THE BLOG
09/29/2015 07:22 am ET Updated Sep 29, 2016

A Kairos Moment: Faith Calls to Action

Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

Over this six-month period, world leaders will meet time and time again. They face daunting agendas and the stakes are high. Hopefully they see starkly what seems so obvious: that the complex challenges are closely related one to another (peace and poverty, environment and political will) and that bold action is urgent.

This rare convergence of opportunities can and should be seen as a Kairos moment: a propitious point in time for decision and action. Rarely have so many interrelated global problems converged, and rarely have so many chances presented themselves for those designated as world leaders to lead the world towards a better course.

World leaders are gathered at the United Nations now for a special General Assembly that marks its 70th anniversary. Almost by definition every world issue is on the agenda and, because this annual event draws so many powerful people, countless events and gatherings surround it. Celebrities, including even Big Bird, focus attention on issues they care about. Bankers and business leaders swarm around, looking both to deals and to reputations. Behind the scenes the peacemakers are at work, hoping for breakthroughs on the bitter conflicts that shake different world regions but especially Syria. Meanwhile, in Europe the refugee crisis is front and center (60 million people worldwide are fleeing or displaced, a staggering number). A group of world leaders will meet again in Turkey in November as the G20, a core gathering of statespeople and institutions. And the long-awaited COP21 Summit in Paris can, if those involved so will, change the course for climate change.

Amidst the swirl of events in New York during these weeks, a critical decision point deserves far more attention than it received in media coverage. On Friday, September 24, shortly after Pope Francis' historic address at the United Nations, the General Assembly approved the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) framework. This ambitious agenda (adjectives applied to it include sprawling, impossible, but also inspirational) amounts to an action, to do list from now to 2030 to tackle the world's most critical problems. Leading the list is ending poverty but the goals are inclusive: inclusive of issues ranging from peace to urban life to inequality to child and maternal health, inclusive in its focus on all who are left behind, and inclusive in its application to all nations, rich and poor. It should resonate and speak to each and every one of us.

Pope Francis fired and inspired those who heard his United Nations speech. He lingered on the core issue ahead, which is sustainability of will and determination: "The simplest and best measure and indicator of the implementation of the new Agenda for development will be effective, practical and immediate access, on the part of all, to essential material and spiritual goods: housing, dignified and properly remunerated employment, adequate food and drinking water; religious freedom and, more generally, spiritual freedom and education."

Religious leaders from many traditions are part of the Kairos series of events and are engaged at many levels and points in time, to shape the agenda and advocate for action to move it ahead. On September 24, just before the SDGs were approved, leaders from many traditions discussed a framework for action that lays out core commitments. These have been hammered out with care and start with a commitment to be guided by evidence. The goal is to engage the moral authority of religious leaders and their constituencies. The central idea is to keep the SDG spirit alive, holding governments and others accountable to keep their promises. Religious leaders will meet again around the G20 meeting and many groups have long mobilized to make an impact at the climate change summit in Paris in December.

The South African Kairos Document signed in 1985 is among commitments bearing this name that signal a special time and critical challenges. That document's admonitions hold true today: this moment in history "is serious, very serious,... the moment of grace and opportunity, the favorable time in which God issues a challenge to decisive action. It is a dangerous time because, if this opportunity is missed, and allowed to pass by, the loss ... for all the people will be immeasurable."

Tough calls need to be made in tough times. Today's problems indeed offer a Kairos call, a Kairos moment, and once again, more than ever, we need that sense of extreme urgency