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Sinkford speaks at religious summit before G8 meeting

Interfaith gathering urges action on climate change, nuclear disarmament, and terrorism.
By Donald E. Skinner

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UUA President William G. Sinkford was among 400 participants in the World Religious Summit for Peace, July 2–3, in Sapporo, Japan.

The group drafted a statement that was delivered to the meeting of the Group of Eight industrial nations, which met four days later in Japan, calling on those nations to “take bold action” to address growing threats to humanity from climate change, extreme poverty, hunger, nuclear arms, terrorism, and violent conflict. The eight nations are Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United States.

The religious summit is the third such gathering of religious leaders to take place immediately before a G8 summit, Sinkford said, and the first one that Unitarian Universalists have been invited to.

The Religious Summit brought together Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim leaders to focus on “critical challenges that confront the human family,” according to the group’s statement, as well as on ways that religious communities can work together in appropriate partnerships with the G8 and other governments.

The G8 statement said, in part, “It is a grave contradiction to advocate for a reduction of global warming gas emissions while simultaneously maintaining or even expanding military expenditure.” The appeal emphasized the issues of global nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation of nuclear weapons. The religious leaders also condemned terrorism. They reminded the G8 leaders about their responsibilities and urged them to cooperate with religious communities in maintaining peace.

Sinkford was invited to address the religious summit on the destruction of the environment and climate change from the religious perspective of interdependence and inter-relatedness. In his remarks, Sinkford reminded the interfaith community that, “as long as we choose to take the comfortable moral high ground and issue pronouncements from the promontory, we will be welcome to stay there, on the sidelines.” He urged participants to take the opportunity to claim their power, “rather than merely request that world leaders reshape the way they use their own.”

Sinkford said that the United States has repeatedly failed to act interdependently and has refused to be a participant in global agreements on climate change. He also highlighted the leadership that the interfaith community—including Unitarian Universalists—is offering through prayer, legislative advocacy, and by “greening” their own buildings.

“The most important thing that came out of the summit was the fact that it took place,” Sinkford said this week. “It was an extraordinary gathering of religious leaders who came together to claim a religious voice in the political realm.” That voice, he noted, was becoming “far more coherent” on climate change and other issues than it has been in the past.

Another religious summit is scheduled for next year. Sinkford expressed disappointment that the G8 leaders made a commitment last week to reduce emissions by only 50 percent by 2050. “I have no doubt we will be offering commentary at that next summit on this being too little, too late.”

Sinkford is encouraging UU congregations to take action. “There are issues that our congregations can productively engage with, in cooperation with our interfaith partners. If we wait for national leaders to fix all that needs fixing we will fail. We need not be followers, but the ones who lead them.”

Following the conclusion of the religious summit, Sinkford traveled to Tokyo to meet with leaders of Rissho Kosei-kai (RKK), a seven-million-member lay-Buddhist movement and one of the UUA’s longtime interfaith partners. This was Sinkford’s first opportunity to meet with RKK’s recently elected chair, the Rev. Yasutaka Watanabe, as well as with the director and deputy director of External Affairs, the Revs. Takeshi Kawabata and Keichi Akagawa.

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