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JULIO DE SANTA ANA
Economics deals with the production, distribution and consumption of material goods and services. The second assembly of the WCC (Evanston 1954) summarized the ecumenical concern about economic and social issues as follows: “The church is concerned with economic life because of God’s concern for human beings who work to produce goods and services, who use them, and for whom business exists.”
A survey of the history of the ecumenical debate about economic issues can be divided into five different periods, though of course many characteristic elements of one period were present in the previous or continued during the following one. During the first period, from 1910 to 1933, awareness of the importance of socio-economic issues emerged. The concept of the responsible society played a major role as a criterion for the assessment of economic problems during the second period from 1934 to 1960. In the third period, between 1960 and 1975, the concept of human development* became dominant. The fourth period, from around 1975 to the end of the 1980s, was characterized by the use of two different criteria: sustainability, which expresses a concern for nature and human resources, and solidarity with the poor,* as a key in the struggle against poverty. Reflection in the fifth period, beginning around 1990, has been dominated by the awareness of globalization and its consequences.
- Economics and the church (1910-33)
In the 1890s the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) had begun to develop its social teaching, for which Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum can be considered as the point of departure (see encyclicals, Roman Catholicsocial). In this encyclical the concept of the common good plays a key role. This notion was further dealt with by Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno (1931), in the context of the rise of fascism. Conservative Protestants, however, approached economic life from a perspective dominated by a sharp distinction between the spiritual and the secular, the eternal and the temporal, based in a traditional understanding of Luther’s theology of the two kingdoms. The social gospel movement* was influential in North America, as was religious socialism in Western and Central Europe, mostly in Reformed circles.
The concern for peace and internationalism became a priority for the churches as they realized how much the problems related to social ethics are interlinked. This awareness informed many of the early discussions and reflections of the Life and Work* (L&W) movement, which emerged in this period. Its first conference (Stockholm 1925) was an impressive endeavour to create a common basis for discussions on social ethics among Christians of different churches. Although not an exclusively Protestant event, it sought to overcome the over-emphasis on individualism prevalent in Protestant social ethics at that time, stressing that industrial activity should not be undertaken only for the sake of personal profit, but should provide benefits for the whole community. Because the human person is a steward in the service of God, whose will embraces the whole of humanity, private interest and property should be subordinated to social goals.
- The responsible society (1934-60)
This second period was particularly creative. The churches had to face enormous challenges, among them the rise of National Socialism in Germany, the consolidation of Stalinism in the USSR, the consequences of the great depression, the gathering power of authoritarian and totalitarian states, the second world war and its aftermath, the cold war, the birth and development of the world economic order based on the internationalization of capital and labour,* decolonization* and the emergence of independent nations, the emergence of the group of non-aligned countries, the beginning of the period of peaceful co-existence, and the Chinese and Cuban revolutions.
These changes, during a period of about 25 years, profoundly influenced the life of the churches. Ecumenically, the second L&W conference met in Oxford (1937) around the theme “Church, Community and State”; the WCC held its first assembly – postponed for seven years by the war – in Amsterdam (1948) and its second in Evanston (1954). Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council,* which marked the beginning of the official participation of the Vatican in the ecumenical movement.
Three names from these years deserve special mention. J.H. Oldham, the first general secretary of the International Missionary Council and chief organizer of the Oxford conference, was the architect of the concept of the responsible society,* which was not an alternative social model or system but a criterion for decisions at the level of social ethics. W.A. Visser ’t Hooft, the first general secretary of the WCC, had a passion for the una sancta and a deep interest in the socio-economic and political problems of the world. Paul Abrecht, director of Church and Society in the WCC for nearly 30 years, introduced concerns of developing countries such as economic growth and development onto the ecumenical agenda and promoted a multidisciplinary, contextual approach to church and society issues.
After the second assembly, an international ecumenical study was launched on “The Common Christian Responsibility towards Areas of Rapid Social Change”. Through it the ecumenical movement developed an approach to socio-economic and political matters that was universal as well as culturally and politically pluralistic. Two main lessons were learned. First, it was realized that ecumenical social ethics, in spite of its supranational character, had so far approached economic and political problems from a predominantly Western perspective. The time had come to broaden this perspective to include the concerns of churches and Christians in other parts of the world. This realization marked the beginning of a more inclusive dialogue involving other cultures and people of other faiths. Second, study of rapid social change demonstrated clearly the inadequacy of the simplistic view of the world as divided between two opposite camps: the liberal-capitalist West and the Marxist-socialist East. This view, which prevailed up to the Evanston assembly, needed to be broadened by including problems related to North-South relationships.
More than before, the ecumenical movement came to pay attention to such important economic issues as migration* (both domestic and international), economic growth, patterns of consumption, development cooperation, world poverty* and trade relations. The overarching key of the analysis was the criterion of social justice and its practical implications. It became evident that there cannot be economic growth and development without structural transformation to bring about justice* and democracy.
Whereas the first period was characterized by a certain idealism, the second period called for greater realism on the part of churches and Christians. In the words of the conference which concluded the “Rapid Social Change” study (Salonika 1959): “It is impossible to foresee an ideal pattern of economic development without difficult problems. Some cost in human hardship and misery is inevitable. It will often be necessary to work out proximate goals and least harmful measures. Christians must accept the hard facts of economic life and be ready to take necessary choices and to run the unavoidable risks.”
- Human development (1960-75)
As the process of political decolonization continued in the 1960s and early 1970s, more and more independent states emerged in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Peaceful co-existence was followed by detente, and this new path survived until the end of the 1970s, despite some difficult situations (e.g. the Cuban missile crisis in 1962; the Vietnam war from 1965 to 1975; Arab-Israeli wars in 1967 and 1973). The gap between the rich industrialized countries in the North and the poor producers of raw materials or semi-manufactured goods of the South continued to widen. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development was created as a forum to discuss many problems of the so-called third world. A main problem was to see what kinds of national development models and international economic order were required to ensure the real development of the South.
Churches became important partners in this debate. The Second Vatican Council’s pastoral constitution on the church’s presence in the world (Gaudium et Spes) was followed by Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum Progressio (1967), which stated that “development is the new name of peace”. In 1966 the WCC called a world conference on church and society around the theme “Christians in the Technical and Social Revolutions of Our Time”. The WCC and the Vatican together organized a conference on world cooperation for development (Beirut 1968). At the fourth assembly of the WCC (Uppsala 1968), “human development” was identified as a major priority for the ecumenical movement. The WCC and the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace jointly established the exploratory committee on Society, Development and Peace (Sodepax*), thus highlighting the ecumenical importance of issues such as development, peace and human rights.
In the emerging debate about the quality of life and economic growth, the criterion of the meaning of the human prevailed. A consultation on ecumenical assistance to development projects (Montreux 1970) affirmed that three main elements must characterize human development: social justice, self-
reliance and economic growth, the third being a means of promoting the first two. This understanding of development reflected prevailing thoughts of third-world economists and social scientists, promoted ecumenically by Samuel Parmar of India.
The Montreux consultation also proposed creation of an Ecumenical Development Fund (EDF), to which churches were asked to contribute 2% of their annual budgets. The fund would be used to provide seed money for the launching of development programmes and to support development education aimed at increasing awareness of the need for solidarity and human development. The WCC’s Commission on the Churches’ Participation in Development (CCPD) was created; in addition, other departments of the WCC took part in the development debate, notably Church and Society, Inter-Church Aid, the Christian Medical Commission, Sodepax, and the Sub-unit on Women.
The Church and Society programme on “The Future of Man and Society in a World of Science-Based Technology” focused in the early 1970s on the relationship between economic growth and the quality of life. During this period the Club of Rome published its report on The Limits to Growth, which argued for a self-imposed limitation to growth in light of the planet’s limited physical resources. Whereas the ecumenical reflections about development emphasized social justice as the highest priority, the debate stimulated by Church and Society underlined the importance of sustainability. That social ethics must deal with both elements became particularly clear at the Church and Society conference in Bucharest (1974) on “Science and Technology for Human Development – the Ambiguous Future and the Christian Hope”, as well as in the CCPD report Threats to Survival, approved by the WCC central committee in 1974.
The experience gained by some churches through their involvement in development made them aware that any action in this field requires an exercise of people’s participation if it is to be effective. That neither development nor the future of humankind can be left in the hands of the powerful and specialists alone was underscored in the report of WCC general secretary Philip Potter to the fifth assembly (Nairobi 1975).
By the mid-1970s, both the international community and the ecumenical movement had come to realize that eradicating poverty and transforming world economic and social structures would be far more difficult to achieve than was foreseen earlier. It was hard to implement “human development” and “human economy”. Although a consensus within the churches on economic matters thus seemed almost impossible to achieve, Nairobi called for further reflection on a “Just, Participatory and Sustainable Society”.*
- Sustainability and solidarity
When non-aligned nations introduced the debate around a New International Economic Order at the special session of the general assembly of the UN in 1974, powerful groups manifested great resistance to proposals for structural transformation. The optimism of the late 1950s and the 1960s about transforming the world economic situation and developing better patterns of growth at the planetary level was no longer evident. The development of African, Asian, Latin American and Pacific countries had not occurred. There was economic growth in many cases, but this was achieved at the cost of increased dependency and a high social toll on the poor sections of the population. The gathering pessimism was reflected in the report of an independent commission on development, chaired by Willy Brandt. The process of internationalization of capital and labour, most clearly evident in the concentration of decision making in transnational corporations* (TNCs), called for a more careful analysis of the world’s economic situation. As new technologies created new dynamics – especially in the information industry – special attention to technological developments was necessary. Genetic engineering was raising new concerns over food and energy production (see bio-ethics). Global financial instability was becoming increasingly evident – most dramatically in the October 1987 stock market crisis – and led to complex consequences like the increasing foreign debt of developed and developing countries.
The WCC world conference on “Faith, Science and the Future” (MIT 1979) was decisive in highlighting the need for convergence between science and theology, technology and spirituality. Underscoring the unbreakable link between sustainability, social justice and participation, the conference warned against dismembering the concept set forth in Nairobi into “justice for the third world, participation for the second world and sustainability for the first world. We of the human race are all members of one another. We must together struggle to extend participation, develop sustainability and let ‘justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream’.”
In 1977 the WCC had initiated a study programme on churches and TNCs. Attention was given to the need for an integral approach to the issue of the transnationality of business as a unique phenomenon, to the power of TNCs and accountability, to the use of technology and its effects on employment and labour, to the need for building up countervailing power and to the responsibility of churches. A process of consultations was organized, and a report presented to the WCC central committee in 1982.
Within the framework of CCPD, an Advisory Group on Economic Matters (AGEM) was established in 1979. A CCPD-Church and Society consultation on “Political Economy, Ethics and Theology: Some Contemporary Challenges” (Zurich 1978) emphasized the need to formulate a “new paradigm in political economy”, outlined in three propositions: (1) the need to re-instate the historical and spatial dimension in economic thought and praxis; (2) the need to have an integrated view on economics through interdisciplinary research; (3) the need for economics again to become political economy, in which value judgments play an important role. It was argued that the discussion on limits to inequality in terms of maximum and minimum levels should be central.
Meanwhile, the WCC central committee had received the report of the CCPD study programme on “The Church and the Poor”, which emphasized that churches should be in solidarity with the underprivileged sectors of society. Building on this perspective, the AGEM organized a series of reflections on various political economic issues.
Much the same concern for social justice and the eradication of poverty was manifested in Roman Catholic social teaching, notably three encyclical letters of Pope John Paul II – on human labour (Laborem Exercens 1981), on socio-economic issues that challenge the Christian conscience (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis 1987), and in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Rerum Novarum(Centesimus Annus 1991). Similar thinking is reflected in the document of the Pontifical Commission Justice and Peace on foreign debt (see debt crisis) in the North and the South (At the Service of the Human Community: An Ethical Consideration about the International Debt, 1987). The pastoral letter of the US Roman Catholic bishops on “The Catholic Social Teaching and the US Economy” (1986) made yet another important contribution to the debate.
During this period a new wave of research and publications on economic praxis and theory stimulated fresh thinking in Christian theology and social ethics. Ecumenically influential were Franz Hinkelammert, Las armas ideológicas de la muerte (1977), Crítica de la razón utópica (1983), Democracía y totalitarismo (1987); Arend T. van Leeuwen, De Nacht van het Kapitaal (1985); and Ulrich Duchrow, Weltwirtschaft Heute: Ein Feld für bekennende Kirche? (1986), all anticipated by Helmut Gollwitzer, Die kapitalistische Revolution (1974). These publications attempt to show how Christian faith is challenged in economic life by false gods and idols, the Molochs and Mammons of our time. Reflected in the ecumenical debate is the call to resist the totalitarianism of the market through confessing the lordship of Christ.
- Globalization (1990-present)
This period is influenced by the new configuration of the world economic situation characterized by the globalization of financial markets and world trade. In 1992, the WCC central committee commended to WCC member churches a study document produced by the AGEM, “Abundant Life for All: Christian Faith and the World Economy Today”. It suggests some criteria for economic policy-making which clearly express the conviction that theology cannot be dissociated from economic realities. They are: (1) the essential goodness of the created order, and the responsibility for it entrusted to humanity; (2) the innate value and freedom of each human being and of all humanity; (3) God’s concern with all humankind, breaking through whatever barriers we build between us; (4) God’s justice as the over-arching standard for human relationships and behaviour, to be discovered through a preferential option for the poor.
The ecumenical approach to economics has been multidisciplinary, aiming above all at developing social ethics to provide churches, Christian communities and individual believers with criteria and guidelines for judgment and action in social and economic matters. In this process, churches have discovered that all ecclesiastical institutions and all religions and ideologies share many common problems; thus, no clear distinctions can be made between the agenda of the churches and the agenda of the world in this area: economic matters are ecumenical matters; the economic dimension of life touches the whole inhabited world.
The specificity of the ecumenical dialogue lies precisely in the approach, values and criteria applied to the understanding of economics. The ecumenical movement is not called to find one homogeneous and uniform position. What is called for is an intercontextual approach which recognizes that the universality of a given problem needs to be tackled through the diversity of its manifestations in difficult situations. Such an approach demands a multidisciplinary exercise. The ecumenical discussion can be seen as an approach to economic problems through permanent dialogue. This was clear in the discussion on development and economic growth during the 1960s and 1970s, and the current discussion of the debt crisis.
The ecumenical dialogue on economic matters has always underscored the value of social justice, understood as a translation of the commandment of God in Jesus Christ to love one another. Practically, the permanent task of the ecumenical movement to work for social justice has been translated into efforts to eradicate poverty through interchurch channels of cooperation and solidarity.
Another value that has been emphasized is freedom which, since the beginning of the 1970s, has been understood by some Christian communities as liberation. For the ecumenical movement, freedom has never been an absolute value. The second WCC assembly qualified it as “relative”, important for the life of the economic enterprise and the regulating role of the price system. Because freedom is not absolute, it calls for the exercise of stewardship in the administration of property and world resources.
In response to the question of how to act in order to give substance to the values of social justice and freedom, four main criteria have prevailed in the ecumenical debate about economics. The first was the concept of the responsible society, which played a key role until the beginning of the 1960s. It was based on the understanding of middle axioms,* proposed by J.H. Oldham as a basis for the orientation of Christian witness. One of these middle axioms is the responsible society.
Second, from the beginning of the 1960s, the “human” became a prevailing criterion, especially evident in the world conference on Church and Society in 1966 and the fourth and fifth assemblies of the WCC. The concept of responsible society left room for the practice of a wide humanism. Ecumenical social ethics during the 1960s and 1970s did not look for ready-made norms of conduct but was concerned with the biblical imperative to become full human persons. That goal entails the humanization of science and technology and demands the satisfaction of basic human needs. Justice is a prerequisite because people cannot become fully human when they are victims of injustice. Therefore, the goal of the ecumenical movement was not only “economic growth” but above all “human development”. The problem is not only of a quantitative nature; the goal is a better quality of life.
Third, this synthesized reflection process culminated in the proposal that the ecumenical movement should strive for a “sustainable society” which can ensure respect for the human as well as respect for nature and the responsibility towards future generations.
Fourth, the prevailing situation from the mid-1970s did not allow for much hope for the immediate future. The plight of the poor worsened, and the gap between the rich and the poor continued to widen. The foreign debt of many countries in the South, combined with general financial instability everywhere, created conditions favouring the rise of conservative patterns of behaviour. This posed a serious threat to human development, especially because welfare policies were becoming increasingly unpopular. Churches around the world adopted “an evangelical option for the poor”, and this choice influenced ecumenical discussions. “Solidarity with the poor” was proposed as a new criterion for economic reflection and action within the ecumenical movement.
JULIO DE SANTA ANA
n Christian Faith and the World Economy Today: A Study Document of the World Council of Churches, WCC, 1992 n K.H. Dejung, Die ökumenische Bewegung im Entwicklungskonflikt, 1910-1968, Stuttgart, Klett, 1973 n
E. Duff, The Social Thought of the World Council of Churches, London, Longmans, Green, 1956 n R. van Drimmelen, Faith in a Global Economy: A Primer for Christians, Geneva, WCC, 1998 n C.-H. Grenholm, Christian Social Ethics in a Revolutionary Age, Uppsala, Verbum, 1973 n M. Lundquist, Economic Growth and the Quality of Life: An Analysis of the Debate within the World Council of Churches, 1966-94, Helsinki, Finnish Society for Missiology and Ecumenics, 1975 n D.J. Wellman, Sustainable Communities, WCC, 2002.
The text above is extracted from “ Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement ” 2 nd Edition , published by World Council of Churches (courtesy of World Council of Churches)