Secretary and Trustee of Religions for Peace UK
Solidarity and Cooperation-Multi-Religious Response to COVID-19 and Shared Well-being
I am delighted and honored to be with all of you here today and my grateful thanks to the China Committee on Religion and Peace for arranging this important event and inviting me to speak to you.
Firstly a brief word about Religions for Peace United Kingdom. We are a registered charity operating throughout the United Kingdom. We have no government funding and depend on gifts and donations. Our trustees and supporters represent all the major faith traditions of the United Kingdom – Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Zoroastrians, and other faiths. Britain has a Christian tradition going back many centuries but we pride ourselves on being a tolerant and liberal country and have a long history of welcoming people of all faiths fleeing persecution in other parts of the world.
Covid 19 is a catastrophe for the world and we share the pain. Thousands have died, many more have suffered and the virus has placed an almost impossible burden on our health services. The global economy has suffered a massive blow. However as a person of faith, I believe in a good and merciful God in whom we can put our trust, and I have hope and optimism that the skills and ingenuity of humanity will help us to overcome this crisis. We will overcome the virus!
In the words of Jack Kornfield:
“We have a choice.
Epidemics, like earthquakes, tornadoes, and floods are part of the cycle of life on planet earth.
How will we respond?
With greed, hatred, fear, and ignorance? This only brings more suffering.
Or with generosity, clarity, steadiness, and love?
This is the time for love.”
As we feel the fear of death and the frailty of life, we are challenged to reassess our values, the way we live our lives, and our relationships with our brothers and sisters around the world. Our many faiths give us different paths but one goal – a more spiritual existence. Terrible though the effects of coronavirus maybe, perhaps this might be a turning point for us? Now is the time to consider how we will live our future.
Perhaps also it will give us a moment to pause and think about the future of our planet. Religions for Peace United Kingdom is a partner of Faith for the Climate, a UK coalition of different faiths, which exists to encourage, inspire and equip faith communities in their work on climate change. Climate Change is the biggest and most urgent challenge facing humanity. People of faith see creation as a gift and believe we have a sacred responsibility to care for and protect the Earth for future generations. Faith communities have a unique and precious role to play, in our work and witness, alongside and in partnership with secular environmental organizations, enabling people of faith to live out their calling by acting to protect the climate.
Currently, the focus of Faith for the Climate is the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference which is to be hosted by the UK (in partnership with Italy) in November 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. The climate talks will be the biggest international summit the UK has ever hosted; bringing together over 30,000 delegates including heads of state, climate experts, and campaigners to agree on coordinated action to tackle climate change.
The challenge is significant, but we must step up to it to save the environment we all live in. The UN Climate Change process is central to that collective action. As people of faith, we must join together across the world to persuade our communities and our governments to work together.
For further information please go to www.ukcop26.org and www.faithforthe climate.org.uk
However, it’s not enough just to encourage our governments to act. We must all take action at a local level. Religions for Peace UK is part of the “Let Earth Breathe – Plant Trees Project”. According to scientists, planting billions of trees across the world is one of the biggest and cheapest ways of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere. We are starting in a small way – planting 50 trees to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Religions for Peace and establishing a peace grove in Scotland. We hope this will inspire faith communities, businesses, political leaders, and individuals to join us and plant “a tree of peace” to combat the climate crisis.
Climate Change is one of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations – our blueprint for a better and more sustainable future, addressing the global challenges of poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace, and justice. This can only be achieved if different faiths work together. In difficult times there can be a rise in discrimination, scapegoating, and hate speech, resulting in religious communities and minority groups becoming targets of victimization and violence.
To combat this, Religions for Peace United Kingdom has embarked on a Multifaith Dialogue Training and Difficult Conversations Programme. It is a three-year project which will train a cohort of Multifaith Dialogue Fellows in a range of techniques and skills which can be used to encourage and facilitate dialogues on emotive and difficult topics. We hope this will inspire communities to initiate their own projects so that others will learn with them.
Division and resentment occur when individuals and communities do not feel listened to or their concerns respected. Religious people and communities are often the targets of victimization and resentment because they are considered different. Those holding extreme views are unlikely to engage in a traditional dialogue process – but these are the people who would most benefit from constructive dialogue. Our project will use music, sport, visual arts, and story-telling to attract those unwilling to engage in more traditional dialogue. A group of people trained in constructive dialogue methods and skills will stimulate conversations and also demonstrate that people of faith are just like anyone else.
One of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is to empower women and girls and ensure their equal rights. To advance this, Religions for the Peace United Kingdom has formed the UK Women of Faith Network in order to enhance inter-faith networking among women of faith in the UK, and strengthen the capacity of women of faith to build peace, promote just and harmonious societies and transform conflict. UKWFN promotes gender equality and women’s empowerment in multi-religious collaboration, advance religious understanding, and awareness in accordance with traditions, principles, and values which inspire justice, peace, and harmony. It encourages inter-religious dialogue and education for improved understanding between faiths and wider society.
UKWFN has created an exhibition: “The Dignity of Women – Scriptural Reflections” and is developing training materials for this. The aim is to educate religious and secular communities on the positive role and status of women within the sacred texts of the world’s religions and to challenge all forms of violence and discrimination against women, especially where this is religiously motivated.
UKWFN is also establishing a Leadership Training Programme for Young Women of Faith. The project will train 20 young women and create a safe place where women, especially those from black or minority ethnic backgrounds, can discuss their worries and concerns which they might be reluctant to voice in public. Issues will include COVID 19, climate change, employment, wellness and self-care, personal development, and inner peace.
We all know that we have no future without our young people. Like other chapters of Religions for Peace around the world, we have been busy establishing an Inter-Faith Youth Network in the United Kingdom. We have to harness the drive and commitment of the next generation, striving for social justice, a more sustainable way of life, and peaceful cooperation between nations. This is the only way forward.
Our aim is to encourage dialogue between young people both within and beyond the UK. We are planning to participate with partner organizations in the Speech4Change Project. – a youth-led online platform to tackle extremism, the rise of nationalism, and religious hate speech. It is a campaign to change the negative prevalent dialogue across platforms in the media and online, encouraging a more actively peaceful narrative.
Thank you for allowing me to tell you about our vision and aspirations in the United Kingdom. I look forward to hearing about the plans and activities of other countries. I hope and pray that we can join forces with our friends around the world to bring these to fruition.