Religion should unify, not divide, says Madeleine
Episcopal News Service
By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Friday, February 25, 2005
The people of the world can longer afford
to allow religion and religious leaders to divide them, former Secretary of
State and U.N. Representative Madeleine Korbel Albright told the annual
gathering of the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes February 25.
"Religion is not the problem," she told a packed
conference room at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City, but religion
has always tended to fuel partisan strife. What is different now is the
extent of the damage that can result. It is one thing to go after each other
with clubs, she said, but another thing to be able to go after your
perceived enemies with today's high-tech weapons.
The underlying problem is how to harness religion's
unifying potential and block its tendency to divide people and nations
against themselves and others. She compared the challenge to that of doing
brain surgery: "It is a necessary task but it can be fatal if not done
The attacks of September 11 forced the world to look at
the role that religion plays in politics, foreign policy and everyday life,
Albright said. It is a "trend that was lying in plain sight" that we can no
Albright called for all religions and nations to live and
set their domestic and foreign policies from the basic principles of valuing
individual life and seeking justice for all which she argued are at the
heart of all religious belief. She politely termed as "balderdash" the way
some religious leaders, fundamentalist Islamic ones in particular, each
[say] that "the individual is a disposable pawn" who is in the hands of "an
insecure and vengeful God" who wants killing to be done in his name.
Instead, Albright argued for a foreign policy that values
the individual. A nation with such a priority will not allow torture even
out of fear for its safety or the knowledge that it is easy to get away.
Such a policy would do much more to help other human beings.
Albright noted that the United States is last among
developed nations in foreign aid giving. She argued that more avoidable
deaths happen in the world from causes other than terrorism but that
strengthening the divide between "people of plenty and people with plenty of
loss of hope" is a way to breed terrorism.
Nations ought to fight terrorism from a stance both does
not ignore the influence of religion and does not set it up as a battle
between good and evil, Albright said. We must realize that all of our
efforts to be good are partial and incomplete, and that it is tempting to
misuse the power given to us. If we must make it an either-or choice,
Albright suggested "evil and pretty good, evil and not bad, evil and doing
the best we can." Perhaps, she suggested, we might consider the divide as
evil and, in Abraham Lincoln's words, "right as God gives us to see the
Leaders must stand for something but not believe that they
have the sole claim on all truth, she said. Later, during a question and
answer session, Albright drew loud applause when she argued that it is hard
for the U.S. to claim to be a unifying force across the religious divide
these days "when the president believes that God talks to him and not to the
rest of us . . . we believe that God is on our side when in fact we ought to
be on God's side."
She also agreed with a questioner who asked her if
"fervent moderation" ought to be the religious person's stance in the world.
People of faith cannot base their belief on what they don't like in someone
else, she said, lest "your pride in yourself curdles into hate of someone
Albright, noting her party affiliation, said she was sad
that words like "democracy" and "freedom" that the Clinton administration
had used with hope are now interpreted as imperialistic. "I really do
believe that the United States is an exceptional country but we can't expect
the world to make exceptions for us," she said. Americans have the right to
live as we believe but we cannot expect everyone else to live like us. "You
cannot impose democracy and you cannot impose religious faith," she said.
Albright was asked about the suggestion from the Anglican
Communion primates that the Episcopal Church voluntarily absent itself for a
time from the Anglican Consultative Council. She said she didn't want to
wade into international Anglican politics but Albright noted that her
diplomatic stance has always been one of engagement. "You cannot get your
point across if you are not there," she said.
The Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes is a group of
more than 100 parishes, each with an endowment of more than $1 million. The
Consortium's goal is to foster the development and use of endowments for
mission and ministry.
Albright became the first female U.S. Secretary of State
in 1997, serving in President Bill Clinton's administration. She was also
the U.S. representative to the United Nations and a member of Clinton's
National Security Council. She has served on the National Cathedral Chapter
in Washington, DC, and the Board of Directors of the College of Preachers.
She now teaches at Georgetown University, where she taught before her
appointment as Secretary of State, and heads The Albright Group in
Washington, DC. Her autobiography, "Madame Secretary," has become a
bestseller. She is currently writing a book about the intersection of
religion and politics. Its working title is "The Mighty and the Almighty:
God in American Politics."
© 2004, The Episcopal Church, USA.
Episcopal News Service
content may be reprinted without permission as long as credit is given to
Mary Frances Schjonberg is the assistant rector of
Christ Church in Short Hills, New Jersey.
So what do you think?
Can religion really play a uniting role in our world?
What can we do to help that happen?
Please send a
and we'll share it here!