October 10, 2006
Preventing the End of the World
The world is shrinking. One can hardly go a day without hearing about events in Iraq, Afghanistan, South Korea, or Israel. Recently leaders from around the world gathered in New York for President Clinton's Global Initiative Conference to discuss the challenges we face. Pastor and Leadership's editor-at-large Gordon MacDonald was there.
I was recently invited to the Clinton Global Initiative Conference in New York City by the former president. As far as I know only a handful of evangelicals were present among approximately 1,000 political, business, and cultural leaders.
The CGI Conference is a crossroads of ideas and networking to reduce cultural and political barriers that separate human beings and create the grounds for conflict and disaster. Panel topics included (1) Energy and Climate Challenge; (2) Global Health Issues; (3) Poverty Alleviation; and (4) Mitigating Religious and Ethnic Conflict. They were populated by people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, Colin Powell, Rupert Murdoch, Paul Farmer, Kofi Annan, Hamid Karzai, Pervez Musharraf, Bill Gates, and Paul Kagame (president of Rwanda). And I have named only a few.
Amazingly, there was little energy spent on politics. Rather there was an incredibly serious tone, a clear awareness that the world is in greater trouble today than it has ever been.
Some (like the King of Jordan) spoke of the widening rift between the Muslim world and the West in almost prophetic tones. The two cultures are misunderstanding each others' hurts and aspirations.
Climate change, fresh outbreaks of disease, the lack of basic community health (clean water, vaccines, etc.) are all contributing to a growing frustration that threatens the stability of the entire world. Despite the drastic situation there was a streak of optimism. Perhaps that was because the people at the conference are all entrepreneurs, can-do people who choose to see the opportunities that crisis creates. There was little hand-wringing and a lot of innovative thinking.
I know, all too well, that Bill Clinton is a polarizing name among many Christians. My association with him over these years has lost me any number of friends. Personally, I grew to love him and greatly care for him in the years that I served as a personal adviser. I recall many conversations we had about his post-presidency and the priorities for this period of his life. Since leaving office he has used his amazing ability to convince people of wealth to see their social responsibilities.
Some $7.2 billion has been pledged this year by business leaders and philanthropists in response to the Clinton Foundation Global Initiative. Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines has committed $3 billion over the next ten years to alleviation of pollution. Millions will be invested in research regarding malaria, TB, and AIDS. Laura Bush announced a new water-well program that features a low-tech pump powered by merry-go-rounds that function as children spin them in their play.
I left the CGI conference with several feelings in my heart.
1. I had appreciation for the seriousness with which these people addressed the topics at hand. There was no glitz, no posturing. This conference made me increasingly less interested in who is Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, Christian or Muslim, and far more interested in the question of who wants to save lives and offer hope and human dignity.
2. These people really believe that the end of the world (the end of humanity anyway) is a distinct possibility if these issues are not addressed globally, dramatically, cooperatively. I respect their seriousness. I will probably die before the full effects of our failure to act are felt. But my children will not, and their children will face a greatly diminished world of opportunity and security.
3. I felt that I was with people who have great compassion for the situation of the poor. Yes, to be candid, some of it is motivated monetary self-interest. More than once it was said that dealing with disease and poverty is simply good business. But there was also a great sense of moral responsibility.
4. I saw in my encounters with Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists that we have a lot of learning to do about who these people are. We have fallen into stereotypes which reinforce our positions rather than seek out the points of commonality that lead to partnership on global issues. When a man says to you, "I was raised by a mother who taught me that all things belong to God and that I must handle what is given to me with care and generosity," and he is a Muslim, I have to stop and ask "what have I been missing all these years?"
5. Finally, I was personally moved by the drastic situation of the poor in our world. One message that kept coming through in the conference - before you get caught up in the big expensive ideas, spend time asking what you yourself can do as an individual. On the way home, I made a little list that began with becoming more disciplined about energy use, and cultivating relationships with people of other faiths.
When I got home, I took out my Bible and re-read Jesus' words in the synagogue at Capernaum: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He had sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." The words took on new meaning.