Central Committee listens to perspectives on economic justice
06 July 2014
The chasm between the haves and have-nots is increasing around the world. And churches need to do more to ensure economic justice for communities. This perspective underlined the discussions at a plenary held during the World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee meeting on 5 July in Geneva, Switzerland.
The 150 member committee, a chief governing body of the WCC, was addressing the issue of economic justice as part of the meeting’s theme, “pilgrimage of justice and peace”. The theme is a call issued by the WCC 10th Assembly held in Busan, Republic of Korea in 2013.
Through its plenary speakers, the committee heard diverse perspectives on links between economic and ecological crises, as well as how current economic systems are intensifying inequality, poverty and ecological destruction.
Among the speakers was Dr Manuel Montes, a senior advisor on finance and development at the South Centre in Geneva. He provided an overview on how people have suffered due to the flaws in the global economic system. This system, he said “favours the lenders and not the debtors”.
Speaking about the economic depression of the 1920s and the collapse of the financial system in 2007 – 2008, Montes shared his observation that many challenges of the 20th century which led to immense destruction, has an impact on the current economic situation.
He called the current economic situation a “challenge to the faith communities”.
Montes introduced the audience to the work of the Ecumenical Panel on a New International Financial and Economic Architecture, which produced the report entitled An Economy of Life for All Now: An Ecumenical Action Plan for a New International Financial and Economic Architecture. The panel has developed strategies for the churches to realize ethical, just and sustainable economic and financial systems. It was established by the WCC, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, the Lutheran World Federation and the Council for World Mission.
Montes also spoke about the São Paulo statement on International Financial Transformation which encourages visible actions ensuring social inclusion, gender justice and care for the environment while setting “limits to greed” and promoting an “economy of life”. This statement was issued in 2012.
Theological reflections on economic justice were shared by Rev. Dr Hyun Ju Bae, theologian and WCC Central Committee member from the Presbyterian Church of Korea. “The call for economic and ecological reformation in our time presents a profound theological challenge, as it requires the overhaul of our theological formulation and imagination,” she said.
Bae added that churches need a “transformative spirituality that nourishes the love of God who loves justice (Isa 61:8), promotes literacy sensitive to eco-justice, ecological debt, sustainability and biodiversity, and enables a new lifestyle.”
Bae stressed that theological education, both at the level of seminaries and local churches, is necessary to equip Christians with knowledge that promotes economic and ecological justice.
“The church is composed of the colonized and the colonizers, the oppressor and the oppressed both in the Global South and the Global North. Many of ‘us’ inhabit the camps of both oppressor and oppressed, the margins of power and its centers. This complexity complicates the quest for justice, yet also is of infinite worth,” Bae said, quoting from the report and action plan produced by the Ecumenical Panel on a New International Financial and Economic Architecture.
David Woods of Oikocredit International introduced his organization at the plenary. Oikocredit, established at a WCC meeting forty years ago, is one of the world’s largest sources of private funding to through microfinance sector, providing credit and equity to trade cooperatives, fair trade organizations and small to medium enterprises.
Woods shared that, through microfinance, Oikocredit lends to microfinance institutions (MFIs) across the world. In turn, they provide financial services to disadvantaged people, with a special emphasis on rural areas, women, agriculture and trade. The organization is dedicated to measuring social results, ensuring investments support initiatives for sustainable livelihoods, women's empowerment and environment.