 2019 living in countries where civic space is considered "repressed" more than doubled. Things fundamental to securing human dignity — the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to society, the power to demand change, freedom from any and all forms of discrimination, and the ability to live within and nurture a sustainable environment — are rapidly being eroded. These challenges are striking at a time when multilateralism is threatened, space for civil society is shrinking, and calls for more walls of separation are getting louder.

On a more optimistic note, the opportunity to forge ahead despite the turmoil may well exist within the deepest and broadest infrastructures ever created and sustained by humankind: the world's religious communities, to which 80 percent of humanity claims some affiliation. In recent years, international attention has undeniably been focused on the rise in religiously motivated violence, furthering the focus on religion as (part of) the problem.

However, a relatively lesser known reality in parallel with these trends may offer solutions: a growing global network of believers working to address these challenges through a unique process of multi-religious peacebuilding. These religious leaders and constituents hail from religious and spiritual communities as diverse and complex as the world in which we live. They are collaborating on and implementing various development, humanitarian, and peace processes, guiding their societies toward cohesion, respect for difference, and a culture of peace.

By convening representative of these religious communities, as well as leadership at the national and regional level, Religions for Peace — a multi-religious peacebuilding coalition with interreligious platforms in ninety countries across six regions — has developed a unique and powerful mechanism for furthering multi-religious collaboration and peacebuilding.

At the Religions for Peace 10th World Assembly in August 2019, more than one thousand representatives from a hundred and twenty-five countries developed a framework for organizing future collaborative action to address these and other global challenges. Another global consultation in December 2019 engaged over two hundred and fifty religious leaders in focused and honest deliberations, ultimately emerging with a consensus to prioritize six strategic areas: peaceful, just and inclusive societies; gender equality; the environment; freedom of thought, conscience and religion; interreligious education; and global partnerships. Uniting religious and Indigenous leaders for the protection of tropical forests is key to nurturing a sustainable environment and is a matter requiring both moral urgency and action. Those in attendance also agreed to champion the universal right to thought, conscience, and religion within and beyond their own constituencies, including a commitment to coordinate faith-based responses to the rise in attacks on holy sites and places of worship.

Attendees also embraced a deeper focus on interreligious education — not to reinvent the wheel, but to bring together existing work and curricula from all corners of the world in an effort to facilitate knowledge, counter misperceptions, and dispel the ignorance  at the root of intolerance, hatred, and violence. Religions for Peace movement leaders also committed to develop innovative approaches, seek solutions together, and scale up multi-stakeholder partnerships with businesses, governments, and civil society.

These goals and actions correspond to the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals agenda and will be measured and assessed using the SDG indicators agreed to by all UN member states.

The priorities identified in our strategic plan are built on the legacy of many powerful and effective interventions. Over the half-century of Religions for Peace's existence, these interreligious platforms have amassed a solid record of multi-religious engagement, including mediating conflict and negotiating the release of child hostages in Sierra Leone, providing care and support for orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV/AIDS, mobilizing twenty-one million youth for global disarmament, and forging partnerships between religious and Indigenous communities for rainforest protection — to name but a few.

These priorities also herald a new era of resolve, and courage, among the world's senior-most religious leaders and institutions. For such a movement, built on and by traditional religious institutions, to make gender equality a strategic priority is historic. After electing the coalition's first woman secretary-general in 2019, Religions for Peace leadership is sending a clear message of commitment to action that includes a focus on increasing women's leadership and impact within the movement, and beyond.

It is this blend of renewed and bold resolve, together with skills steeped in decades of experience with multi-religious and -cultural engagement in the areas of development and human rights, which reinforces our belief that the world's people are ready to embrace alternative cultures of healing and peace. And interreligious councils not only drive the solution — they are a necessary part of the solution. On this 75th year of the United Nations system, Religions for Peace — through its global, regional, national, and grassroots interreligious council platforms — acknowledges and supports the call for more holistic responses to cross-cutting global challenges. With our five-year strategic plan in place and future actions co-designed and approved by representatives of all the world's religious institutions, we hereby call on the word's governments, civil societies, and multi-lateral institutions to come together to create more peaceful, just, and inclusive societies that leave no one behind.

Headshot_Azza Karam_Kyoichi SuginoDr. Azza Karam and Rev. Kyoichi Sugino are secretary general-elect and secretary-general, respectively, of Religions for Peace, a New York City-based international coalition of representatives from the world's religions dedicated to promoting peace globally.

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