Churches challenged to put money on resolution

Published September 1, 1998

A Lambeth Conference resolution on international debt and economic justice demands action by governments and banks, but also by churches.

Bishop Peter Selby of Worcester, England, said the goal was to provide “the kind of resolution that could be taken home by all members of this conference,” no matter what country or what national political positions had been taken on debt.

The tough stand on debt will have an impact on churches, Bishop Seby warned. “We thought it critical to put a resolution before you that was not a moral free lunch … not an exhortation to other people to do something, but that affected our lives as churches and as a Communion.”

The resolution asks bishops to challenge their dioceses to set aside funds from their church budgets to help fund international development programs and to co-operate with people of other faiths in advocacy programs. The bishops are also asked to support a series of requests to both creditor and debtor nation governments, including establishment of a mediation council which would include developing nations.

The conference also heard from the president of the World Bank, Jim Wolfensohn, who said he too is concerned about Third World debt. But he cautioned the bishops against pointing the finger of blame at the World Bank. Mr. Wolfensohn took exception to a 20-minute video that was shown at the beginning of the conference. He said the video “would have you believe that I rather like children dying, that I have no faith, that my interest is to collect debts, that I have no understanding of education or health, that I know nothing about the impact of payments imposed by governments, that would lead you to think that I know nothing about the slums in Jamaica and know little about Tanzania. And all I can say to you is that I believe that each of those assertions is wrong.”

Mr. Wolfensohn said he was not angry about the video but upset. “I’m upset because it paints a picture of our institution which is quite simply wrong. I work with 10,000 people in the bank who are committed to poverty eradication. We do not get up every morning and think what we can do to ruin the world. I did not leave my business three years ago to come and work in the issue of poverty eradication and the issue of making the world freer, more equitable and safer for our children, to be characterized (unfairly) in a Christian Aid film. I find it difficult to take and very unattractive.”

Mr. Wolfensohn made it clear he thinks the characterization of the bank as the epicentre of debt problems which causes all the problems of the world is unfair and incorrect.

He pointed to the many social problems that cause poverty, such as overpopulation due to lack of birth control, pollution and illness.

“I spend an enormous amount of my time trying to convince governments that their responsibility to the poor of the world is not just a moral responsibility, but a responsibility to themselves in terms of interdependence with a world which has 4.7 billion people in development out of the total 5.6 billion.”

The resolution passed at Lambeth notes that the “vast expansion” in the power and quantity of money and the “huge increases” in borrowing, are “damaging,” both materially and spiritually.

It calls debt relief, including cancellation of unpayable debts, “not sufficient,” and recommends that negotiations be speeded up, saying “children are dying, societies unravelling under the burden.”

An addition to the resolution from Bishop Alfred Reid of Montego Bay, Jamaica, strengthened the already sharp positions by providing “for sanctions against private sector persons … who act corruptly.”

“It is important to condemn the corrupt and unjust tyranny of power by transnational corporations and local private sector elites,” Bishop Reid said. Their powers “exceed the powers of elected governments, both North and South. It is an unholy alliance between the geopolitical designs of the north and international private capital that creates poverty in the south and makes Third World debt unsustainable.”

Bishop Keith Sutton of Lichfield Diocese, England, encouraged the conference to pay attention to the lesson learned last May when “tens of thousands of people descended on Birmingham” to deliver a message to the leaders of the G8 nations meeting there. Their “summit” had originally refused to put international debt on the agenda, said Bishop Sutton. The crowds, “the united ecumenical witness of churches in the UK and beyond,” changed their minds, he said.

“This is a vital ecumenical action which we can all take in our own countries,” said Bishop Sutton. “What better way of celebrating the third millennium of Our Lord.”

Earlier in the conference, various speakers spoke of the need for the Anglican Communion to help to do something about the crushing debts of Third World countries.

Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of Cape Town, primate of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa, called for cancellation of the debt of developing countries.

At a three-hour plenary session for bishops and spouses, Archbishop Ndungane urged the bishops to follow the Gospel injunction to “bring good news to the poor” by supporting the Jubilee 2000 campaign for cancelling $214 billion in debt burdening the developing world. Inspired by the tradition reported in Leviticus of holding a Year of Jubilee every 50 years, the coalition of churches and social outreach organizations is campaigning for cancellation of the debt of the world’s poorest countries by the year 2000.

“It’s a vision that releases the poor from the prison of indebtedness and dependent poverty. It’s a vision where God’s people have all that is necessary to live a human life,” said Archbishop Ndungane.

“The crisis of international debt that we are debating here today is not just a matter for the poorest countries. Nor is it a matter that only affects sovereign governments. It affects all of us everywhere.

“We all live in the grip of an economy which encourages over-lending and over-borrowing, an economy which drives relentlessly into debt. But the poorest, those with very little income to depend on, are not just in the grip of this economy, they are enslaved by it,” he said.


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