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M. Farr: Spirituality and the MDGs

The greatest challenge facing the United States and the West has and will be in the next twenty-five years how it treats its religious minorities. In our world today this suddenly has become very real. How this issue is addressed affects our foreign policy and our domestic policy.

We in the West are still used to thinking in dominant, hierarchical ways. We look at the Millennium Development Goals and we think, “That’s for those who have problems in the developing world.” But that is to totally miss how we should be seeing it.

What is required now is a kind of Copernican shift, because the problem started here, and people in the developing world are bearing in their bodies the fruits of our failure. It is our failure that has created the need for those development goals, not their failure. We need to think about how we develop and change and think in the way of partnership.

In the last decade we have seen the world has become more religious. The issues and the dynamics of faith and religion have begun to turn around. It also gives the leaders of the faith and service movement a new leverage and new power. We have to think about how we deal with that.

We from the Western point of view have professionalized the culture of service. We have put it into agencies and into the United Nations. We have given federal government grants to various places in the world. What that has done is allow us to evade our personal responsibility.

If you give money to someone, it allows you to think that you have helped. But the grace of faith is to personalize how we serve. We can no longer merely think that in order to solve the issues highlighted in the Millennium Development Goals we have to find an agency or press the government to give money.

As people of faith we need to say: “We are how we must solve these problems.” We cannot leave it any longer to agencies, governments, and administrations. People of faith can work to change the culture of service that has become professionalized.

If you do not think about those issues and goals as being spiritual in nature, you will never solve them, because the human heart, your heart, is a spiritual one. I am not talking about a particular faith; I am talking about the yearning for meaning, the yearning for understanding, and the yearning for a connection.

There is a spiritual nature to us all, and that needs to be recognized. Thus, what we as faithful people add into that mix is the voice of the spirit. You cannot divorce your life from what you think you should be doing. Without you getting involved and without me getting involved, we will not solve this issue.

God, however we name Him or Her, has given you a truth. Without your truth, the solution will not come. We need to re-spiritualize our response, and re-Christianizing the world will no longer do.

Some people have essentially been saying that they want to bring Christianity back. That will no longer do in this world. This world is too connected to so many other faiths.

I have been working for about twenty years in the interfaith movement, and the little interfaith world, which seemed to be so minimal with little dialogues happening here and there, suddenly turns out to be the answer. When those of us who are working in faith and service address foreign policy issues and those goals, we need to know that the interfaith movement is the way we must go.

I am Episcopalian; I come from the Christian world, so I say that to my Christian brothers and sisters. But I also know that those of you who are from different faiths may have to think the same thought. Check yourself: are you thinking really about your own faith when you say we need to bring faith to this environment? What are you really seeking? Are you truly going to treat other faiths equally in terms of the response?

As someone from the West, I think that there has been a profound lack of seriousness in how we address these goals. We have been acting based on our electoral cycle and economy. We need more profound ways of addressing those goals. I pray from my faith that each of us can contemplate in silence our belief and then come together and address with more seriousness these beautiful and wonderful goals.

Thank you very much. May God's blessings be upon you and your families.