Episcopal Diocesan council
For the first time, I attended the annual council of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia in Roanoke on Saturday. My main reason for going was wanting to see Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church U.S.A. She was indeed an impressive speaker, with a sincere bearing and a clear, resonant voice. The main theme of her keynote address was explaining the Millennium Development Goals, a program of Episcopal Relief and Development. The eight goals are as follows:
- Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
- Achieve universal primary education for children
- Promote gender equality and empower women
- Reduce child mortality
- Improve maternal health
- Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB, etc.
- Ensure environmental sustainability
- Create a global partnership for development
Overall, the goals seem either too vague or too ambitious (from my rational perspective as a policy wonk with an economics backgrouind), but setting sights high may be the only way to motivate people to take real action. I strongly agree with Bishop Schori that the United States and European countries must sharply cut agricultural subsidies if farmers in the Third World are to have any chance at competing in the global market and thereby lifting themselves out of poverty. That reform measure alone would yield as much effect as half the annual U.S. foreign aid budget. She also rightly called attention to the need to liquidate a large portion of the outstanding debt owed by Third World countries, though she did not address the nagging complexities that make that issue so hard to resolve. On the other hand, I disagree with Bishop Schori's insistence that only the government can shoulder the burden of funding the needed development programs. The government can play a supporting role, but should never take the lead in charitable operations. Any time the government gets involved in transfers of wealth, there is an inherent tendency toward corruption and inefficiency. Voluntary contributions by individuals and organizations have the unique quality of being well targeted and accountable to those who truly care.
Later that day, I participated in a roundtable on "Fair Trade and EcoJustice" led by Dr. Jim Bier, who teaches at Ferrum College. He and other church members have been visiting small-scale eco-friendly coffee farms in Nicaragua for the past several years. I'm not sure that the current aid efforts are as efficient or business-wise as they could be, but it is at least a good start. I mentioned that such small-scale coffee coops need to make a bigger publicity effort so that tourists will know where to go when they visit their countries. I had a hard time locating such coffee producers when I visited Costa Rica and Nicaragua in 2005.
I enjoyed meeting other Episcopalians at the council, which was held at the historic Hotel Roanoke, where I attended a scholarly conference about ten years ago. One of the people I met was Rev. David Cox, who ran as a Democratic candidate for the 24th District Virginia Senate seat last fall. (It's a small world!) I told him that I appreciated the fact that the fall campaign was very civil, in contrast to the nastiness of the spring primary campaign when Scott Sayre tried (and failed) to unseat incumbent Senator Emmett Hanger.
I did not hear any talk of the divisive issues (such as the ordination of gay clergy and bishops) that arose when Bishop Schori was elected Presiding Bishop in June 2006, which led in turn to the "secession" of several congregations in December 2006. There was much emphasis on unity, however, which is of course desperately needed.