The Words of the Kaufmann Family

Report on The Special Consultation of the Interreligious Council Initiative IIFWP Summit of World Leaders

Frank Kaufmann
August 16, 2003

This is my report on my committee in Seoul:

The Special Consultation of the Interreligious Council Initiative was a 3-part project beginning approximately two weeks before the beginning of the August 2003, IIFWP Seoul Summit. Work in the two weeks prior included building and convening the committee, and creating preparatory documents to guide on site deliberations.

All committee members received clear guidelines for the task before leaving for Seoul. All were asked, so far as possible, to create written materials for presentation in Seoul.

Finally, the committee consisted of 16 members (including the rapporteur) plus the chairperson. These people were chosen based on several criteria: 1. An attempt was made to have all religions represented. 2. An attempt was made to have only committee members who were theologically and intellectually skilled, and familiar with difficult and highly focused conversation and processes necessary to produce texts.

By the grace of God, both criteria were well fulfilled. Committee members included Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Hindu, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Confucianist, Sikh (9 religious traditions!). It also had 10 nations represented! These very high numbers of representation, both religiously and internationally, will strengthen the credibility of the document for whatever purposes it will be used in the overall strategy to pursue the establishment of an IC at the UN. Since so many religious traditions were able to reach full consensus (with NO dissent) even on the very thorny and difficult issues, it will be difficult for anyone to argue against the content. The document carries the authority of significant, highly influential, and highly experienced religious leaders. Many of whom have already worked at high levels in multi religious contexts, and contexts relating religion to secular and humanitarian pursuits.

The group tackled what many would have imagined to be an overly ambitious agenda. Further, we included in our deliberations classical Gordian Knots, which many have presumed to be irresoluble, and thus effectively rendering the project moot prior to conception. We addressed all items of a fairly thorough range of considerations necessary to any account or proposals for an IC in the UN: These include:

1. Vision, Purpose, Goals

2. The Relationship of the IC to 5 point mission of the United Nations (namely Conflict and Peace, Human Rights, Sustainable Development (including Environment and Poverty Reduction), Education, and Aid and Disaster Relief

3. Governance issues, including:

a. Membership, Representation, and Process of Selection,

b. Types of Offices and terms of Office, and functions of Office Holders

c. Functions and Powers of the Council

d. Procedures, Decision-making processes

e. Agenda

f. Location, Funding

On many issues members of the committee started very far from each other in perspectives and commitments. Theology and experience have a great influence on how people view things. Debate was unrestrained; not polite at the expense of substance. Committee members were able to overcome serious differences of opinion because everyone in the room was committed to the higher good and the value of the project. They were committed to the project as a value above private and parochial agendas. Each member placed the success of the project above parochial concerns and demands. As a result, without realizing it, and without trying, members of the committee created a miracle. They achieved thoroughgoing consensus on a complex and difficult document in just a few hours!!

At the UN even a single paragraph can take half a year! The WHOLE difference is that the importance of the desired end (an IC at the UN) trumped attachment to parochial agendas.

This task of creating a draft proposal for an IC at the UN accidentally proved precisely the value of such a council. Committed religious leaders from extremely divergent starting points, managed to accomplish a sophisticated and difficult task, requiring heated debate and dialogue, as well as requiring expertise and extensive knowledge on matters of organization, and implementation. They accomplished this, simply by living for the public purpose, above all other concerns.

The group grew extremely close in heart to one another in this very short time together. Despite the hard fought arguments even about matters of ultimate concern, the final reality was simply a family with genuine fondness for one another. The committee felt proud, excited, and good. We have an offering. We are ready to do more. The world sorely needs the collective wisdom of the world's great spiritual traditions.

Special thanks must go to the brilliant work of the Rapporteur, Dr. Thomas Ward of the University of Bridgeport, without whom this task could not have been brought to completion.

Frank Kaufmann,
August 16, 2003

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