Seeks to support the majority of people on the planet who live in cities, advocating good housing, clean and safe cities and access to basic services for all.
‘How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!’ Psalm 133:1, yet…there is great disparity between this truth and modern living for millions. Half of humanity lives in cities, but of these, 828 million still live in slums. Goal 11 has lots to say about this, as too we’d argue, does God.
+ THEOLOGICAL REFLECTION
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! Psalm 133:1
We mentioned cities before, when we were considering Goal 9 about industry and infrastructure. Goal 11 however, recognises the reality that cities are where most people live, 60% of the world’s population by 2030. But the communities that are created within them are sometimes fragile and dangerous. This then is a goal focussed on living together well, in the knowledge that very often the closer together we are, the harder that is to do.
It matters to Christians too. Christianity, from the creation of heaven and earth, through the incarnation, to the renewal of all things is a very material faith – stuff matters. Various attempts down the years have attempted to over-spiritualise life and faith, sometimes out of sympathy for the poor, but they ultimately fail. Poverty – hard, real, grinding poverty matters to God.
When the Bible talks about the poor, as it often does, it almost always means the materially poor. Occasional talk of the ‘poor in spirit’ should never blind us to that or cause us to re-interpret the whole. A whole host of verses from all over the Bible make this point. Suffice it to say, take the call to fight the injustice of material poverty out of the Bible and we are left with a text full of holes.
But one verse remains. A stark, seemingly irritatingly clear verse, made all the more so as it comes from the lips of Jesus himself and is repeated in three of the four gospels. A well-known and dangerous verse because it has the capacity to self-justify our ambivalence, to provide a God ordained reason for our negativity, our lack of action, and our disobedience. If ‘the poor will always be with us’ then Goal 1 is a non-starter. We can do our bit, but our ambition is invariably limited, our hopes diminished, our enthusiasm quashed, all on the say so of Jesus. But what if we have got it wrong, and this record of a conversation between Jesus and Judas is not the bold statement of absolute, inevitable, eternal truth that we so easily, and conveniently, take it for? What if Judas is being reminded that to engage in a specific act of worship need not get in the way of the ongoing requirement to serve the poor, who will always present a pressing claim to his attention? We are not Judas. We live in the first generation in history that has the capacity to eliminate extreme poverty. Between 1990 and 2015 1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty, that is half of the total.
As Christians approach this goal, justification is hardly required. More encouragement is needed that it can be achieved and it is God’s heartfelt desire that poverty should be ended, now!The issues that affect busy communities, especially urban ones are many; population, housing, pollution, transport, sanitation as well as the complex business of enabling large numbers of very different people to get along together. The Bible has a lot to say about living effectively, and inclusively, as a community, in ways that make it safe, resilient and sustainable. It even has a (Greek) word for it ‘koinonia’ meaning a combined sharing and participation, individuals jointly engaging together and accepting responsibility for one another. It is used most commonly in relation to the community of the church but the church itself is intended to be an example to wider society of how to live together, therefore it has much to contribute to the thinking behind this goal.
Practically speaking, close to 1 billion people currently live in city slums and approximately half of the world’s urban population are exposed to pollution levels at least 2.5 times higher than the maximum recommended World Health Organisation level. These bare statistics form much of the substance of the targets behind this goal but the heart of it, the crucial means by which they will be achieved, is the engagement of people within the communities themselves. The creation of genuine community is notoriously difficult at a policy level, it requires people committed together, ‘koinonia’.
The contemporary church has massive expertise and experience in building community, whether in African slums or UK housing estates. As with many of these goals, it has unique capacity and motivation to make a difference in every conceivable community all around the world. Christians cannot only define but help create safe, effective, resilient and strong communities.
+ DISCUSSION POINTS
- What Biblical texts come to mind when you think of the call to build and be a genuine community?
- Acts 2:44-46 is perhaps the most well known description of ‘koinonia’, what are the key ingredients and how might we apply them today?
- Practically, how can we stand with those who do not have a decent place to live in your community or other parts of the world?
+ GOAL 11 IN ACTION
Seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities and hope. Every day, Habitat works beside families and communities to improve the place they call home.
Slum upgrading programmes include home renovations, building community toilets and improving drainage. In response to the Prophet Micah’s call to walk humbly with God, doing justice and showing mercy, Habitat promotes decent, affordable housing for all and advocates for ‘just’ housing policies to eliminate the constraints that contribute to poverty housing. This is a huge global need as the rate of cities and slums grows. Habitat was extensively influential in the formulation of the Goals to ensure that housing needs are met as cities expand and slum populations rise. Goal 11 emphasises housing, secure tenure and community-led development. Yet, the work has just begun. Implementing it will require hard work, political will and mutual accountability.
+ WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT?
Local – How could your community become more inclusive, particularly for those in a vulnerable situation, for the elderly or for those with a disability?
International – Join Habitat for Humanity’s Solid Ground campaign; sign the petition urging leaders to prioritise land for shelter.