Manifesto for the Economy of Life

Below is an excerpt from the São Paulo Statement on International Financial Transformation for the Economy of Life (World Council of Churches, 2012). We would love to hear your thoughts on this manifesto. Is there anything you would add to the creed? Does it speak from (and to) the intersection of faith, economics and justice? 

The 2008 global financial and economic crash increased poverty and unemployment among millions in the global North and worsened and deepened poverty, hunger and malnutrition among even larger numbers in the global South, already experiencing decades of poverty and deprivation caused by injustices in international financial and economic relations. A system of speculation, competition and inadequate regulation has failed to serve the people and instead has denied a decent standard of life to the majority of the world’s population. The situation is urgent.

Critical theological reflection on the material and collective bases of life has been intrinsic to the call to be faithful disciples of Christ and has expressed itself through theological contemplative praxis that has sought transformative liberation from unjust socio-political, cultural and economic structures, thereby promoting the fullness of life for all creation.

Modernity has, however, brought with it an economic model based on profit and self-interest disconnected from faith and ethics. This has led to the ideological justification of colonialism, the despair of poverty and inequality, and the violence of economic and ecological devastation as well as the reluctance of some churches to discern the signs of the times and to engage with the realities of a dehumanising dominant world order that continually discriminates and oppresses those with whom God sides: the poor, the downtrodden, the disadvantaged and the oppressed.

The immersion visits in São Paulo exposed the narratives of the homeless, the single mother, the widow, the orphan, the addict, as representing just some of the disenfranchised. This was a visible encounter with those whom society has left on the periphery. Patriarchal perceptions, racist subjugative ideologies, anthropocentric domination and discriminative comprehensions of the human hierarchical order induced by the sin of neoliberalism, supported by heretical theology which justifies it, and legitimised by the idolatry of imperial globalisation have perverted relationships between God, human beings and the Earth.

The God of the oppressed calls us into an alternative imagination which has to emerge from the margins, from those who have been left out of socio-political and economic decision making but are the first to suffer its consequences.

We therefore seek a transformative theological praxis that not only delegitimises, displaces and dismantles the present social and economic order but also envisions alternatives that emerge from the margins. There is thus a requirement for an active radicalising of our theological discourse that will no longer allow too much power being placed into capitalist ideologies that have resulted in an inability to think beyond existing financial and economic structures.

This alternative imagination has to be derived from our spiritual and theological convictions, employing liberative theologies that respond to concrete systematic struggles, inclusive of feminist, womanist, mujerista, eco-feminist, Latin American liberation, black, ecological, post-colonial, grass-root, minority and public theology, and indigenous spiritualities. The list of hermeneutical lenses of suspicion and retrieval required to bring about transformative change continues to be as extensive as the list of those who have been downtrodden and persecuted by the dominant economic world order.

We lament the manner in which economic and financial legislation and controls are biased in favour of the wealthy. We therefore affirm the God of justice for all those who are oppressed (Ps. 103:6). We call for a system of just legislation and controls that facilitate the redistribution of wealth and power for all of God’s creation.

Therefore, we reject Empire[5] and our complicity with all systems of death, including militarism, and affirm movements of social concern and other radical traditions that are a rejection of Empire and seek to build life in community outside the logic of hierarchy and discrimination.

We reject political and military offences perpetrated in the name of neoliberalism that threaten human security and result in massive violations of human rights.

Therefore, we reject the explosion of monetisation and the commodification of all of life and affirm a theology of grace which resists the neoliberal urge to reduce all of life to an exchange value (Rom. 3:24). Means have become ends; instruments have become a means for the coercion of facts.

We reject an economy that is driven by debt and financialisation in favour of an economy of for-giveness, caring and justice and declare that debt and speculation have reached their limits. We affirm the words of the Lord’s Prayer in which we pray to have our own debt forgiven in the same manner as we forgive the debts of others (Matt. 6:12).

Therefore, we reject the ideology of consumerism and affirm an economy of Manna, which provides sufficiently for all and negates the idea of greed (Ex. 16).

We reject increasing individualistic consumerism by affirming and celebrating the diversity and interconnectedness of life. We further affirm that wholeness of life can be achieved only through the interdependent relationships with the whole of the created order. The idea of a Triune God acts as a challenge to individualism, discrimination and exclusivity; it is a doctrine that calls us into a life of equality in community and requires an active response that affects the whole of humanity.

Based on the moral principle of the diversity of the cosmos, we therefore exclude notions of exclusivity by promoting and affirming the need for interfaith dialogue. This requires a praxis of connectivity enabling a wider dissemination of spiritual resources gathered from faith communities, inclusive of the insistence of the Qur’an on the rejection of interest, the valorisation of moral banking and a concentration on the real economy, as well as the Islamic injunction on limits to consumption that is expressed through the idea of Ramadan and fasting, and that resonates with the way in which many Christians around the world practise Lent.

We reject an economy of over-consumption and greed, recognising how neoliberal capitalism conditions us psychologically to desire more and more, and affirm instead Christian and Buddhist concepts of an economy of sufficiency that promotes restraint (Luke 12:13-21), highlighting, for example, the Sabbath economy of rest for people and creation, and the Jubilee economy of redistribution of wealth.

We reject the economic abstraction of Homo Oeconomicus, which constructs the human person as being essentially insatiable and selfish, and affirm that the Christian perception of the human person is embedded in community relationships of Ubuntu[6], Sansaeng,[7] Sumak Kawsay,[8] conviviality and mutuality. Contrary to the logic of neoliberals, as believers we are called to think not only of our own interests but also of the interests of others (Phil. 2:4).

We acknowledge our role in the destruction of the Earth’s resources and the impact this has had on the vulnerable nations in the South. We continue to seek forgiveness through practical actions and solutions that militate against ecological destruction.

We affirm ourselves as prophetic witnesses, as we have seen the injustices and structural violence of our age and those of a history of domination. We have discerned the signs of the times in the light of our calling as disciples of Jesus. Therefore we seek to overcome capitalism, its nature and its logic and to establish a system of global solidarity. We search for alternatives, for just, caring, participatory and sustainable economies such as a solidarity economy and gift economy.

We affirm that the only choice that Jesus offers us is between God and Mammon (Matt. 6:24), as those who desire to be faithful followers; we have no choice but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly (Micah 6:8).

Valerie Anderson

Valerie Anderson coordinates Operations at Common Change. She received her MPhil in Development Studies from the University of Cape Town and has spent the last 6 years establishing and maintaining a range of community development projects both in her home country, South Africa, and in low-income urban areas in the United States. She is a writer, problem-solver and strategist and loves to create environments in which others can thrive. Valerie and her husband, Brett Fish, have recently returned to their beautiful home city, Cape Town. You can find more of Val’s writing at valanderson.wordpress.com

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  • http://kevindeisher.wordpress.com kevindeisher

    Interesting read but I don’t agree with parts of it. I agree that there is too much consumerism fed by greed, especially in the USA. However, I don’t agree with the bent towards socialism that is loudly touted in this manifesto. Socialism in its purest form, which is theoretically, could be the way Christ would have us live. The problem is that humans would still be in charge of things and those with power, regardless of the form of government will be corrupted with that power and as has been proven in socialist, communist countries, the standard of living has not improved, but has indeed worsened for the majority of the population. A better solution to the world’s economic, social, and spiritual problems is needed, but this is not it.