Interfaith Work on Climate Crisis at Muslim-Initiated Vienna Meeting, 2009

Interfaith Work on Climate Crisis at Muslim-Initiated Vienna Meeting, 2009

By Editor | 11/2/2009

Rabbis Phyllis Berman & Arthur Waskow
July, 2009
Dear friends,

The two of us thought you would be interested
in efforts to address the climate crisis that arose during meetings in Vienna last week,
of the Follow-up Committee for the Madrid World Interfaith Dialogue
held a year ago. Both meetings were sponsored by the Muslim World League
and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, especially in his
religious capacity as Protector of the Two Sacred Places.

The follow-up committee —- made up of 42 people invited from among the 300
or so who were at Madrid —- was asked to focus on joint interfaith action
going forward. Of six workshops, two focused on earth-centered issues.

Two major steps forward were that almost all the sessions were face-to-face
discussions with each other, rather than talk-at-them formal paper
presentations, making for some real give-and-take; and that the committee’s
steering committee announced a stage-by-stage process to create a fully
interfaith board of a permanent world interfaith dialogue center, with HQ in

Each session focused on an important concrete issue being faced by the
world’s religious traditions, rather than the abstract question of
“dialogue.” These were Freedom of Religion; Human Dignity in a Pluralistic
World; Dialogue as an Instrument for Peace and Reconciliation; Promoting
Women, Youth and Family through Dialogue; Common Responsibilities for
Preserving our Environment and Heritage; Joint Efforts towards Global
Sustainability and our Common Future.

Arthur was asked to act as rapporteur for the “Environment” workshop and as
moderator for the “Sustainability” workshop. Phyllis acted as rapporteur
for two other workshops.

An important disappointment was that only three women were actually invited
to be participants in the conference.

At four of the six workshops, specific mention was made and most of the
participants agreed on the importance of involving far more women — ideally
an equal number —- in the process of interfaith dialogue and action on all
these issues.

The two earth-centered sessions actually worked out a series of affirmations
and suggested actions to propose to the body at large. (The report from
those two workshops, prepared by Arthur, is appended below.)

The last plenary session, which was originally scheduled to include a report from the
steering committee of the Conference and reports from the six workshops to
the conference as a whole, ended abruptly after the steering committee report.

This left in limbo both the call for far more involvement of women that had
come from four of the six workshops, and the proposals for activist steps on
the climate crisis that had come from the relevant two workshops.

The steering committee report was that it had agreed on a stage-by-stage
process intended to create an independent body on world interfaith dialogue
and action headquartered in Vienna with a governing body that would involve
leaders from the major faiths.

That represented a step beyond sponsorship and “midwifery” by Muslims only,
yet with continuing strong involvement of Muslim leadership. This step
offers the possibility of the emergence on the world scene of an important
new arena for interfaith dialogue and action.

Shalom, salaam, peace —- Arthur & Phyllis

I. Report from the workshop on “Environment,” amended and endorsed by the
Workshop on “Sustainability.” Submitted by Arthur Waskow, acting as
rapporteur of the “Environment” session and moderator of the
“Sustainability” session.

We propose that the World Conference on Dialogue and its continuing
preparatory committee adopt the following statement:

1. We affirm that the common future of all humanity requires that all
religious and spiritual communities take responsibility to protect and heal
the sacred earth by seeking to abolish nuclear weaponry, preventing the
climate crisis from becoming a climate disaster, and shaping a world of
justice, equality, and compassion so as to radically reduce the danger of
war and terrorism.

2. We affirm that all religious and spiritual communities encourage a
rhythm of Doing and Being, work and rest, action and celebration, and all
teach that production and consumption do not make up the whole meaning of
life. We affirm that increases in production should be used to alleviate
poverty and hunger and to provide time and support for education,
celebration, and spiritual life, rather than focus on sheer material

3. We encourage people as households, congregations, and nations to reduce
unnecessary consumption in general and, in particular, unnecessary
consumption of meat and fossil fuels because this over-use is endangering
the global climate and is increasing poverty and hunger.

4. In accord with the religious teachings that someone who is planting a
tree and hears the advent of Judgment Day or the Messiah should finish
planting the tree, we encourage the reforestation of our planet to reduce
the climate crisis.

5. We affirm that in order to help the poorer nations reduce poverty and
hunger without pursuing paths that worsen the global climate crisis (such as
deforestation and fossil-fuel dependency), the richer nations have a
religious obligation to financially assist the poorer to develop sustainable
energy sources so as to achieve sustainable prosperity.

6. We affirm that the full involvement of women is a necessary part of
interfaith efforts to heal the earth and make a world of justice,
compassion, and equality.

7. We encourage all religious and spiritual communities to set aside a
week this fall, in advance of the December 2009 Copenhagen conference on the
climate crisis, in which our communities will pray, learn, and act to heal
our endangered planetary climate.

8. We propose that this World Interfaith Dialogue and its continuing
preparatory committee, looking toward a permanent institution, proclaim
these commitments publicly; create an Interfaith/Earth website to educate
our communities in the religious obligation to do this work; and set up an
interfaith presence at the Copenhagen Conference to monitor and strengthen
the work of national governments there to address the climate crisis.

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