'Golden opportunity' for economic justice, World Reformed Churches told

By Hans Pienaar
7 Sep 2009

The global financial crisis is a golden opportunity for a movement for economic justice according to a South African businesswoman and political economist.

Mohau Pheko, Coordinator of the African Gender and Trade Network (GENTA), told a gathering of theologians, advocates, economists and senior church officials in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Friday that the current crisis is “a spectacular failure” of the current system and calls for a radical reconstruction of the global economy.

“We have to smash the current paradigm so that it does not have roots and legs to rise again,” Pheko told the group of nearly 60 people from 23 countries who are meeting to focus on what churches can do to address inequalities in the global economic system.

The event, which organizers call a global dialogue, focuses on economic justice and concern for the earth’s ecology. Organized by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the consultation builds on the organization’s statement on global economic justice, known as the Accra Confession.

The statement, issued in 2004 during ARC’s General Council in Accra, Ghana, declares “economic systems are a matter of life or death” and says “the policy of unlimited growth among industrialized countries and the drive for profit of transnational corporations have plundered the earth and severely damaged the environment”.

Pheko, an advisor to governments and trade organizations, told delegates the need for change is urgent, especially in Africa where there is not sufficient money to weather the ill effects of the crisis, due to cuts made as part of austerity programmes imposed by the International Monetary Fund.

Saying it is time to act now, Pheko calls for advocates of change to “crystallize” forms of protest already underway, such as service delivery protests in South Africa and food protests elsewhere: “The streets already know the issues; we have to listen to the streets.”

The Accra Confession continues to spur action and debate among churches on how they may interpret and respond to the impact of the current global economic model. The dialogue in Johannesburg brings together churches whose understandings differ, in order to seek their input in charting how the organization can continue to address economic and environmental issues in the future.

In addressing those currents of concern, WARC has published a guide to the Accra Confession which points to the declaration’s importance to Christian ethics in the contemporary world.

Choose Life, Act in Hope authored by Puleng LenkaBula, a South African academic from the University of South Africa (UNISA), was launched on Friday as part of the programme of the Global Dialogue.

Clifton Kirkpatrick, WARC’s president, calls the book “a wake-up call to Christians, not only in Africa, but also around the world, to the fundamental ethical calling of the Christian faith in our time.”

Describing it as “part history, part theological vision, and part a call for action,” Fitzpatrick says, “Puleng LenkaBula articulately expresses why this covenant for justice in the economy and the earth is the central commitment of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches."

The study resource offers questions for discussion at the end of each chapter and encourages WARC members to popularise the Accra Confession and find ways to apply it in daily life.

“I enthusiastically recommend this book to every Christian who seeks to faithfully follow Christ in our world today,” says Kirkpatrick.

In her comments about the book, LenkaBula compares the current situation with that of the Roman Empire, when Christian prophets challenged the cooption of religion for the empire; when some church leaders did not align themselves with the poor and the marginalized but with the powerful.

“The lived reality for many African peoples and effects of the empire are still evident in structures and relationships between Africa and the world,” say LenkaBula.

LenkaBula, who teaches courses on social, political, feminist and economic topics in the Department of Systematic Theology and Ethics at UNISA, focuses her research on economy, ecology and ethics, particularly the areas of the land, property, and intellectual property rights.

The Global Dialogue event concludes today.

The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) brings together 75 million Reformed Christians in 214 churches in 107 countries - united in their commitment to making a difference in a troubled world. The WARC General Secretary is Setri Nyomi of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana. WARC's secretariat is based in Geneva, Switzerland.

For more information on the Accra Confession, including the full text, see:
http://www.warc.ch/documents/ACCRA_Pamphlet.pdf

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