faith in action

The Rev. Dr. Liberato Bautista Offers Remarks on Key Learnings for a Just, Peaceable and Inclusive Future

Faith-based Organizations (FBOs) accredited to the United Nations and the UN Inter-agency Task Force on Religion and Development last week conducted its 10th Annual Symposium on the role of Religion and Faith-based Organizations in International Affairs, which explored the theme "Human rights and Dignity Toward a Just, Peaceable and Inclusive Future".

CoNGO 10th Annual Symposium photo
Over 700 participants worldwide attended the 10th Annual Symposium in person or online (photo by World Council of Churches - WCC)

Introductory Moderator Remarks Below from Church and Society Assistant General Secretary and President, Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations with the United Nations (CoNGO), The Rev. Dr. Liberato (Levi) Bautista:

Thank you, Simona and Rudelmar, for the kind introduction.

Excellencies, eminences, colleagues, friends, ladies and gentlemen.

Good morning from New York City. Good afternoon and good evening, in whatever time zone you are in.

Thank you for making this tenth edition of the annual symposium on the role of religion and faith-based organizations in international affairs a part of your day. You are one of more than 700 participants worldwide, attending in person or online.

As we celebrate this symposium’s tenth anniversary, I express deep gratitude to Ganoune Diop, Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, and Azza Karam. The four of us conceived of this symposium ten years ago. Over ten years, many more colleagues across the ecumenical movement, religious communities, and the UN System have joined to collaborate and make the annual symposium alive and relevant in addressing many issues pertinent to religion and international affairs. I celebrate these colleagues.

The inaugural symposium in 2015 boldly laid out why its theme must undergird every future edition of the annual symposium. That theme was “Human Dignity and Human Rights,” whose discussion necessarily implicated the UN Agenda 2030 and the 17 sustainable development goals launched that same year.

I want to underscore that our commitment to recognize each other’s humanity and protect each other’s human rights is non-negotiable, whether in war or peace.

In war or peace, our enduring agenda must be protecting human life and safeguarding rights and freedoms that make life sacred and meaningful. The SDGs are important, inadequate they may be, because, reduced to the core, they are about eradicating hunger and eliminating poverty through responsible stewardship of the planet Earth.

The lyrics of the Broadway musical Rent have this particular line that I like. It says, “The opposite of war is not peace; it’s creation.” That line strikes deeply into the religious core of this symposium’s raison d’etre as much as this symposium’s tenth edition’s focus. The opposite of war is life—the daily creation of a blissful, joyful, sacred life.

The advocacy for life and peace is at the core of religious teachings—across many traditions and beliefs. That somehow going to war to save lives must be found objectionable. That somehow peace can be secured by launching wars must be found offensive to the idea of creating life in all its abundance so that all may live to the fullest and full of age.

Today, our world is far more precarious and dangerous than ever. The wars and resulting deaths in Ukraine, Israel and Palestine, and in many other places where the colonial and imperial projects of the past continue to propel today the historical injustices of slavery, colonialism and racism, cannot escape my thought today as I moderate and participate in the rich promise of the symposium’s theme, and this session’s focus on what makes for “a just, peaceable and inclusive future.”

The organizers of this tenth symposium understand that upholding human dignity and respecting human rights leads to humanity’s flourishing and community’s thriving in our common planetary habitation. This, too, comes with the knowledge that human rights and peace abound under conditions that promote gender equality and inclusive justice.

At this session, we will look into instances of practical work done at various levels—local, national, regional, and global—demonstrating possibilities for achieving a just, peaceable, and inclusive future.

This session focuses on “key learnings for a just, peaceable and inclusive future.” Five distinguished panelists will help us navigate this symposium subtheme. This session intends to feed directly into the multilateral process leading up to the Summit of the Future, which will be held on Sept. 18-19 this year at the UN HQ. The Summit is expected to negotiate and produce the “Pact of the Future” with the hope that this Pact “will address a world and an international system better prepared to manage the challenges we face now and in the future for the sake of humanity and future generations.

Before I cede the session to our five distinguished panelists, let me comment on the word “future” in the subtheme. Many religions speak of eternal values—timeless matters, compared to timebound matters like the SDGs. Timebound things are relegated to chronos—referring to the linearity of time and space rather than their conjunctures as people of the world confront their conditions and environment. The timeless things refer to kairos—that propitious and auspicious moment to seize at a time and in a space where we can act vigorously, positively, and collaboratively upon the urgent things for now and eternity.

No wonder there was anxiety in the Gospel writer Luke when he exclaimed, “If you had known on this day—even you—the things that make for peace! (Luke 19:41). No wonder, too, that Martin Luther King, Jr., in whose honor and memory we hold this annual symposium close to his birthday, January 15, issued a clarion call and vision through his speech on August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial on the Washington, D.C. National Mall, famously titled “I Have a Dream” from which the bold and prophetic phrase emanates—“The fierce urgency of now.”

Let me quote the relevant section in his speech:

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

Indeed, this is the time for vigorous and positive action so that our strivings for a just, peaceable, and inclusive future, albeit a present with an abundance of fear and a deficit of hope, challenge that future. What does the future augur given today’s present tensions? In a manner of speaking, how do we deal with the future in the present tense? Might a combination of religious and multilateral actors seize the Kairos moment and devise ways to impact the thinking and acting that impacts the multilateral processes leading to the UN Summit of the Future, including the text of the Pact for the Future? Quo Vadis multilateralism and international humanitarian and human rights laws?

These, and so much more, are in this panel session. Let’s get on with it.