News reports remind us daily of the economic crises in Europe and the United States. These began in the US in 2007 and spread to most the richer countries, though not as severely to Australia as to most others. Even so, serious unemployment has become entrenched in Australia and is now rising again.
We have been aware for years of the deepening global ecological crises principally related to growing greenhouse gas emissions, but also to the corrosive impact from the tripling of global population since 1945 and the explosive growth of production and consumption on the natural world.
The Ninth Assembly of World Council of Churches in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2006 resolved to upgrade study of globalisation through a process entitled Alternative Globalisation Addressing People and Earth, which conveniently has the initials AGAPE.
The AGAPE program has focussed on analysis of the causes of poverty, excessive wealth accumulation, and ecological destruction and their consequences. It has also extensively discussed the theological bases for a critique of the interlocking economic and ecological crises and articulation of an alternative Christian economic and ecological vision. On those firm foundations it is also attempting to identify concrete strategies and policies which would contribute to implementing such a vision.
Major steps in the AGAPE process were the holding of five regional meetings in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 2007, Guatemala City in Guatemala in 2008, Chiang Mai in Thailand in 2009, Budapest, Hungary, in 2010 and Calgary, Canada in 2011. Summaries of each of these meetings were published in short books with the titles Poverty, Wealth and Ecology in the continent of focus.
At the end of June a global conference was held in Bogor, Indonesia the aim of which was to draw together the lessons generated by the analyses and conclusions of the continental meetings and to prepare a paper for discussion at the Tenth Assembly of the World Council of Churches. The Assembly is being held in Busan, South Korea in November 2013 with theme of ‘God of Life, lead us to justice and peace’.
The Bogor meeting drew together close to 100 participants from more than 30 countries who had mostly been active in the continental conferences. Each day the Bogor conference opened with the innovative, spiritually enriching worship, which has become the norm at World Council meetings. This time they were led by an outstanding Indonesian liturgist who included lyrical, globally inclusive and challenging hymns and thoughtful, reflective prayers.
The call to worship on the first day is a fine example:
Leader: The voice of the God of Life has been heard in the land.
All: God has whispered in the wind.
God has thundered in the storms.
God has washed over the people.
God has cried in the streets.
God has spoken in the heart.
Leader: To whom has God spoken?
Right: To the prophets,
to the priests
to the leaders,
to the servants.
Left: To the teachers,
to the students,
to the business people,
to the workers,
to the property owners.
All: To the children,
To the adults.
Leader: What does the God of Life say?
Right: God speaks of Good News
to the poor,
to the weary,
to the broken,
to the privileged
Left: God speaks of unity
to the disciples
to the churches
to all nations
to all humankind.
All: God speaks of justice and peace
for all peoples,
for the whole of creation.
Everyone: God of Life calls us all (repeat three times)
Leader: Come to God’s table of fellowship!
Come to God’s table of love.
The program alternated between panels analysing the themes, offering theological reflections, and reporting on lessons learned about good practices. Discussions started in small groups which then reported to the whole conference on sections of the proposed final document.
The most effective way of reporting on the conference on Poverty, Wealth and Ecology is to summarise the draft Call to Action, Turning Toward an Economy of Life, on which we were working. It is the result of a first draft circulated to participants before the Bogor conference, sustained small group discussion, plenary reporting, rewriting by a drafting group and preliminary redrafting by a plenary of the attendees. It is therefore not a finalised document but does show the direction of thinking
Major themes of Turning Toward an Economy of Life include:
· Affirming that the abundant life which God offers is ‘embodied in practices of mutuality, shared partnership, reciprocity, justice, and loving kindness’.
· Yet the severity of poverty, inequity and ‘the groaning of Creation’ illuminate how far the global economy and ecology fail to reflect such a vision.
· Underlying the current economic and ecological crises has been the dominant neo-liberal economic ideology. Powerful causes of these intertwining moral and existential crises include greed and injustice.
· Radical changes in economic systems are required towards ‘a just, sustainable and post-fossil fuel-based economy’.
· There are already numerous examples within the churches of transformative movements committed to building an economy of life.
· At the Busan Assembly the churches must commit themselves to stronger prophetic and transformative action on poverty eradication, wealth redistribution, ecological protection and climate justice.
· This must include building resistance to structures which deny dignity and human rights to the marginalised; creating space for the marginalised to be heard, and for dialogue between North and South; and the organisation of a broad platform for common witness and advocacy.
· This will involve taking concrete action to:
o Develop indicators of wellbeing
o Advocate policies aiming at poverty eradication
o Prepare proposals for a new financial architecture reconnecting finance to the real economy
o Promote wealth sharing and redistribution
o Develop ecologically-respectful production, consumption and distribution policies
o Develop equitable principles for the use of energy, water and air and promote green technology
o Establish binding principles for reparation for those whose lives have been destroyed by plunder
o End use of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons
o Identify accountability for unjust banking practices
o Encourage churches to divest from destructive investments
o Reduce military spending.
Worship ended one day with a prayer for God’s blessing to:
Let us go into the world and do whatever is true,
whatever is honourable,
whatever is pure,
whatever is pleasing,
whatever is peaceful, and
whatever is just
and the God of life will lead us to justice and peace,
now and forever. Amen
Professor John Langmore attended this conference on behalf of the Uniting Church of Australia, and is a Senior Friend of the Australian Student Christian Movement