Throughout the early 1990’s, in my early ministry, I was obsessed with “the church of the 21st century.” I felt it was imperative that we predict what the world would be like, what the church would be like, and prepare ourselves for the future. After reading dozens, if not hundreds, of books by futurists and ecclesiologists, I was overcome by frustration; it was clear to me that the predictions were contradictory and I had a uncanny realization that no one knows the future. Duh! After falling on the floor in complaint and lament to God for not giving me the tools I needed to predict the future, I heard the call of the small voice say something like, “Of course no one knows the future, but you have a responsibility to help shape it.” Isn’t that the good news of Jesus … that the kingdom of God is at hand … and we have the responsibility to name it, to call it forth, to work for it, to acknowledge it?
The ten Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UN SDSN) has proposed to the world’s leadership offer a way to shape the future in a way that enables life on this planet to be sustainable into the future.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
- End extreme poverty including hunger.
- Promote economic growth and decent jobs within planetary boundaries.
- Ensure effective learning for all children and youth for life and livelihood.
- Achieve gender equality, social inclusion, and human rights for all.
- Achieve health and wellbeing at all ages.
- Improve agriculture systems and raise rural prosperity.
- Empower inclusive, productive, and resilient cities.
- Curb human-induced climate change and ensure sustainable energy.
- Secure biodiversity and ensure good management of water, oceans, forests and natural resources.
- Transform governance and technologies for sustainable development.
The very real question is, “are these goals attainable?” It seems like the barriers to achieve these goals are insurmountable. Hope, however, is real. There is a great history of humankind coming together to overcome the impossible. The angel Gabriel tells Mary as he announces the birth of Jesus, “for nothing will be impossible with God.”
The truth we know as Christians is that human effort alone cannot save us. We need the power of the creator, of God, and the redemption of Christ. But the Christ is visible in ways that extend further than an affirmation to essential tenets of orthodoxy. More and more, we understand that what we DO as Christians is as important, if not more important, than what we BELIEVE. Orthopraxy is more “Christian” than orthodoxy. We often cite Ghandi when discussing this. He, legendarily, openly rejected Christianity as he experienced it, but was committed to live the way of Christ. Holding up a vision of human beings living in the peaceable kingdom is a way of inviting everyone, regardless of their religiosity, to help shape the future we know is possible.
Sustainability, as we’ve been discussing it these past fourteen weeks, takes into account three major ideas: 1) economic development, 2) social inclusion, and 3) environmental sustainability. Dr. Sachs adds a fourth: good governance. This is good governance, not only of the political entities of nation states, but of corporations and other global networks that affect the lives of people and our path forward. The role of the ten SDGs is to articulate the principles that will guide us as we tread into the next decades. The goals offer a way to hold us accountable to the ideas of sustainability which are highly complex and will span generations. They are a beacon and measurement tool for ways to act together that will assure a peaceable future for all of humanity, life and the planet itself.
The major debate after whether or not the goals are even attainable is over who has responsibility for them. Some argue that these goals should be left up to the free market to attain, others argue that it should be up to the government. A reasonable answer, of course, is that it is up to all of us. Corporations should not only be held accountable to the financial wealth of its shareholders, but to the real cost of production and behavior on the planet, the communities, the people etc. The SDGs give us a moral compass to which all nations can be held accountable. The three targets within each goal, give us a path and a way forward to help achieve those goals.
The ideas held up in these goals give us a map to the future — ways to think about how we behave and treat each other — they give us a common core which will unite people of many traditions and histories into a common future. John F. Kennedy said it well when addressing the United Nations in 1963:
So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.
Yes, we are all mortal. And left to ourselves we will, undoubtedly, lead ourselves to to extinction. But together … that’s where the Spirit of God intervenes (“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20). Together we can problem solve; we can put pressure on our peers and our governments; we can invest and divest; we can shape our future.
Interestingly, the SDGs do not mention world peace or even an end to war. However, it does give us a pathway to work together, to value diversity, to protect our environment, to work for the prosperity of all nations, and to uphold a just distribution of wealth. Aren’t these things the root of war? Aren’t these things the exact things that will ultimately lead to peace?
- Week 1: What is Sustainable Development?
- Week 2: Economic development – How we measure it, how it varies around the world
- Week 3: A Short History of Economic Development
- Week 4: Why Did Some Countries Advance While Others Remained in Poverty?
- Week 5: The MDGs and the End of Extreme Poverty
- Week 6: Growth within Planetary Boundaries
- Week 7: Human Rights and Gender Equality
- Week 8: Education
- Week 9: Universal Health Coverage
- Week 10: Sustainable Food Supply and the End of Hunger
- Week 11: Sustainable Cities
- Week 12: Curbing Climate Change
- Week 13: Saving Biodiversity
- Week 14: The SDGs