Steven Fletcher, Member of Parliament and Minister of State for Democratic Reform, has promised to deliver a statement issued by world religious leaders to political leaders of the world’s wealthiest and largest economies. It will urge them to address “the dehumanizing scourge of poverty,” promote care for the environment and invest in peace.
The statement, issued on the eve of the G8 and G20 summits June 25 to 27 in Huntsville, Ont., and Toronto, was signed by 80 senior faith leaders and 13 youth delegates from more than 20 countries. They represent the Aboriginal, Baha’I, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Shinto and Sikh religious traditions.
“We expect leaders to put first the well-being of the majority of the world’s population, of future generations, and of the earth itself,” the religious leaders and youth delegates said in the statement released on the last day of the 2010 World Religions Summit held June 21 to 23.
Fletcher said he would personally pass on the statement to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, noting that governments have the responsibility “to ensure that all people have the opportunity to meet their full potential as human beings.” Fletcher, who represents the west Winnipeg riding of Charleswood-St.James-Assiniboia, is one of five ministers who serve on the Treasury Board cabinet committee.
The Bishop of Croydon, Nick Baines, who represented the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in the summit, said that the summit represented progress. “How do you build a momentum of faith leaders trusting each other and coming to talk together, not about their faith, but about the wider world?” he said in an interview. “That has to be progress because 10, 20 years ago, this kind of thing didn’t happen. There were people sitting at the table here who wouldn’t have been talking to each other” before.
In his address to delegates, Bishop Baines said faith communities need to work hard at convincing politicians and economic leaders that “good morality leads to good economies.” He also said it was important to share with them stories about “the triumph of the local.” Politicians will always ask “how, when, where and how much,” when actions are demanded from them, and “we are the ones who can answer that because we’re rooted in communities,’ he said. “We have a story to tell and we need to be more confident about telling them.”
Religious leaders said wealthy nations can help achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with measures such as investing 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development assistance, canceling debts of poor countries, halting capital flight from poor countries to wealthy countries, and ensuring workers earn decent wages. Adopted in 2000, the MDGs range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV-AIDS and providing universal primary education by 2015.
The statement noted that “almost half of the people on this planet live in poverty and insecurity in terms of the fundamental requirements for life with dignity,” and one billion are “chronically hungry.” Those most affected are women, children, indigenous peoples and those with disabilities, the statement said.
Religious leaders also called on governments to take “bold action” in addressing climate change, calling it “an urgent manifestation of our collective abuse of the very environment that sustains the fullness of life.” Concrete actions must be implemented “to ensure global average temperatures do not exceed a 2 degree centigrade increase from pre-industrial levels,” the statement said.
Noting that industrialized nations “have caused a disproportionate amount of environmental damage,” the religious leaders said “the strategy of promoting endless development and high consumption lifestyles must be challenged.”
Governments must also invest in peace, the religious leaders said, noting that “civilians in the world’s poorest countries are the primary victims of war, insurgencies, criminal activities and other forms of armed violence.” They lamented that while global military spending is estimated to be US$1.464 trillion, support for the UN peacekeeping operations is only US$9 billion.
The religious leaders also condemned “religiously motivated terrorism and extremism” and expressed their commitment “to stop the teaching and justification of the use of violence between and among our faith communities.”
They also reaffirmed their commitment to demonstrate solidarity with the poor, monitor the compliance of their governments in meeting the MDGs, “confront consumerism” and change their lifestyles “to give testimony to better stewardship,” and continue to work together to provide leadership that will engage their communities to work for the good of all. The Anglican bishop of Panama, Julio Murray, said he considered it important that Latin America was represented in the Religions Summit for the first time in its six-year history. He said religious leaders continue to be an important voice in Latin America because they have “credibility” and are seen as pastors who speak for those without voice in society.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, was to have led the Canadian delegation to the summit, but was taken ill and had to fly back to Toronto June 21.