Episcopal Primate makes global poverty her New Year target

By staff writers
January 1, 2007

The new head of the US Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, has made tackling global poverty her 2007 resolution. In a message sent to local congregations and other church and public leaders, the ECUSA Primate highlights the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as a practical Christian priority.

“Consider what might happen if all of us resolved to make 2007 the beginning of a new era in which the hungry are fed, the ill cured, the young educated and women and men treated equally”, she writes. “What if all had access to clean water and adequate sanitation, basic healthcare and the promise of development that does not endanger the rest of creation?”

Dr Schori, who was a practicing scientist before she became an Anglican priest, continued: “For people of all faiths and for those who claim no faith, the Millennium Development Goals provide a way in which together we can achieve greater global good by leading local lives intent upon the eradication of poverty and disease.”

The Episcopal leader describes the United Nations’ 2000 MDGs as “consonant with the core beliefs of the world’s great religions. Indeed, they help Christians to bring hands and feet to the great commandment to love God and our neighbours as ourselves. The goals offer a form of deed-based evangelism that reminds people of faith that we can do little to improve a person’s spiritual health while that person contends with starvation or disease.”

The seven goals are: 1 Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; 2 Achieve universal primary education; 3 Promote gender equity and empower women; 4 Reduce child mortality; 5 Improve maternal health; 6 Combat HIV/Aids, malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases; 7 Ensure environmental sustainability; and 8 Develop a global partnership for development.

Schori says that “[t]hese goals seek to end the deep poverty that limits human flourishing. Achieving them would exemplify the abundant life Jesus insists is the reason He became incarnate: ‘I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly’ (John 10.10).”

She continues: “We understand this work as a visible sign of building the reign of God. A vision of that reign lies behind the ancient Hebrew concept of shalom, which means far more than simply peace. Shalom has to do with the restoration of all creation to right relationship with God, so that the hungry are fed, the grieving comforted, the ill are healed and prisoners set free. Isaiah sets forth this vision (particularly in chapters 58 and 61), and it is later echoed in Luke’s gospel.”

Says the US Episcopal Primate: “The mission of the Church, according to our Catechism, is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. That work of restoration and reconciliation frames all of our ministries, whether we are students, parents, legislators or farmers. We cannot be at one with our neighbours if some are starving or living in slums. The work of achieving the MDGs is intimately wrapped up in the promises we make in the baptismal covenant. At baptism in the Episcopal Church we vow to strive for justice and peace among all people, to respect the dignity of every human being, and to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbours as ourselves. Helping the world to achieve the MDGs is a concrete way to live into those promises.”

“We cannot speak much in the way of good news to people who are starving or dying of preventable disease. We must begin by doing good news with those who are most vulnerable. In and through both, God is glorified, and all creation can begin to experience the shalom for which we were created.”

Dr Schori concludes by asking “how will you contribute?” And she links the challenge with the mission of Jesus. “When Jesus begins his public ministry (Luke 4), His first act is to read from that vision of shalom in the prophet Isaiah. And his own rejoinder is, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ (Luke 4. 21). We seek to be able to say the same in our own day, that this vision of shalom may be fulfilled for all the world’s people. May this begin the new year of the Lord’s favour (Isaiah 61. 1, 2).”

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