Professor, Moscow State University, Russia; President, Russian National Peace Council
n interreligious council at the United Nations, proposed by Rev. Sun Myung Moon, is of paramount importance for world politics. A council within the United Nations composed of representatives from various religions, parallel with the General Assembly, would enhance not only the United Nations’ effectiveness as an institution of global governance but also humanity’s spiritual renewal on the foundation of God’s true love.
By failing to fully appreciate the importance of religions and spirituality, the United Nations chose a path that could not but compromise its influence. Rev. Moon noted that, in analyzing contemporary problems and trying to solve them, the UN has been leaning to one side, ignoring the moral and spiritual aspects of current political developments. If this continues, the UN will be unable to accomplish the purpose for which it was founded, and its relevance will diminish in the future.
The idea of an interreligious council is an outgrowth of some of the essential elements of Rev. Moon’s teachings. For example, as he explains it, the Fall of Adam and Eve was caused by the misuse of love; this led subsequently to the murder of their son, Abel, by his elder brother, Cain. Thus, world peace requires that we restore two primary types of relationships: between men and women and between siblings.
Restoration of the relationship between men and women is related to the marriage Blessing ceremonies that Rev. Moon conducts. Restoration of the relationship between brothers, and, by extension, nations, religions, races, ethnic groups, etc., is rooted in Rev. Moon’s understanding of the Cain-Abel relationship. An "Abel-type" person or group is one who lives for the sake of others in order to bring about reconciliation, cooperation and peace.
Rev. Moon speaks of an interreligious council as a way to renew the UN, based on the ideal of God’s true love and living sacrificially for the sake of others. His fundamental concern with the current UN is that it does not consider God to be the ultimate standard of moral value and has not adopted living for the sake of others as its guiding principle. An interreligious council should emphasize service which promotes reconciliation among religions, nations, races, ethnic groups, rich and poor, north and south, , etc.
This interreligious council was proposed by Rev. Dr. Moon at the UN in August 2000. The formal initiative to establish such a body was introduced by the Philippines to the UN General Assembly in 2005.
The council would help the UN family to better manifest itself as a model of good governance. It would help the UN deal with the most acute global challenges, such as poverty reduction, development assistance, conflict prevention and resolution, reducing the proliferation of HIV/AIDS, providing for decent living standards, etc.
Thus, the proposal to establish an interreligious council relates to the UN’s mission and its Millennium Development Goals. In bringing together councilors representing governments, religions, civil society, business and academia, it would serve as a model of integrated governance. It would draw on core spiritual and moral principles to provide solutions to critical global problems. Its authority would depend on the personal standing, status and actions of its members, the Ambassadors for Peace. Its program would be action-based and result-oriented, including research that will bring about real progress towards achieving a lasting peace.
The effectiveness of the council will depend on its ability to cooperate with national governments, international organizations, and other civil society institutions. It would build upon the success of Universal Peace Federation programs such as the Middle East Peace Initiative, the Northeast Asia Peace Initiative, HIV/AIDS prevention, character education, marriage and family education, global citizenship education, and humanitarian service and relief.
Such an interreligious council should be a critical part of UN reform. However, for it to become part of the United Nations system will require vision, leadership, courage and creativity. The key objective is to transform the UN from the traditional "diplomatic club" and arena of interaction among national governments into a comprehensive international body representing different national, ethnic, social and professional groups with the same decision-making powers as governments (not all of which are democratically elected and thus authorized to represent their respective nations and countries). The United Nations could then be guided by spiritual principles and moral values, as Dr. Moon proposed.
Civil society institutions have an inferior status within the UN system. An interreligious council would help the UN become an integrated model of cooperation among diplomats, government officials, academics, journalists, clerics, businessmen and all people who are concerned with the future of the world and are able to make it better.
An interreligious council would act as a crucial agent of change, both philosophically and practically. Its potential value in contributing the perspectives of spirit and faith should not be underestimated.
The council would embody the moral authority of its members, who would represent religious traditions in all countries. If the assertion that each religion calls for peace and reconciliation is true, then an interreligious council would draw upon the practical abilities of people of different beliefs to cooperate and change the world for the better.
The council would be based on true and reasonable principles, with an effective and manageable structure that promotes communication, pluralistic dialogue and networking. Without being hierarchical, the organizational structure should combine a certain degree of centralization and discipline with democracy, pluralism and grass-roots links.
The membership selection for the interreligious council should be flexible, involving people of various religious traditions and institutions as well as relevant social and professional groups, individuals, etc. The council would benefit from their political, professional and moral authority and/or experience.
The unique and broad experience of Russia could be vitally important for such a council, as Russia is a meeting point of different civilizations, cultures and religions, a microcosm of the spiritual universe and a juncture of the pains and problems of humanity, which the interreligious council would seek to relieve.
Whether inside the UN system or not, religions are destined to play a role in shaping humanity’s future. There are several ways an interreligious council could function within the UN system without modifying the UN Charter.
An interreligious council could become a "traditional" international NGO, affiliated with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), performing merely advisory functions. The UN Charter says that ECOSOC shall set up commissions in economic and social fields, commissions for the promotion of human rights, and such other commissions as may be required for the performance of its functions. The Charter further reads that ECOSOC may make suitable arrangements for consultation with non-governmental organizations which are concerned with matters within its competence.
In addition, Articles 22 and 29 of the UN Charter state that the General Assembly and the Security Council may establish subsidiary organs that they deem necessary for the performance of their functions. In the case of the Security Council, an interreligious voice could impact the whole range of UN activities related to international peace and security. The weaknesses and constraints of the UN have been debated for decades, and the voice of civil society institutions such as an interreligious council could make a difference. If interreligious representatives are allowed to join the debates at the UN Security Council, it could make this body less cynical and more transparent and effective.
If an interreligious council seeks not only advisory but also decision-making functions, it would have to lobby for amendments to the UN Charter that would give international NGOs the same (or nearly the same) status as representatives of national governments. Such a council could model ways to bring together governmental and non-governmental actors by integrating the interreligious and intercultural dimensions. It could also ask other intergovernmental organizations to strengthen their support for civil society efforts to address the root causes of global problems and to promote peace.
These approaches to UN reform, if applied reasonably and skillfully, would advance the ideal of an "Abel-type" UN that lives for the sake of others in order to bring about reconciliation, cooperation and peace.
To conclude, such an interreligious council would have to find its proper role. It could provide for international peace and security, development, prevention or resolution of ethnic and religious conflict. It could also promote dialogue among civilizations by means of citizen diplomacy, public campaigns, education and research.