Founded in 1970, Religions For Peace (RFP) describes itself as “the largest international coalition of representatives from the world’s great religions dedicated to promoting peace.” At its inaugural 1970 event in Kyoto, Japan, the organization called for nations worldwide to take “immediate steps toward general disarmament” encompassing conventional, nuclear, chemical, and bacteriological weapons. Citing also “the widening gap between the rich and the poor” as a chief cause of international conflict, RFP vowed “to stand on the side of the poor and the oppressed, [and] against the rich and the oppressors.”
During the Cold War era, Religions For Peace drew a moral equivalence between the Soviet Union and the United States. In 1984, for instance, RFP derided the “selective and tactical use of human rights issues by nations, especially the US and the USSR, which raise their voices in one instance and ignore violations in another, as it suits their political ends.”
Ten years later, RFP lamented that “the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern European Marxism has dashed the hopes which millions of idealistic people held that Marxist economic theories would build a just society where unemployment and poverty would be eliminated.” But that collapse, as RFP saw it, by no means proved that “the individualistic ethic of capitalism” was a superior system, for it too had “failed to provide justice and the elimination of poverty, even in the wealthiest and most developed nations.” RFP now urged religious communities to “seek a third way, which respects the communal and interdependent dimensions of humanity.”
RFP’s centerpiece campaign today is its Transforming Violent Conflict initiative, which, without naming Islam specifically, takes a stand against the “misuse of religion as warrant for violence against innocent people.” But the project rejects just as emphatically America’s “political ‘war on terror’ paradigm.” By RFP’s calculus, a root cause of Islamic terrorism is the psychological insecurity its practitioners feel in the vast shadow of America’s military arsenal¯particularly its “immoral and criminal” possession of nuclear weapons.
To address this problem, RFP exhorts the United States to: (a) engage in “outreach to those who are deemed as extremists [and offer] peace and moderation,” and (b) promote a sense of “shared security” through disarmament, which RFP describes as an effective way to “build trust.” Also advocating steep cuts in U.S. military spending, RFP calls it “a cruel irony” that, “while millions sleep with hungry stomachs, nations and their governments devote a great part of their resources to armaments, ignoring the demands of social justice.”
Through its Human Development initiative, RFP aims to be “a global advocate on rights of children”; combat “gender-based violence”; “focus on women’s empowerment”; “advocate and facilitate multi-religious engagements in HIV and AIDS”; and promote “better government policies regarding the poor.” Toward the latter end, RFP endorses the UN Millennium Project, a massive redistributive scheme calling for the governments of wealthy countries to commit a portion of their Gross National Products to “the economic development and welfare of developing countries.” Citing “the right of all men and women to have a share in the earth’s bounty,” RFP urges “religious people throughout the world to work for a just and equitable economic order” that will “provide for and assure the well being of all.” Key to achieving such a goal, says RFP, are redistributive, government-administered “anti-poverty programs” rather than free-market principles.
RFP administers the following major programs as well:
RFP’s Secretary General (since 1994) is William Vendley, a theologian who has served as a professor and dean in graduate schools of theology. He has been asked by the Muslim World League to serve on its Follow-up Committee, and he serves as an advisor to the White House through President Barack Obama’s Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation Task Force.
For a complete list of RFP funders, click here.
For additional information on RFP, click here.