As I write, leaders of diverse faith communities from around the world are making their way to Winnipeg for the World Religious Leaders' Summit. They're coming from every continent - but the bulk of them will be from the G8 countries. The rationale for this is that if the G8 political leaders will listen to any faith leaders, it's more likely that they'll listen to leaders from within their own constituencies - perhaps a bit of a naive hope, but there it is.
These World Religious Leaders Summits have been held just prior to the G8 Political Summits since 2005 and have consistently provided a forum for religious leaders to nudge political leaders to keep the Millennium Development Goals on the table - AND to live up to the commitments that they have already made. As it turns out, that too may be a wee bit naive.
Take the upcoming summit - between the global economy showing distinct signs of serious wear and tear and the BP oil spill - the most recent large scale example of the folly of thinking that nature is a passive slave to human exploitation - the G8 leaders may see sincere efforts to eradicate extreme poverty as a luxury they simply can't afford. And seriously, we can protest and posture all we want but the truth is, the voters in the G8 countries are - for the most part - not prepared to back governments that actually DO make this their priority.
When it comes down to it, most of us still have a "me first" attitude. We want to eradicate poverty so long as it doesn't cost us - our jobs, our conveniences, our standard of living, our access to safe water, food choice, education, medical care... We may be advocates for the voluntary simplicity movement, but we're not likely to be as enthusiastic about government policies that FORCE us to simpler lifestyles. But I digress. What I really want to reflect on is the fact that the faith leaders will be pushing the G8/G20 leaders to invest in peace - the three themes of the draft statement are: address poverty, care for our earth and invest in peace.
Having returned from Rwanda recently maybe I'm just overly sensitive to the failings of faith to be agents of peace in specific moments in history. Talk is easy. And of course the Rwandan genocide is just ONE example. There are SO many others! Examples of war and other forms of conflict, where people and institutions of faith have failed to resist the evil of hatred and have embraced brutality in order to indulge religious partisanship.
Sure, we at the Winnipeg Summit will mean well. And those who gather around the table in Winnipeg will NOT be the extremists from their faith traditions... but isn't it a question of credibility? There is a painful irony - it seems to me - that the first of seven National Events to be hosted by The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) will have just concluded in Winnipeg (June 16-19) as the Religious Leaders Summit begins.
These events are the latest effort of Canadians to come to terms with the horrific abuses of the Indian Residential School system - a systematic effort to eradicate Indian culture through stripping Indian children of their language and culture. The Residential Schools were established as a result of the Gradual Civilization Act passed in Canada in 1857 with the purpose of "assimilating" Indians. In 1920, attendance at these schools was made compulsory for Indian children 7-15 years of age and they were taken from their families by force - by priests, Indian agents and police officers. Once established in Residential Schools, many children were also subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse. These schools operated until 1996... but the effects will haunt us for generations to come.
As we think about the cumulative pain inflicted on peoples around the world and throughout the ages - by religious leaders or in the name of one religion or another - the call from the World Religious Leaders to the Political Leaders to invest in peace is not misguided or inappropriate, but it must be made with immense humility and honest contrition and repentance. It's not enough to be peace lovers from within our various faith traditions. We must be peace makers - and that's a whole different mandate.
As we call for the political leaders to rise to the moment and provide inspired leadership and action around peace, let's spend some time repenting of our own past failures, mending our own fences and taking a firm stand within our faith traditions for a peace grounded in justice for all. Nuclear disarmament may be the responsibility of political leaders, but an appetite and a culture of peace can begin in the churches and synagogues and mosques and temples of the world. Let's make some peace!