.sqs-featured-posts-gallery .title-desc-wrapper .view-post

Interfaith and Peace, Social Justice, and Respect for the Earth

By Marcus Braybrooke


Seeking Peace

“War no more.” That was the hope that inspired Charles Bonney as he explained in his opening address to the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions. Bonney believed that a major cause of conflict was “because the religious faiths of the world have most seriously misunderstood and misjudged each other.”1 One hundred years later, Hans Küng declared that there would be “No peace in the world without peace between religions.”2

Yet the claim is problematic. Is religion a cause of violence? Or, as the Carnegie Commission argued, “religious diversity does not spawn violence independently of predisposing social, economic and political conditions as well as the subjective roles of belligerent leaders.”3 In any case, as William Frost concluded after his lengthy study of religious perspectives on war and peace, “when religion teaches peace, it also validates war.”4

Moreover, if people of faith unite to oppose war, do political leaders listen? A cautionary tale is the meeting of members of the Church Peace Union with the World Alliance for International Friendship, held in Constance, Germany, in August 1914. The conference opened on the very day that the First World War was declared. By the next day, the delegates were retreating to their homelands, but not before Henry Hodgkin, an English Quaker, and Friedrich Siegmund-Schultze, a German Lutheran, as they said good-bye on the platform of the railway station at Cologne. They pledged to each other that, ‘We are one in Christ and can never be at war’ – a promise that was to plant the seeds of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, which now welcomes people of all faiths as members.5

Efforts to engage religious leaders in the search for lasting peace continued between the World Wars, although plans for a major inter-religious peace conference in Europe were repeatedly deferred.6 In Japan, however, a Conference for International Peace was held in 1931.7 Rudolf Otto, best known for his book The Idea of the Holy, tried to establish a Religious League of Mankind to support the work of the League of Nations.8

Even when fighting in World War II was at its fiercest, some religious leaders were looking ahead to a new world order based on moral law. In 1943, Pattern for Peace was signed by Protestant, Catholic and Jewish leaders in America and gained support from the World Congress of Faiths in Britain, which was already campaigning for a council of representatives of all religions to work with the nascent United Nations9, a hope which some people are still pursuing.10

Founder Niwano delivering opening address of the 6th World Conference of Religions for Peace Assembly in Vatican Synod Hall in 1994.

Founder Niwano delivering opening address of the 6th World Conference of Religions for Peace Assembly in Vatican Synod Hall in 1994.

In the years after World War II, several religious bodies issued statements calling for peace, but there was little interreligious cooperation. By the mid-sixties there were new initiatives in the U.S. By linking with the Gandhi Peace Foundation in India, Rissho Kosei Kai in Japan, and other religious peace groups, the World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP), now Religions for Peace, was born. It met for the first time in Kyoto, Japan in October 1970. The Declaration insisted that the religions have “a real and important service to render to the cause of peace.” The focus at the time was the need for nuclear disarmament. Dr Homer Jack, first General Secretary of WCRP, worked tirelessly at the United Nations. At the time, because of a Soviet veto, it could not officially relate to faith communities.11 Increasingly though, WCRP recognized that other issues, such as poverty and racism were vital ingredients in the search for peace.

In the eighties, practical lobbying for peace was backed up by a wave of prayer. The Prayer for Peace was launched at an interfaith service in Westminster Abbey on Hiroshima Day – August 6th, 1981.12 Buddhist Peace Pagodas were constructed in major cities around the world by Nipponzan-Myōhōji.13 The Brahmas Kumaris promoted a ‘One Million Minutes for Peace’ campaign.14 Most significantly, Pope John Paul II invited religious leaders to join him for a ‘World Day of Prayer for Peace’ in Assisi on October 27, 1986 – an invitation which was issued before it was announced that Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev were to hold their first summit meeting in Geneva in November 1985.15 Later, the Peace Council arranged interfaith prayer services at the many meetings which led to a ban on land minds.16

Interfaith efforts for peace have increased rapidly in recent years: both in particular situations such as Israel/Palestine or the former Yugoslavia and at an international level. Religious Non-Governmental Organizations play an increasingly significant role at the United Nations, for example, in lobbying for a ban on cluster bombs. Besides the preventative work of building trust between local faith communities, religious leaders have also taken the lead in peace building after conflict and especially in Truth and Reconciliation commissions. Thankfully, I have not been asked to evaluate the effectiveness of all this devoted work!

As the Earth Charter recognizes, environmental protection, human rights, equitable human development, and peace are interdependent and indivisible. It is only possible to give a small sample of interfaith co-operation in addressing these issues.

Interfaith Collaboration

Some of these concerns for social justice were already evident at the 1893 Parliament. There were calls for international arbitration; “advancing the condition of the American negro”; dispelling anti-Judaism, and promoting women’s rights.

Development and Economic Justice

The enormous commitment of faith communities to relieving poverty and ignorance is evidenced by the fact that over half the health care and educational provision in the world is faith-based. Much of the work has been provided by a particular faith, although the benefit has been available to all – ‘Need not Creed,’ as the slogan puts it.

Increasingly people of different faiths are now co-operating in this work, often in partnership with UN and governmental organizations. A good example of this is the partnership of the World Bank with World Faiths Development Dialogue, which was initiated by Lord George Carey, then Archbishop of Canterbury, and James Wolfensohn, then head of the World Bank.17 WFDD encourages religious and developmental institutions to work together in reducing poverty and reaching a consensus on the best strategy for long term development. The organization is now an independent entity housed at Georgetown University in Washington DC.18

Providing emergency aid and supporting economic development is not enough if the inequality of international trade and the unjust exploitation of workers and of natural resources is not challenged. Is capitalism and globalization itself the problem? Much has been written recently on this subject from a religious perspective and the issues have been debated at interfaith gatherings sponsored by Globalisation for the Common Good19 and other organizations. There is also growing recognition that economic activity cannot be divorced from morality.20

Human Rights

The IARF’s 2002 World Congress in Budapest.

The IARF’s 2002 World Congress in Budapest.

People of faith have long supported the struggle for human rights – for example the long struggle to abolish slavery. At the same time, it has to be recognized that religion’s own record leaves much to be desired. For example, the Church’s anti-Judaism contributed to violent anti-Semitism and many religions have been oppressive in their attitude to and treatment of women.

The list of human rights organisations is extensive.21 In some cases an organization, such as Amnesty International or the anti-Apartheid Movement, has sought support from members of all religions; in other cases an interfaith organization, such as the International Association for Religious Freedom,22 has focused on such issues. Religion & Human Rights provides a unique academic forum for the discussion of issues which are of crucial importance and which have global reach. The journal covers the interactions, conflicts and reconciliations between religions or beliefs on the one hand, and systems for the promotion and protection of human rights, international, regional and national, on the other.23

The Environment

Concern for the environment and the natural world is not new. An International Conference of Christians and Jews at Oxford in 1946 stated that “Nature is to be respected and not merely exploited. It is a revelation of God and a sphere of His purpose: man may not squander its bounty and must show due regard for its beauty.”24 ‘Reverence for Life’ was a major concern for the Temple of Understanding in the nineteen-eighties. The Temple was one of the sponsors of the Global Forum that met in Oxford in 1988 and in Moscow in 1990. At the Moscow Conference, Mikhail Gorbachev gave a major address on the need for urgent international action to preserve the environment – a call echoed in the Moscow Declaration.25

Many faith based groups have issued statements on the environment.26 Religious organizations have also made a major contribution to the development of The Earth Charter, which is an international declaration of fundamental values and principles for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society in the 21st century.27 The Earth Charter Initiative organization exists to promote the Charter. The idea of the Earth Charter originated in 1987, when the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development called for a new charter to guide the transition to sustainable development.

The interconnectedness of religious and environmental concerns and the fundamental significance to all traditions of safeguarding the planet as a common inheritance were highlighted in Earth and Faith: A Book of Reflection for Action. The book was the result of a unique and longstanding collaboration between the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)28 and its Interfaith Partnership for the Environment (IPE), which is a global network of faith traditions and organizations working to bring together the forces of religion and ecology. Copies were made available to all delegates who attended the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders at the UN in 2000, which included the environment among its main themes.29

Strong Aboriginal participation in the 2009 Parliament of World Religions in Melbourne ensured that environmental concerns were high on the agenda. Moreover A Hindu Declaration on Climate Change was read out and ratified by an august assembly of Hindu saints from India and around the world.30

Sometimes, however, environmental concern seems too anthropocentric and the rights of animals are ignored. Professor André Toledano was surprised that the World Congress of Faiths Oxford conference in 1951, “at a time when mankind is living in dreadful fear of a grim future,” devoted a session to “the Religious Attitude to Animal Welfare.” But he changed his mind, “In our time of hatred and contempt for the human person, recalling the reverence due to all the creatures that God made was most inspiring.”31 The response to the ‘Declaration Toward a Global Ethic’ of a Korean Conference on Religion and Peace, held two months after the Chicago 1993 Parliament of World Religions, complained that it should have stressed the unity of all life. “We have come to believe that the earth, heaven, and all that lives on earth and all humanity comprise one life-community organically interdependent.”32


The size of the problems and the enormous variety of organizations can seem daunting. Maybe, one needs to remember ‘to think globally and to act locally’ – although local action is strengthened by the international net-working that is now possible, and to which The Interfaith Observer (TIO) is making such a valuable contribution.

Is the past relevant to our work today? Looking back may lead us to ask why some people in every faith have put world concerns first and been willing to co-operate while others still hide in their mission compound.It is a paradox that the interfaith movement which brings people of different faiths together is at the same time a challenge to the tendency of most religions to become more concerned with self-preservation than service to the world.

Reflection on the past may also make interfaith organizations more self-critical. Could they be more effective if they were more co-operative? Should we start with the problems or with a vision of Oneness? There is a danger that religions are being recruited to support pre-determined goals, however worthy, whereas the mystic’s compassion for all life flows from an experience of the overriding compassion of the Holy One.

Despite the questions, the unsung story of people who have been inspired by their faith to dedicate their lives to the service of others gives grounds for hope that change is possible and that, despite the news headlines, we are moving toward a more compassionate and caring world society – ‘a civilization with a heart.’33

1The World’s Parliament of Religions, ed. John Henry Barrows, The Parliament Publishing Co, Chicago,1893, p. 67. See also Marcus Braybrooke, Pilgrimage of Hope, London, SCM Press, 1992 p. 20

2 Hans Küng, ‘No Peace in the World without Peace among religions,’ World Faiths Insight, New Series

21, February 1989, p. 14

3Preventing Deadly Conflict: Final Report, The Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, Washington, D.C., 1997, p. 29 See also Marcus Braybrooke, A Heart for the World, Winchester UK and New York, USA, John Hunt O-books, 2005, pp. 20 ff

4 J.William Frost, A History of Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim Perspectives on War and Peace, The Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston, New York, 2004, Vol II, p. 779

5en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Fellowship_of_Reconciliation. See also Faith and Interfaith ina Global Age, p. 83

6Pilgrimage of Hope, pp. 124-127

7Pilgrimage of Hope, p. 127

8Pilgrimage of Hope, p. 115 See also http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1016/0048-721X(91)90049-V

9 Marcus Braybrooke, A Wider Vision, Oxford, One World, 1996, pp. 60-62

10 For example, the Universal Peace Federation, www.upf.org

11 Homer Jack, WCRP: A History of the World Conference on Religion and Peace. New York, WCRP, 1993

12 The Prayer for Peace

Lead me from death to Life,

from falsehood to Truth

lead me from Despair to Hope,

from fear to trust,

Lead me from hate to Love

from war to Peace

Let peace fill our Heart,

our World, our Universe.

13http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nipponzan-My%C5%8Dh%C5%8Dji -


15Pilgrimage of Hope, pp168-9


17 See Katherine Marhsall and Lucy Keough, Mind, Heart and Soul in e Fight Against Poverty, The World Bank, 2004



20http://institute.jesdialogue.org/resources/course/. See also M Braybrooke and Kamran Mofid, Bringing Economics and Theology Together Again, London, Shepheard-Walwyn, 2005

21http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_human_rights_organisations See also Human Rights First is an independent advocacy organization that challenges our country to live up to its ideals. We press American institutions – including government and business – to respect human rights, seeking to close the gap between values and action. Around the world, we foster American influence to secure core freedoms through the rule of law.


23www.brill.nl/rhrs See also Robert Traer, Faith in Human Rights, Washington DC, Georgetown University Press, 1991

24Stepping Stones to a Global Ethic, ed. Marcus Braybrooke, SCM Press, 1992, p 39.

25 Marcus Braybrooke, ‘We are all in the same boat,’ in World Faiths Insight, 25, June 1990, pp; 22-4 and Shared Vision, Vol 4, No.7, 1990, p. 16

26http://fore.research.yale.edu/climate-change/statements-from-world-rel ...



29Earth and Faith: A Book of Reflection for Action, Ed, Libby Bassett, Kusumita P. Pedersen, and John T. Brinkman, MM., Ph.D. UNEP, 2000. www.earthprint.com. See also www.nyo.unep.org/pdfs/ifppr.pdf


31 Marcus Braybrooke, A Wider Vision, p.99

32 Marcus Braybrooke, Faith and Interfaith in a Global Age, Grand Rapids, CoNexus Press and Oxford, Braybrooke Press, 1998, pp. 85-6

33 The phrase is borrowed from Wayne Teasdale’s The Mystic Heart, New World Library, 1999. See also www.seachanges.net