The G20 heads-of-state gathering in Hamburg is now history, but its impact will continue long past the closing gavel. The effort that goes into these G20 gatherings testifies to the lingering determination of the international community—dating back to the immediate aftermath of World War II—that countries will work through regular, institutionalized means to bring stability to the global environment. The G20 has become one of the most effective tools for addressing, in real-time, those policy issues that require broad international action.
There is part of the G20 environment that is not well known, but should be. Since 2014, representatives of religious faiths, scholars of religion, and policy specialists attuned to the role of religion in world affairs have convened annually at the G20 Interfaith Summit. These meetings are not part of the official, inter-governmental work of the G20, but they are held in the same place and at roughly the same time (they have now occurred in Australia’s Gold Coast, Istanbul, Beijing, and Potsdam, Germany). Their purpose (as conceived by founder Dr. Brian Adams, a graduate of Brigham Young University and the Director of the Centre for Interfaith & Cultural Dialogue at Griffith University in Brisbane) has been to highlight for global policy-makers the positive role of religion in public life. This year’s summit seems to have taken the deliberations a step closer to having an actual policy impact.
It should be noted that the interface between the policy world of governments and international institutions and the world religious community is not a simple one. The importance of getting this relationship right stems from the fact that the overwhelming majority of the world’s people claim an active relationship with their religion, and these religions and associated faith-based organizations do an immense amount of the world’s work in areas like economic development, education, and humanitarian aid. There has been widespread, active dialogue about this relationship during the past two decades. Governments around the world (including the U.S.) now actively seek to engage with religious communities on both domestic and international initiatives. The UN and its agencies invited faith-based groups to meetings designed to help maximize cooperation and coordination. Scholars meanwhile have devoted years of research to try to map just exactly what faith-based groups around the world do for development and humanitarian assistance. Overall, this is one of the most positive and important new dynamics to emerge in global affairs.
And if the Potsdam G20 Interfaith Summit is any indication, the G20 setting may be the key arena for shaping policies to make the involvement of faith-based groups in global initiatives more effective than ever. At the behest of the German hosts, the Potsdam agenda focused on the role of religion in helping to achieve the UN’s 2030 sustainable development goals, and addressing the global refugee crisis and the famine striking parts of Africa and Yemen. Through the keynote addresses and the panel presentations and discussions, it became clear that the G20 interfaith discussions have moved beyond generalizations about religious tolerance and civilizational dialogue. The summit has found its voice as an articulate advocate for policies that will pave the way for religions to bring more and better support to dealing with some of the most important global challenges.
One of the key policy documents circulated at the meeting was entitled simply “G20 policy makers should support wider religious roles in refugee resettlement.” It highlighted the role religious groups already play in the resettlement of refugees, but stressed that this role is poorly understood and generally not taken into account by policy makers. It called for better analysis of the challenges of resettlement and for policy proposals that would harmonize governmental and religious engagement efforts, thereby enabling these efforts to have greater impact. As an example, it noted that most of the established refugee resettlement agencies that support the US government have a connection to religion. This basis of experience should be drawn on, with conscious sensitivity to its religious dimension, to help improve future policy on resettlement.
Actually, the document was prepared in the first instance for the T20 meeting of think tank representatives (“T” as in Think Tank). This is one of several groups that have been set up to provide inputs to the official G20 deliberations. In preparing for the summit, Germany made a particular point of drawing the T20 together and highlighting its work. The fact that consideration of the contributing role of religion became a serious part of the T20 work represents another key, institutional step forward for the G20 Interfaith Summit in bringing the positive influence of religious faiths to bear on the policy-related work of the world.
Next year’s G20 will be held in Buenos Aires, and preparations are already under way to build on the work achieved in Germany. The quiet efforts that will unfold over the next year, among religious entities, think-tank personnel, and policy makers themselves, will not make headlines. But it is nonetheless encouraging to be aware that the basis of global cooperation is growing wider and deeper.