Neoliberal globalisation is the new slavery, say Reformed churches

By Ecumenical News International
24 Oct 2007

Leaders of the world's biggest grouping of Reformed churches have compared the effects of economic globalisation to the transatlantic slave trade, and said that Christians need to combat this modern form of "enslavement" - writes Stephen Brown.

"As a matter of the integrity of our faith, we must say, 'No' to slavery in all of its forms," said the president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Rev Clifton Kirkpatrick. He was speaking at an 18-28 October 2007 meeting in Trinidad of Reformed leaders from around the world.

In his 20 October presidential report to WARC's main governing body, Kirkpatrick acknowledged 2007 as the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade act by the British Parliament. He added, however, "We are painfully aware that slavery is still with us."

The 39-member WARC executive committee is holding its second meeting since 2004, when the alliance's highest governing body, its general council, last met in the Ghanaian capital, Accra.

Kirkpatrick explained how his own denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA) had been campaigning for the rights of migrant farm workers in the US, and underlined the need to fight human trafficking in all its forms. "But as we affirmed in Accra, an even more pernicious form of human enslavement is being wrought on millions through the process of neoliberal globalisation that is driving a dramatic and growing wedge between the rich and the poor", the WARC president stated.

Kirkpatrick was referring to a statement known as the Accra Confession adopted at the 2004 assembly. In Reformed theology, "confession" designates a statement of faith. "We believe that the integrity of our faith is at stake if we remain silent or refuse to act in the face of the current system of neoliberal economic globalisation," the Accra Confession asserts.

Delegates at the 2004 meeting adopted this confession after they visited the cells at the Ghanaian port of Elmina, from where millions of slaves were transported during the transatlantic slave trade. "We all left Elmina with a firm conviction that 'never again' should Reformed Christians turn a blind eye to the enslavement and destruction of people," said Kirkpatrick.

His statements were echoed in another report to the WARC executive committee by the Rev. Setri Nyomi, the Reformed alliance's general secretary.

"Two hundred years after the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, our oneness should have a strong tone of resolving to leave no stone unturned until all forms of slavery and enslavement are overturned," said Nyomi, a Presbyterian theologian from Ghana.

In an interview with Ecumenical News International, Nyomi explained that the Accra Confession meant that churches and Christians needed to question whether their lifestyle and actions contributed to or hindered overcoming poverty.

He acknowledged, however, that some WARC members, "most of them churches in the global North", had questioned whether attitudes to the global economy should be treated as a "confession". These WARC members had said statements of faith should be restricted to doctrinal matters.

"The response is very simple," Nyomi told ENI, "The Reformed family recognises the sovereignty of God ... We do not separate whether God is sovereign in the mundane and in the spiritual realm. Therefore our stance on social issues is consistent with the doctrinal claim of sovereignty."

The Geneva-headquartered WARC groups 75 million Reformed Christians from 214 churches in 107 countries.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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