ECONOMIC JUSTICE – CHRISTIAN WITNESS

ECONOMIC JUSTICE – CHRISTIAN WITNESS

Andreas A. Yewangoe

 

  1. Appreciation

First of all, I would like to express my appreciation to the Rev. Dr. Setri Nyomi and Sri Palupi who have delivered papers in our discussion today. Dr. Setri Nyomi gives us the theological basis of economic justice as formulated and defined by the Accra Confession. Sri Palupi illustrates very concretely what life means at the grass-roots, life as experienced, not solely spoken.

  1. Confession of Jesus Christ is the Lord

                   I think the confession that Jesus Christ is God in all areas of life, including economics, should be the basis for Christian witness in order to realize justice. Economics is a field in which the glory of God is revealed. The world is a theater where the glory of God must be revealed (Theatrum gloriam Dei, as Calvin formulated it). There is no area, there is no field of life that escaped from the mastering and controlling of Christ as Lord. Once, in the history of the churches in Indonesia, as a result of pietistic spirituality, economics and politics were ignored. These areas were considered as incompatible with the purpose of the Christian piety, striving for the Kingdom of Heaven. Fortunately, this view has changed. Indonesian Christians are increasingly aware that their involvement in the building up of the world society is a form of their loyalty and faithfulness to Christ, the Master.

                   We already knew the well-known and classic book of Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. The central question posed is, why the “north” is  more prosperous than the ”south”.  What spirituality has affected them that they are active in the work that made them then become powerful and wealthy nations in the economic field? Apparently, according to Max Weber, it is found in the Calvinistic spirituality. The belief in predestination, assurance of electability as the people of God who are saved must necessarily be shown and demonstrated on the stage of history. History is a stage of God’s glory. Then hard work must be genuinely performed. Ascetic that has been happening in the monastery has to take place in the middle of the real world (innerweltlich askese). Living economically and not wasting and squandering the grace of God has become a lifestyle.

My impression is, that Accra Confession (re)discovered and reflected this Calvinistic spirituality as was also well understood by Wax Weber. As a result of advances in the field of economics, however, there was (is) an accumulation of capital. Capital itself is not a bad thing. But when capital is understood, even convinced as the solution of every life problems, as reflected very clearly in the ideology of Capitalism, then we are entering a very serious problem over against our Christian faith. We tend to replace the Mastership and the Lordship of Jesus Christ, by the “lordship” of capital (Mammon). We tend to be trapped in greed. In order to maintain our greedy life, we exploit those who are powerless. This is the beginning of injustice, even global injustice, not only in economic life, but also in almost whole fields of life. It is in that sense that I understand the question of Setri: “If God is indeed sovereign over all of life, how can we stand it when in this 21st century, large sections of people are suffering and dying because of the way the world’s economy is organized and because of all the distortions? How can we stay silent when many people in these situations go to the churches with which we are in communion? I think this question is very relevant and valid when global injustice is rampant everywhere today, in which churches also are indirectly or directly involved in it.

         III.    Justice from the Eyes of Grass-Roots

That is what is actually described by Sri Palupi in her paper. She told us the reality experienced by the marginalized people, or those who have been considered weak thus far. Apparently the experience of the elite (including the elites of the church?) is very different from the experience of our poor people in Indonesia. Indonesia’s economic growth is praised everywhere, supposedly 6.7% a year. Our president is revered around the world as capable of maintaining economic stability in the midst of an economic crisis that is sweeping the world right now. Recently in the APEC meeting in Vladivostok, our president also reaped great praise. The question however, is it true the prosperity experienced by the elites also experienced by those who are weak and marginalized? Is it true, the supposed economic growth is also owned by the poor? Is the highly appreciated economic stability, also affected significantly the instability economic life of the have-nots?  If not, then we are talking in vain. If not, then it is more and more clear that our government is lying. Prosperity of a nation can not be measured only from the economic growth statistics, but rather how the poorest people gain a significantly improved quality of life. In other words, justice must be realized. That is what is described by Sri Palupi.

Truthfully I have described this in our discussion in Bad Boll, Germany on 30 September 2011. The big question here is social justice, not merely touching the Indonesian national ideology, Pancasila, but also the Christian faith that recognizes that God is just. Certainly God’s justice can not be equated with human justice. God’s justice is sometimes very surprising. God’s justice is not just a distributive justice (iustitia distributiva), but creative justice (iustitia creativa). It creates the space for the weak to be strengthened and empowered. That is the meaning when the Bible repeatedly speaks of God who is in favor of the weak, God Who stands on the side of the weak. Not because the weak is not sinful, but because they are unable to defend themselves, so God Himself defends them.

  1. Justice of God Still Being Discussed

Perhaps it is good to recall that on June 22, 2012 there was WCC Forum on Poverty, Wealth and Ecology held in Bogor, Indonesia. There is a very loud call for action, summoning transforming communities with the moral courage to build an economy of life that prioritizes eradication, challenges the accumulation of wealth and ecological integrity safeguards. The meeting was marked by a profound analysis of the AGAPE process, which, as we all know, consisted of a series of meetings, studies and debates on the topic of economic globalization over the last promoted for several years taking place within the ecumenical family, but also including dialogues with civil society, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. But this discussion is also not easy. The tendency of polarization between the churches in the West/North and East/South is quite clear. Statements such as “far reaching market liberalization, deregulation and privatization of unrestrained goods and services are exploiting the whole creation and dismantling social programs and services and opening up economies across borders to seemingly limitless growth of production” would have been sources of heated debate among the churches from developed and developing regions.

It is also clearly illustrated when the theme of the coming Busan General Assembly of WCC (2013) discussed: “God of Life, Lead Us to Justice and Peace”. There is a tendency to separate “peace” from “justice”. There is reluctantly to discuss justice more seriously. One of my colleague in the so-called “table discussion” in CC-WCC even goes so far as saying, that the Bible only knows the glossary of peace. If we are in peace with God, then justice automatically revealed. Whereas, in my opinion there can be no real peace if there is no justice. The churches have indeed to be very consistent in reflecting the justice of God in their witness about economic justice.

  1. The Fullness of Life

We do agree with the Accra Confession emphasis on fullness of life. The need of the life of Christian faith is not just to meet the needs of the present, which can also be done by other agencies. I am not saying, however that our today’s life is not important. Yet it must be always bore in mind that there is balance between the today’s life and the life to come. That is the meaning of the fullness of life. In our today’s life, the churches are called to reflect God’s justice in the whole sphere of life. In the mentioned discussion in Bad Boll, last year I already brought to the fore the position of the churches in Indonesia with regard to the so-called practices of neo-liberalism. The churches in Indonesia are still on their position to reject strongly the practices of neo-capitalism and neo-liberalism. I also quoted the statement and summon of PGI General Assembly (2009) to our church’s members:

(a) lift up the voice of prophecy that rejects an economic system that is unjust and destructive of the environment, and advocate creation of an alternative economy that strives for justice and well-being for all creatures;

(b) open and extend networks with private and government sectors and other relevant social agencies;

(c) develop economic initiatives in our congregations;

(d) develop a partnership between our congregations at the local, national, and international levels in a spirit of solidarity to overcome poverty;

(e) strengthen ecumenical ministries to youth and women that focus on transformative diaconia;

(f) develop our human resources through education and health care.

Considering of all we have been discussing until know, I think we have shared statements quite adequately. Theological basis of how economics justice must be performed are more than enough. In many churches in Indonesia people are not merely talking about the three ecclesiastical calls (koinonia, diakonia, marturia), but oikounomia also has been added. But all of this is still within the circle of churches, while economic inequality is very much influenced by various external factors. So, allow me to repeat my appeal of last year at Bad Boll. Churches in developed countries have to have conversations with their respective governments so that a fair distributing of economics is really embodied in these growing countries. For example, how is the position of the churches in the USA with regard to the gold mines in Timika Freeport which is very rich, but the Papuans just remain poor. Are there concrete steps? If not, then it’s useless for us to talk about human rights on paper.

________________

*) Presented at the Eukumindo Study Day 2012, September 2012, Basel, Switzerland.

**) General Chairperson of PGI.

Basel, 21 September 2012

 

 

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