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ss triple helix - winter 2016,  The Sustainable Development Goals one year on

The Sustainable Development Goals one year on

A great opportunity for the church to grasp

Review by Steve Fouch CMF Head of Nursing

How do you transform the world? Marx thought it would be through the revolution of the proletariat, while Facebook expect it to be the ubiquity of their social network.

The United Nations have pinned their transformational agenda on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). (1) The SDGs cover everything from ending poverty and hunger by 2030 to taking action on climate change and social inequality. There are 169 targets, and a complex system of standardised metrics to evaluate progress towards them. This is a truly ambitious and all-encompassing agenda. It is hard to think of many national governments, even with a strong electoral mandate, that would dare to have a manifesto laden with such high expectations.

At the heart of the Gospel is a God who redeemed a broken and hurting humanity through Jesus' death on the cross. He continues to work through the Holy Spirit and in the church around the world. (2) While the SDGs echo some of the practical outworking of this biblical hope, (3) we have to be aware that the Bible also warns us that the powers and kingdoms of this world will, in time, all bow before Christ. (4)

So is there a case for a Christian engagement with the SDGs? The answer is a qualified 'yes'. For, while the UN system does seem to want to work with us at the moment, and there is room for partnership, we must be as 'wise as serpents yet innocent as doves'. (5) While much in the SDGs is admirable, the devil is always in the detail. We should never compromise the values of God's kingdom nor our mandate to proclaim the good news of Jesus to every corner of creation. (6) In cooperating with the UN and major donors and governments, we should always be upfront about our values and priorities. 'Co-belligerence' is good but it has its limits. (7)

The SDGs present a great opportunity for the church to fulfil its missionary calling. If that call currently happens to coincide with the agenda of the UN and secular funders, that is great - we will work together. God is bigger than the church and his kingdom is being worked out in the 'secular' as well as the 'sacred'. But if God's agenda and that of the wider world no longer coincide, then we will continue to do the work to which we have been called regardless, because in the end we serve the highest authority.

  1. UN Sustainable Development Goals
  2. Romans 8
  3. O'Neill DW. Theological foundations for an effective Christian response to the global disease burden in resource-constrained regions. Christian Journal of Global Health 2016, May;3(1):3-10
  4. Ephesians 2:9-11
  5. Matthew 10:16
  6. Acts 1:8
  7. Saunders P. Co-belligerence - Compromise or Christian duty? Triple Helix 2006, Winter:3
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