Understanding the root causes of global economic-related violence was on the agenda for the fourth day of the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) being held in Kingston, Jamaica, 17-25 May 2011.
In a series of IEPC presentations, including a sketch by young people and a television style interview show on stage, the stark realities of modern global economics and the role of the church were examined.
It was reported that when Archbishop Valentine Mokiwa visited a gold mining operation in Tanzania, he came across something he never expected to see: a world-class runway and sprawling houses with private swimming pools.
Then, Mokiwa, president of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), stepped just outside the mining compound to find a completely different reality.
“There is abject poverty,” he said. “People struggle to make ends meet. You visit healthcare clinics and there's no medication. People are dying.”
Tanzania, not considered a wealthy country by global standards, attracts mining companies from all over the world. In the last five years, Tanzania has sent gold worth 2.5 billion US dollars to the United States. Tanzania received 2.7 million dollars in return. “There's nothing fair here,” reflected Mokiwa.
Ideally, the collective church should play a role to protect people from economic exploitation. But the church may well play into the massive socioeconomic inequalities that plague Tanzania and many other countries, it was said.
“Within the church, all hands are not clean,” pointed out the Rev Dr Roderick Hewitt, a minister of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands and moderator of the Council for World Mission. Hewitt and Mokiwa were two of the four panellists in the television style interview presentation.
The other two panellists were Omega Bula, executive minister for the global justice and ecumenical relations unit of the United Church of Canada and the Rev Professor Dr Emmanuel Clapsis, an Orthodox theologian from the USA.
“Soul-searching is required,” Hewitt said. “In our critique of the market, we are doing it in the context of contradiction.” Churches cannot begin to forge justice in an inhumane marketplace until they opt out of that marketplace themselves, a marketplace in which structural violence is embedded.
“We cannot deal with the issue of the marketplace when we in the church are complicit,” said Hewitt. “One of the first things we need when discussing the needs of the global marketplace is to get down on our knees and ask for confession.”
Another challenge is that the voices asking for structural change in an oppressive world marketplace are not voices of power. If those voices could be heard, they would call into question our core assumptions about wealth and poverty.
“The market is based on domination and exploitation,” said Bula. “Such a market should end. In many places, these victims are women, children and people of colour. We need to be moving away from markets described as 'empire.'”
If there is no change, protests against marketplace oppression will crescendo, cautioned Clapsis. “I'm afraid that, in the future, social unrest will be about jobs, about security. What is the role of the church? We are searching for a new economic system that distributes our resources in a more equitable manner. Otherwise, there will be more misery for the majority.”
The questions are monumental and there are no easy answers, concluded the Rev Garnett Roper, theologian and president of the Jamaica Theological Seminary after the presentations. If churches can't or won't act on oppression in the marketplace, how can they expect to use that marketplace to aid non-violence?
He gave voice to a concluding question that troubled IEPC participants as they discussed the conditions of the marketplace in hundreds of communities worldwide. “Is the church being naïve when it talks about peace in the marketplace?”
The IEPC opened on Wednesday 18 May and concludes on 25 May.
* IEPC resources page: www.protestantnews.eu/europe/8242 
* Live web streaming: www.overcomingviolence.org/ 
* An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace: www.overcomingviolence.org/en/resources-dov/wcc-resources/documents/decl... 
* All Ekklesia's material on IEPC: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/ipec 
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Ekklesia is running stories from journalist and regular contributor Stephen Brown, as well as official reports from the WCC and other commentary.