No doubt you've heard that Canada is hosting the political leaders of the G8 and G20 countries this June (the 25-27) in Ontario - the G8 leaders will meet in the Muskoka Region (in Huntsville) on June 25 and 26, the summit that some are already dubbing "the blackfly summit"! For trivia buffs, this will be their 36th annual meeting. The G20 leaders meet in Toronto, June 26-27.
What you may not know is that from June 21-23, just prior to the political summit, religious leaders from around the world will be gathering at the University of Winnipeg in a parallel summit (see http://www.uwinnipeg.ca/index/news-g8) to talk about the challenges facing humanity and to finalize an interfaith statement to be delivered to the political leaders. A draft of this statement, as well as a number of faith-based responses to it, can be found at http://www.faithchallengeg8.com/responses_en.html. This is the 6th Annual Relgious Leaders' Summit.
A Canadian Interfaith Partnership group (led by the Canadian Council of Churches) has been working for the past 18 months or so, preparing to host this event. The countdown is on and plans are coming together nicely. While the event promises to be a good one - with religious leaders representing the major faith traditions in the world, great speakers, a wonderful venue, etc. etc. - what remains to be done is to mobilize Canadians of faith to be effectively engaged in the process, now and in the future.
Political leaders can meet, discuss, strategize... faith leaders can meet, discuss, strategize. But at the end of the day, if the citizens of the world are not informed and involved, all of the plans and strategies may evaporate into thin air as new challenges and new crises demand immediate attention. The Millennium Development Goals are a case in point. When they were established by the United Nations at the beginning of the 21st century, we all felt comforted that problems had been identified, specific targets had been set and there seemed to be the political will to tackle the problems in a coherent and coordinated manner. The G8 and G20 leaders were all on side. But then, at each successive meeting, some new disaster diverted their attention away from the MDGs - 9/11, the tsunami in Asia, Hurricane Katrina, the global economic recession, the ongoing "war against terror", and most recently the earthquake in Haiti (to name but a few) - all big issues, but perhaps all symptoms of more fundamental problems which remain unaddressed and unresolved.
Leaders come and go, whether they are political leaders or spiritual leaders. They have good intentions. But they ALL work within systems not of their own making. There are political (both big "P" and little "p") realities and economic pressures that can be quite unforgiving. The effectiveness of any leader lasts only as long as their tenure, and that can be cut short in any number of ways. Point is, if we leave it to the leaders - whether political or spiritual - we shouldn't be surprised to find that progress has been slow and the good intentions haven't produced the kinds of results that were promised.
I'm absolutely 100% convinced that people of faith - and that includes any and all kinds of faith - CAN and SHOULD be involved in the political processes as informed and engaged global citizens. Working as a member of the Interfaith Steering Committee for the Religious Leaders' Summit has been my first opportunity to work in an interfaith context. And it's been refreshing and encouraging to sit around the table with people from various faith traditions, to talk about issues of global justice.
The Interfaith Partnership began our work together with a devotion that drew our attention to the fact that every major faith tradition in the world has some version of what Christians call the "golden rule" - "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (see http://www.religioustolerance.org/reciproc.htm). It turns out that we have LOTS in common and when we don't focus on our differences, we have something of significance to say to our political leaders - and they WILL listen when we speak with one voice!
There's been lots of discussion in the media around the agenda for this event, focusing especially on Stephen Harper's intention to make maternal and child health a development priority for the upcoming G8 Summit (that is, Millennium Development Goals four and five - reduce child mortality and improve maternal health). And of course, economic issues will likely steal the stage as well as any current environmental crisis. In fact, the priority issues for the summit are the economy, the environment, and development (see http://www.g7.utoronto.ca/evaluations/2010muskoka/2010prospects090702.html for more detail).
If you want to get up to speed on the Summits taking place in Canada - both political and religious - here are a few good links:
For lots of good information on the G8 summits, including specific information on the 2010 summit, see http://www.g8.utoronto.ca/.
The website for the Interfaith Partnership is http://www.faithchallengeg8.com/.
There is an online petition that you can check out - it's pretty brief and to the point - you can find it at http://petition.faithchallengeg8.com/. Those of you who know me, know that I'm not a big fan of online petitions because we sometimes use them to satisfy ourselves that we've "done something" when we actually haven't taken the time to understand the issues or to have an informed opinion. So, I encourage you to sign the petition, but only AFTER you've read it and have done anough extra reading and thinking to be confident that you actually DO agree with it!
Well, that should give you a good start. Also, a reminder - don't get discouraged thinking that the problems are simply too BIG. You can't do everything, but you can do something, and the first step is to be informed...