More of the interview with Mark Koenig
The Presbyterian UN office’s advocacy brings to the UN voices which otherwise might struggle to be heard. Koenig understands this as a form of Christian witness.
The office enables members of the PC(USA) to be involved with the UN: for example, the women of the the Church in issues around gender justice (eg at the Commission on the Status of Women). Publicizing the issues before and the work of the UN to Church members, and getting them involved, is a major part of the office’s work. Congregations also get the chance to be involved in campaigns, such as the ‘Red Hands’ campaign for the UN to outlaw child soldiers. The office helps to produce resources for congregations to mark significant dates: September 21, International Day of Peace; October 24 United Nations Day; 10 December Human Rights Day. Staff from the office travel the country to make connections with local Churches. Church groups, seminary and Presbytery groups come into the office for seminars, sometimes including speakers from the UN missions, NGOs etc. The idea, says Koenig, is to ‘help Church members do their work instead of doing it for them’.
The office represents the World Communion of Reformed Churches (previously the World Alliance of Reformed Churches), so it can bring the voices of partner churches to the UN. Bringing information from partner Churches helps to create a ‘bigger picture’ for the UN diplomats. Meetings on ‘talking points’ can be set up with national UN missions, often involving representative from a partner Church from the nation concerned. In 2011, a draft document on education for the Women’s Commission did not mention of the bullying of girls in school. Advocacy helped to ensure this was mentioned in the final document.
A further model of advocacy is working through the the UN’s NGO working groups. Usually this is done ecumenically, as the different denominations will have different interests and expertise. Ambassadors can be briefed (sometimes off the record); questions can be put to diplomats. The office will consult with Mission Co-Workers (PC(USA) funded staff overseas). For example, the PC(USA) was well informed about South Sudan’s tribal violence, since there is a history of at least 120 years of Presbyterian involvement in the area. In Colombia, there has been involvement since 1845. This, says Koenig, is ‘bringing the unique voices of the partners on the ground’.
With the Holy See (a sovereign state) holding observer status at the UN (the other observer is the Palestinian Authority), I was curious to know how ecumenism worked with the Roman Catholic Church. It’s a pragmatic approach: for example, in Colombia, the Franciscan order partners with Presbyterians; and Caritas International shares office space with the Presbyterians in the UN Church Center.
My thanks again to Mark Koenig for giving me an insight to how a Reformed Christian presence witnesses in the midst of the UN Community in New York for the sake of needy people across the world.
- Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations- part 2 (peterstudyleave.wordpress.com)
- The Presbyterian Delegation to CSW57 (ecumenicalwomen.org)