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Economics in Service of Life.

"The ideology of neoliberalism is incompatible with the vision of the ecumene, the unity of the church and the whole inhabitated earth. Far-reaching and growing injustice, exclusion and destruction are the opposite of sharing and solidarity..and our being the body of Christ.."
"Economics in Service of Life" - The Ecumenical Status Confessionis

By Ulrich Duchrow

[This address from the 2003 Ecumenical Church Day in Berlin is translated from the German on the World Wide Web. Ulrich Duchrow is a professor in Heidelberg and a liberation theologian.]

This forum is part of the ecumenical status confessionis process, "Economics in Service of Life". This theme is hardly known in Germany because our churches in the past were afraid of viewing neoliberal globalization as the fundamental challenge to the nature of the church just like National Socialism in Germany and the apartheid system in South Africa. A 1995 consultation of reformed churches in southern Africa in Mindolo/Kitwe, Sambia urged this perspective. This consultation formulated the momentous sentences: "our painful conclusion is that the African reality of poverty caused by an unjust world economic order is not simply an ethical problem. Rather it is a theological problem. This unjust order now justifies a status confessionis. The gospel itself, the Good News for the poor, is at stake with the mechanisms of the global economy."

The Reformed World Alliance declared at its 1997 plenary assembly in Debrecen, Hungary:

"Today we call member churches of the Reformed World Alliance (RWA) to a binding process of growing discovery, enlightenment and confession (processus confessionis) concerning economic injustice and ecological destruction.

The 8th plenary assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Harare, Zimbabwe, 1998 encouraged member churches to join this process. The Lutheran World Alliance (LWA) also adopted this orientation. In the meantime the process has begun on all continents. Massive regional consultations took place and take place to analyze the effects of neoliberal globalization in the different parts of the world, to explore alternatives under particular social and cultural conditions in the different continents and to assure the solidarian ecumenical community.

In June 2002 the delegates of western European churches met in this framework in Soesterberg, Netherlands. They wrote a letter to the churches in Western Europe. The general secretaries of the ecumenical organizations WCC, RWA and LWA sent the letter to all church administrators with the request "to respond to the challenges of economic globalization in a binding way - both through broad discussions and decisions in responsible groups. The results should be considered at the next plenary assemblies of these organizations. Common worldwide decisions are expected (LWA, Winnipeg 2003; RWA, Accra 2004 and WCC, Porto Alegre 2006). The letter to the churches in Western Europe is very clear:

"The churches participating in the ecumenical process confirm that the ideology of neoliberalism is incompatible with the vision of the ecumene, the unity of the church and the whole inhabited earth. Far-r and growing injustice, exclusion and destruction are opposite to sharing and solidarity, the indispensable parts of our being the body of Christ. What is at stake here is the quality of church community, the future of the public welfare of society, the credibility of the confession of the churches and the churches' proclamation of God who is with the poor and for the poor. For the sake of the integrity of theirs, the churches are called to oppose neoliberal economic theory and practice and to follow God.

The Soesterberg consultation that presented this text analyzed the churches' position on the financial system in the context of neoliberal globalization. The reason for this increasing gravity is unmistakable: the fundamental predominance of capital ownership over working people and the whole society in the capitalist system has intensified since the 1970s through the transnationalization of capital. Corporations can manipulate prices through free trade zones and avoid taxes. Banks and investment funds often accumulate through speculative financial transactions instead of through the real economy and force up profit expectations (casino capitalism). All owners of capital cause debts for the public budgets through tax evasion, tax dumping and subsidies and compel governments to social cuts. The result is increasing structural unemployment and the ever-wider gap between impoverishment and enrichment within the different societies and between South and North.

The letter to the churches in Western Europe urges our churches to comment on the following questions, proposals and initiatives for alternatives:

"With reference to the debt question

Acknowledgment of the churches for the mounting debts actually owed to the people and countries of the South;

Continuing efforts for cancellation of the bi- and multilateral debts of the poorest developing countries and the creation of a mechanism for debt arbitration to substantially reduce the debt burden of other developing countries; the non-recognition of illegitimate and morally reprehensible debts...

With reference to the financial system

Reform of the international financial architecture that assures a reasonable representation of all developing countries and civil society in decision-making processes... ;

A mechanism for deterring exorbitant and de-stabilizing currency speculation (like an effective tax on financial transactions, the Tobin tax). Attac, an advocate for this mechanism, is supported by ecumenical groups and churches;

An analysis of the possibility of treating money like other goods and covering it with taxes since currencies are handled in financial markets and are no longer instruments in the service of the economy;

More controls on monetary policy and concerning markets; development of a multilateral initiative to define common standards for limiting possibilities of tax evasion of transnational corporations and investment funds;

Multilateral agreements allowing states to tax transnational corporations on a uniform-global basis together with proper mechanisms for internationally allocating tax revenues... "

However the churches are also summoned in the letter to scrutinize their own practices as economic subjects, for example:

"Why do our churches make poverty into a theme without discussion wealth and prosperity?

How do our churches deal with their own money, their pension accounts, investments and real estate holdings? Are h banks connected with our churches entangled in tax flight, ethically irresponsible investments, speculative practices and other activities that undermine the ability of states to care for the public welfare?

As churches are joined with our social- and health services in markets defined by competition, can they influence market conditions in the interest of the public well-being and the interest of our churches? How do we respond to the continuing privatization of public and social goods and services essential for life like water, health care, education etc.?

What form of consumption and what lifestyle do we practice and promote? How can we as churches and individual church members strengthen the consciousness for climate change and work for conservation by dealing more carefully with energy consumption in our churches, apartment buildings, transportation etc.?

Wolfgang Gern will focus on the question of the churches'responsibility for politics and the economy in the context of neoliberal globalization. Dorothee Soelle will discuss how Christians, communities and churches can correspond and follow Jesus Christ in this situation. This includes:

* Clear rejection of the system of neoliberal globalized capitalism as destructive idolatry;

Spirituality of resistance and solidarity and

Practical conversion of alternatives in dealing with money, labor and consumption.Resistance joins the voices of the South. In April 2003, the meeting of the Reformed Churches from Africa, Asia and Latin America in the ecumenical status confessionis process took place in Buenos Aires. Following the Ten Commandments, the delegates made the following commitment in their "Declaration of Faith in the Global Crisis of Life",

You are our God who liberates us from all oppression, exclusion and exploitation.

I. We will not make mammon into our God and accumulate power and wealth.

II. We will not build any idols by worshipping the efficiency of our works.

III. We will not misuse the name of God our Lord by representing the enforcement of markets oriented in accumulating riches and imperial wars as Christian policy.

IV. We will respect the Sabbath and neither exploit human workers nor destroy nature.

V. We will champion solidarity between the generations - both through advocacy for a life in dignity for seniors and by preserving future generations from ecological destruction and heavy debts.

VI. We will not kill by excluding those persons from markets who either have no private property or sell their labor power on the market.

VII. We will not tolerate that women and children are made into commodities and sexually exploited.

VIII. We will not accept the diverse theft of actors on the markets.

IX. We will not misuse the legal system for our own material advantage but will promote the economic, social and cultural rights of all people.

X. We will not become enslaved to the greed for unlimited accumulation of riches and rob our neighbors of their means of production and income so everyone can live a life in dignity on God's rich and wondrous earth."

That our communities and churches join in this declaration of faith and act accordingly is the goal of the process. Kairos Europe is preparing a volume with the most important texts and proposals for their conversion. What is central is listening on the foundation of the Bible to the voice of those whose personal and communal life on this earth is increasingly destroyed by neoliberal globalization and financial mechanisms.

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