Although it’s tempting to focus on the doom and gloom in terms of global social progress, there’s much to celebrate even if there’s still far to go. Similarly the church may face a range of challenges in the decades to come but Christ’s power to transform lives around the world for the better continues with inspiring results in Asia, Africa and the Pacific. UnitingWorld’s Cathryn Taylor ponders progress and introduces readers to UnitingWorld’s Seven Days of Solidarity.
In answer to the headline’s question: quite a lot, actually.
Not so long ago I stood in front of group of well educated adults and asked them if on the whole, they thought the world was getting better or worse. Hands on heads for better, arms crossed for worse.
Moments later I faced a room full of mostly defiantly folded arms. The world, we believe, isn’t great and it’s not getting any better.
Actually, on just about every measure you can think of, we’re in the best shape of our global lives.
Health, education, gender equality, political democracy, peace, economic opportunity—humanity is in the midst of the most comprehensive, fastest progress we’ve ever made.
To highlight just a couple of areas: over just the past thirty years, the percentage of people living on less than $US1 a day has dropped from 36 per cent to 9.5 per cent. Within the last 200 years, the percentage of people living in a democracy has grown from 10 per cent to 56 per cent; the percentage of those who have basic literacy from 15 per cent to 85 per cent.
These are big wins and we should celebrate them.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a long way to go—there absolutely is. But the same drive that kept our ancestors hyper vigilant in the face of sabre tooth tigers (a nifty feature which literally saved their lives) is also powerfully at work among us today—we tend to focus on the negative. And in keeping our eyes on the dangers at our feet, we miss the stunning horizon.
This is true in the church too, don’t you think? In Australia, there’s no denying that the role of Christianity in public life feels a bit muted, as though we no longer have the respect and influence we once enjoyed. Our Uniting Church struggles to fill its pews as congregations age, and its hard to maintain the flame. From within our own communities and shared local experiences, a picture of God’s people and God at work emerges, and its not always an energetic one.
What if we were to zoom out a little, and take a look at where we fit within the broader family of faith? We are members of a vast worldwide network of people who have been shaken and shaped by the love of the risen Christ, and life looks different from within their midst.
Christianity is still the world’s largest religion, and it’s thriving in many parts of Asia, the Pacific and Africa.
In these communities, church leaders are driving change at so many levels, guiding government peace processes in war-torn South Sudan; advocating for the dignity of women and girls and encouraging their involvement in politics and employment; teaching generations of young leaders how their faith fits into their economic realities in Zimbabwe; enlivening literally millions of people in the church in China.
In the Pacific, Christian voices are shaping community approaches to the disasters that increasingly devastate people’s lives. They share theology that helps people understand God’s role in suffering and disaster, and actively teach the call of Christ to care for creation and people. Lives are saved.
These are no small wins. They’re a potent expression of the power of God to convict, transform and turn the world upside down. And that’s always been our role—from the early Christians who were known for their radical inclusion of women and children, their care for those in their midst without any support like widows and orphans, their rescue of children left to die on rubbish heaps in a culture that embraced infanticide; their care for and refusal to leave cities devastated by plague and pandemic. We are blessed to be a blessing to others.
As we like to say in the Uniting Church, “all of this is us”. Uniting Church partners around the world help make up the expansive patchwork of people of faith who are living out their faith in witness and service, for the vastly greater good. It’s just that we seldom have the opportunity to really embrace or celebrate our collective impact, particularly on the global scene.
Between 18 to 25 April, UnitingWorld is calling congregations to do just that, in a new initiative called Seven Days of Solidarity.
It’s a week to meet the preachers, teachers, farmers, leaders and workers who are behind incredible change in our global neighbourhood, animated by the spirit of Christ. The week begins on Sunday during a service which includes a prayer and video to launch the week. Seven inspiring stories, with ideas for action and prayer points, are available online or as print copies, for the days between April 18 and 25. On April 25, gather your congregation again and make use of a sermon (pre-recorded or note available) and a full order of service, including prayers, call to worship and music ideas.
Uniting Church people in Australia have been part of this global family—through mission, prayer, giving and advocacy—for decades. Now seems like the perfect time to take a fresh look at all we’ve achieved together, to give thanks and to pledge ourselves anew to God’s work together.
Check out www.sevendaysofsolidarity.com.au for more details and to receive resources for 18-25 April.