Churches raise prophetic voice for justice and inclusion

LWF Council youth delegates hold posters at the launch of the Waking the Giant ecumenical initiative in Geneva. Photo: LWF/S. Gallay
LWF Council youth delegates hold posters at the launch of the Waking the Giant ecumenical initiative in Geneva. Photo: LWF/S. Gallay

Lutheran churches in Colombia, Indonesia and Namibia launch reports on progress towards UN’s Agenda 2030

(LWI) - Lutheran churches in Colombia, Indonesia and Namibia have launched new reports reviewing their countries’ performance toward achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). At a webinar on 14 July, held as a side event to the UN’s High-Level Political Forum, authors of those reports highlighted the need for stronger partnerships between governments and faith-based organizations in an effort to achieve the goals by the target year of 2030.

The shadow reports form part of a Voluntary National Review (VNR) process, called for by the UN as a follow up to its 2030 Agenda. In opening remarks, The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge noted that COVID-19, coupled with “the climate crisis and conflict and fragility in all regions,” represents a significant setback to that agenda. But, he continued, other factors, such as debt inequalities, pushback on human rights, an alarming rise in gender-based violence and unequal vaccine access, are all slowing collective efforts toward achieving the SDGs.

Yet the goals, agreed upon by 193 nations, Junge said, continue to represent “both a vision and a shared commitment on which to build.” Together with ecumenical partners, he recalled, the LWF has been working through an initiative called ‘Waking the Giant’ “to leverage the unique role of faith-based actors, supporting churches to discover their true potential and space within the 2030 Agenda.”

Extreme poverty increasing in Colombia

The national coordinator of ‘Waking the Giant’ in Colombia, Bishop Eduardo Martínez, noted that his country has among the highest levels of inequality in the world, with around 42 percent of the population living in poverty and some 7.5 million people suffering from extreme poverty. Over 137,000 families are now able to eat only one meal a day, he warned, adding that the church is calling for tax reforms and a minimum wage to ensure support for the most vulnerable households. The former president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia also pointed to a huge gap between urban and rural areas in terms of access to health care and clean drinking water.

Focusing on the climate action goal, SDG 13, Martínez noted that Bogotá has become a model city with over 600 kilometers of cycle tracks, encouraging citizens to travel by bicycle in order to both improve health and decrease air pollution. But turning to SDG 16, on promoting peace, justice and strong institutions, he said churches are urging the government to strengthen protection for all human rights defenders in Colombia, where 101 civil society leaders were assassinated during 2020.

Rising sexual violence in Namibia

Mr Uhuru Dempers, a human rights activist and director of the desk for social development at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia, presented his report, noting that the country is classified among the top three nations with the highest levels of income inequality in the world. His church, he said, is “one of the leading civil society organizations” and is helping to coordinate ecumenical efforts of the Council of Churches in Namibia for socio-economic justice.

In terms of climate action, Dempers pointed out that Namibia is highly prone to natural disasters such as flooding, drought and veld fires, a problem compounded by poverty, poor infrastructure and traditional farming practices. The church is calling for urgent action to rehouse families living in overcrowded settlements and to provide support for diversifying agricultural enterprises. The main priority, he said, should be building community resilience, while at the same time, he noted his country has abundant potential for exploiting renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and biomass.

On SDG 16, Dempers said crime, particularly sexual and gender-based violence remains a major challenge in his country, despite a raft of new laws to protect women and children. Rising corruption, a lack of access to justice and limited possibilities of citizens to participate in a meaningful way in decision-making are other major concerns, he said. Drilling for oil and gas in the Kavango East Region, despite vehement protests by local indigenous communities concerned about the destruction of fragile ecosystems, is “a case in point,” he added.

Deforestation and biodiversity loss in Indonesia

Mr Fernando Sihotang, human rights and advocacy coordinator for the LWF National Committee in Indonesia shared findings from the report on SDGs 13 and 16 in his country, where Christians make up 10 percent of the mainly Muslim population. Despite the important work of the churches to support religious freedom, democracy and development, he said, “the terminology and concept of the SDGs Agenda” are not familiar and there are no collaborative partnerships between local government and faith-based organizations to achieve those goals.

On climate action, he noted that natural disasters like floods and landslides are predominantly caused by the high rate of deforestation due to the conversion of land for monoculture farming. This also leads to the loss of biodiversity and the displacement of indigenous people who are forced to become climate migrants. Churches are promoting unique ways of mitigating these problems, including tree planting as part of a couple’s wedding vows, organic farming methods, income generation as part of the green economy and using sermons to increase environmental literacy.

On SDG 16, Sihotang said sexual violence against women and children remains a problem in Indonesia too, with a 2016 draft bill still waiting for enactment and implementation. “Rampant corruption and bribery,” as well as “discrimination against religious minority groups” and an increase in precarious and unregulated labor for adults and children during the pandemic are other problems highlighted in the Indonesian report.

Mr Ezra Yego, project lead for the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network, highlighted the interconnectedness of all the 17 SDGs, noting that the climate crisis is eroding progress achieved in countries where violence and conflict persist. He said innovative solutions are urgently needed, while dialogue and “co-leadership” between different generations are key to the implementation of the Agenda 2030 vision.

Churches must continue to “raise our prophetic voice [and] always challenge injustice, attacks [and] threats to democracy, poverty and inequalities.
Ms Eva Ekelund, head of policy and deputy international director for ACT Church of Sweden

Summing up the contributions from Asia, Africa and Latin America, Ms Eva Ekelund, head of policy and deputy international director for Act Church of Sweden, said “faith voices are key” to holding governments accountable and can offer an ethical perspective, providing “a deeper analysis on the future that we want.” She noted that in her country, the minister for development cooperation recently described the church as “one of the few voices for justice and inclusion,” serving as “champions and guardians for the health of the planet and the rights of people that inhabit it.”

Churches must continue to “raise our prophetic voice,” she concluded, to avoid instrumentalization and, where necessary, to “challenge injustice, attacks [and] threats to democracy, poverty and inequalities.” People of faith must be “both visionaries and dreamers for a better future,” she said, while states and the UN system must engage with faith communities in order to build more sustainable and resilient societies.

LWF/P. Hitchen