Mission: Now is the time for prophetic action on the MDGs

From Episcopal News Service:
By Devon Anderson and Ian Douglas, September 22, 2010

(The Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas, Bishop of Connecticut, upper left, and The Rev. Devon Anderson, Executive Director of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, bottom left.)

[Episcopal News Service] This week the eyes of the world turned to the U.N. Summit on Millennium Development Goals, where world leaders have spent the last few days considering a "global, results-oriented action plan" to accelerate progress toward achieving the goals — which include cutting extreme poverty in half, reducing child mortality rates, and increasing access to education — over the next five years.

World leaders agreed in 2000 to achieve the eight goals by 2015.The summit met to examine successes and continuing challenges to progress as a foundation for renewing commitments, galvanizing coordinated action among all stakeholders, and eliciting the funding needed to achieve the eight MDGs.

In a nutshell, the summit will ask the world to move from talk to action.

The occasion of the summit is an opportunity for the Episcopal Church, which committed to the MDGs in 2003, similarly to celebrate its MDG successes up to this point, renew our collective commitment to 0.7 percent giving at all levels of the church, and redouble our efforts toward results-oriented action in the next five years. More crucial still, this summit, at this particular time in the life of the planet, is a clarion call for Episcopalians to perk up, garner our resolve, and commit to the kind of prophetic ministry that will be needed if we are to make good on our promises to be an effective, dynamic contributor to the MDG movement.

The Episcopal Church has come so far. As of early 2009, to our best calculations, some 82 dioceses across the Episcopal Church had included a 0.7 percent line-item in their annual diocesan budgets for global mission. Following suit later that year, General Convention inserted a 0.7 percent line-item into its triennial budget for MDGs, courageously locating our commitment to global mission squarely at the heart of the church, while bearing the full weight of that worthy commitment in painful budget cuts elsewhere. And all across the church, congregations and dioceses have begun important work forming relationships and partnering with people across the globe to curb hunger, provide needed health care and stem disease.

And yet, there is still so much to do. The Rev. Sabina Alkire, an economist and Anglican priest who directs a major international development agenda in Oxford, England, and who is a founding member of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation describes the work at hand this way: "The number of people living in abject poverty has reached one billion for the first time ever (just a few years ago it was 841 million hungry souls on earth). International aid budgets are being cut; and in many countries government-funded social programs are also being reduced due to shrinking economies. Even the countries that gave 0.7 percent for international development are giving less money in real terms because their economies are smaller. Where I sit, the secular development agencies are in turmoil. I wish the churches were equally concerned. It is a time for the church to be prophetic, to speak out, to sustain its own commitment and call on others to sustain theirs. Quitting is easy. But our actions have consequences for the poorest of the world."

Now is the time for prophetic action. The world leaders have come to New York briefed by their own economists and political advisors. They are negotiating commitments and generating their collective resolve as governments to achieving the MDGs by 2015. Clearly none disputes the worthiness of the MDGs. But even as they debate the best roadmap to 2015, world leaders are also weighing the probability that any specific commitment they make will pass muster with their citizenries.

But prophets don’t trade in probabilities. Maimonides, the Jewish scholar of the 12th century, argued that prophetic hope is belief in the "plausibility of the possible" as opposed to the "necessity of the probable." Likewise, biblical faith calls Christians to something more in this Kairos moment than settling for realistic probabilities. Biblical prophets and Jesus’ ministry calls us to sustain a vision where the needs of all are met in the economy of God.

At this difficult time in our human global economy, the prophetic witness asked of us cannot merely be one of words but of vociferous, concrete action. Now is the time to move from MDG education and promotion to a model that will enfranchise Episcopalians for goal-oriented action and commitment. The hard work of motivation, equipping and action remains before us. Prophets have action plans. After all, Micah implores us not merely to speak justice but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

— Devon Anderson is the executive director of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation. Bishop Ian Douglas is the bishop of Connecticut and vice chair of the EGR board.

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