Section II Report Debrecen 1997
JUSTICE FOR ALL CREATION
In the three subsections of the >Justice for All Creation= section, we have heard from witnesses around the world about the chains of injustice that must be broken. Together we have considered the responsibilities of living together in the household of God: management of the household so that all may have life (economy); care of relationships within the household (ecology); and respect for the diversity of the household (national and ethnic identity).
In discussions of economic justice, we have heard about the unfairness of the prevailing world economic system, which creates injustice at both international and national levels. It is a system which enables a few to accumulate wealth and power, while the majority of people have difficulties and struggle to survive. Poverty is increasing as millions of people become unemployed and excluded in the South as well as in the North. The majority of those in poverty are members of families headed by women. It is women who produce 65% of the world=s production, earn 20% of the world=s income and yet possess only 2% of the means of production (Beijing United Nations Women=s Conference, 1995).
In discussions of creation and justice, we have heard that creation continues to groan, in bondage, waiting for its liberation:
destruction of their sacred sites are ignored.
- in Irian Jaya, a gold and copper mine is devastating huge tracts of forests and people have been unfairly treated trying to protect their homeland;
- in Lebanon, only 2% of the original forests remain; the deforestation of Africa is a threat to life;
- in eastern Europe, people grapple with the terrible legacy of pollution from the former communist regimes;
- on some Pacific islands, nuclear waste is contaminating the environment which is a serious threat to all living organisms;
- in Angola landmines have made agricultural land inaccessible;
- around the world indigenous peoples are exploited, and their land claims and attempts to resist
In discussions of national and ethnic identity, we have heard that the sense of common humanity and the need for ethnic and cultural belonging seem often in conflict. The painful stories reveal the complexity of the situations and lead to the realization that Christian churches need to seek justice and foster reconciliation.
There are webs of interconnection between the challenging issues considered in this section. A key consideration in our discussions is the impact of the globalization of the world=s economy, that is, the integration of national and international markets to achieve maximization of financial profits.
Its characteristics include:
Behind all this is a spirit of hard competition and limitless expansion. Competition is regarded as good, but it forces poorer countries and regions into a downward spiral of impoverishment. This leads to the exclusion of the weakest groups and countries and victimizes millions of people. The debt burden continues to increase. Economic growth has a cost: free citizens experience less and less participation in shaping their economic life. Reckless exploitation of the earth increases. There is no rest for creation.
- growth of international trade, including Transnational Corporations (TNCs) which are not accountable to the people they affect;
- speculative capital movements creating what has been called >The Casino Economy=. In 1995 only 1.6% of capital flows were related to the payment of real goods and services (WEED, Sept. 1996). Such a tendency is manifest even in governmentBsponsored lotteries;
- mass communication, the technological revolution, and the monoBculture of consumerism;
- trade in weapons of destruction and the underground economy (the drug trade in particular);
- disregard for the earth=s ecological limits.
The demise of colonialism and increasing economic globalization have led both to a rediscovery of humanity=s common destiny and to the resurgence of local identities. Ethnic conflicts have flared up, not only in Central and Eastern Europe but also in many other parts of the world following the breakdown of totalitarian communism which suppressed legitimate ethnic and religious sentiments.
Biblical Perspectives and Analysis of Issues
Reformed Faith and Economic Justice
We are called as Christians to honour God by the careful administration of all resources to fulfil the basic needs of God=s children. It is God=s will that people do not labour in vain, but live in the houses they build (Is 65.21), where each can sit under their vine and fig tree (Mic 5.4); where city streets are full of girls and boys playing freely while old men and women sit resting and watching with joy (Zech 8.4). The story of Lazarus and the rich man challenges the Christian community to share (Lk 16.19B31). God=s grace is a free gift, it is not for sale in the market place (Is 55.1B3).
The Reformed tradition affirms that work is for the common good and the fulfilment of human vocation; it is not only relative to the production of goods. But the Calvinist work ethic has become distorted. Those who do not have productive work with fair compensation are hindered in the fulfilment of their human vocation. Work is an integral part of stewardship and closely related to Sabbath. The Christian community is Christ existing in communitarian form. To affirm that we are antiBmammon is not just to be antiBidolatry but to affirm our trust that God will lead us to life. We should not reject all economic growth, technological innovation or the market, provided they serve the basic needs of all. The Reformed tradition has always recognised that the entire creation is holy. Our challenge is to redirect our economies under the sovereignty of our Lord, in the expectation of and preparation for God=s coming.
Reformed structures have contributed to the establishment of modern democracy. The goal of democracy is not merely that all may vote, but that all people participate in basic decisions affecting their future. The economy should not rule people; people should regulate the economy.
Justice for All Creation
Despite the global hopes raised by the >Earth Summit= five years ago, the world is not moving toward a sustainable future, but is falling into an everBdeeper ecological crisis. The web of life is threatened as never before. To say it simply: if present trends continue, the world=s life, as we know it, may not.
The churches have said that we are not to dominate and destroy creation, but rather to serve as those who treasure, guard, and keep God=s good gifts of life.
Yet, have the churches acted as if they believed such words are true? Have we lived as though we believed that all life comes from the Spirit of God (Ps 104.30)? Have we responded in faithfulness to God=s covenant made with the earth (Gen 8.13ff.)? Do our actions bear testimony to God=s work of redemption in Jesus Christ, reconciling >all things= (Eph 1.10) and offering the hope of healing to all the earth (Rom 8.21)? And if we have not acted, is it because we do not truly believe the promises of God=s Word?
These questions challenge us to consider what the churches could do to put our words into deeds, and they lead us to reconsider the biblical idea of >Sabbath=. The God who creates, sustains, judges, reconciles, and redeems is also the God who rests. In the Sabbath, creation is celebrated as God=s companion. The call to keep the Sabbath is not just an instruction to rest on the seventh dayCit is an invitation to share God=s delight in the gift of creation. It points to a lifestyle, based on a rediscovery of humanity=s place as a part of the whole creation.
Such an understanding of Sabbath declares that there must be limits on the relentless appetite for consumption. Creation needs rest. The greed of many is choking the life of the planet. Land, air, forest, and water need the renewal, regeneration, and replenishment that comes from the biblical vision of the Sabbath day, the Sabbatical year, and the Year of Jubilee. Sabbath celebrates God=s intention that all creation be set free from exploitation. It is a vision of sufficiency, denying the right of a privileged few to exhaust the earth=s finite resources. All are called to such a style of life in the spirit of Sabbath.
Reformed churches, then, should look deeply at the biblical meaning of Sabbath, and learn to practice the Sabbath as a witness to God=s justice. In the full biblical picture, humanity is an integral part of creation. Our work to break the chains of injustice is rooted in a vision of God=s Sabbath, where all peoples, all cultures, and all lifeBforms can share in the celebration.
WARC is primarily the relationships of fellowship, support, and nurture between its member churches. Many of its member churches try to witness faithfully to the vision of creation with justice in their local situations. They are confronted by concrete threats from drastic deforestation, the pollution of water, the contamination of air, and the destruction of soil. Often, these imperil the very livelihood of whole groups of people, for whom such threats are not issues of comfort, but of survival. In a number of societies, racism intensifies the suffering of minority peoples (environmental racism). Forces behind such ecological destruction are frequently rooted in economic powers and corporations which seem far beyond the ability of local groups to curtail.
National & Ethnic Identity
Any attempt to classify conflicts around group identities comes up against the wide diversity of individual cases. No two situations of ethnic conflict are the same, and the consequences of each conflict vary considerably from one another.
Such conflicts result in:
In seeking to address these issues, the church itself is often caught in a tension between loyalty to the gospel and loyalty to the group. Just as we have been victims of ethnic conflicts, we sometimes have been accomplices rather than agents of peace. The diabolical and dehumanizing powers that are at work in economic and political systems and in the socioBcultural construction of others all too often infiltrate churches.
- profound uncertainty as to national and ethnic identity (as in Taiwan and Indonesia);
- religious, cultural and social marginalization (as in Romania, Indonesia, and the Dalits in India);
- policies and direct acts of discrimination (as in Slovakia where minorities are forbidden to use their mother tongue freely in public or to promote their cultural heritage; unsettled status of churchBrelated confiscated properties, including religious schools, in Romania and CarpathoBUkraine; also Australia, India, and other areas of Asia and the Americas);
- discrimination against ethnic churches that constitute a minority (as in the case of the Hungarian Church in Romania);
- forced migration and loss of land (as in the case of >ethnic cleansing= in Bosnia and Croatia, and the case of desecration of sacred burial lands of Native Americans);
- genocide (such as indigenous peoples and Armenians).
God has not created humanity for monochrome uniformity, but desires it to flourish in its diversity. People are joined together by a myriad of experiences, but they also find their identities in diverse groups. All humans share equal dignity and are owed equal respect.
Estranged from the God of peace, humans have made wholesome ethnic differences a source of deadly conflict. Group identities are profoundly ambivalent: they are havens of belonging as well as repositories of aggression; they are part of the history of divine creation, but they are also part of the history of human sin. The story of the Tower of Babel is about God=s judgment against a false unity of humanity placed at the service of a wrong goal.
In Jesus Christ, God offers humanity a promise of the new creation in which people from every tribe and nation with all their cultural goods will be gathered around the throne of the triune God in a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21.22). At Pentecost, the Spirit of that promise was given and the curse of Babel removed: all understood each other yet each spoke his/her own language. Pentecost is not a reversion to the unity of cultural uniformity, but an advance towards the harmony of cultural diversity.
As the Gospel has been preached to many nations, the church has taken roots in many cultures, transforming them as well as being profoundly shaped by them. The church must have its feet firmly planted in any culture in which it lives, its arms stretched out towards God and God=s future for creation.
Reconciled by the cross of Christ and sent by the Spirit of God, churches must strive for justice and truth, as they foster harmony with people of all ethnic groups in the spirit of love. A peace between ethnic groups without truth is a false peace; harmony without justice is forced harmony.
With these biblical perspectives in mind we affirm the unity of humanity as well as the cultural diversity that ethnic groups bring.
We affirm that:
- the church needs to challenge structures and practices that deny salutary aspects of ethnic identity;
- the responsibility of the church is to heed the cries of those who are particularly vulnerable to the denial of political or economic power;
- the church should serve as a credible model of the life God intends for the reconciliation, hope and unity of humanity;
- the call for multiBculturalism is not sufficient; justice has to be served; partnerships and new egalitarian and just structures need to be established;
- the church is called to go beyond responding to ethnic and sectarian conflicts into facilitating the creation of new societies where ethnicity is seen as a gift and unity among people and nations as a calling.
Chains of injustice bind the earth in suffering, and threaten all humanity=s future. God=s Word offers a vision where all creation responds in joy, and all people find fulfilment. God=s very life was given in Jesus Christ to invite the world to such a future. God=s Spirit, breathing into the church the power of the Risen Christ, empowers us to live embracing the hope of this new creation. We gather at the tableCa place where there is plenty for all and where our unity in Christ transcends our diversityCto give thanks for new life in Christ. Such a faith calls us to repent, to believe God=s good news, and to live in celebration of the reign of God.
Call for Processus Confessionis
In many parts of the world, Reformed churches and communities are challenged by the appalling circumstances in which many people live and by the threat of the ongoing destruction of the environment. Many believe that the time has come to make a confession of faith which rejects and struggles against these injustices, while affirming our faith in the triune God who in Christ offers a new creation.
We are challenged by the cry of the people who suffer and by the groaning of creation. We Christians of Reformed churches are aware of our complicity in an economic order that is unfair and oppressive, leading to the misery and death of many people. We participate in attitudes and practices which erode the foundations of the earth=s livelihood. We want to affirm the gift of life. We consider this affirmation of life, commitment to resistance, and struggle for transformation to be an integral part of Reformed faith and confession today.
In the past we have called for status confessionis in cases of blatant racial and cultural discrimination and genocide.
WE NOW CALL FOR A COMMITTED PROCESS OF PROGRESSIVE RECOGNITION, EDUCATION AND CONFESSION (PROCESSUS CONFESSIONIS) WITHIN ALL WARC MEMBER CHURCHES AT ALL LEVELS REGARDING ECONOMIC INJUSTICE AND ECOLOGICAL DESTRUCTION.
RECOMMENDATIONS AS APPROVED: The General Council
1. calls upon WARC and its member churches:
and destructive ecological activities.
- to give special attention to the analysis and understanding of economic processes, their consequences for people=s lives, and the threats to creation;
- to educate church members at all levels about economic life, including faith and economics, and challenge them to develop a lifestyle which rejects the materialism and consumerism of our day;
- to work towards the formulation of a confession of their beliefs about economic life which would express justice in the whole household of God and reflect priority for the poor, and support an ecologically sustainable future;
- to act in solidarity with the victims of injustice as they struggle to overcome unjust economic powers
2. calls upon WARC and its member churches to facilitate the necessary programmes, resources and practical steps to initiate and nurture the processus confessionis at all levels as a matter of extreme priority. This process requires:
- within WARC and its member churches:
- to study and explore just and sustainable alternatives to the present economic structure in order to equip the churches to speak and live a word of hope in our fractured world;
- to develop programmes of economic literacy to allow ordinary people to understand the circumstances in which they live and to see how they may change them;
- to explore the meaning of Sabbath as its relates to creation, contemporary challenges and their own contexts, and to give special emphasis to God=s gift of creation in the churches= educational work at all levels, especially with children;
- to study the >colonization of consciousness= (advertising and mass media) and to continue the study of governmentBsponsored lotteries, since they injure and exploit the poorest in the community;
- to examine their own economic activities in the light of Christian faith by investing without speculation, increasing the level of solidarity funds and using exemplary investment schedules (e.g. Ecumenical Development Cooperative Society) which concentrate on ethical investment, microBcredit schemes, etc.;
- to organize team visits as factBfinding missions to particular situations of crisis, where a member church is deeply affected and engaged in witness, to practice fellowship and solidarity.
- in relationships with other international organizations and partners:
- to contribute to the renewal of efforts in the UN system, including the International Labour Organization (ILO) to establish international codes of conduct for TNCs with regard to labour standards, product safety and environmental protection;
- to support the UN Development Programme=s recommendation for the introduction of the Tobin Tax (a tax on the movement of capital) to be used for sustainable development;
- to assist in actions within the UN and other international organizations when confronted with threats such as global warming and climate change, deforestation, pollution of the oceans, and nuclear waste;
- to support campaigns for the end of laws and practices that discriminate against women in property ownership, inheritance, remuneration and access to credit, and recognize the essential place of women as participants in development;
- to join the global campaigns for the cancellation of debt (e.g. Jubilee 2000);
- to support communityBbased organizations and organizations for working and unemployed people within countries and across national boundaries;
- to initiate in cooperation with other Christian world communions and the World Council of Churches a dialogue with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Trade Organization (WTO) with the goal that they review their policies and actions in the light of their adverse effect on the people of developing countries.
- in all efforts to implement the processus confessionis, it is necessary:
- to strengthen the cooperation of WARC and its member churches with other networks and partners, such as Christian World Communions, the WCC, and other relevant organizations and movements;
- to join forces with people of other faiths and people of goodwill who are looking toward the same goal.
National and Ethnic Identity
RECOMMENDATIONS AS APPROVED: The General Council calls upon the member churches of WARC
3. to make the following affirmation, modelled on the Barmen Declaration (1934), part of their worship services in situations of conflict:
>You were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation= (Rev 5.9). >There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus= (Gal 3.28).
All the churches of Jesus Christ, scattered in diverse cultures, have been redeemed for God by the blood of the Lamb to form one multiBcultural community of faith. What binds Christians together as brothers and sisters is more significant than what may distinguish them or separate them from each other.
We reject as false the doctrine that allegiance to nation or culture should be placed above the allegiance to God and to the vision of God=s new redeemed community.
4. to initiate religious dialogue in practical ways as ethnic identity is often related to religious issues;
5. to assess critically their own history and continuing injustice against indigenous peoples and engage members in repentance and reparations.
RECOMMENDATIONS AS APPROVED: The General Council calls upon WARC
6. to establish a permanent commission on ethnic and cultural conflict (study the nature of group identities and causes of conflicts between them, suggest ways in which the church can foster reconciliation, and explore the reasons why it often fails to do so, to monitor abuses, and educate churches about issues of cultural diversity);
7. to disseminate these statements and concerns to the religious and political authorities who are responsible for the various forms of discrimination, namely, Slovakia, Romania, Sri Lanka, India, Australia with the issues presented in the first section of this report.