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Behind the scenes at the UN a variety of actors work to influence the decisions made by the world body. Organizations like the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, the Women's International Democratic Federation, and even the National Rifle Association use their status at the UN as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to make sure their point of view is heard. Among the oldest of these actors are faith communities throughout the world.

While he was the US Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, a Presbyterian elder and a principle advisor to the US delegation at the signing of the UN Charter in 1945, said: "It was the religious people who took the lead in seeking that the organization should be dedicated not merely to a peaceful but to a just order. It was they who sought that reliance should be placed upon the moral forces which could be reflected in the General Assembly, the Social and Economic Council, and the Trusteeship Council rather than upon the power of a few militarily strong nations operating in the Security Council without commitment to any standards of law and justice."

In 1942 the forerunner to the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) framed its mission for a just and peaceful world in a document called the Six Pillars of Peace. For decades, the six pillars have played a significant role in shaping thought and action by the member churches in international affairs. This year the Stanley Foundation is working with the NCC in a series of national consultations to update the Six Pillars of Peace and the NCC's policy toward the United Nations.

Long history.
Long history. Sister of Charity distributes food from the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Project in Belgium, 1946.
A Potential Instrument of Peace
Here in the US, a country dominated by a strong Christian community, churches have often played an important role in fostering better relations with the UN. The NCC wrote in its 1977 policy statement: "The UN, a human institution with obvious imperfections, is nevertheless a potential instrument for the expression of compassion and justice throughout the world. It could become the best instrument devised by women and men for the political, social and economic welfare of the entire human family, and it deserves our continued support." The former director of the NCC's Office of International Justice and Human Rights, elmira Nazombe, said in a recent interview that, "the churches have carried the banner of informing people at the local level about the UN, gaining support for the UN, and telling the true story about [agencies like] UNICEF and what [they are] doing." With the US still some $1.6 billion in debt to the UN, continued Nazombe, "the NCC has made the issue of funding for the UN one of its key legislative priorities for the past three years."

One of the pioneer NGOs at the UN is Church Women United which represents Christian women from over thirty denominations. Throughout its fifty-seven-year history, Church Women United has focused on three primary issues: The promotion of peace and opposition to all armed conflict and the militarism of our society; equal civil and political rights for all and a firm stance against racism; and unflagging support for the UN. In its fiftieth anniversary statement made in 1955, Church Women United wrote: "Always feeling that prayer alone is not sufficient to right wrongs, and that the mere statement of Christian positions, no matter how highly motivated and principled, will not suffice without the support of congruent actions, the organization urges its members to more active responsibility in civic and political life...".

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Families and the Environment
In its work, Church Women United emphasizes the concerns of women and children around the world. Structural adjustment, for example, has hit poor women and children particularly hard, according to elmira Nazombe, who conducted a workshop about structural adjustment at a joint meeting of Church Women United and the Stanley Foundation in February 1998. "Policies that cut social services like health care immediately have an effect on women. On another level, there's what happens to currencies being devalued and women having to make choices between whether their children go to school or whether they eat. And, if there's less [money for] food, women and girls eat the others eat enough."

Faith communities were heavily involved in all of the major UN conferences during this decade beginning with the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio. Subsequent conferences focused on children, population, human rights, women, and housing. Each conference produced a platform for action to guide the UN and individual governments. During this year's review of Agenda 21—the document from the Rio conference—the delegation from the NCC pushed for use of the term "sustainable community" says Alicia Nebot of the NCC's UN Task Force. Nebot says the faith community prefers the term sustainable community, "because sustainable development concentrates attention on promoting economic growth—thinking that economic growth in the end will lead to the improvement of people's well being. We believe that sustainable community requires a just and moral economy where people are empowered to participate in the decisions that will affect their lives."

This year's review of Agenda 21 identified two environmental problems that have acquired new urgency: global climate change and water. Only 2.5 percent of all the water in the world is fresh water, and it is very poorly distributed. One billion people have no access to drinkable water and nearly four billion have no sanitation or sewage services. Because the amount of fresh water on the earth is finite, some world leaders fear the twenty-first century could be the century of water wars. Compounding the scarcity of water, according to Alicia Nebot, are governments and industry that want to privatize water even more and sell it. Nebot says the churches see water "as part of God's creation; it belongs to everyone." During the review of Agenda 21, the NCC stated: "We believe that it is the duty of all governments to provide water for their people, and it must be available freely to maintain the health and well being of all people. If it is going to be an economic valuation, it has to come after basic human needs have been covered."

Churches and other faith communities have been at the UN since its founding. "It's important that the UN community, which is composed of government representatives, listen to the voice of the civil societies," Alicia Nebot believes. "As part of the civil societies, the religious communities bring their ethical and faith values to their message."

—Mary Gray Davidson
JUL 1998
  1. The peace must provide the political framework for a continuing collaboration of the United Nations and, in due course, of neutral and enemy nations.

  2. The peace must make provision for bringing within the scope of international agreement those economic and financial acts of national governments which have widespread international repercussions.

  3. The peace must make provision for an organization to adapt the treaty structure of the world to changing underlying conditions.

  4. The peace must proclaim the goal of autonomy for subject peoples, and it must establish international organization to assure and to supervise the realization of that end.

  5. The peace must establish procedures for controlling military establishments everywhere.

  6. The peace must establish in principle, and seek to achieve in practice, the right of individuals everywhere to religious and intellectual liberty.
Pillars of Peace
Six Pillars In 1942 the Federal Council of Churches (now known as the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA or NCC) addressed the wars raging in Europe and Asia by drafting six requirements for a just and durable peace. Those requirements have come to be known as the Six Pillars of Peace. Over the next two years, the NCC, in collaboration with its UN Task Force of the NCC Office for International Justice and Human Rights and the Stanley Foundation, is conducting a review of the six pillars to see how they can be updated to address the challenges of the twenty-first century.

The former director of the NCC's Office of International Justice and Human Rights, elmira Nazombe, says, "the original six pillars are still incredibly pertinent" because they deal with ongoing concerns over military spending, a just international economic order, protecting the most vulnerable people, conflict resolution, the need for a United Nations, and universal human rights. Joan Winship, vice president of the Stanley Foundation, explains that, "Much of the work of the Stanley Foundation focuses on many of these same issues. Indeed, our mission is 'to promote a secure peace with freedom and justice.' We are pleased to be working in partnership with the NCC on this review."

Once the national church leaders and local congregations have given their input, the new Six Pillars of Peace for the twenty-first century will be presented in 1999 to the General Assembly of the NCC to be included in a new policy statement on the United Nations.

—Mary Gray Davidson
JUL 1998


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