During the Autumn of 1999, a number of lay people and Genevan religious leaders met in my office at St Pierre cathedral – I was the Dean at that time. We had been asked to organize an inter-religious event for United Nations Day. The request came because we had already worked together to create a ceremony in memoriam of the victims of a Swissair flight that crashed in the Atlantic during 1998. Inter-religious worship has become commonplace today, but at that time it was rare. We combined to create a text for United Nations Day 1999 – this was the birth of the Genevan Spiritual Appeal.
The group that wrote this text did not see it having a permanence, but owing to the frightful state of the world, it has continued to be important and an inspiration for many people.
In 1999, we were already concerned at the politicization of religion at the end of the Cold War. There was the Northern Ireland situation (Catholics and protestants), Israel/Palestine, Kashmir, even Vietnam where the Diem regime was catholic in a Buddhist country.
Our group comprised members of civil society, as well as Christians of several traditions, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Baha’is. We became aware of two realities, the fact that our ethical bases were almost identical and that we all believed that God, being universal, listens to all prayers.
To express our concern about the use of religion as a force in political life we wrote the Genevan Spiritual Appeal. This is a short and powerful text.
We called – and call – upon world leaders to:
« A refusal to invoke a religious or spiritual power to justify violence of any kind,
« A refusal to invoke a religious or spiritual source to justify discrimination and exclusion,
« A refusal to exploit or dominate others by means of strength, intellectual capacity or spiritual persuasion, wealth or social status. »
The state of the world has cried out for this text for twenty years. We have done our best to promote it through direct appeals to world leaders, conferences and inter-religious celebrations. Our 20th anniversary will be celebrated in St Pierre Cathedral, Geneva on 16th November.
Why do we feel we have to continue our work? We are scandalized by the misuse of religion as a political force. It is the persecution of the Uighurs, the Rohingyas, the Yazidis. It is the attacks on places of worship, in New Zealand, the USA and Europe. It is the American fundamentalists, attacking abortion clinics. It is Salvini with his rosary,
It is Trump praying for victims while he does nothing to contain gun crime. It is Orban « defending » Christian Europe while setting aside Christian values, forgetting that Jesus was a refugee and also very conveniently forgetting that the world took in two hundred thousand Hungarian refugees in 1956.
It is Bolsonaro destroying God’s creation for profit. This is a long list but it could be prolonged indefinitely. There is no limit to humane evil – nor it seems to the capacity of humanity to use religion hypocritically for what are anti-religious ends.
We, in the Committee of the Association of the Genevan Spiritual Appeal, are determined to continue our struggle for peace and justice, for dialogue and tolerance. And for the promotion of common spiritual values.