Talks and Sermons


Tell the World!

Why world development is the most important thing you will think about during 2001.

A letter to the world, compiled by the Ecumenical World Development Consultation
held at High Leigh, Hertfordshire, in May 2001.

Dear Friends, Citizens of the World,

It has become urgent that we should consider development and poverty as a matter of central concern for us all. This letter is to make known why we so strongly believe this. We are aware that our hopes and fears are shared by countless individuals and groups worldwide, but there are still many who may not yet have had the opportunity to think about these issues. Our ideas are informed by our Christian faith, but not addressed only to Christians. People of every faith, or none, will have their own contribution to make to this discussion.

Illustrative situations

Let’s begin by looking at two different human situations, which illustrate some of our concerns. The first is about the drive for wealth at the cost of the environment and human welfare. On the coast of Ghana there are hundreds of families whose livelihood depends on fishing. Over the last two decades they have been threatened by the factory ships of large European companies. Manned by crews whose jobs depend on the size of their catch, these ships deplete the fish stock at an irresponsible rate, thus causing untold damage to the natural resources of the area and putting at risk the future of the local fishing industry. The death of a young man not long ago, sliced in two by such a ship, sharpens our focus on the companies’ merciless quest for wealth. It is this which blinds them to the human and environmental destruction they are bringing about.

Our second illustrative situation is about debt. Over the past years, the Tanzanian government has been spending six times more on repaying its foreign debts to the richest countries in the world than on providing basic health services for its own people, who are among the poorest. Debt as the cause of bondage in many different forms is to be found all over the world, from bonded labourers in India, whose debts are passed down from generation to generation, to the victims of money-lenders in many cities of the industrialised North. The vulnerability of the poor to exploitation by the powerful is a problem of both the richer and poorer countries.

What do we mean by ‘development’?

These two situations demonstrate how urgent it is for us earnestly to debate what kind of a world we want to live in, what ‘development’ or ‘progress’ means. Do we really want to promote economic growth at the cost of destroying the world that God has given us as the source of life for us all? The immediate self interest of the owners of the factory fishing fleet might be to get rich quickly, but, through their recklessness with the environment, in the long term they, with others like them, are jeopardising the very existence of their own grandchildren as well as that of the Ghanaian fisher people.

If development is to be about enabling people to live fulfilling and contented lives, our first task must be to transform the nature of our relationships to each other as individuals and between gender, ethnic, religious and class-based groups, as well as between nation states. The acceptance of relationships based on ruthless competition and merciless exploitation, rather than co-operation and compassionate kindness, is leading to the dehumanisation of our societies. The result is the exclusion of millions of people from the basic necessities of life, such as decent housing, clean water and educational opportunities. Such relationships also lead to the uncontrolled expansion of the arms trade and more and more wars. Development must be about the eradication of material poverty but also about the enrichment of the soul.

Change of heart

The Christian concept of a change of heart is not only a question of repentance, but includes nurturing different attitudes, seeing people and the world in a different way. If we truly open our eyes to the belief that, as children of God, all people are vitally important members of the same family, the idea of terrorising each other through the power of the creditor or taking away each other’s means of a livelihood becomes abhorrent.

Through such a process, we shall also recognise how little we know our brothers and sisters as equal partners in the creation of a better world. Getting to know each other involves listening and taking seriously what the other has to teach us. It means that we shall consider the opinions of ordinary people to be as credible as those of the experts, we shall regard the poor to be equally important as the rich and we shall balance university-based research with local experience and indigenous knowledge.

It means, too, that we shall no longer think in terms of charity or of riches eventually trickling down to the poor. Instead, we shall commit ourselves to joint action to reach mutually agreed goals. One of these is to halve the proportion of people living in extreme poverty in developing counties by 2015 (Millennium Development Goals, agreed by almost all the countries of the United Nations).

Signs of hope

Our new relationships will give us hope. From a closer knowledge of people of other cultures and other beliefs and other circumstances, we shall discover that the seeds of the Kingdom of God are already being sown all around us by ordinary people like ourselves, people who are not prepared to hand over the responsibility for their lives to the powerful or the so-called experts.

We shall find a wealth of creativity, knowledge and experience among the poorest members of our communities. The wives of the Ghanaian fisher people have worked together to bring in some new appropriate technology so that they can smoke their fish more effectively.  All over the world debtors are organising credit unions to protect them from the worst abuses of the moneylenders. And we shall find seeds of solidarity in the fair trade companies set up by people in the most wealthy countries.

We shall thus be able to say with conviction that there are alternatives to the present way of running things. We know that different viable ways forward can be offered, which will raise the quality of life for the rich as well as the poor. The exploiters as well as the exploited will be freed from the traps set by the false gods of the market, which lead to insecurity, fear and violence.

Values on which true development is based

If, together with those most affected by the present ‘development’ model, we want to change the way the world is run, we shall have to look carefully at the values which should underpin our decisions. Christians understand justice, for instance, not as an abstract moral value but as a practical guide and measuring stick for action.  Justice means giving the poorest and least powerful as many opportunities as anyone else and this must be done at a local, regional, national and also global level.

Let’s take trading relations as an example. Here, rather than weighting the rules in favour of the rich, as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) does at present, justice demands that the poor should be given an advantage, so that the playing field is genuinely even and markets and fair prices are within reach of everyone. Multinational corporations are not inherently evil. They could play a vital role in transforming the world into a fairer and more inclusive place, if this were politically demanded of them.

Prophetic vision

To side with the poor demands humility. A pre-requisite for change is the recognition that the present system is failing. Never before has the gap between the rich and the poor been widening at such a rapid rate. Never before has our environment been under such a serious threat. We need to speak out and denounce the evil all around us. Genuine freedom is not to be gained by turning our back on the pain of the world, but by wrestling with it until we can transform it into a blessing.

And in order to be able to do this, we need a vision – a vision of the Kingdom of God which, as Jesus showed us, is characterised above all by the inclusion of all. Our vision must be of a community without boundaries and with no conditions for entry, where there are no strangers, no one in the margins, no one who is excluded, unwanted or made to feel useless. For us the goal of development will be achieved when everyone is seated round the table to enjoy together the feast of life.

We commit ourselves to take every opportunity to achieve this goal and we urge you to join with us.