What sorts of changes can be made to render the present economic order more just? Are there religious roots or responses to the present economic structure and its recent crisis?
Nine theologians met in Geneva 31 May and 1 June to explore critical theological tools and insights supportive of new economic arrangements.
Several participants have also participated in the World Council of Churches (WCC) programme on Poverty, Wealth and Ecology and its “greed line” project.
The conference was sponsored by the John Knox International Reformed Centre, Geneva, in celebration of its 60th anniversary, and participants were welcomed by Centre president Cyril Ritchie. Plans call for publication of the conference papers in the John Knox Series in collaboration with WCC Publications.
Conference organizer Dr Tatha Wiley said, “We invited theologians to an intense conversation about the most critical problems of today’s global economics, but they also shared the strong biblical, theological, and ethical resources for understanding and reforming the global economy.”
The depth and breadth of the recent global financial crisis not only caused massive unemployment, housing foreclosures and economic refugees. It also laid bare some of the intractable systemic problems of the world economy, participants said, including growing economic inequality, widespread structural unemployment, commodification of the finance sector, and environmental stress.
A key focus of discussion was the growth and evolution of economies and economics itself, along with the eventual triumph of the neo-classical or neo-liberal model. Traditional theological concepts appear in distorted ways in modern economic theory, said contributor Vanderbilt theologian M. Douglas Meeks.
“This is a theological problem, not just an ethical or economic one,” said Jung Mo Sung, a Brasilian theologian and Dean of Methodist University of São Paulo.
Alongside core theological concepts, participants discussed practical and dynamic components of a more just, equitable, and sustainable economic. They included strong local focus, cooperatives, worker ownership, financial-market reform, democratic control of capital, and networks of congregations allied with civil-society organizations for effective advocacy.
“The central Christian imperative is neighbor love,” said Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, whose work explored the ethical dimensions of economic reconstruction. Moe-Lobeda is a Christian ethicist from Seattle University.
In addition to Moe-Lobeda, Meeks and Sung, the other participants were former UNCTAD chief economist Edward Dommen; longtime WCC programme executive Ulrich Duchrow; University of Exeter theologian Timothy Gorringe; Berkeley theologian Marion Grau (Church Divinity School of the Pacific); Swedish theologian and pastor Ann-Cathrin Jarl; ILO special advisor Pierre Martinot-Lagarde, S.J.