Message to Churches in the North-Bangkok 1999
From the participants of the WCC-WARC-CCA-CCT-ACFOD
Symposium on the Consequences of Economic Globalization
(12-15 November 1999 Bangkok, Thailand)
The Symposium was jointly organized by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA,), the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT), and the Asian Cultural Forum on Development (ACFOD). It was attended by over 60 people from various sectors of society in Thailand and from 19 other countries, namely, Canada, China, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, the Netherlands, the Philippines, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Uganda, and Vanuatu.
Meeting here in Bangkok and coming from different countries in Asia and elsewhere, and comparing the experiences of our economies and people; listening to the stories and cries of farmers, women, indigenous peoples, fisher folk, the urban poor and slum dwellers of Thailand, and hearing similar stories from India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines and Sri Lanka; we are struck by the commonality of the consequences of debt and the globalization of the economy on our societies and on nature.
As a Christian community, we are members of the same body of Christ; 'if one member suffers, all suffer together with it' (1 Cor 12.26). According to the Reformed tradition, the economy is a social framework that is supposed to sustain life in community. However, today's economic order, promoted by neo-liberalism, contributes to dismantling community rather than sustaining it. We were convinced by the evidence presented to the symposium that many people - both Christian and non-Christian - are not only suffering, but being systemically excluded from the community. Many people in the South say that today's economy is intolerable and people in the North also say so. How can we justify the faith affirmation that we are one in Christ if more and more brothers and sisters are suffering and excluded?
Growing impoverishment, increasing inequality in income distributions, casualization of cheap labour, feminization of poverty, an increase in child labour and trafficking of children, and ecological destruction affecting the health and livelihood of the rural poor, were revealed by the symposium as concrete consequences of economic globalization based on neo-liberalism. Moreover, poverty, suicide and increase of crimes have soared as a result of the Asian economic crisis and the International Monetary Fund intervention in response. The number of poor people in Thailand increased from 7 million in 1997 to an estimated 12 million in 1998, out of a total population of 63 million; the suicide rate also increased from 10 per 100'000 to 14 or 15 per 100'000, and the number of prisoners increased from 66'000 to 170'000. Ironically, even as the poor were terribly hit by the economic crisis, the percentage of national income in Thailand, Korea and the Philippines earned by the rich minority increased. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening due to the present trend of economic globalization.
Next to the pain and suffering in the South, there are the threats in the North. We heard about poverty, coming back in even your richest societies; we received reports about environmental destruction also in your midst, and about alienation, loneliness and the abuse of women and children. And all that, while most of your churches are losing members. And we asked ourselves: is most of that not also related to being rich and desiring to become richer than most of you already are? Is there not in the western view of human beings and society a delusion, which always looks to the future and wants to improve it, even when it implies an increase of suffering in your own societies and in the South? Have you not forgotten the richness which is related to sufficiency? If, according to Ephesians 1, God is preparing in human history to bring everyone and everything under the lordship of Jesus Christ, his shepherd-king - God's own globalization! - shouldn't caring for and sharing with each other be the main characteristic of our lifestyle, instead of giving fully in to the secular trend of a growing consumerism?
What has happened to our common faith in God, in Christ, and the church universal? What has happened to the basic teaching of common stewardship and Christian solidarity with the suffering neighbour?
We are convinced that the time has come for a return to the fundamental and undiluted teachings of the gospel. It is time for all of us to make a choice: God or mammon, the one true God or the idolatry of wealth. We know that some churches in the North are very active in this regard and we feel strong solidarity with their actions. But the present situation invites us to stand up all together.
We call for concrete acts of solidarity to alleviate the massive suffering in our nations in the North and in the South.
We call for urgent action on your part to address your governments and the institutions that are designing and implementing the present globalization project.
We call for study of the current economic system and its consequences in our midst, in the light of our common faith in Jesus Christ, the Saviour, who showed us caring and sharing as members of God's family.
Economic injustice is a violation of the basic tenets of our common faith. We call on you to join us in confessing that the economy is a matter of faith.