Preventing Gender-based Violence: The Role of Religious Actors #CSW63

Report by Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative

On March 22, 2019, the final day of the CSW, I attended a side event on “Preventing Gender-based Violence: The Role of Religious Actors.” It was co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Botswana and Finland to the United Nations, the UN Interagency Task Force on Religion (co-stewarded by the UN Office for Genocide Prevention, UNAIDS, UNFPA, UN Women), and the ACT ALLIANCE.

From the event description:

“The interactive discussions will assess the specific contributions of faith-based and faith-inspired actors, when partnering with governments and UN system entities, to deal with diverse forms of gender-based violence. The conversations aim to contribute to the wider discussion and mobilisation around the implementation of the landmark ‘Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that Could Lead to Atrocity Crimes.'”

The room was full, indicating the high level of interest in this topic. Mr. Dieng, United Nations Under-Secretary General on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, opened the session via video. His exemplary work is documented with video and written statements available.

Muslims for Progressive Values President Ani Zonneveld spoke on hate speech and her work on empowering reform of education in Muslim societies. She suggested that rather than investing in funding travel to international speaking opportunities for high-level men, the same funds could bring youth to advocacy training camps for better net result.

The rights of LGBTI individuals were brought up as part of the commitment to leave no one behind. It is no longer acceptable to allow religious or cultural attitudes to infringe on the basic human rights of all. The event was sponsored by the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide (OSAPG) and co-sponsored by UN WOMEN, UNFPA, UNAIDS and ACT Alliance.

I was honored to attend an earlier expert consultation, part of this line of work on preventing genocide, entitled “Preventing Polarization, Building Bridges and Fostering Inclusivity: The Role of Religious Actors” held in NYC earlier in March. This brilliant session brought academics and religious actors to the table, and a publication is planned.

A previous session focused on religion and ultra-nationalism. The dedication and effort of Simona Cruciani and others working on this initiative are phenomenal.

#CSW63 Wrap-Up: Resources

Collected by Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative

The Commission on the Status of Women in NYC is an incredible opportunity for connecting with others doing advocacy around the globe. So many of the sessions offer truly inspirational resources and are crucial for the systemic transformations we need. From systemic survivor-centered approaches to ending trafficking in sexual exploitation, to critique of the Vatican, to art as a form of healing, to an overarching strategy to meet the Sustainable Development Goals within planetary boundaries, to the concurrent environment assembly in Nairobi, incredibly diverse efforts to reshape our world in more just and sustainable ways are happening.

Sex Trafficking

Our colleagues at Mercy International Association released Inherent Dignity: an Advocacy Guidebook to preventing trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation and to realizing the human rights of women and girls throughout their lives.

This work gets at the systemic causes and promotes transformation. Listening to survivors is key to their systemic approach, which was beautifully demonstrated at their session at the CSW. Their advocacy guide, available in its entirety online, is a comprehensive and accessible tool to move us forward towards ending human trafficking.

From the forward:

A human rights approach to trafficking means that all those involved in anti-trafficking efforts – from law enforcement agencies to victim service providers – should integrate human rights into their analysis of the problem and into their responses. This approach requires us to be rigorous in considering, at each and every stage, the impact that a law, policy, practice or measure may have on women and girls who have been trafficked or are at risk of being trafficked. It means embracing responses that empower and protect. Critically, it also means rejecting responses that risk compromising rights and freedoms. A useful example of this risk is the still-common practice of detaining women victims of trafficking in shelters. While there may be good reasons to seek to protect trafficked women from further harm, denying adult victims their right to freedom of movement in this way is not in keeping with a human rights approach.

The trafficking of women for sexual exploitation is a global wrong that implicates us all. But like so many challenges facing our fractured, troubled world, it is not amenable to a quick, technical fix. More than money or expertise, an end to the exploitation of human beings for private profit requires moral and spiritual leadership – it requires us all to stand up and say “this is wrong, this must stop”.

From 1.5:

Survivors of trafficking report that they were victimized from childhood to early adulthood, making them prey to traffickers. Their opportunities for decent work were severely limited, as were the supervision and support provided by their families, their safety at home and in the community, and their education. These precursors to trafficking all reflect a more sinister and structural oppression in which girls and women are made vulnerable to predators. Understanding systemic victimization over the life course is key to a holistic and preventative approach to human trafficking.

 

Catholics for Human Rights

Another CSW parallel event featured a panel of powerful speakers, a coalition of Catholics for Human Rights. It was followed by an afternoon forum for further discussion on abuses, harm reduction and healing. According to their press release, they discussed

the central role the Holy See has played in obstructing any progress by the CSW in many areas of human rights, including in sexual and reproductive rights, and how the Holy See as a religious body exceeds their powers at the CSW and at the UN. In part, this is manifested by not complying with treaties related to the treatment of women and children, as well as to condemning and denying rights of those the committee is dedicated to protecting, from women and children to LGBTQ people.

 

Gender and Science, Technology, and Innovation

A side event on Gender and Science, Technology, and Innovation: UN Initiatives offered a panel of women speakers on topics such as investing financially in women and encouraging women to register patents, on employment pathways such as “African Girls Can Code,” and on other ways that women need to “redesign the table” rather than simply sue for inclusion. At that session, Chantal Line Carpentier of UNCTAD mentioned an important strategic report about our way forward to sustainability, written for the Club of Rome, October, 2018. The report lays out four pathways – “same,” “faster,” “harder and smarter,” and finally simply “smarter,” a much more compelling option.

Transformation is Feasible: How to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals within Planetary Boundaries

Excerpts from the executive summary:

This is the world’s first study – to our knowledge – on how to optimally achieve all SDGs within all PBs through an integrated Global System Model. We find that a piecemeal approach to attaining the goals sets up trade-offs and conflict among goals. The pursuit of each and all SDGs is necessary, but not sufficient to succeed in the longer run, and potentially even counterproductive. A transformational approach to SDG achievement is needed. The elements of this transformation are presented in our scenario 4) but further analysis and modelling are needed to support the necessary changes worldwide.

It seems necessary to implement transformational and extraordinary policy changes, in order to achieve near full success of SDGs within PBs. These policies need to go well beyond the conventional policy toolbox. …

2. Transformative change is possible, through five strategies that seem to be powerful ways to reach most SDGs within most PBs. The five measures are:

1) accelerated renewable energy growth sufficient to halve carbon emissions every decade,
2) accelerated productivity in sustainable food chains,
3) new development models in the poor countries,
4) unprecedented inequality reduction, and
5) investment in education for all, gender equality, health, family planning.

The choice is the simplest way we have found to achieve all SDGs both social and environmental. They represent five “leverage points” to intervene in the globally interconnected geo-bio-socio-economic system. Together, they are capable of shifting the global system onto a new path in the decades ahead.

Women, Girls, and Families

Not all sessions are as rigorously intellectual; blessedly, for example, there was a parallel event on art as a tool for self-esteem and healing for girls in Rwanda and Haiti.

The Temple was also present at a strategy session with UN Women, where we learned of their forthcoming edition of Progress of the World’s Women (June 2019) which will focus on the theme of “Families in a Changing World.” Note that it is families plural, which indicates a feminist perspective that there are diverse forms of families, all of which need respect and support. It is anticipated that the data shows about 25% of families are currently in the “nuclear” model. Other family forms include single-headed households, multi-generational families (more than two generations), and family structures impacted by migration.

Interfaith Climate Advocacy at UNEA

At the same time as the CSW in New York City, the 4th United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) took place in Nairobi. Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, the acting Director-General of the United Nations Office in Nairobi and Executive Director of UN Habitat opened the session:

“The theme of this Assembly – ‘Innovative solutions for environmental challenges and sustainable consumption and production’ – is both timely and relevant. Changing today’s unsustainable consumption and production patterns, including through innovation and creative approaches, is essential if we are to succeed in tackling the mounting environmental challenges facing our world.”

You can review her statement and those by other opening plenary speakers, regional and political groups, and national statements online.

The interfaith presence was strong through our colleagues on the Parliament’s Climate Task Force. The TOU has been consulting with the Climate Task Force as it gains in strength.

 

2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions Report

Report by Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative, and Alison Van Dyk, TOU Executive Director
 
The Temple of Understanding greatly enjoyed connecting with colleagues and friends at this year’s Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto, Ontario. We are especially proud to have worked with environmental activist and food sovereignty advocate Dr. Vandana Shiva at her second Parliament. Dr. Shiva’s new book is entitled Oneness Versus the 0%: Shattering Illusions, Seeing Freedom (check it out via Spinifex Press or Amazon).
 

Executive Director Alison Van Dyk, Dr. Vandana Shiva, Board member
Laxmi Shah, and UN Representative Grove Harris, Toronto, 2018

 

Dr. Shiva first spoke at a Temple of Understanding event at the 2012 UN Rio Conference, and the TOU helped seed her work by bringing her to the Parliament for the first time in 2015. At the Toronto Parliament this year, she came as a major speaker in the Climate Change plenary. Dr. Shiva appeared on multiple panels and was increasingly warmly received, so that at her last session she spoke to a packed room. Her decades of advocacy and her passion for seed freedom and environmental justice helped Parliament participants move forward in their understanding of climate issues.
 
 

Highlights from the 2018 Parliament

Our colleague Joyce Dubensky of Tanenbaum has provided reflections on the Parliament of World Religions that include the full text of the plenary speech of Dr. P.L. de Silva, Director of the Institute for Strategic Studies and Democracy (ISSD). His talk entitled “Cultivation of Hatred” was offered as part of the Countering War, Hate, and Violence Assembly. Dr. de Silva writes of “Pope Francis’ condemnation of the sowing of hatred” and asks, “Aren’t those who cultivate hate culpable?” He suggests “the leading armaments countries… be condemned as war profiteers” and concludes that “reconciliation, faith and ethical leadership is what is most URGENTLY needed.”
 
The Parliament of the World’s Religions has posted short highlights of the Parliament as well as 13 full live streamed videos of major plenaries on their Facebook page.
 
 

The Temple of Understanding at the Parliament, 1993-2018

When the Parliament of the World’s Religions was launched in 1993, Juliet Hollister was invited to represent the Temple of Understanding as founder of the organization. Incorporated in 1960 and having been active at that time for over thirty years, the TOU participated in the Parliament as one of the oldest American organizations in the international interfaith movement.

Juliet brought a delegation of her board and staff to the 1993 gathering and walked in the opening procession of leaders of the interfaith movement. Rather than seeking special recognition for the TOU’s early contributions to the interfaith movement in the United States, Juliet’s position was as a kind of “Johnny Appleseed” of interfaith. Since, as she maintained, the job was “too big for any one organization,” she saw organizations like the TOU and Parliament as collaborating to spread seeds of dialogue, peace, and justice throughout the world.

Nelson Mandela, Cape Town, 1999

 

At the 1999 Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, the TOU organized a wide variety of programs and honored Nelson Mandela with a Hollister Award. By the time of the third modern Parliament gathering in 2004 in Barcelona, Spain, the TOU had launched an educational cooperative with eleven interfaith organizations called the Consultation for Interfaith Education (CIE). CIE sponsored a three-day symposium at the Parliament and featured Ela Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s granddaughter and now a Hollister award recipient, as a speaker. Hollister Awards were presented to Dr. Hans Kung for his work on Towards a Global Ethic (a document articulating the ethical commitments held in common by the world’s religious traditions) and to Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan for his leadership in the interfaith movement representing Sufism. The event was capped by two stunning performances by the Taiko drummers. 

In Melbourne, Australia in 2009, the TOU again collaborated as part of the CIE on a one-day experiential process including a group mosaic art project and the sharing of Indigenous perspectives by Chief Oren Lyons and Chief Jake Swamp. The program ended with a workshop from a group of Indigenous Maori elders, who taught the use of animal postures in dance as a form of nonverbal communication. The day ended with an open invitation to all to view the finished mosaic project and experience a group dance circle.

Starhawk, Grove Harris, and Vandana Shiva, Salt Lake City, 2015

 

In Salt Lake City, Utah in 2015, the Temple of Understanding brought environmentalist and food sovereignty advocate Dr. Vandana Shiva to the Parliament, where many religious leaders were exposed to her work for the first time. The TOU also connected its work at the United Nations with its long-standing goals of interfaith education by presenting a panel on “Faith at the United Nations” that focused on the Sustainable Development Goals. Vandana Shiva joined our own UN representative Grove Harris and ecofeminist theologian Starhawk for a panel on community resilience around food and water justice.

In Toronto, Ontario in 2018, the TOU contributed panels on topics including ecojustice, climate change, and women’s leadership in interfaith, and we hosted Dr. Vandana Shiva at three of those panels. We were also pleased that our film Roots of Change: Food Sovereignty, Women, and Eco-Justice was accepted for presentation in the Parliament’s film category. 

TOU at the 2018 Parliament in Toronto, Ontario

We started our interfaith work in Toronto a day before the Parliament by attending the Unity Earth Toronto Convergence, where our colleague A.K. Merchant from the Temple of Understanding–India spoke. This convening laid groundwork for mutual understanding and future events around the globe.

AK Merchant, Temple of
Understanding–India, 2018

 

Our first Parliament panel “Religion and the Work of the United Nations” included brilliant colleagues from our UN work, including Azza Karam, Denise Scotto, Levi Bautista, Lopa Banerjee and Bruce Knotts (not pictured).

“Religion and the Work of the United Nations” speakers, 2018

 

We were proud to support our youth representative 2018 TOU summer intern Larkin Cleland as he spoke on “Forging Alternatives to the Culture of Consumerism and Violence.” This session was sponsored by the India chapter of the Temple of Understanding and the text of Larkin’s presentation can be found here.

Larkin Cleland, 2018 TOU Summer Intern

 

As part of the innovative Women’s Mentorship program, Lopa Banerjee spoke to a full room of younger attendees, which provided a more intimate setting for interaction. 

Banerjee said that human rights underpin harmony and prosperity, and now in a new world order, national interests are seen as if they are in opposition to global interests. Movements of faith can extend to political acts. The UN SDGs are defending human rights and morality, with social justice at the center. We can reclaim faith’s moral core and the UN’s moral core.

Lopa Banerjee speaking as part of the Parliament’s Women’s Mentorship program, 2018

 

We decorated the panel on cracking the “stained glass ceiling” that women face in interfaith leadership with color and focused on gratitude for those who have taught us and gone before in the work. The panel addressed obstacles, but focused more on kinship among women, including sharing diverse perspectives.

Are Our Stained Glass Ceilings Cracking Yet?:
Women and Leadership in the World of Interfaith, 2018

 

On our panel on women of faith speaking out, Dr. Shiva spoke of the immense concentration of wealth from large corporate mergers, so that approximately five men own most of the world’s agro-chemical industry. We must find courageous compassion and pursue caring for the earth as the highest religion; protection with love is a duty. 

Women of Faith Speak Out: Towards Resetting the Global Moral Compass, 2018 
Alison Van Dyk, Chung Ohun Lee, Vandana Shiva, Azza Karam, Lopa Banerjee

 

Chris Peters spoke as part of Dr. Shiva’s panel on Earth Democracy. As part of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, he presented a powerful “Platform for Action: To Do More Than Survive, Thrive.

Click for PDF in English and Spanish >>

 

Speaker Hugh Locke joined us for Dr. Shiva’s panel on seed freedom. He is co-founder of the Smallholder Farmers Alliance, doing innovative social justice work around “tree currency“. 

Hugh Locke at “Seeds and Seedlings: Agents of Change”

 

Speaker Grove Harris opened and closed the session on “Interfaith Engagement: Past, Present and Future.”

Tarunjit Singh Butalia, Donna Bollinger, Sari Heidenreich

 

And of course, there was time for “selfies”! Here Alison and Grove pose with plenary speaker P.L. de Silva.

Grove Harris, PL de Silva, Alison van Dyk

TOU at the 2018 Parliament: Full Schedule of Events

Please join the Temple of Understanding at the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions for programs featuring our staff and UN colleagues, as well as environmental activist and food sovereignty advocate Dr. Vandana Shiva.

 

Religion and the Work of the United Nations
Friday, Nov. 2, 2:15-3:45pm, Room 714A

The United Nations is made up of member states, agencies, civil society, and business partnerships. Religion is considered part of civil society. In this session, senior UN staff and longtime Non-Governmental Organization (NGOs) representatives will discuss various aspects of how the world’s religions relate to the UN system. The topics will include religion and development, the sustainable development goals (SDGS), gender equality and women’s empowerment (SDG 5), peace, climate change, the environment, migration, and more. To conclude, the participants will be left with ways to be involved and the tools of the UN to serve their local community.

Speakers

  • Azza Karam, Senior Advisor on Culture, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
  • Lopa Banerjee, Director, Civil Society Division, UN Women
  • Liberato C. Bautista, UN Representative, General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church
  • Bruce Knotts, Director, Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO)
  • Denise Scotto, Attorney at Law & International Policy Advisor, FIDA/FIFCJ UN Representative
  • Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding (moderator)

Forging Alternatives to the Culture of Consumerism and Violence
(Temple of Understanding–India)
Friday, Nov. 2, 3:15-4:00pm, Room 605

Awareness of the richness and diversity of world cultures, faith communities, and religions is vital in the age of globalization. This project would help to forge strategies and lines of action to create better relationships between peoples; encourage understanding of how people appreciate the multiple identities akin to a garden with variety of flora and fauna, fragrances and hues. At the root is holistic, and all-encompassing detailed view of reality at every level of existence, from Individual to Family, Society, Nations and the Globe. Humans need to understand the intrinsic principle of harmony and appreciate the virtue of healthy co-existence in creation.

Speakers

  • A.K. Merchant, Executive Secretary, Temple of Understanding India Foundation; Trustee, Bahá’í Community of India and Lotus Temple in New Delhi
  • Vivasvat Chauhan, Dara Shikoh Centre for the Arts
  • Larkin Cleland, 2018 Summer Intern, Temple of Understanding
  • Alison Van Dyk, Executive Director, Temple of Understanding (moderator)

Are Our Stained Glass Ceilings Cracking Yet?:
Women and Leadership in the World of Interfaith
Saturday, Nov. 3, 12:15-1:45pm, Room 718A

Women play vital roles in development and peacebuilding. As governmental, non-governmental and faith-based organizations commit to Sustainable Development Goals, the importance of engaging women is obvious. Yet despite intellectual and theoretical agreement, glass ceilings are not breaking quickly and completely enough – in particular in religious leadership. Faith activists, leaders and faith inspired organizations have irreplaceable roles to play in achieving the SDGs’ vision. And yet, when world religious bodies and multilateral organizations invite religious leadership, they include too few women. This panel convenes women leaders to consider honestly how, together, we can break that stained-glass ceiling.

Speakers

  • Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, President, Divine Shakti Foundation; Secretary-General, Global Interfaith WASH Alliance
  • Audrey E. Kitagawa, President, Light of Awareness International Spiritual Family; Founder, International Academy for Transcultural Cooperation
  • Sarah Snyder, Theologian, Cambridge Interfaith Programme; Director, Rose Castle International Centre for Reconciliation
  • Joyce S. Dubensky, CEO, Tanenbaum
  • Azza Karam, Senior Advisor on Culture, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
  • Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding

Women of Faith Speak Out:
Towards Resetting the Global Moral Compass
Saturday, Nov. 3, 2:15-3:45pm, Room 718A

Four visionaries share their understanding of a Moral Compass as a metaphor for structural change. Their passionate action to reset the compass means to center on compassion and interconnectedness. Each presenter will speak to diverse strategies for structural change: recognition of all religious actors, not just official leaders (Dr. Azza Karam), protecting the diversity of living resources (Dr. Vandana Shiva), peace through diplomacy and justice (Venerable Dr. Chung Ohun Lee), and advocacy for women’s human rights through the United Nations (Lopa Banerjee). Their work lays out a blueprint for a world beyond greed.

Speakers

  • Azza Karam, Senior Advisor on Culture, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
  • Vandana Shiva, Founder, Navdanya
  • Chung Ohun Lee, Founder, World Friends for a New Civilization (WFNC); Executive Director, UN and Interfaith Affairs of Won Buddhism International
  • Lopa Banerjee, Director, Civil Society Division, UN Women
  • Alison Van Dyk, Executive Director, Temple of Understanding (moderator)

Vandana Shiva and Friends on Earth Democracy
Sunday, Nov. 4, 12:15-1:45pm, Room 701A

Earth Democracy is a call for people’s sovereignty over seeds, food, land, and water. Only by recognizing humanity’s relationship to, and its intimate place in, nature can there be a re-alignment of commerce to support life – human life and the life of the planetary ecosystem. Social justice and Earth justice are indivisible; there must be a shift away from cultures of domination and violence to cultures of justice, non-violence, and creative responses to the challenges faced by the global community. A new paradigm drawing on ancient traditional knowledge is required to get at the root causes of environmental degradation and address racism, sexism, colonialism, and genocide. The Earth Democracy movement provides an alternative worldview in which humans are embedded in the Earth Family, are connected to each other through love and compassion, rather than through hatred and violence, and ecological responsibility and economic justice replace greed, consumerism, and competition as objectives of human life.

Speakers

  • Vandana Shiva, Founder, Navdanya
  • Chris Peters, Grassroots Community Organizer; President and CEO, Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples
  • Heather Eaton, Professor, Conflict Studies, Saint Paul University
  • Teresia M. Hinga, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Santa Clara University; Founding Member, Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians
  • Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding (moderator)

Seeds and Seedlings: Agents of Change
Monday, Nov. 5, 2:15-3:45pm, Room 701A

This session features a short, powerful 10 minute film, Roots of Change: Food Sovereignty, Women and Eco-Justice, that includes women’s voices from India, El Salvador, USA, the United Nations Environmental Program, and the UN Commission on Trade and Development. We will then hear from women visionaries and accomplished change agents including Dr. Vandana Shiva of Seed Freedom in India. These leaders foster women’s empowerment as an integral pathway towards rejuvenating our soil, our food, our air, our psyche and our communities. Each will reflect on how their faith sustains their social justice work.

Speakers

  • Vandana Shiva, Founder, Navdanya
  • Alison Van Dyk, Executive Director, Temple of Understanding
  • Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding (moderator)

Interfaith Engagement: Past, Present, and Future
Tuesday, Nov. 6, 12:15-1:45pm, Room 701A

This interactive panel will explore the interfaith and interreligious movement. The first part will be a discussion held from the lens of what has been accomplished and why it still remains on the fringes of most major religious traditions. What motivates people of faith to engage with religious others? Why has such engagement not become mainstream? The second part of the discussion will focus on how do we deepen the interfaith commitment of those already engaged in the interfaith circle and how do we expand the circle? And what does the future hold for the movement in terms of opportunities and tensions?

Speakers

  • Karen Hamilton, Faculty, Trinity College, The University of Toronto; Former General Secretary, The Canadian Council of Churches
  • Jaideep Singh, Co-Founder, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF)
  • Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding
  • Donna Bollinger, Executive Director, Religions for Peace–USA
  • Sari Heidenreich, Regional Coordinator, URI–North America
  • Tarunjit Singh Butalia, Founding Trustee, Sikh Council for Interfaith Relations; Special Advisor, Religions for Peace–USA

Roots of Change: Food Sovereignty, Women and Eco-Justice
Tuesday, Nov. 6, 6:00-7:00pm, Room 103A

The ten-minute film Roots of Change: Women, Food Sovereignty and Eco-Justice features women’s spirited calls to change our global direction. In this visually striking short film, women warn of the current realities and looming threats of food crisis, climate change, and corruption. Women’s leadership and ownership in local systems of food production are desperately needed-as is the collaboration of their husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons. This leadership and ownership is what is meant by food sovereignty. This film features excerpts of speakers at the Temple of Understanding’s events at the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women.

Speakers

  • Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding

 

Toward a Greener Attica: Preserving the Planet and Protecting its People

Report by Grove Harris, Representative to the United Nations for the Temple of Understanding
The Saronic Islands, June 5-8, 2018

The Temple of Understanding’s Executive Director Alison Van Dyk and Representative to the United Nations Grove Harris were honored to be invited to participate in the Green Attica Symposium. The symposium brought together 200 diverse thought leaders, including theologians, scientists, political and business leaders, activists, and journalists from around the globe.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, a 2010 Hollister Award recipient, is famous for seeing environmentalism as a spiritual responsibility and has hosted such symposia since 1996. Settings have included the Adriatic Sea, the Amazon River, the Arctic Ocean, and the Mississippi River. His environmental writings set the tone for the event:

His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew, known affectionately as the Green Patriarch

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
Photo © Sean Hawkey 2018

Climate Change and Social Justice

If human beings were to treat one another’s personal property the way they treat the natural environment, we would view that behavior as anti-social and illegal.  We would expect legal sanctions and even compensation.  When will we learn that to commit a crime against the natural world is also a sin?

Sacrament and Sin

We have traditionally regarded sin as being merely what people do to other people. Yet, for human beings to destroy the biological diversity in God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by contributing to climate change, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying it’s wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, land and air – all of these are sins.

Healing and Repentance

Ecology cannot inspire respect for nature if it does not express a different worldview from the one that prevails in our culture today, from the one that led us to this ecological impasse in the first place.  What is required is an act of repentance, a change in our established ways, a renewed image of ourselves, one another and the world around us within the perspective of the divine design of creation.  To achieve this transformation, what is required is nothing less than a radical reversal of our perspectives and practices.

Water

Any abuse of our earth’s resources – and, above all, of water as the source and symbol of life and renewal – contradicts our sacred and social obligation to other people, and especially those who live in poverty and on the margins of society. Water is a fundamental human right… [Read Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s full Statement on Water]

The Symposium was a stunning opportunity to visit Greece and connect with old and new friends for more inspired and connected work towards climate justice. We spent three days visiting the islands of Spetses and Hydra, with intense program sessions considering religion and science, economics and the market, refugees, and the future, all including faith perspectives.

Dr. Vandana Shiva addresses the symposium, calling for protection of the world’s sacred waters, and also of the farmers who enable us to have sacred bread.
Photo © Sean Hawkey 2018

 

You can read a detailed description written by Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas and the Washington Post article “Climate change is a top spiritual priority for these religious leaders,” both on the website of our colleagues at the Forum on Religion and Ecology.

Prior to the Symposium, we visited the world heritage site of Delphi, to meditate in the place considered the navel of the universe in ancient Greece.

The circular temple at Athena Pronaia Sanctuary at Delphi, the navel of the universe in the ancient Greek world, likely honored an even more ancient earth goddess. Photo by Grove Harris.

 

At the Symposium, the Temple of Understanding:

  • responded to Dr Jeffrey Sach’s economic presentation by reminding him that people of faith make an even more prophetic call for radical action, based on love and faith demanding more responsive action to redress environmental wrongs
  • convened a small round table with water justice expert Maude Barlow and other participants towards more effective actions after the Symposium
  • called for ethical guidelines to constrain economic growth, as part of the Symposium’s inclusion of corporate responsibility
  • promoted the Water Justice Guide

His All-Holiness with TOU Executive Director Alison Van Dyk
Photo © Sean Hawkey 2018

 

After the symposium we visited the island of Aegina and learned of the water challenges there, where most of the water is shipped to the island by tanker, and people buy bottled water to drink. We supported local activism with connection to the water justice work and Sustainable Development Goal 6 at the United Nations, as well as with ideas about local plastic recycling, including the Plastic Whale, a project that takes people out to fish plastics from Amsterdam’s canals and then processes the plastic into boats. Back at the UN in New York City, we raised concern about the water supply and plastic bottles during the Voluntary National Review provided by Greece during the High Level Political Forum.

The Temple of Aphaia on Aegina. The temple is a house for this lesser known goddess, with a large outside altar for worship. On a clear day one can view the Acropolis in Athens from here, potentially connecting the temples in a triangle with the Poseidon Temple. Photo by Grove Harris.

 

TOU at the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions

The Temple of Understanding is thrilled to be presenting four programs, collaborating on another, and having our representative to the UN speak at still two more programs at the upcoming Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto, November 1-7, 2018.

Our first program on Friday features our colleagues at the United Nations, for a more nuanced conversation following our introductory program last Parliament.

This will be the second Parliament where we have worked to bring Dr. Vandana Shiva, with her prophetic wisdom combining science and activism towards earth democracy. Theologian Carol Christ writes that Vandana Shiva “is telling women to confront ‘deceitful, dishonest, brutal power.’ She is telling women to teach those who rule the world how to live with nature, how to share, how to care.” (Read more: A Prophet in Our Midst: Vandana Shiva by Carol P. Christ) Women, as the majority of farmers in the world, need access to land ownership to protect localized agriculture from the devastating impacts of industrial agriculture.

Programs featuring Vandana Shiva and other stellar speakers include:

The TOU will also present:

Our UN Representative Grove Harris will speak during the following additional sessions:

Standing against the Muslim Ban

The Temple of Understanding joins colleagues in horror over the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the travel ban targeting Muslims. This is so outrageous that we all need to voice our objection to the court’s blatant Islamophobia. We agree with dissenting Justice Sonia Sotomayor that this is “motivated by hostility and animus toward the Muslim faith.”

The Know Your Neighbor: Multifaith Encounters campaign of the Islamic Networks Group writes:

This decision sets a dangerous precedent by upholding a government policy directed against adherents of a specific religion — a policy that targets Muslim-majority countries for religious discrimination. [link]

They call on the interfaith community to increase interfaith engagement, dialogue with our neighbors, engagement with Muslims and their faith, and coming together to uphold our values, including respect for “the principle of justice, religious liberty, and equality in word and deed.”

The Tanenbaum Center’s blog post “The Muslim Ban – Who’s Next?” links to their resources for countering religious extremism.

Valarie Kaur, Esq., founder of the Revolutionary Love Project, writes:

History will remember this decision as among the most shameful rulings in the history of the Supreme Court: It upholds a ban that indefinitely separates U.S. citizens from their Muslim families. It sends a message to the world that America will discriminate against entire groups of people based on their faith. It emboldens the Trump administration to continue policies that enact cruelty, racism and xenophobia toward immigrants and refugees at the border and our airports. [link]

She reminds us to reach out, march, vote; Breathe and Push.

URI Community Responds to Supreme Court Travel Ban and offers ways to resist:

The best way to resist the harmful, isolating effects of fear and division is by reaching out and making a human connection. We suggest taking actions, such as:

  • Reach out to comfort a friend or colleague from a community targeted by this ban.
  • Raise your voice on social media.
  • Join with others in your community to demand policy change and show public support for Muslim families.

Photo: Steve Helber/The Associated Press

Interfaith Service of Gratitude and Remembrance #CSW62

Temple of Understanding, Parliament of the World’s Religions,
NGO Committee on the Status of Women, World Peace Prayer Society,
International Federation of Women in Legal Careers,
United Religions Initiative, and United Methodist Women invite you to attend

The Fourth Annual Interfaith Service of Gratitude and Remembrance

Friday, March 16, 2018, 6:00 PM
Church Center for the United Nations, Chapel
777 United Nations Plaza, New York

World Interfaith Harmony Event in NYC, 2/7/18

World Interfaith Harmony Week is an official observance of the United Nations. It is based on the pioneering work of The Common Word initiative, which in 2007 called for Muslim and Christian leaders to engage in a dialogue based on two common religious Commandments: Love of God and Love of the Neighbor.
 
Join TOU and other religious NGOs at the Church Center for the United Nations for a World Interfaith Harmony Event:
 

Inspiring Faith in Humanity

February 7, 2018, 1:00-3:30pm
Tillman Chapel, Church Center for the UN
777 United Nations Plaza, NYC
 
Faith in humanity brings us closer together, restores dignity to the oppressed, and gives us a collective voice to speak out against injustices. During this event, religious leaders, UN representatives, and diplomats will share their stories and knowledge. Partnership between religious communities and the United Nations will bring the world toward a more compassionate and sustainable future.
  
Please join us for thoughtful presentations and festive music and food, and to celebrate our faith in humanity.
 
 
For more information, contact religiousngo at gmail.com

 

 

UPDATE: Our colleague at United Religions Initiative posted the following commentary and pictures after the event. Click to view the full photo album!

Religious NGOs on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 12/11/2017

The Committee of Religious NGOs at the United Nations

presents a panel on

THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS

Monday, December 11, 2017, 11:00-12:30pm

Hardin Room, 11th Floor
Church Center for the United Nations
1st Ave and 44th St, NYC

 

Invocation and Introduction
Swami Parameshananda

Moderator
Carl Murrell, National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’is of the United States

Speakers
Dr. Bobbi Nassar, NGO Committee on Human Rights, International Federation for Settlements and Neighborhood Centers

Grove Harris, MDiv, The Temple of Understanding

Rev. Dr. Levi Bautista, The United Methodist Church

Closing Remarks
Swami Parameshananda

Co-Sponsors
NGO Committee of Human Rights
The Temple of Understanding
The United Methodist Church

Light Lunch will be served. Please RSVP: https://goo.gl/forms/hqY8WxMJe920SSLJ2

For questions about this event, contact religiousngo at gmail.com