I. Introduction

"I have come", said Jesus of Nazareth, as John recalls in his gospel (10:10), "that they may have life, and may have it abundantly'.
And when his followers asked him how they should pray to God, he told them to say:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name,
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven,
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil. (RSV)

Livelihoods today and tomorrow

Economics is about the daily lives of people; it is about procuring food, clothes and shelter and seeking work. Therefore it should not come as a surprise that churches and Christians have always been concerned about economic issues. Christian faith does not make a sharp separation between the realm of body and the realm of soul. In becoming incarnate in Jesus, God shared the human condition with us; and the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples is about material as well as spiritual life. This prayer for "daily bread" is an essential part of the liturgy in which the eucharistic bread is offered. If we want to be disciples of him who came to give abundant life for all, economic life is part of our ministry.
The ministry is urgent. For millions of people in this world, daily life is far from abundant in the material sense of the word. Their reality is one of constant crisis and struggle for survival, human dignity and hope. Consider some of today's young adults, the people on whose awareness, responsibility and courage so much is going to depend:

  • people in the Pacific, already fearful that their islands are being poisoned by chemical and nuclear wastes from powerful nations faraway, now wonder anxiously whether global warming will raise the level of the sea and wash away their ancestral homes;**
  • the sons and daughters of Aboriginal families in Australia live off welfare in the slums of the white peoples' cities with no way of shaping their own lives;**
  • the refugees from Mozambique crowd into camps in Malawi after fleeing from villages destroyed by roving bandits who have seized all the livestock and killed the headmen;**
  • in China, those students in Tienanmen square who cried out for an end to corruption are now drawn back into a grey conformism, hiding a deep sense of resentment against the powerful who have nevertheless presided over an astonishing advance in the availability of goods in the shops;**
  • footloose people in the Horn of Africa run away from the civil wars in Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia, seeking whatever they can find to eat in areas where the desert seems to be spreading inexorably;**
  • conscripts in the Peruvian army are ordered into the Andes valleys both to wipe out the guerillas of the Shining Path and to stop the villagers growing and harvesting the coca plants because nothing else brings as much money;**
  • young people leave the rotten slums of Brazilian cities and press along the new road to carve a new life for themselves by cutting down trees in the virgin Amazon forest and looking after the landowners' cattle;**
  • Mexican women flood into the area just south of the US border because wages are better in the factories established there by US firms even if their health may suffer from the air and water pollution those factories emit;**
  • native Canadians live on reservations where there is limited space to grow or hunt their own food, while mechanized logging and fishing pollute their ancestral wealth in the seas and forests;**
  • Romanians are turned back at the frontier of the wealthy Germany, where they had hoped to find work and their fortune;**
  • young men in Britain, unemployed despite several years in "training" programmes, watch their younger brothers get a thrill by driving stolen cars at high speeds through the bleak concrete estate on the city's edge.**

The list could be extended indefinitely. In the parable of the great judgement (Matt. 25:31-46), Jesus linked faithfulness to God with care of and concern for the human community. The parable presents a very tangible standard. It tells us that if we provide food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, care to the infirm, and if we visit the prisoner, we do that to God (Matt. 25:40). How would contemporary political economic systems be assessed according to that kind of test?

A paper to serve in exploration and testing

This paper hopes to serve the reader in part of that exploration and testing. Obviously, it cannot be a complete description of the world economy today. It is very much a paper "on the way", not a final document. But drawing on many years of ecumenical debate about economic life, it seeks to offer a framework for a Christian interpretation of the world economic situation today.
The chapters which follow are largely interdependent. Chapter II discusses the connections between economics and Christian faith, and lays out four themes within that faith which can shape human obedience in the economic sphere. Chapter III sets out some major global economic issues that need scrutiny and fresh thinking. Chapter IV then tries to pull these together, showing how criteria drawn from the faith could help to shape economic decision-making, even if much of this must be done in particular contexts that can only be left to the readers. The final chapter offers a number of lines of action for individual Christians, groups of Christians, local churches and church leaders -- all to be fleshed out in local contexts.
Produced in 1992, this paper is written five hundred years after Columbus sailed to the Americas. The unwanted invasions of whole continents led to tremendous suffering and hardship for the people originally inhabiting these regions. The next five hundred years have already started. This document tries to witness to the urgency and value of solidarity with those who continue to suffer under unjust economic policies and systems, and invites all to combine worship and work in anticipation of God's kingdom, in which the true meaning of abundant life for all will become apparent.
Each chapter beings with an introductory summary which highlights the key points in the text. At the end of each chapter, several study questions provide the framework for private reflection or discussion in groups. As well, the questions will help the reader to consider the implications of these ideas within local contexts and the daily lives of people.


© 2001 by Ulrich Schmitthenner • Bildschirm-Version