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Photo courtesy of General Board of Church and Society

The Rev. Levi Bautista (left) presents during the April InfoPoverty World Conference at the United Nations. Bautista regularly makes presentations at the U.N. based on the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church.

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United Methodists play key role at U.N.


Barbara Dunlap-Berg and Polly House
March-April 2016

The General Board of Church and Society provides a ministry of presence and representation at the United Nations.

The agency's work gives United Methodists first-hand experience and exposure to global processes that aim to develop consensus and common action on pressing world social issues.

GBCS representatives present the official position of The United Methodist Church to the U.N. on a variety of issues. Their goal is to help both groups understand issues shared all the way from the global arena to local places.

"To prosper and promote ‘glocality,' (combining the words global and local) the board's U.N. ministry has a network of people in the global connection who participate in the Isaiah Circle," said the Rev. Liberato C. Bautista, assistant general secretary of U.N. and international affairs for the agency.

The Isaiah Circle includes some 500 United Methodists from around the world who make up the growing churchwide network of advocates for United Nations and international affairs concerns. "Organized by GBCS," Bautista said, "it helps shape, define and cultivate the United Methodist positions that the board wants to highlight in places where (United Methodists have) mission and social action work."

The church's work in international affairs goes back to 1934 with the establishment of the Commission on World Peace. Renamed the Methodist Board of World Peace in 1952 and the Division of Peace and World Order in 1960, these predecessor bodies of the Board of Church and Society made an indelible mark on how The United Methodist Church influenced foreign policy and international affairs in general and the life and work of the U.N. in particular.

Concern for the whole household of God

The world about which John Wesley spoke and United Methodists speak is God's world.

"It is the totality of what we call oikoumene, the whole household of God," Bautista said. "It is the entirety of God's creation where our stewardship of people and planet are concerns that are all at once about discipleship, mission and social action. The planet Earth becomes a true world community when all of God's people care for each other and protect such caring with affirmation of everyone's human dignity, human rights and the planet through our advocacies for climate justice."

Human dignity, human rights

One concrete activity the board birthed was the annual symposium on the role of religion and faith-based organizations in international affairs.

"This is a collaboration among the General Board of Church and Society, the World Council of Churches and the General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists," Bautista said. The inaugural symposium in 2015 "focused on human dignity and human rights. This year's theme was religion, violence and extremism."

Participants explored topics from the perspective of religious bodies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with U.N. member-states, officials and professional staff.

"This year's topic was so attractive to the U.N. that its Interagency Task Force on Engagement with Faith-based Organizations in Religion and Development, as well as its Office on Genocide Prevention and Responsibility to Protect, cosponsored the event at the U.N. headquarters," Bautista said.

Church and Society is able to play a senior NGO role because of its longstanding visibility and commitment to improving NGO access at the U.N. It also models how to engage member nations and U.N. offices around the many issues the church addresses in the Social Principles and The Book of Resolutions.

"The role of religion is very much at the forefront in international affairs discussion these days," Bautista said. "The negotiations for a 2030 agenda to eradicate poverty produced 17 global sustainable- development goals and put to the fore the already on-going role of religious groups in many of these goals.

"As a result, the U.N. and the religious initiative, ‘Moral Imperative to Eradicate Poverty,' highlights what religious NGOs can do to achieve social justice and equity in the world," he said. "These NGOs can play (an important role) in fostering harmony and peace. In these instances, the Board of Church and Society is very much involved."

Three current issues

The board's current top U.N.-related issues are global migration, indigenous people and climate justice. Church and Society is:

  • Playing a key role in an ecumenical effort dealing with global migration, especially forced migration (including human trafficking and asylum seeking).
  • Collaborating with indigenous peoples and those in the process of decolonization in asserting their human rights, including the right to self-determination.
  • Advocating for climate justice at the U.N. level. It is the only United Methodist agency with U.N. work accredited by the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. That has allowed it to observe and intervene in climate negotiations for more than a decade, including the recent passage in Paris of an unprecedented climate agreement.

Advocacy for human rights includes continuing work on war and peace-related issues, including addressing violations of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights.

"This ministry to and at the United Nations is a ministry of and by the Christian church," Bautista said. "It is pastoral and intentional, historical and contemporary, biblical and theological.

"It is a ministry to the world by Christians participating in the shaping and evolving of ethical responses to the cares and dares, concerns and challenges, and struggles and solidarities of our international and contemporary world."

Researched, compiled and written by Barbara Dunlap-Berg, internal content editor at United Methodist Communications, and Polly House, a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.