Frank Tracy Griswold III

The 25th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold: A reflection on the Millennium Development Goals

September 21, 2006
Frank T. Griswold

The Church’s engagement in the fight to end global poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals stems not from a vague sense of care for the poor, but rather from our faith in a God whose deepest desire is communion with and between all people. From that perspective, I’d like to reflect for a few moments today on the theme of unity, as it is both a central identity of the Church and the central calling of the Millennium Development Goals.

“May they be one,” Jesus prays for his followers on the night of his betrayal, “as you, Father, are in me and I am in you.” (John 17:20-21) This simple prayer — part of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his followers in John’s gospel — expresses the perfect unity to which God draws all people in Christ. This is no ordinary unity or mere conformity, but rather an invitation to participate in Jesus’ own intimate unity with the Father. Through his Cross, Resurrection, and the working of the Holy Spirit, Jesus invites each of us to participate in the life and work shared by the Father and the Son in the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Unity with God and God’s loving desire for the world lies at the heart of the church’s self understanding. And thus it is that we find ourselves, through baptism, drawn into the ever unfolding mystery of communion, whereby God’s life becomes our own and we are bound together one with another.

“In the communion of saints, we are all [brothers] so closely united that a closer relationship cannot be conceived,” writes Martin Luther, “for in this fellowship … each of us is a member, one of another. No other society is so deeply rooted, so closely knit.”

The catechism of the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer affirms this point, telling us that “the mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” And in describing how the Church carries out its mission, the Catechism continues: “it does so as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace and love.”

Unity and reconciliation are not things of our making but rather what God has already carried out in Christ. “God, in Christ, was reconciling the world to himself,” Paul tells us; and as a consequence of that reconciling act, God has “entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation.” (1 Cor. 5:20)

Our role, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, is to remove the barriers that obscure and conceal the glorious unity and restoration accomplished by God in Christ. Our role is to make the world revelatory of God’s desire being lived out through God’s people. And here we are.

And, as we look at our world today, it often is easier to see obstructions and barriers — the fruits of sin and brokenness — than it is to see the unity and reconciliation achieved by God in Christ. Every three seconds, someone in the world dies because he or she is too poor to live, with 70 percent of those who die being women. Every six seconds, another person dies from AIDS, malaria, or tuberculosis. Every 14 seconds, a child is orphaned because her parents were overcome by the effects of poverty or disease. These brutal realities — along with conflict and war, the desecration of God’s creation, and lack of basic education for millions of children around the world — comprise an all-encompassing cycle of desperate poverty that kills.

The Millennium Development Goals represent a recognition by the nations of the world that none of this has to be so. It does not need to be this way. The people of the world — rich and poor, weak and powerful — share a common humanity and possess destinies that are fundamentally intertwined. By claiming that unity as a focal point for action, and by challenging nations to build partnerships rooted in that unity, the Millennium Development Goals provide a pathway to a world free from poverty that kills. The resources, strategies, and knowledge exist, if only the moral will can be called forth.

But moral will seems to be in short supply all around the world. The unity of purpose that led the world’s leaders to create the MDGs and reaffirm them at several key junctures has somehow not been sufficient to free up the resources and energies to keep the promises that have been made. In the United States, untold billions continue to fund war and other measures billed as “security,” while true security can be found only as we address the inequities and injustices of the world.

Luke’s gospel has a warning for us and for our nation as well. Let us take care that we do not “see the speck in our neighbor’s eye, but fail to see the log in our own eye.” (Luke 6:41) The assumed rightness of our actions as a nation in other parts of the world needs constantly to be scrutinized, and – on occasion – lead us to repentance.

There is, however, good news. All around the world citizens are uniting to hold their governments to a higher standard. In the United States this movement for the MDGs is called the ONE Campaign. Barely two years old, it already includes 2.3 million people and is growing every day. Both the ELCA and the Episcopal Church have entered into partnerships with the ONE Campaign, recognizing that the vision of unity contained in the Millennium Development Goals is an articulation of the vision of a world reconciled to God in Christ. Here it will be necessary for citizens to hold their governments to account.

In recent years, people of faith have been instrumental in the fight against apartheid and the Jubilee 2000 Campaign to cancel the debts of impoverished countries. Now, people of faith are being called to a similar witness in the campaign to end poverty.

It is our faith in Christ’s Incarnation that gives us the resolve to meet that challenge. In Christ God took on the fullness of our humanity, emptying himself of heavenly glory in order to stand squarely in the center of all the world’s afflictions. Our availability to God’s desire for the full flourishing of all obliges us to focus squarely upon those afflictions. We must, in the words of the baptismal reaffirmation we made earlier today: “seek to serve Christ in all persons.”

In pondering these words, it would serve us well to remember Dorothy Day’s succinct observation that: “those who cannot see Christ in the face of the poor are atheists indeed.”

The church’s participation in Christ’s ministry of reconciliation is a true measure of its fidelity to the God who created us and the Savior who draws us into perfect unity. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once observed that in the labor and suffering of the world God has placed “an irresistible and holy desire that moves us all, the impious as well as the faithful, to cry out: ‘O Lord, Make us One.'”

As we rededicate ourselves today to common mission for the sake of the world, may this be our prayer: “O Lord, Make us One.”