Later this month Japan will play host to the G20 Economic Summit, formally known as the Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy. The economic might of the countries involved in the annual gathering represent more than 80 percent of global GDP. As the interconnected world has become more intricately intertwined and increasingly interdependent, G20 summits have expanded their focus from pure economics, finance, trade and monetary policy to address many global issues including the plight of refugees, health, terrorism, climate, sustainability, poverty and opportunity.
In tackling such big issues, the G20 powers would be wise to look to the “butterfly questions” posed at the G20 Interfaith Forum in Tokyo this weekend.
The G20 Interfaith Forum is held each year prior to the economic summit and assembles faith leaders and representatives from various religious organizations, governments and NGOs for discussions around the role such groups must play in order to solve significant issues across the world.
Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, along with Sharon Eubank, director of Latter-day Saint Charities and first counselor in the church’s Relief Society general presidency, participated in the forum. The theme for 2019 is "Peace, People, Planet: Pathways Forward."
In opening his session, Elder Gong delivered an address world leaders should read and reference: "Faith, Hope, and Goodwill in Pathways Forward — Seven Ways Religious Inputs and Values Contribute to Practical, Principle-Based Policy Approaches."
Elder Gong began by framing the power true leaders possess to ask the right questions. He said, “Some years ago, Emperor Showa (Hirohito), grandfather of His Majesty and a well-known biologist, asked: 'Why have I not seen butterflies recently in my garden?' That famous question galvanized Japan to address serious environmental pollution. It is a powerful example that focused questions and recommendations can have significant impact.”
He continued, “This G-20 Interfaith Forum including this session … provide us with a significant platform to ask impactful 'butterfly' questions and to raise the level and effectiveness of religious inputs and values relating to global policy issues.”
Over the years, many have been conditioned to believe that the solution to any significant problem must be found by looking to Washington, international capitals or large government bureaucracies. Elected officials and government agencies do have vital roles to play in alleviating suffering and improving the human condition. However, truly sustainable solutions, tailored to the unique needs of individuals and families, are more likely to be found when communities come together.
Elder Gong cited policy recommendations from last year’s Buenos Aires G20 Interfaith Forum that stated, “Macro goals cannot succeed without micro-implementation, and religious communities are often optimally placed to facilitate advances in reduction of poverty, hunger, provision of health care and education, promotion of decent work and equal treatment and so on through the list of (Sustainable Development Goals).” The recommendation concluded that in order for religious communities to play such a vital role that national and global polices with, “Firm protections for freedom of religion or belief are essential.”
In receiving the 2018 Canterbury Medal — religious liberty's highest honor — Rabbi Dr. Meir Y. Soloveichik framed why such religious protections are necessary to solving big challenges by describing traditional Hanukkah lamps. He said that Hanukkah lamps were “kindled not inside but outside the door of Jewish homes, right outside the door. And the verse in Proverbs allows us to understand the lesson of this ritual. ‘The soul of man is the candle of God.’ Lighting candles outside the doors of our homes expresses that when people of faith leave their homes and enter the world, they take their beliefs and their religious identity with them. They do not check their beliefs at the door when they enter the public square. Their souls, the candle within each person, illuminates their path wherever they may lead.”
Bringing faith into the public square in order to ask, and answer, meaningful “butterfly questions” regarding the condition of people, peace and the planet has produced profound results. Religious communities, on their own as well as in partnership with other organizations, have elevated the lives of people of faith and people of no faith, improved the planet and promoted peace.
Examples of how people of faith can come together to partner for the greater good were highlighted from Latter-day Saint Charities and the church’s Humanitarian Services organization. Showing that oneness need not be sameness, the church has worked in 141 countries and territories on 2,885 projects with over 1,900 partners.
Elder Gong described reforesting efforts in Haiti, self-reliance programs that have fostered responsibility and upward mobility for more than 691,000 people, and a Brigham Young University capstone project team in Mongolia that found a cleaner way to keep homes warm in the frigid winter. Elder Gong noted, “These BYU students are applying engineering, respecting Mongolia’s proud past, and expressing their religious commitment to fellow human beings and planet earth.” Each of the examples and those from other groups illustrated elegant solutions to “butterfly questions.”
No idea, solution or action plan has ever been brought about by magic. Each requires hard work and heavy lifting. Often it requires a change of opinion, the suspension of past prejudice, the transformation of processes or the transcendent power of faith.
Global challenges loom large and world political leaders will soon gather for G20 Economic Summit. They would do well to look to the example of their G20 Interfaith Forum colleagues who show that, as Elder Gong concluded, “religious communities offer important spiritual, philosophical, and moral experiences and capacities related to human potential and development on which societies and communities can draw to achieve sustainable development goals.”
The real, sustainable solutions the world needs could well begin on butterfly wings — if not at least on “butterfly questions.” That will require the political leaders of the world to prove they are willing to engage in such hard work and heavy lifting. As American poet Maya Angelou stated, "We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty." That sounds like the beginning of a path forward for humanity.