To my children’s great amusement, it seems that I am increasingly becoming known as “The Toilet Bishop”. It is a title I am prepared to wear with pride in the week that marks International Human Rights Day, because it illustrates so vividly how the concerns of faith communities – and for me specifically the Christian Church – and human rights agendas intersect.

Those of us who enjoy clean water and sanitation tend to take them for granted. Yet only a moment’s thought will tell us how radically our lives would be altered if we had to live without either. The United Nations has recognized provision of adequate sanitation as a basic right and it figures in the Millennium Development Goals, but perhaps 2.5 billion people or more live without it: about half the population of the developing world.The direst consequence is diarrhoeal disease and death, a big killer particularly of infants and small children, but its negative impact on health and daily life extends far, far wider.

But why should a bishop care? My starting point is the conviction that, in some mysterious way, humanity is created in God’s image, and created by God with the express purpose that we should enjoy “life in abundance”. Human life, human society, should, therefore, be conducted in ways that uphold and promote the inherent dignity of every person, male and female, young and old; and which provide context and tangible opportunity for genuine flourishing. Wherever practices or systems fail to accord all human beings respect, regardless of social or economic or any other marker of status, wherever people are prevented from accessing the conditions that are fundamental to truly enjoying the gift of life, then for me it is a spiritual matter; a moral matter, an ethical matter.

In this way, the ethical principles that stem from my faith bring me into close accord with widely accepted human rights standards, even though they may be rooted in very different world views or political theories. What matters this week is that, regardless of the perspectives from which we begin, those of us who share these goals work together for their realization, for the sake of every single individual, every community, with which we share this planet. And may God bless us all as we strive to do this.

Author: Thabo Makgoba is the Archbishop of Cape Town and head of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, which includes Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and St Helena.
Image: Water is collected from a communal water pipe REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz