Economics and ecology are key, say Christians at WSF

By staff writers
January 23, 2007

At the World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya, speakers involved in a workshop organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) said that wealth, poverty and ecology are strongly linked to each other and to society’s commitment to the common good.

Wealth, poverty and ecology are all closely related to the sustainability of life, said Dr Marcos Arruda, from Brazil. A social researcher and activist, Arruda called the current world economy "one of war and death" which threatens life because of social inequality, global financial crisis and militarization. It needs to be replaced by a "solidarity-based economy" that requires the "socialization and democratization of property".

The need to recover a "sense of common good" was stressed by Rev Phillip Woods, head of the international office of the United Reformed Church, UK. "Today, the interconnectedness with my neighbours has been lost as lifestyles are marketed to us as a matter of choice," he said.

On the subject of lifestyles, Ms Lapapan Supamanta, general secretary of the International Buddhist Association, affirmed the central concept of sharing, which is linked to a certain detachment from wealth. Comparing over-consumption to moderation and wealth to humbleness, Supamanta wondered whether perhaps the issue is "to eradicate wealth instead of poverty".

Mr Xiao Lian, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, proposed the need for a greater distribution of wealth. "A bigger portion of the cake needs to be distributed to the poor," he said, affirming that economic growth - which has amounted to 10% annually during the last decade in China - needs to be of a nature that protects the environment.

"Another property order is possible," said Profesor Ulrich Duchrow, a German theologian, paraphrasing the World Social Forum motto. While acknowledging that human beings "need property for their lives," Duchrow criticized the current model which is based on expropriation, exploitation and exclusion. A new property order needs to be based on "sharing resources and the fruits of humanity's common endeavour".

Mr John Jones, a social activist from Norway, defended a well-known model of wealth redistribution, the welfare state. The welfare state is about "the right of everyone to receive their share," and its goal is "a society for all", he affirmed. But the concentration of wealth in the North is actually opposed to this. "Pollution and even people are cheaper in the South," he said.

Bishop Mvume Dandala, general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), also pointed to the painful imbalance between North and South. "Poverty in Africa is the direct causal effect of the wealth of the North," he said, affirming that African governments are "co-responsible".

"We need to work together and we need all the society to look at poverty as the enemy," said Malawi’s minister of health, Marjorie Ngaunje, who described a number of initiatives of her government to empower small farmers and women.

Amongst concrete ways to improve the life conditions of the poor, Ms Birgit Weinbrenner from Holland stressed the positive impact of micro-credit. "Plenty of stories show that poverty declines and people are able to support their children," said Weinbrenner, who is programme secretary at Oikocredit. Churches - which too often simply seek the highest financial returns for their investments - should invest more in micro-credit, she affirmed.

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