World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Report of the March 2009 CCIA meeting

The second meeting of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA), following the 2006 Porto Alegre Assembly took place in Cuba from 15-20 March 2009.

19 June 2009

The second meeting of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA), following the 2006 Porto Alegre assembly took place in Cuba from 15-20 March 2009. The CCIA met both at the Matanzas seminary as well as in Havana. Comments from the four CCIA working group sessions in response to the overall theme on the international financial crises are below. The task of the meeting was to look at each plenary from the perspective of the four CCIA working groups (WG) topical viewpoint. The commissioners also met in regional groups, to give additional advice to the WCC programme areas regarding the financial crises.

Before the group reports are presented here, readers will find the recommendations made to the general secretary from the closing plenary of the CCIA.

CCIA recommendation to the WCC general secretary regarding the global financial crisis

The Commission of the Churches for International Affairs meeting in Matanzas, Cuba from 16 to 20 March 2009 focused its discussion on the global financial and economic crisis which has resulted in increasing unemployment and poverty around the world. After intensive analysis and reflection that was enriched by presentations on the root causes of this crisis and possible solutions, the commission recommends to the WCC general secretary to send a letter to the upcoming G20 meeting to be held in London in April, 2009 to take into consideration the following proposals:

  1. That this crisis is an opportunity for the international community to create a new financial architecture based on the United Nations where a broad participation of all countries and the civil society could take place. The G20 discussion should therefore lead to a fuller discussion at the United Nations at the May UN General Assembly debate on the issue.

  2. Set a process of democratizing all global finance and trade institutions.

  3. Deter destabilizing currency speculation by transforming and strengthening regulatory institutions;

  4. Develop practice of ethics and justice that can guide financial markets in the world.

  5. Establish international permanent and binding mechanisms of control over capital flows and capital flight.

  6. Implement an international monetary system based on a new system of reserves, including the creation of regional reserve currencies in order to end the current supremacy of the US dollar and to ensure international financial stability.

  7. Prohibit hedge funds and over the counter markets, where derivatives and other toxic products are exchanged without any public control.

  8. Eradicate speculation on commodities, first of all food and energy by creating public mechanisms that will monitor speculative behaviour.

  9. Dismantle tax havens, sanction their users (individuals, companies, banks and financial intermediaries) and create an international tax organization to combat tax competition and evasion.

  10. Establish a new international system of wealth sharing by creating a system of global taxes (on financial transactions, polluting activities and high income) to finance global public goods.

  11. Cancel illegitimate debt and address unsustainable debts of impoverished countries and establish a system of democratic, accountable, fair sovereign borrowing and lending that serves sustainable and equitable development.

  12. Guarantee that this crisis shall not lead into the reduction the Official Development Aid (ODA) to poor countries.

The essence of a new global financial architecture should be to connect finance and real economy.

20.03.09

CCIA working group comments on the financial crises

The Global Advocacy Working Group

Elenie Poulos, convener of the working group, read the report.

Recommendation

Understanding that the current global financial crisis is a symptom of a global order that perpetrates and sustains injustice against all creation, harming all people and the earth and imperilling life for future generations, we propose that as a contribution to the transformation of our world, including the development of alternative, sustainable ways of being in the world, our major priority for advocacy should be the democratization of global financial institutions.

Christian churches are called to witness to the God of the justice – the God who brings justice to the widow, the orphan and the stranger. We are called by Jesus to serve the most vulnerable in our world and to walk as he did – in solidarity with those who are poor and oppressed. We believe that the democratization of global financial systems is a necessary transformation in order that the voices of those most affected by injustice and environmental devastation may be heard. It is necessary in order that those most affected and vulnerable are able to gain control over the decisions that affect their lives.

Our advocacy for the democratization of global financial systems must pay particular attention to those groups who are among the most vulnerable, particularly women, indigenous people and children. Such a focus will enable us to draw on our existing institutional strengths.

Our advocacy will necessarily involve the development of a comprehensive strategy that may include proposing specific transformations and mechanisms such as supporting the proposals of the global south from Brazil, South Africa and Tanzania to transform the G20, the revision and development of a global tax system and the development of a global reserve currency.

The proposed specific mechanisms should pay attention to some of the most intractable problems experienced by the people of the member churches of the WCC and those they serve, including debt, trade injustice, hunger, issues of migration, the effects of climate change, violence and dispossession – issues which have been magnified by the effects of the global financial crisis.

The Working Group on Human Dignity, Security and Rights

Mae Malecdan reported on behalf of the working group.

The discussion in the Working Group was enriched and further develop the discussions at the regional groups. The starting point should be to agree on our Christian understanding of Human Dignity.

Looking at what is the most vulnerable group, the group highlighted the situation and rights of migrant workers.

There is a decrease of remittances in some countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. At the same time, the financial crisis may weaken the ability of the states to protect their people.

Recommendations

Subregional groups should be strengthened or created to support their Human Rights Mechanism. Increase the regional coordination between countries, NGOs, churches.

There is a need for a democratic financial system under the UN and to have less dependency on one currency.

Democratization should be based on people’s participation in decision making process, where the poorest people should not be left aside.

The Working Group on Inter-religious Dialogue and Cooperation

Vanna Kitsinian reported on behalf of this working group.

At this time, we face a financial crisis of global proportions, a crisis that Christians alone cannot solve. No religion in particular is to blame for the crisis. But it affects us all regardless of our religious background and people of all faiths are in a vulnerable position as a result. We need the ethical wisdom that can be gleaned from people of other faiths as well as the best wisdom that our own traditions have to offer.

While we may have significant theological differences with other faiths, this should not keep us from also acknowledging and benefiting from the important insights they have to offer about economics, economic justice and the current financial crisis. We should be humble and acknowledge that the WCC is not the only religious forum considering these questions and that there may be critical and important insights that can only be revealed when we listen to what other religious traditions are thinking and saying about the crisis.

In inter-religious work, we are expected to be critical of both our own Christian faith and values (which are informed by our commitment to Christ and the Holy Spirit) as well as the faith and values of people of other religious traditions.

Beyond the greater shared wisdom about common problems which can result from inter-religious dialogue, as Christians, we may also gain deeper Christian self-understanding from our encounter with the religious other. There is a need to review our own Christian confessions and teachings on economics to discern together what guidance they can offer.

We are enriched when we engage in dialogue and meet as equals. At this point in history, we have no choice other than to work with other traditions in discussing both shared and divergent values and engaging in social cooperation. We dare not pretend that we can face the financial crisis in isolation from these other voices.

From greed to integrity:

  • Greed is a pervasive and broad concept which means different things depending on context. There is a need to give serious thought to what greed means as well as careful, studied consideration to what related concepts such as security, wealth and poverty mean. This consideration should come from review and reflection on Christian sources as well as dialogue and reflection of other religious traditions.

  • Greed is present in situations that are not immediately economic in nature. There may be religious greed which manifests itself in missionary movements which seek numbers of converts to bolster their own power and influence in the world.

  • Nonetheless, the accumulation of wealth and the presence of poverty are not simply accidents but are often part of a strategy for some people to accumulate power and wealth at the expense of others. As such, greed is a form of violence which on personal, community, national, regional and international levels isolates and injures us. We see greed translated into both direct acts of physical violence as well as the more subtle acts of structural violence in events throughout history. From colonial enterprises based on resource extraction to paternalistic and self interested economic schemes disguised by slogans of “helping the other”, we can see the violent effects of greed worldwide. When we see the will to power driven by a need to dominate and control – whether the object of that manipulation be people or resources, we can see the work of greed in the world.

  • Greed is not a uniquely Christian problem and we see other religious traditions also struggling with this troublesome phenomenon in other contexts. We need more reflection on what other religious faiths are saying and doing about the financial crisis, their ideas about remedies and their understandings of economic justice. We may not always agree with them but we will still benefit from considering their perspective.

  • We need to listen more carefully to the voices of the poor and to hear the ways in which they articulate and understand their own experiences. We acknowledge that in our various positions of leadership we are not always well-placed to hear the voice of the oppressed, of indigenous people, of women, of the disabled, of refugees and displaced people, of the poor and of the most silenced among us. We do not want our positions as leaders to elevate us in a way that keeps us from hearing these voices.

  • Returning to consider the integrity of our own Christian religion while at the same time continuing the global conversation about faith and values with others will result in greater wisdom, self-understanding and guidance about the future for all of us. We believe that the gentle questions we offer in good faith to people of other religions about their stance on greed and economic justice will provide greater insight to them just as we believe that the questions they will pose in the same spirit to the Christian faith will both challenge and strengthen us.

Unique contribution of the Christian faith

  • Christianity has a wonderful ability to contextualize itself in a multitude of diverse settings. Across every region in the world, Christianity has expressed itself in different and distinct ways – in some places adapting to local culture and in others liberating or transcending culture.

  • In times of religious expansionism there can be two options for people of faith – to engage in a clash of civilizations and confrontation where every gain for one side represents a loss for the other side or to coexist with dignity in a way that respects the diversity of God’s creation and recognizes all humankind to be created in the image of God. We affirm and call upon people of all faiths to embrace the latter option.

  • We are inspired by the life and acts of Jesus and the way that he engaged in inter-religious dialogue by affirming gospel values in each person he encountered. This gospel imperative to creatively and lovingly encounter the religious other is written into the pages of our holy Bible.

  • The question of the global financial crisis is not merely a question of what we as individuals do with our resources but rather is a question of the systems and structures that we have created and allowed to grow. Dismantling oppressive systems and creating alternative systems will be a demanding process that will require analysis, thoughtful reflection and careful discernment. It is a daunting task but one that is best accomplished together – Christians working in dialogue and cooperation with our brothers and sisters of other faith traditions.

The Social Justice and Common Goods Working Group

Lukasz Nazarko, convener of the WG, presented the report.

Recommendations to the churches and the WCC

1. Oppose attempts of the governments to make cuts financing education, health, and other expenditures essential for life and in assistance to less developed countries.

2. Discourage the governments from withdrawing from important long-term projects (climate change, new energy sources)

3. Not limit ourselves to helping the victims of unjust structures but also to challenge the structures. Otherwise churches risk being "useful fools" for those in power who do not have interest in reshaping the system.

4. Prosperous churches should be prepared to restrain their material needs and also encourage their members to practice simple and modest ways of life not focused on constant increase of consumption. Solidarity with poorer churches should not be decreased but increased.

5. Encourage thinking beyond the crisis which will hopefully end in a year or two. What do the churches have to say about the post-crisis situation they desire?

6. Strike alliances with other social actors (movements, trade unions, minority groups) to work together on common issues of social justice and human rights.

7. Recommendations for further study:

a) Where are communities in post-modern societies in which common goods should be shared? What are the criteria for defining a community?

b) Consequences of the global finances being dominated by virtual money detached from real economy

c) Identify winners and losers of the current crisis

d) In the search of alternative economic models explore theologically the individual aspirations and needs of a community

Reports from the CCIA regional groups on their deliberations on the global financial and economic crisis, its impacts and opportunities

Africa Regional Group

Shirley De Wolf presented the report on behalf of the group.

Impacts

  1. Much of our population is already living in a crisis mode, so they may not immediately see the global crisis as their crisis.

  2. National political issues are "the elephant in the room", absorbing everyone’s attention and concern in most of our countries. Civil society-state relations, which are characterize in many countries by animosity and suspicion, will be the battle ground on which the impact of the global economic depression is played out.

  3. Much of the population of Africa depends on remittances from migrants abroad to sustain them, hence national economies are subsidized by migrant labour earnings and the inflow of foreign currency. In some countries (of which Zimbabwe is an extreme case) the entire economy is dependent on this form of informal investment and the US dollar is the active currency. A major reduction in job opportunities abroad and in foreign cash flow will soon have a major negative impact on national economies.

  4. The international money crisis will also likely result in a lowering of foreign direct investment, ODAs. Commodities sold on the international market, such as minerals, coffee and cocoa will be hit, tourism (including South Africa’s 2010 soccer World Cup) will be affected.

  5. Because there is an unhealthy lack of trust between civil society and state, the public is likely to blame their own governments for the resulting crisis and this sort of conflict tends to burgeon into violence popular protests and violent state response.

  6. As economies weaken, xenophobic violence against migrant workers such as what took place in South Africa last year, could be on the increase. Even in Botswana, which has never experienced a civil or international war and is the only nation in Africa that has no foreign debt, there is this danger. The diamond industry on which the nation relies is facing a depressed international market, national financial reserves are being depleted, mine labourers have been put on paid leave and government is negotiating with trade unions over severance packages. Once these labourers become jobless, the likelihood of a rise of xenophobia against foreign nationals currently occupying the small trade sector is high.

Opportunities and new directions

  1. Food production must be a priority for Africa in terms of economic development and financial policies.

  2. One difficulty African nations face, is that few are manufacturing countries: we produce raw materials and sell them at little profit for manufacture abroad, to industrialized countries. Then we buy back the products. This global crisis may give us the push we need to develop local industries and trade policies at regional level (SADC, West Africa, etc.) which will encourage more equitable distribution of economic institutions and shared profits. Discussion on the merits of "protectionism".

  3. This crisis may open opportunities for civil society to develop new forms of dialogue with their states, to push for democratic decision-making with regard to financial and economic policy, for example with regard to new foreign investments. Civil society has till now focused on political policy formation and the development of political parties, but must now develop the discourse on financial issues. The development over the past 10 years of powerful global civil society movements around economic issues has stimulated this focus within the burgeoning African civil societies, which presents opportunities.

  4. We see a possibility that Chinese business in Africa will increase, particularly if Western business wanes. Have we learned enough about Europe’s underdevelopment of Africa to prevent China’s underdevelopment of Africa? At present Chinese business involvement is by agreement between the Chinese private sector and our governments. We want our parliaments and national assemblies, as representative spaces, involved in setting policies and legislation to ensure transparency and public involvement.

  5. Multinational cooperation between African states could strengthen Africa’s economic backbone. The idea of a continental union similar to the EU, with monetary unity, etc. is being considered within the AU and the churches are beginning to involve themselves in the discourse to ensure that popular well-being is safeguarded. One difficulty they face is that there is great disparity in the state of economic health between countries.

Asia-Pacific Regional Group

Elenie Poulos presented the report on behalf of the group.

What are the impacts on our region?

  • Asia has been in survival mode for a long time

  • Philippines

    • since September 2008 to February 2009 40 000 job losses

    • foreign companies closing including biggest manufacturer/exporter in country

    • labour dispute with big ship repair company as the company seeks to take advantage of GFC to restructure its business

    • Intel & Panasonic closed operations

    • Holcim Cement did not lay-off workers but reduced working hours

    • slow down of production – most of companies US-based

    • country very closely tied to US companies e.g. outsourced workers like call centres

    • prediction that up to 50 000 of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) lost jobs; many working in Middle East and Singapore are coming home and prior to this they have been experiencing 2-3 months of delayed salary – more technical and professional workers (than domestic workers)

    • estimate that 40 000 seamen will be affected

    • interest rate now at 0.98%

    • most of big banks not yet showing problems – but they may be hiding

    • last month a rural bank declared bankruptcy

    • next year is Presidential elections and many politicians are taking advantage of GFC for political gain

  • Fiji similar to Philippines in employment and has been struggling for a long time

    • brain drain as a result of political instability

    • remittances stopped

    • effects climate change incl. islanders moving

    • marked downturn in tourism

    • issues are more about climate change

  • Malaysia

    • no job losses yet – crisis is only just starting to hit

    • relying on export – 200% of GDP is exports so now starting to feel drop in US imports

    • banking sector not affected – benefitted from Asian crisis

    • small stimulus package

    • new PM takes over next week

    • expect to feel it this year

  • Singapore

    • badly hit – financial and education sector

  • Sri Lanka

    • tea and rubber sales effected: people paid daily wages and guaranteed a minimum of 20 working days per month are now working 10-12 days per month. These are already impoverished workers

    • blue collar migrant workers – carpenters, mechanics etc returning, each supporting extended families

    • a couple of garment factories have been closed because exports to US & England drying up – also employed very poor workers, esp. women

    • tourism badly hit but primarily because of war; but there is a second phase now evident

    • finance company: attracts investments and pay high interest rates. Two of these companies have collapsed and one has been bailed out and now being run by central bank. But in both these fraud and scam are under investigation

    • people have very little confidence in IMF, WB, WTO and so they have built up a resilience that arises from not trusting them

    • people are beginning to go back to land for subsistence farming

    • may impact minorities

    • Tamils already living under severe restrictions; as jobs become fewer, tendency will be to give jobs to majority community

    • war budget: may be that the GFC (global financial crisis) will undermine war spending and war will be forced to end

    • impact of climate change: dry/wet seasons which used to be predictable, now have become unpredictable and extreme – impact on farming and fishing

  • Australia

  • climate change; water crisis

  • stimulus packages x2: personal bonus to encourage spending; billions for infrastructure; support for some manufacturing

  • banking resilient because well regulated

  • mining & resources exposed especially to China

  • faith-based social services working with govt

Throughout Asia it seems that countries were already dealing with major problems and GFC is impacting on systems already suffering and stretched.

What are the opportunities?

What kind of (Asian-Pacific) critique can we offer?

  • Cf. stream of Asian theologians offering Asian theology about 20 years ago

  • but can we even talk of a singular set of Asian-Pacific values?

What values (the values that have sustained Asian cultures for centuries) can we offer as Asians? Or should we talk of the Asian experience rather than ‘values’

  • the Asian experience is for example, living with diversity in Philippines 116-120 ethnic groups each with its own cultural values

Sense of distrust of monetary bodies – is this where religions can speak with a voice? All the more need for inter-religious voices – the potential of becoming public conscience in this.

After collapse of socialist block, trade unions in Asia and Australia suffered.

  • there is no government safety net in Asia: social security, unemployment benefits etc

  • the safety net is the extended family and the governments have taken advantage of that.

  • no organized civil society in countries like Sri Lanka – how do people speak?

  • In Malaysia, civil society exists but not strong, but faith groups are coming together (across racial groups) to serve

  • we must be representing the perspective of the victims – not all Asians are victims

 

Conclusion

Preamble

"The man who falls from the tree is gored by the bull" (Sri Lankan folk saying)

Asia-Pacific is a mix of industrialized, semi-industrialized, and developing countries. We are all affected by the crisis but countries in Asia-Pacific are already dealing with multiple and diverse issues.

The long-term problems must continue to be addressed as a priority issues a issue – violence & conflict, climate change, entrenched poverty, corruption.

Recommendations

We recommend that

  1. national governments must provide statutory safety nets while continuing to support the safety net of community solidarity that has existed for generations

  2. world economic/financial institutions that can be trusted must be developed as a matter of urgency (maybe within a deeply transformed UN)

  3. we need strong civil society institutions – churches and inter-religious co-operation is necessary for this.

  4. we acknowledge that our countries have many skeletons in our closets—corruption, waste, nepotism, war—and that our countries need to address these

  5. the acknowledgement from economic powers that they have caused the problems of climate change and environmental destruction must come with restitution. The development of a global tax system should be considered as a solution for the future.

  6. the global South must have a voice in developing the remedies so that solutions are not, yet again, imposed upon the countries of the Asia-Pacific

  7. we need short-term actions to set the framework for the long-term development of a "green" economy. The countries of the global South must be participants in their development and implementation. In this the voices of countries such as Brazil, Tanzania, South Africa must be supported and encouraged.

Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Group

Thomas Kang presented the report on behalf of the group.

We believe that the economic and financial crisis cannot be analyzed separately from other crises. Therefore we adopt a holistic point of view – the answer cannot be only an economic response.

Impacts

  • Decrease of remittances from Latin Americans and Caribbean (LA&C) people who are in the US and Europe to LA&C countries. Remittances constitute in some LA&C countries the second or third source of national income, harming the poorest.

  • Some migrants need to return to their own countries due to:

    • Economic crisis in the Northern countries;

    • Implementation and enforcement of restrictive migration laws in these countries.

  • Decrease in tourism, which constitutes a very relevant source of national income in the Caribbean.

  • Increase of unemployment rates, leading to increasing poverty, inequality and destitution.

  • Impact on social spending in general, including health, education, housing and social security.

  • Increase of the frequency and strength of hurricanes due to the climate change crisis, which destroy agriculture and infra-structure.

  • Impact of the crisis on the poorest groups: indigenous, children, women and people with disabilities.

  • Increase of poverty and violence due to the crisis in the framework of drug trafficking and organized crime.

  • Impact on environmental issues, since governments will have less resources to invest in the protection of the ecosystems.

Opportunities and Alternatives

  • We recognize that the crisis is also an opportunity. There is a need to discern, advance and take decisions.

  • LA&C seems to be better prepared to face this crisis than would be in last decades, with governments more sensitive to the demands of the populations.

  • Further development of existing solidarity among LA&C nations, sharing natural resources and knowledge.

  • Building on religious and spiritual roots of LA&Cpeoples, react to possible manipulation of their religious feelings and enhance solidarity among communities and peoples.

Europe Regional Group

Vladimir Legoyda presented the report on behalf of the group. The Europe group was composed of representatives from 7 countries.

Impacts

  • First reaction from the governments was to deny the crisis. Later it was said that there will be some influence but that the countries were ready to face it.

  • Important impact on the increase of unemployment, people losing their jobs

  • There is a risk of social disintegration, people thinking of individual needs, not on common good

  • Problems on education

  • Less social security coverage

  • Crisis is already influencing charity processes, with a decline or even the end of charity, social and religious sponsorships

Opportunities

  • To show solidarity with other regions instead of decreasing it

  • For the churches to see and interpret the signs of the time through Bible readings. Christians are called to transform, to be in solidarity

  • To reshape the mission of churches in relationship to evangelization and practical diakonia

  • To make the voices of the churches heard in matters of social justice and ecology

  • To teach the producers to produce reasonable goods for reasonable costs for people to live reasonable lives

  • To change consumerism mentality

  • For decision makers to bring economic, social, political decisions in correlation with moral values

Middle East Regional Group

Lina Moukheiber presented the report on behalf of the group. The group was composed of people from Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

Impacts

  1. The Gulf countries are those mainly affected by crisis. For other countires impacts may come in the future.

  2. Remittances decrease. E.g. 60,000 Lebanese have come back from Dubai

  3. Banking regulations have prevented from being affected at the financial level

  4. Ethics of regulations of individual loans, have prevented from experiencing financial crisis

  5. Conflicts and wars have affected the system, millions of displaced, added to financial burden.

  6. Landmines and chemical weapons used have seriously damaged the environment.

  7. Lack of transparency on existing financial situation. People don’t know where money has been invested

  8. Wasted opportunities for nationals to invest in their own countries.

  9. Lack of research institutes to help to handle financial issue

  10. Water issue will be next matter of conflict in the region

Opportunities and alternatives

  1. Some investors are coming back to the region because of the financial crisis, e.g. from Dubai.

  2. Need to work towards good governance and just peace

  3. Reaffirmation of the values of interdependency at the levels of communities.

  4. Need to have an Arab market.

North America Regional Group

Emily Welty presented the report on behalf of the group.

North American Statement on the Financial Crisis

We come with this statement with humility – knowing that the depth and breadth of this crisis has profoundly affected our brothers and sisters in the Global South as well as our own families in North America.

As a group, we experienced strong disagreement about how to define and address the financial crisis which reflected our own diverse backgrounds as Americans, Canadians and North Americans living abroad. North America itself is extremely diverse – a collection of different ethnicities, races, political opinions and economic backgrounds. As a group, we had a lively discussion which grappled with the image of the United States as culpable and questions of individual and corporate responsibility. We want you to know that there was a self critical aspect to our discussions.

We as a group identify this as a kairos moment, a moment in which we turn together to the future, looking at ways to seize this time as an opportunity to explore and implement alternative economic models and ways to govern society based on social justice and equality. We accept that the corruption of North American values and too much freedom has led to lack of accountability and responsibility. In the midst of crisis, there is an opportunity to rethink questions of wealth, prosperity and what it means to have enough in light of a larger world with inequality and unequal distribution of resources.

This kairos moment presents an opportunity for us to make systemic changes to an economic system which has been structurally unjust. We want to find a way forward which is guided by Christian ethics and reflection. We want to hear and take seriously the voices of neighbors around the world while at the same time endeavoring to be true to our own deepest values.

This is a kairos moment – a moment to pause, to reflect on the mistakes of the past, to engage each other critically and in love, and to plan for a different shared future.