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Summit Information 4 | The Goal of Religious and Spiritual Leadership

An estimated 83% of the world's population adheres to some type of formal religious or spiritual belief system. Yet, this vast majority contains equally vast diversity. For example, as a whole, Christianity is the largest religious grouping (34%). In North America alone there are 1,200 Christian denominations. Religion and spirituality is clearly both an important force of humankind and it is also characterized by an extraordinarily rich diversity. The centrality of religious and spiritual leadership on the global commons is increasingly recognized, especially with regard to the prevention and resolution of conflict. As many cross-border and internal military clashes find their roots in ethnic and belief differences, the leadership of the religious and spiritual communities is viewed as essential to preventing armed conflict and to resolving it as it occurs, so as to create peaceful and tolerant communities.

In general terms, Secretary General Annan speaks regularly of "the religious and spiritual dimension of our work at the United Nations.... The United Nations is a tapestry, not only of suits and saris but of clerics' collars, nuns' habits and lamas' robes; of miters, skullcaps, and yarmulkes.... There is a basic affinity between the teachings of the great religions of the world and the values of the Charter of the United Nations."

In May 1998, Secretary General Annan emphasized that the religious leadership's role was not only for general advocacy, but also for the specific responsibilities of conflict resolution. In speaking about the future prospects for peace in Bosnia, he urged leaders "to restore religion to its rightful role as peacemaker and pacifier." "As you -- the religious leaders of Bosnia -- know better than anyone, the problem [of conflict] is never the Bible or the Torah or the Koran. Indeed, the problem is never the faith -- it is the faithful and how we behave towards each other. You must, once again, teach your faithful the ways of peace and the ways of tolerance."

An appreciation of the centrality of religious leadership to global peace, moreover, comes not only from leaders of powerful nations and international organizations. There is a growing recognition of the importance of the religious and spiritual contributions among political leaders within developing nations. In March of 1999, President B.J. Habibie of Indonesia, a nation of 200 million people with a difficult history of internal conflict, remarked, "This republic that we love belongs to people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and religions.... Such diversity can lead to conflict and tensions. Religion teaches us to love and care for others, to practice good deeds, maintain peace, and refrain from violence.... Religious leaders [must] meet frequently to create an atmosphere of intimacy [that] the people will follow."

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