A Sustainable Future? A serious look at the new Sustainable Development Goals

Posted in: Comment
Date posted: 16 March 2016

This was the title of a one-day conference held in Birmingham on Saturday 5 March, organised by the John Ray Initiative in partnership with ForMission College, A Rocha UK and Micah Network. Revd Margot Hudson – vicar of Haddenham – hosted the day.

The Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by the countries of the world in September 2015, to follow on from the eight Millennium Development Goals. The first speaker, Helen Dennis of Christian Aid, gave a very helpful introduction to and overview of the 17 new Goals, which are underpinned by almost 170 measurable targets. She also outlined some of the advantages and disadvantages associated with this larger set of goals, one of the former being that environmental targets are found across all the goals and that there has been recognition, both of the importance of the environment and that sustainable development cannot be achieved without peace.

There is a role for the churches in the implementation of these international goals, especially in rural developing communities beyond the reach of national governments and large NGOs, where churches may well be involved in the provision of services. More widely, there is a role in campaigning and in awareness-raising: the church has a fundamental narrative on poverty and injustice that can underpin its campaigning. However, there was a warning from a later speaker, in a quote from Ron Sider that “Christians are notoriously bad at doing campaigning because they shoot before they aim.”

The role for people of faith in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was amplified later in the day by Sheryl Haw of the Micah Network, who spoke about the missional perspective of the SDGs and asked ‘What is God saying through the SDGs?’ She reminded us that in Matthew 16:18 when speaking to Peter, the word Jesus used to describe the church is not a religious word but ecclesia, an assembly of people called out to take responsibility for their community – a political assembly of citizens in an ancient Greek state.

Sheryl went on to illustrate how the achieving of the SDGs (including restoration, the removal of injustice and poverty, etc) could be seen as signs of the kingdom of God and as part of the shalom that is ‘life in all its fullness’ that Jesus came to bring (John 10:10). There is much in the SDGs that mirrors the biblical call: care of creation; justice; reconciliation; protection; inclusion and shalom – and we were left in no doubt that as Christians we can have a part to play in helping to implement these goals around the globe.

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