U.N. Wants to
Spread Its Tentacles to Churches
Monday, July 14, 2003
ASAN CITY, South Korea – At the next meeting of the General Assembly of
the United Nations in September, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of
the Philippines is to present a formal proposal for the establishment of
an Inter-religious Council at the world body. It would be an
institutional part of the United Nations, with status like that
of the U.N.'s Economic and Social Council or the Trusteeship Council.
At her meeting with President Bush at the White House in May, Arroyo
suggested the United States might want to co-sponsor the proposal. Bush,
a practicing Christian with a keen sense of the power of religion,
expressed deep interest and asked his national security adviser,
Condoleezza Rice, to study the matter.
In fact, Rice already knew of the plan. Two of her aides, Karen Brooks
and James Moriarty, had already been briefed on the plan by the speaker
of the Philippines House of Representatives, Jose de Venecia, who has
waged a campaign for such a religious infusion into the work of the
"We in the Philippines feel that President Bush should try and avert the
confrontation with the Muslim world that seems to threaten," de Venecia
then wrote to Rice, in a letter of which United Press International now
has a copy. "And while the really grievous need is for a global
Christian-Muslim dialog, the effort must also encompass Buddhists,
Hindus, Confucians and Jews, heads of churches, temples, synagogues and
mosques, political leaders as well as representatives of global civil
The idea is not entirely new. Even before the United Nations was founded
in 1945, the English Bishop Bell of Chichester suggested the formation
of an Advisory Committee of religions to work with the United Nations,
an idea quashed by the atheist Soviet Union. But the United Nations has
already granted observer status to the left-leaning World Council of
Churches, and a number of religious bodies and their associated non-governmental
organizations are affiliated to UNESCO.
'Resource Body' for the U.N.
In August 2000, as part of the U.N.'s Millennium events, 1,000 religious
and spiritual leaders met at the U.N. and established a new World
Council. But they decided to retain their independence from the U.N.
structure and to act instead "as a resource body for the Secretary-General
and the U.N."
The proposal for an Inter-religious Council to become a formal part of
the U.N. structure is ambitious and new, and de Venecia has put his
formidable energies behind the task of winning political support through
his connections with "Christian Democrat" parties around the world, and
particularly in Europe. This may be an idea whose time has come.
This was certainly the view of a conference going on in Asan, South
Korea, by Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace,
an organization begun by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon of the Unification
Church. Moon also is the founder of News World Communications Inc.,
which owns UPI.
Imams and rabbis, Buddhist monks and Church of England clergymen, Muftis
and leaders of the Unification Church all backed the council idea
strongly. Campaigns are being organized around the world this summer to
win support for the next U.N. session.
But what good would it do? Even if such a council were able to speak
with a united voice and deploy its moral authority behind a proposition,
it raises Stalin's old dismissive question about religions, "How many
divisions has the pope?"
Abetting the French and Germans
If such a council had been in existence earlier this year and added its
own weight to the French and German and Russian opposition to the U.S.-led
war on Iraq, would Bush have been deterred? Probably not.
And if such a body is to make hollow pronouncements, how long before it
becomes a talking shop? How long before it sinks down the radar screen
of public opinion to the level of those other U.N. bodies of which few
members of the general public have ever heard, the Economic and Social
Council and the Trusteeship Council?
The Rev. Marcus Braybrooke of Oxford International Interfaith Center,
president of World Congress of Faiths, raised one pungent question.
'Religious People Need to Be Wary'
"I think religious people need to be wary lest other politicians are
trying to co-opt their support for a particular agenda," he told the
"The World Development Dialog, for example, has brought together
representatives of the World Bank and of the religions. But is the World
Bank really willing to have its models of development questioned or is
it using religions to clean up its image?"
Copyright 2003 by United Press International.
All rights reserved.