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Chairman's Address to the US-UN Symposium
Rev. Dr. Chung Hwan Kwak, Chairman, Universal Peace Federation
Washington DC, United States
October 23, 2007

Your Excellencies. Members of this very distinguished panel. Ladies and Gentlemen.

On behalf of the Universal Peace Federation, thank you for attending this International Symposium on the United States and the United Nations. I am especially grateful to the three co-sponsors: The Washington Times Foundation, the UPI Foundation and the Friends of the United Nations for their support for this initiative.

Throughout this year, UPF has sponsored a series of conferences on the theme, "The Need for Vision and Leadership at a Time of Global Crisis." A core message that has been recommended through this conference series is for greater respect for universal values that are shared by people of all races, religions, nationalities and cultures.

Today I want to speak about the role of religion in the world today. This is a topic of great significance, and one that should be given serious attention by both the United States and the United Nations.

First of all, when we think of religion, we need to recognize its importance in the lives of billions of people around the world. Religious identity is of profound importance to the vast majority of the world's population. It is important to more than one billion Christians. It is important to more than one billion Muslims, a billion Hindus, and nearly a billion Buddhists, as well as to Jews, Sikhs, Jains, etc.

The significance of religion in the lives of people is not merely a private or personal matter. Religion shapes ideas, moral attitudes, basic outlooks, and, in turn, it affects behavior and action. In this sense, religious beliefs and actions affect political beliefs and actions, economic beliefs and actions, and social beliefs and actions.

This reality cannot be ignored. The advance of modernity, technology, the internet, and globalization have not eliminated the ongoing, and growing power and relevance of religion.

Secondly, we must recognize that in order to understand our world and its people, its cultures, and its governments, we must understand religion.

In past eras, the objective or scientific study of religion was limited largely to academics in departments of religions.

Religious leaders and believers, on the other hand, would often study other religions only as a form of confrontation or challenge. The history of religion has often been a history of conflict and polemics. Representatives of one religion speak badly about the representatives of other religions, and especially about any religion they view as a competitor.

Too often, one religion's claim to truth meant that it felt compelled to describe the claims of the other religion as false. Hence, there has been no genuine dialogue among religions, but rather there has been fighting and quarrelling among religions. Like children of one family, with the same parents, quarrelling and squabbling.

This has to stop. We need to become respectfully well-informed about religion, in the same way that we become well-informed about geography, culture, art, literature, and economics. We cannot be spiritually illiterate.

Thirdly, interreligious dialogue and cooperation are imperative in today's world. The past century has witnessed an increased awareness of this need, but still there is much work to be done.

To make this happen, we must develop a new paradigm for leadership and good governance within our religious traditions. That new paradigm must encourage respectful relationships with the believers of other traditions, and must underscore the common ground shared among the religions. We should not focus only on narrow doctrinal differences. Religious leaders who teach hostility, who promote misinformation, prejudice and bigotry, should be challenged and encouraged to become better educated.

Finally, in efforts to solve global problems such as war, conflict, disease, poverty, climate change, we must come to see religion and faith-based organizations as allies. How can we imagine bringing peace in the Middle East, whether in Iraq or in Israel/Palestine, without the involvement and cooperation of religious leaders and faith-based organizations? Can it be prudent to seek to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by relying only on governments or secular NGOs? How can we exclude one of the most basic of human institutions, religion.

In the year 2000, Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon spoke at the UN and proposed that the UN establish an interreligious council. Currently there is no forum or structure for the voice of religion. This is a serious limitation.

Even in this country, with its very religious population, there has been controversy about the partnership between government and faith-based organizations.

We are living at a time when "faith-based diplomacy" and "faith-based problem solving" cannot be avoided. We are living at a time when "religious illiteracy" cannot be affirmed.

Both the US and the UN should engage in dialogue with faith leaders to explore ways in which governments and religions can be partners in the effort to solve critical global problems. At the same time, faith leaders need to meet together in dialogue and cooperation, and must move beyond competition and conflict, and focus their energy on service and the application of universal spiritual principles.

In conclusion, we live at a time when non-state actors and trans-state actors are increasingly important. NGOs, religions, and global citizens are not bound by national boundaries. Ideas, culture, moral principles are not held within national or state boundaries. National sovereignty remains a central principle of human society. At the same time, we live in a global community. We must find the way to move forward to a world of lasting peace. Both the US and the UN are absolutely essential to this process. So too are the world's religions.

Thank you for your attention.

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