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Can Things Get Better for Us All?

By Paul Chaffee


Trying to understand the scope of the word ‘interfaith’ is a never-ending exercise these days. Religion itself, in a remarkable turn-around, is taking center stage in the mainline media day after day. Earlier this month, in Forbes, Jean-Pierre Lehmann asks “Is the 21st Century the Century of Religion?” and answers with a strong affirmative. To be sure, secular Western Europe and the U.S., where Nones (the non-affiliated) are the fastest growing religious demographic, don’t fit the pattern. But clearly, religion is growing in most of the world, and interfaith issues loom.

An important interfaith door I’d never opened is TIO’s theme this month – “World Development and Religion.” Katherine Marshall opened the door, walking me into a universe I’d barely noticed before. Here the stakeholders include nations and their policies, vast international agencies, profit and nonprofit corporations, academics, and well-organized grassroots activists. Individually and collaboratively they are engaged in policy development, huge building projects, massive research, humanitarian support, and numerous social justice issues. An impressive lineup until you ponder the massive global challenges of conflict, poverty, climate change, gender equality, childhood education, and more.

What is different today is that religious communities working for a better world and the secular leaders of global development (including bankers, legislators, businesspeople, and nonprofit leaders), historically chary of each other, are beginning to realize how badly they need each other – indeed, how they cannot reach their goals without pursuing collaborative strategies. Developing these new relationships, particularly from a global perspective, is both implicitly and explicitly an interfaith enterprise. As people wake up to this reality, interfaith experience, resources, and skill-sets become all the more important.

The MDGs Were a Starting Point

For the past 15 years the United Nations-sponsored Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have provided a global platform where religious and secular activists, from the grassroots to the halls of power, could get acquainted and start working together. The bottom line of numerous goals was to end extreme poverty, and while that was not achieved, huge leaps have been made in that direction. For instance, extreme poverty has been reduced by 700 million people in the past 25 years, though that still leaves 1.2 billion still in trouble.

The final MDG was to create a global partnership for development. Last month the UN took a step in that direction, endorsing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a much more ambitious effort, and one that cries out for secular-faith based cooperation, as this month’s TIO makes clear. Inter Press Service (IPS) has a series of articles to bring you up-to-speed on the new SDGs.

Katherine Marshall lecturing at the University of Notre Dame – Photo:  nd.edu

Katherine Marshall lecturing at the University of Notre Dame – Photo: nd.edu

Dr. Katherine Marshall is a pioneering interfaith treasure in this arena. She has spent four decades and flown two and a half million miles documenting and resourcing the growing relationship between religion and secular development in Africa, Latin America, East Asia, and the Middle East. Between 2000-2006 she led the World Bank’s faith and ethics work. As a senior fellow of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, she helped create and now serves as executive director of the World Faiths Development Dialogue, a program that features extended interviews with interfaith leaders around the world. She has served on dozens of panels, lectured widely, written books and numerous articles about development and religion, and regularly publishes in the Washington Post and Huffington Post Religion. A modest, indefatigable servant to her cause, Katherine Marshall deserves the kudos of anyone who cares about the needs and quality of life of every person on the planet.

Without her contributions, insights, and connections, this issue of TIO would have been impossible. Thank you, Katherine Marshall!