Mainline Protestants love to talk about the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. When Katherine Jefferts Schori was invested as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in 2006, she offered not one word about sin, forgiveness, reconciliation with God, or discipleship, but many words in support of the Millennium Development Goals. In numerous sermons and speeches since then she has lamented that all the theological controversies surrounding the Anglican world have distracted us from our real mission, which is to help realize the Millennium Development Goals. In the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent summation of the just-concluded Lambeth Conference, he writes that “The Millennium Development Goals were repeatedly stressed, and there was universal agreement that both governmental and non-governmental development agencies needed to create more effective partnerships with the churches and to help the churches increase and improve their own capacity to deliver change for the sake of justice. To further this, it was agreed that we needed a much enhanced capacity in the Communion for co-ordinated work in the field of development.”
The MDGs, as we shall call them, are certainly admirable, but the problem with all this is that churches make really lousy social service agencies, and are poor vehicles for pursuing the MDGs. Churches are filled with people who know little about the challenges of economic and social development; because of all the buildings they own or rent, and the various other goods they feel they must purchase that do absolutely nothing to support the MDGs, their overhead is far too high; and they are continually distracted from the MDGs by the tasks of preaching, teaching, counseling, administering the sacraments, and so on. It is long past time for the churches to turn over the pursuit of the MDGs to people who know what they’re doing and are wholly committed to the task.
So my advice to all the mainline churches that see achievement of the MDGs as the core of their mission: sell all you have and give it to the poor. Your many possessions do absolutely nothing for the MDGs: sell them. Sell the chalices. Sell the copes, surplices, and cassocks. Sell the plate. Sell the prayer books, hymnals, and (if you have any) Bibles. Sell the pews. Sell the stained glass. Sell the buildings and the land to those who actually need them. Sell it all and give the proceeds to organizations who can actually do something to achieve the Goals that you say are at the very heart of your mission. Put your money where your mouth is. Or else shut up.