This page appears as part of the human rights journeys site ‘State & Society Watch”. The purpose of this special page on SDG16 is to make church leadership and students aware of the blind spot in science, business and politics of failing to understand the value of faith and faith institutions in the emergence of just and sustainable political societies. This is an urgent subject in the post-western 21st century as economic and military factors consider themselves paramount. The challenge is to move away from this limited and materialistic worldview, which is rooted in the revolutions in labor productivity and security capability. Their limitations are in evidence in today’s geopolitical environment and in fact recognized by the U.S.A. president on September 1, 2021, when he called an end to “an era of major military operations to remake other countries.” It is easier to take that decision then to figure out what else can promote justice, peace and prosperity.
The United Nations tried that when they set Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) for 2030. In the faith context the most important goal is no 16:
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all citizens and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
For the sake of U.N. Sustainable Development Goal No. 16 the contribution of freedom of faith and religious institutions in the dynamics of establishing enduring societies of justice and human rights should be taken into account. A renewed public theology is called for.
An African proverb says it well: “If you know the beginning well, the end shall not trouble you”. This is particularly true for SDG16. Yet, the emergence of sustainable peace in societies has largely disappeared from view.
Look at achieving SDG16 as a history of social contract. Citizens give a sovereignty mandate to rulers but never without conditions. This is the process of state sovereignty institution and distribution. Today the ancient wisdom of St. Augustine still makes sense: without justice rulers are like wolves. His tutor St. Ambrose denied the Roman emperor the right to use the church as his mouthpiece.
Christians and religious people in general may mistakenly see the earthly rule for peace and justice through the lens of perceiving God’s intervention or the direct implementation of sacred text. These tendencies can be summarized by the term “theocracy”. St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, both living at the end of the Roman empire, did not confuse earthly rule and declarations of divine intervention. Yet, their goal was nothing less than what SDG16 promotes. And what is more: the importance of their words is still very relevant.
The scientific term for a just social contract or SDG16 is “Open Access”. It is said that today only about fifteen percent of the world population lives in the so-called “open access societies”. These are nations where impersonal and inclusive institutions function in a sustainable way (North, Douglass, etc. Violence and Social Orders, xii). In essence in these societies public trust has developed on an individual scale, thus allowing for a process in which subjects of government become citizens with individual responsibility. Government has no absolute right in such societies.
What does achieving SDG16 in more nations take? Sustainable institutions. What do sustainable institutions ask for? A just and peaceful process of authority and mandate. In the present world of globalization political authority and its mandate come about through territorial sovereignty and citizenry. No nation in the United Nations allows others to run its territory. But not all nations have effective governance and citizenry. Citizen rights cannot be bought or brought in from outside the country. This is not bad but very good news for those who want SDG16, most importantly for Christians: citizenship is potentially available in all human beings. Responsible citizens who trust each other is the secret of SDG16. Unjust rulers fear effective citizenry. The right institutional process makes a peaceful social contract possible everywhere. As values oriented communities churches have the potential to further SDG16.
The peaceful and effective dialogue between government and citizenry is the key element of SDG16. The evolving post-western order is an opportunity to achieve SDG16 in many more countries. A meta-analysis of the requirements of SDG16, taking into account the list of suggested materials below, brings four necessary factors to the fore:
freedom of faith and assembly
free partner choice and the nuclear family
The synergy of these four factors determines sustainable peace and prosperity in a given country and thus SDG16. The aim of this web page is to promote Christian research and action to achieve SDG16 in many more countries.
The United Nations plays an important complementary role in as much as it allows for the voice heard of citizens towards their government.
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At the installation of bishop Abraham Mulwa of the Africa Inland Church, Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta addresses the different responsibilities of church and state, in service of humanity and all of creation:
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