The Anglican Communion and the Sustainable Development Goals

“Humanity is called to justice, compassion and standing alongside the poor. If we root our response to the afflictions of extreme poverty and other major global issues in these values, we can ensure that the Sustainable Development Goals provide a vision and a framework through which all of us can play a part in working towards a more just world, in which all have the opportunity to flourish and where no one is left behind”
– The Archbishop of Canterbury, 25 September 2015

Background

In 2015, the United Nations developed a set of 17 global goals that countries adopted in an effort to combat poverty, inequality, conflict and environmental crises. Formally titled Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, these goals are typically referred to as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs succeeded the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and provide a more specific, inclusive, and interconnected action plan to achieving sustainable development – i.e. safe and efficient economic growth conducted in a way that minimizes harmful environmental practices. A key difference between the two sets of goals is that where the Millennium Development Goals focused on improving lives in the global South, the Sustainable Development Goals require developing and developed countries to actively work towards their achievement, both within and beyond their borders.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are broken down into 169 targets and 232 indicators, meaning that more data and evaluation of progress towards the Goals will be available as we move towards the 2030 target date. Action, accountability and transparency are all vital if the Goals are to be met, and the necessary balance between human development and environmental and social protection.    

Fundamental to the 2030 Agenda is the commitment to ‘leaving no one behind’, ensuring that the benefits of development are equally shared within and across countries, and with a particular focus on improving the situation for those who are most vulnerable. This commitment – what Christians might understand as a ‘bias for the poor’ – is something that must remain at the core of the 2030 Agenda, and that all churches can and do put at the heart of their ministry.

The global Anglican Communion has played a significant role in pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals and the successor goals, the Sustainable Development Goals.

In many parts of the world, provinces, dioceses, parishes, agencies and individuals connected to Anglican communities have led the way in delivering health and education services, helped improve access to education, reduce child and maternal mortality, and assisted in turning the tide on HIV/AIDS and other diseases. In places of instability and conflict it is often the church - along with other faith communities - that is the sole surviving institution providing hope, relief and support to those most in need.

SDG initiatives

The Anglican Alliance is currently producing a major new resource that will set the Sustainable Development Goals in a theological context, which will be shared across the Anglican Communion and will be a vital tool in strengthening knowledge and understanding of the SGDs and the role that the Church is playing and can continue to play in pursuit of the Goals.

At the heart of the corporate understanding of what it means to be an Anglican in the world [the Five Marks of Mission], is the statement that Anglicans are “to respond to human need by loving service.” Across the world, Anglican churches are often on the front line of anti-poverty initiatives, providing food for local communities, running health centres, hospitals, schools and universities. There will be few churches not engaged in one or more of those initiatives listed above, whether of not they are aware that they are supporting the first four Sustainable Development Goals.

GOAL 1: No Poverty

GOAL 2: Zero Hunger

GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being

GOAL 4: Quality Education

GOAL 5: Gender Equality

In 2016, the Anglican Consultative Council noted in its resolutions that it “supports UN Sustainable Development Goal 5: ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.

The Anglican Consultative Council urged the provinces of the Anglican Communion to continue to work at empowering girls and boys, women and men to live and work in relationships that reflect Christian values of love, dignity, and justice, by;

  • fostering awareness of harmful gender norms and cultural practices, and unjust power relations;

  • encouraging and supporting church leaders to take responsibility for modelling just relationships and, within their spheres of influence, for promoting gender equality, and for leading their people in challenging and ending gender-based violence in all its forms;

  • transforming structures that prevent women and girls from offering their gifts and talents in the Church and in their communities;

  • fully involving men and boys as well as women and girls in exploring and redefining just and equal gender relationships;

  • exploring how liturgies, contextual Bible study and existing ministries such as preparation for Baptism, Confirmation and Marriage can serve in the promotion of right relationship and intergenerational teaching about the God-given dignity and status of all persons.

The Anglican Consultative Council recommitted itself to previous resolutions calling for equal representation of women in decision-making bodies; the elimination of all forms of gender-based and domestic violence; and the ending and preventing of the trafficking of persons; and stated that it upholds just relationships between women and men as a reflection of our Christian belief that women and men are equally made in the divine image; and celebrates the encouraging progress made across the Anglican Communion to address key challenges to gender justice.

Each year, a delegation of Anglican women attends the UN Commission on the Status of Women. It is intended that there will continue to be a strong Anglican presence at future meetings of UNCSW.

GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation &
Goal 14: Life Below Water

Through the 2017 Just Water campaign, a number of major Anglican cathedrals around the world have come together to educate and advocate for clean water. In the context of the drought experienced in South Africa in early 2018, church leaders were at the forefront of efforts to educate communities and seek to avoid ‘Day Zero’, with the Anglican Diocese of Cape Town hosting the ‘Water (In)Justice Conference’ in February.

GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy,
GOAL 13: Climate Action &
GOAL 15: Life on Land

At the heart of the corporate understanding of what it means to be an Anglican in the world [the Five Marks of Mission], is the statement that Anglicans are “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth”

Meeting in Lusaka, Zambia in April 2016, the Anglican Consultative Council noted the dire consequences of climate change for future generations and for all of God’s creation; recognised the global urgency of the crisis of climate change and its impact on the well-being of all people, especially the most vulnerable in societies; and encouraged Anglicans everywhere to join in pastoral, priestly, and prophetic action by:

  • praying and fasting, including special fasts on the first day of each month and a ‘carbon fast’ during Lent;

  • designing and taking strategic actions toward sustainability and resilience in dioceses, communities and congregations, taking into account local ecological and economic contexts and opportunities;

  • reviewing and making necessary changes to church investments to ensure these are visibly supportive of a move towards a low carbon economy;

  • making energy efficiency and access to renewable energy a priority in all church operations;

  • teaching the Fifth Mark of Mission in theological and church-sponsored educational bodies;

  • urging political, economic, social, and religious leaders in our various constituencies to address the climate change crisis as the most pressing moral issue of our day consistent with the United Nations’ 21st Climate Change Conference, Paris 2015;

  • recognizing and supporting indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent in decisions concerning the environment and the well-being of communities; and

  • advocating for sustainable water, food, and agricultural practices in our communities consistent with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

The Anglican Communion, particularly through the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Derby (Church of England and Vice-Chair Anglican Alliance), has been at the forefront of the response to human trafficking and modern slavery (SDG 8.7).

In 2018, the work of the Anglican Alliance has a major focus on human trafficking and modern slavery. This project is called ‘Freedom Year’, and focuses on equipping Anglican churches around the world to respond to trafficking and slavery in their communities. The Alliance’s work on this issue is set in a holistic strategic framework called ‘The 7 Ps’: prayer, prevention, protection, prosecution, partnership, policy and participation.

The Anglican Alliance also runs regional training workshops on modern slavery and human trafficking, working in partnership with Caritas Internationalis and The Salvation Army.   

GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

Local church communities are increasingly recognised as credible and sustainable providers of financial support for the wider community, particularly in terms of micro financing projects. The Anglican-founded mission agency Five Talents provides an excellent example of how local churches and faith-based organisations enable those who have no access to financial services “to set-up and grow the small, often vulnerable, businesses they depend on”.

GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality

In many contexts, the Church is speaking out in favour of tackling inequalities and the social, economic and political inclusion of all, particularly speaking with and for those on the margins of society who are often left out of formal economic, political and social structures.

In 2018, the Anglican Communion Office at the United Nations is particularly concerned with the implementation of SDG 10.7, “the facilitation of orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies.” We have been supporting a number of coalitions concerned with the progress of the Global Compact on Migration (as well as the Global Compact on Refugees), and see the local church as a key stakeholder in how both Compacts are implemented.

GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

The Anglican Alliance has significant expertise in ‘disaster risk reduction’ and provides user-friendly toolkits and regular training workshops for provinces and dioceses of the global Anglican Communion, to assist in “significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to global gross domestic product caused by disasters, including water-related disasters, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations” (SDG 10.5)

GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

In the Global North, Anglican churches have often been strong supporters of activities and campaigns to reduce food waste (SDG 12.3). In 2018, for example, the Church of England’s General Synod backed a motion, grounded in the Biblical injunction that the poor and vulnerable are not excluded from the harvest, which urged all dioceses and parishes to work with other voluntary initiatives to lobby for all local food retailers to review their policy on waste food so that the amount made available to combat food poverty is maximised; and called for the Government to seek to minimise food waste by food retailers whether by encouraging voluntary action, taking fiscal measures or, if necessary, bringing forward legislation.

Where possible, local churches aim to improve the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources in the local community (SDG 12.2).

GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Whilst acknowledging that there are deeply-held differences within and between parts of the global Anglican Communion, the Anglican Consultative Council has also made clear that the member churches of the Communion are called to help transform conflict and end violence between communities and among peoples where it is found around the world.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has made peace and reconciliation a central pillar of his own ministry. Through the ‘Reconciling Leaders Network’ the Archbishop and his Reconciliation Team, are seeking to build a worldwide movement of Christians who are inspired and equipped to live out this call.

The Network will offer a practical reconciliation toolkit for local churches, encouraging them to explore the biblical call to reconciliation and the many ways that every church member can serve as a reconciler. They will also offer reconciliation training for those seeking to deepen their skills as reconcilers and mentors. This training will provide opportunities for context-specific implementation and will focus especially on three groups:

  • Emerging Leaders: offering the next generation of Christian leaders the mentoring and tools they need to be a reconciler, equipped to transform conflict constructively. Modules will be tailored to specific. workplace, communal and geographical contexts, delivered as part of ongoing professional formation

  • Mentors and Mediators: supporting older, wiser Christians to apply their experience of dealing with conflict, serving as mediators in the community and workplace, and as mentors to the next generation.

  • Women on the Frontline: focusing on the specific contribution of women as peace-builders. Women are often the first to notice rising tension, act to de-escalate it and care for those impacted by conflict. While they are often the victims of conflict, women are also powerful, unrecognised reconcilers, serving on the frontlines. By offering retreats and practical skills, we enable women to find solidarity in sharing their experiences of conflict. We help them access the skills they need to support their communities in rebuilding peace.

The Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion Office, the Most Reverend Josiah Idowu-Fearon, who was previously Archbishop of the Province of Kaduna in the Church of Nigeria, is a widely-respected expert on interfaith relations and dialogue, particularly between Christian and Muslim communities. The Anglican Communion has recently launched the Anglican Interfaith Commission, which was created to bring mutual understanding and to build trust between different faith groups working internationally and through five regional groups.

The Anglican Communion Office at the United Nations is mandated to encourage provinces of the Anglican Communion to support and develop initiatives that assist in the achievement of SDG 16.9, that all children under 5 years of age have been registered with a civil authority. There are many excellent examples of how Anglican churches and communities have supported universal birth registration, and throughout 2018 and beyond, ACOUN will continue to encourage churches to share best practice and support more churches to support birth registration initiatives.

GOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal

The nature of the Anglican Communion, as well as the work of the Anglican Alliance, is such that capacity-building between and within different geographic areas is commonplace (SDG 17.9), and a number of examples have already been given in this paper. Part of the mandate of the Anglican Communion Office at the United Nations is to help connect provinces, dioceses, parishes, agencies and individuals with similar concerns, or complementary skills and resources to encourage them to learn from one another and to build up an ever-stronger web of connections across different parts of the Communion.

The Anglican Communion Office at the UN also actively engages with other parts of civil society with an interest in the Sustainable Development Goals. This work is closely connected to the Anglican Alliance, which serves to connect and equip the worldwide Anglican family of churches and agencies so that together they can share skills and resources to tackle poverty and injustice and safeguard creation – all encompassed by the vision of the SDGs.

Conclusion

The above is simply a snapshot of the work going on across the Anglican Communion. The ACOUN team are seeking to partner more intentionally with other faith-based and civil society organisations working on common or similar themes, and to work more collaboratively with UN agencies – both at the global and the local level.