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Methodist Mission & Ecumenical
Occasional Paper No. 47
May 2010

Secretary: John Roberts


Keep the promise: the Millennium Development Goals

The United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon has called a high level meeting of world leaders for 20-22 September 2010 in New York, to advance the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals that all UN member states, including New Zealand, signed up to in the year 2000. The agreement was to achieve the goals by the year 2015. Ban Ki-moon believes progress on realising the goals has been too slow. He is looking for greater commitment and delivery of funds from developed countries to keep the objective of meeting the goals by 2015 on track. The World Council of Churches, a global network of churches, has issued a statement ahead of the UN September summit. It calls on the world leaders to see the eradication of poverty as a matter of political will and moral courage. The eradication of poverty should have greater priority than bailing out failing financial institutions and increasing expenditure on military infrastructure and hardware.

What are the Millennium Development Goals?

At the Millennium Summit in September 2000 UN member states adopted the Millennium Declaration, pledging: “We will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanising conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than one billion of them are currently subjected.” Eight specific goals known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were agreed on, with the achievement date of 2015. These are:

1. Halving extreme poverty and hunger

2. Universal primary education

3. Gender equality and empowerment of women

4. Reducing child mortality by 66%

5. Reducing maternal mortality by 75%

6. Reversing the spread of HIV & AIDS, malaria and other major diseases

7. Ensuring environmental sustainability

8. Creating a global partnership for develop-ment.

The MDGs have been reaffirmed by world leaders on several occasions. The UN Millennium Project says that if the world achieves the MDGs more than 500 million people will have been lifted out of poverty; a further 250 million will no longer suffer hunger; and 32 million children and 2 million mothers who might otherwise have been expected to die will be saved.

Are the MDGs achievable?

The UN Millennium Project has outlined what needs to be done to meet the MDGs by 2015. It has also identified where immediate action should be taken, and how much it would cost. It says research shows that we do have the knowledge and technology to help meet the goals. The cost of meeting the goals would be approximately half of one percent of the gross national project of the developed nations. All that is required is concerted action.

What progress has been made?

Progress on achieving the goals has been uneven. The UN Millennium Project’s 2006 report states that there are major disparities among and within countries. There is also significant variation in progress towards each of the goals. The number and proportion of undernourished children is rising in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, while falling elsewhere. Progress on access to primary education is being made in most regions but not in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Gender equality remains an unfulfilled goal in most regions of the developing world. Child mortality has generally declined, but progress is slow or limited in many parts of the world. Maternal mortality remains unacceptably high in every developing region. HIV & AIDS now affects in excess of 40 million people and poses a serious threat, particularly to women and adolescents.

The MDGs provide a solid framework for identifying what investments need to be made to escape the poverty trap. They point to areas of public investment – water, sanitation, slum upgrading, education, health and basic infrastructure – that reduce income poverty and gender inequalities, improve human capital, and protect the environment.

What developed countries need to do

The greatest responsibility in achieving the realisation of the MDGs falls on developed countries. The UN Millennium Project says they simply need to fulfill commitments they have already made. Just as developing countries need to honour their commitments in terms of improved governance and increased resource mobilisation, the rich developed countries must meet their commitment of making concrete efforts towards the target of 0.7% of gross national product as aid to developing countries. Fulfilling this commitment would provide more than sufficient resources to achieve the MDGs. While the wealthy nations have committed to 0.7%, they are currently spending an average of 0.25% of gross national product on development assistance.

The 0.7% target for development assistance was made some 39 years ago in a UN General Assembly resolution. It has been reaffirmed over the years, including the 2002 Financing for Development conference in Monterrey, Mexico. Five European countries already devote 0.7% or more to development aid. All European Union countries have committed to plans and timetables to reach 0.7% by 2015. New Zealand is one of six Organisation for Economic and Cooperation Development countries that have not set a timetable to meet the 0.7% target.

Furthermore the New Zealand Government has now shifted its top priority for overseas aid from alleviating poverty to economic development. It seems to think that trade is the key to economic development as evidenced in its promotion of PACER Plus – the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations. While trade has its place, it is not a magic bullet for achieving development. The UN Development Project says the slogan ‘trade not aid’ is utterly misguided, particularly in the poorest countries.

The MDG Summit

In the lead-up to the MDG Summit in New York next month UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has made some forceful statements. “It is clear that improvements in the life of the poor have been unacceptably slow, and some hard-won gains are being eroded by the climate, food and economic crises.” “The summit will be a crucially important opportunity to redouble our efforts to meet the goals.” “We must not fail the billions who look to the international community to fulfill the promise of the Millennium Declaration for a better world. Let us meet in September to keep the promise.” Work is well underway on a Summit outcome document to be considered at the New York meeting.

Churches’ input to the summit

Civil society organisations had an opportunity to input into the preparatory process for the summit at a June gathering. The World Council of Churches (WCC) stated that eradicating poverty is a moral and ethical imperative. The WCC statement contrasts the resources needed to achieve the MDGs with the trillions of dollars that in a matter of months were put together by governments in rich countries to rescue failing financial institutions, as well as the ever increasing global military spending. “We need to re-examine and dismantle such a perverse system of priorities that places more importance on rescuing big banks and acquiring machines that kill people, than on emancipating people from starvation and homelessness,” the statement says.

For the WCC what the world faces is not a dearth of financial resources to overcome poverty, but a dearth of life-affirming values and morals – a dearth of justice, solidarity and care. The WCC has called on governments and international institutions to work out economic policies that “move away from the current paradigm that is focused on unlimited growth and based on structural greed, towards models founded on pro-poor, redistributive growth.” The WCC has set out a series of reforms it calls on governments and international institutions to commit to at the MDG summit next month.

For more information go to www.oikoumene.org Click on news release of 17 June 2010 and click on full text of WCC statement on Millennium Development Goals.

Methodist Mission & Ecumenical
Occasional Paper No. 46
May
2010

Secretary: John Roberts


One wish to change the world

What would you do if you were granted one wish to change the world, and were then provided with help to make it happen? Karen Armstrong, a former Catholic nun who has had a number of books dealing with religion in the contemporary world published in recent years, was granted this wish in 2008.

A small non-profit organisation in the USA, TED (Technology, Entertainment & Design), awarded Karen its annual prize to realise ‘one wish to change the world’. Her wish unveiled at the award ceremony was this: “I wish that you would help me with the creation, launch and propagation of a Charter for Compassion, crafted by a group of leading inspirational thinkers from the three Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and based on the fundamental principles of universal justice and respect.”

Following discussion between Karen and the TED community, participation in the writing of the Charter was extended to people all around the world, of all faith traditions. The contributions were made online. In late 2008 these were collected and given to a Council of Conscience, a gathering of nineteen high level religious leaders and thinkers who crafted the final document. The council met for two days in February 2009, near the city of Geneva. It discussed the idea of compassion, sorted its way through all the online submissions, determined the key ideas to include in the Charter and created a plan for how the Charter could live in the world. Members of the council included amongst others: Sr Joan Chittester, Prof Tarique Ramadan, Sheik Ali Gomaa, Rabbi Julia Neuberger, Rev Peter Storey, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The Charter for Compassion is a short statement, just four paragraphs long, that reinforces the golden rule “Do as you would be done by.” It calls on us all to: restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion; reject any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain; ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures; encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity; and understand and feel for the suffering of all people – even those regarded as enemies. The Charter makes it clear that any ideology that breeds hatred or contempt (be it religious or secular) is unacceptable.

The Charter isn’t just about fostering compassionate thinking; it also calls for action to put compassion at the centre of religious, moral and political life. It is hoped that through the Charter compassion will become a key word and activity in public and private life.

The organisers of the Charter point out that it doesn’t assume that all religions are the same, that compassion is the only thing that matters in religion, or that religious people have a monopoly on compassion. Instead it emphasises the importance of the golden rule, treating others as we wish to be treated, and asserting that this cannot be limited to our own political, religious or ethnic group. It asserts that, in our divided world, compassion can build common ground.

At the world launch of the Charter for Compassion on 12 November 2009 Karen Armstrong stated, “The Charter for Compassion is a summons to action, not just a feel-good thing. It calls upon people to find creative ways of implementing compassion and working energetically for the good of humanity in one’s own community.” You can find more background to the Charter at www.Charterforcompassion.org

At the New Zealand launch of the Charter of Compassion, in the Ponsonby Mosque (Auckland) on 15 November 2009 it was stated: “We are here to launch this Charter in New Zealand and set a foundation for moving forward with it in our local context.” A group of about forty Muslims, Jews and Christians listened to readings from the sacred writings of each of the three Abrahamic religions that focused on the central place of compassion in each faith tradition.

Dave Moskovitz, of Temple Sinai in Wellington, said that he had never seen such energetic positive interaction at an interfaith event in New Zealand before. Dave, who collated the responses, says, “We made a start, but it is only a start. Our task now is to translate the talk and positive energy into action. That’s going to take some effort, but I know that many of us see that the potential reward for that effort is huge, and it comes at a time that’s critical for our religions, for Aotearoa New Zealand and the world.”

At the Auckland launch small groups worked together on ideas for promoting the Charter and the importance of compassion in our own communities. This generated a number of potential projects promoting compassion in our own families, educating ourselves to dispel our historical ignorance of others, and using electronic media to promote the message.

The Charter’s influence is spreading. West Auckland anaesthetist Robin Youngson, who last year founded the Centre for Compassion in Healthcare, told www.nzdoctor.co.nz/news last November that the Charter is part of a global shift away from greed and materialism towards a more humane and sustainable set of values. The NZ Lawyer website www.nzlawyermagazine.co.nz featured the Charter in its April 2010 issue. The Charter with background information has been circulated to all regional synods and cultural groups in the life of the Methodist Church of New Zealand, encouraging the church to engage with it. It is hoped that the annual Methodist Conference in November 2010 will affirm the Charter and encourage learning, sharing and action in response to the Charter.

For Karen Armstrong all religious teaching must issue in practical action. She says: “The doctrines and stories of faith make no sense at all unless they are translated into action. This is one of the essential themes of my latest book, The Case for God, which was written at the same time as we were composing the Charter. We were all convinced that somehow the Charter must be a call to action. There was no point in us all embracing one another on the day of the launch if there would be no practical follow up. We need compassion – the ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, to ‘experience with’ the other – in politics, social policy, finance, education and the media. Unless we can learn to treat all nations and all peoples as we would wish to be treated ourselves, we are unlikely, in these days of global terror, to have a viable world to hand on to the next generation.” Making Compassion Cool: an interview with Karen Armstrong http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2010/01/27making-compassion-cool/

The Charter for Compassion

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others - even our enemies - is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion; to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate; to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures; to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity; to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings - even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarised world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

Methodist Mission and Ecumenical

Occasional Paper No. 48
November 2010
Secretary: John Roberts

Climate change refugees are Asian ecumenical concern

An Asia regional ecumenical consultation has expressed concern that women, children, indigenous communities and the poor are forced to bear the brunt of the consequences of climate change though their carbon emission is almost zero.

The consultation organised by the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) in association with the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) was held in Bangalore 5-9 October. It expressed anguish at the lack of commitment of countries that are responsible for the carbon emissions to make reductions, to engage in cleaner technology transfers, and to pay reparation. The consultation was also concerned that some Asian countries seek to legitimise their own increased carbon emission in the name of “per-capita emissions’’ and the “right to develop.”

Attended by 34 church leaders and social activists from Australia, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Korea, New Zealand, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand, the consultation noted that the environmental degradation in different parts of the world is “creating a new category of people known as climate refugees.’’

The dominant worldview that the earth is only a source of raw materials and human beings are its consumers, was denounced. The attitude of many people who seek profit without limits, and who try to separate human beings from nature, was criticised. Dominating nature and transforming everything including water, earth, traditional cultures, biodiversity, justice, the rights of peoples and life itself into commodities will “destroy the harmony of creation, and force millions to become climate refugees,” the consultation said.

There are some 25 million climate refugees in the world today, the consultation quoted informed sources as saying, adding that they are mostly in Asia and Africa, “and their numbers are increasing.” The conference statement noted that by 2050 there will be 150-200 million climate refugees in the world, and Asia is likely to be home to a large number of them. According to the consultation, climate refugees are people who have left their habitats now or will in the near future because of climate change related environmental disasters. These include increased droughts, water scarcity, desertification, sea level rise and the more frequent occurrence of extreme weather events such as hurricanes, cyclones, tornadoes and mass flooding.

The consultation said that most of the climate refugees in Asia, Africa, Latin America and small and low lying island states may be forced to seek refuge in their own countries or cross the borders to find a new home. Citing an example of the Bhola islanders in Bangladesh, who are considered to be among some of the first climate refugees, the consultation said that in 1995, half of Bhola Island became permanently flooded leaving some 500,000 people homeless and forcing them to move into slums in the country’s capital city of Dhaka, where they lead a life of poverty.

Reverend Freddy De Alwis, an executive secretary of the CCA, told the consultation that the weather-related disasters are piling up in Asia and much worse can happen unless the human behaviour and attitudes towards the environment change radically. He said that human beings have misused and sinned against God’s creation and therefore “all of us have to repent and reconcile with the creation and make a fresh commitment to protect it as we protect our lives.”

The consultation stated that the groups most vulnerable to climate change are the poor, elderly, children, women and indigenous peoples. Churches and civil society organisations in Asia were urged to make people aware of the need to act now to limit carbon emissions and the resultant climate change. “We understand that women, indigenous communities, children, dalits and the like are disproportionately forced to bear the brunt of the consequences of climate change in spite of the fact that their carbon emission is almost zero,” the statement said.

The role of “tourism as one of the many contributors to changes in the climate system” was highlighted at the consultation. Caesar D’Mello, executive director of the Ecumenical Coalition on Tourism told the participants that the carbon emissions from tourism are on a steep increase, “forecast to grow by 162% in the period 2005-2035.” The tourism sector depends on “aviation and shipping, on fossil fuel dependent utilities such as air conditioning and refrigeration and intense use of power,” which contributes to climate change, D’Mello said. The consultation urged the churches and social movements in the region to create awareness of the impact of tourism on the environment and the poor, and to help promote just and responsible tourism.

The consultation urged faith communities to see climate change as climate injustice and to create awareness in children and young people through incorporating climate justice concerns into the Sunday school curriculum. Reverend Christopher Rajkumar, executive secretary of the NCCI, said that it has been urging the Indian churches to “mainstream eco-justice ministries into its life and witness.” De Alwis, said it is important for Asian churches and ecumenical organizations to understand and protect our collective accountability towards nature and the environment.

Inaugurating the consultation Methodist Bishop Tharanath Sagar, president of the NCCI, said that human beings have failed to be good stewards of God’s creation. He asked the churches to rethink and evolve programs to protect God’s creation, which is now groaning because of people’s insensitivity towards to the earth. “The groaning of creation is a public protest and a public witness,” said Dr George Zachariah, who teaches at the Gurukul Theological College in the southern Indian city of Chennai. He called for “A public protest against the unjust and sinful social structures that perpetuate death and destruction, and a public witness of the God who is present in the midst of our struggles keeping our hopes alive.”

Establishing eco-justice commissions with full time coordinators in all churches and dioceses, and ecumenical organisations was recommended by the consultation. Initiating carbon auditing of all churches and Christian organization and making alternative policies and practices were among the other recommendations.

Ms Chanmi Byun, a researcher from the Korean Church Institute for Ecology said that the entire humanity with a united voice must address the issue of climate change which is displacing millions of poor and vulnerable people in the world. She said that the churches in Korea have been campaigning against global warming and climate change. To reduce pollution, we have campaigns such as ‘Sunday with no car’ which encourages the use of public transportation, she said.

The Bangalore consultation was the third in a series organized under the broad theme, “Ecology, economy and accountability,” by the CCA’s Justice, International Affairs and Development commission. “We celebrate the memory of Jesus, the refugee who experienced being a refugee in Egypt. We realise that the “house of slavery” could be transformed into the “house of refuge’’ for Jesus’ family and this inspires our countries and churches to be a home for refugees,’’ the consultation said.

CCA 12 October 2010

Rev Prince Devanandan, the Mission and Ecumenical secretary designate, and member of the CCA General Committee, attended this consultation.