Methodist Mission & Ecumenical
Occasional Paper October 2007
Trade justice and the right to food
APEC leaders at their September meeting in Sydney pushed to revive the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Doha round of world trade liberalisation talks. Should the Doha agenda fail, then APEC will seek a Pacific rim free trade zone. October 14-21 is the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance’s (EAA) Trade Week of Action. The focus of the week will be food trade justice and this will include activity that challenges the trade liberalisation agenda. Information in this article is drawn from the EAA’s guide to “Trade Week of Action” which can be accessed at: www.tradeweek.org
Some food facts
10% of the world’s population goes hungry each day. The figure increases to 16% for the developing world and 33% in sub-Saharan Africa. The situation is getting worse, not better. Yet the world produces more than enough food to feed everyone. A tenth of the world is hungry, not because the earth can’t sustain us all, but because of the systems and structures that exist around the way we produce, sell, buy and share food. The hunger referred to here is “chronic undernourishment” a UN term that refers to people who aren’t able to access sufficient, safe, and nutritious food over long periods, so that hunger becomes their normal condition.
In recent years, trade liberalisation in the agricultural sector of the world’s economy has meant increased profit margins for large corporations, supermarkets, transport companies and advertisers. It has also helped agribusinesses to consolidate their control over the food production chain. At the same time millions of small farmers have become disempowered and impoverished. As economic protection has been removed, prices paid to small producers have fallen and incomes shrunk. With big corporations in control, small farmers can’t get fair and stable prices for their produce. Many are now unable to feed their own families, much less produce food for sale. The current global food market doesn’t work for the vast majority of the world’s rural poor, especially in the South.
Most of the world’s farmers don’t produce crops for export. 90% of agricultural produce is sold on local and domestic markets. Yet all farmers are forced to live according to rules designed to help the 10% of produce that is traded internationally. The international market for food is controlled by a few very large transnational corporations (TNCs) who set market prices They use their power to keep the purchase price low. At the same time TNCs put up the price for fertiliser and seeds which they sell to the small farmers. Small farmers producing crops such as tea, coffee, cocoa and sugar are dependent on exporting their crops, but the prices in the international market have crashed in the era of trade liberalisation. Commodity price agreements that once stabilised prices for these farmers have been made illegal.
Women, who are on the frontline in trying to feed their families, are particularly affected. They play a crucial role in small scale agriculture, producing 60-80% of the food in most developing countries. Yet most societies deny women equal access to productive resources such as land and credit that are necessary for anyone hoping to compete in a liberalised agricultural market. As hired farm workers they are lower paid and have less job security than male workers.
Bujjamma Reddy’s husband, Lachi aged 32, committed suicide on 2 February 2005. He tried to make a living from farming but was deeply in debt. After swallowing a bottle of pesticide, Lachi went to his wife and told her he could no longer care for his family. While talking to her he collapsed and died. In 2004, 2,115 farmers, like Lachi from India’s Andhra Pradesh region, took their own lives. India had been encouraged by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) to liberalise and privatise its agricultural sector. However, removing government support and protection led to increasing levels of debt for poor farmers. Compounded by fluctuating market prices for crops, and rising prices for seeds, pesticides, fertilisers and water, agriculture in the region is in crisis.
What is trade justice?
Trade justice recognises the right of small farmers to feed their families and send their children to school. It’s about allowing domestic agricultural industries to develop. It’s about access to essential services like water and healthcare. It’s about the right to fair wages and dignified work. Trade justice is people-centred, respects human rights, and seeks to guarantee food security, livelihoods, and sustainable development. It upholds the right of all people to have a say regarding their future, and for all governments to determine their own economic and trade policies. Trade justice calls for changes to the rules that govern international trade. It requires that rich country governments, and institutions like the WTO, the IMF and the WB stop forcing liberalisation and free trade on poor countries.
Some changes required?
· Stop mandatory trade liberalisation.
· Allow poor countries to determine their own economic and development policies.
· Ensure the right to food is protected in trade negotiations.
· End the dumping of surplus food on poor countries by rich countries.
· Allow agreements that set stable prices for food commodities. Regulate TNCs, especially agribusinesses.
· Provide protection from cheap imported food.
· Allow subsidies for agricultural inputs and technical advice to small farmers.
· Protect sustainable local production.
· Give women equitable access to productive resources, including land and credit.
A little theology
The prophet Ezekiel says that the flourishing city of Tyre incurred God’s wrath because people traded in an oppressive and exploitative way: “In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence and sinned.” (Ezekiel 28:16) Isaiah’s prophecy about Tyre looks forward to a time when the city’s wealth will be redistributed: “Her merchandise and her wages will be dedicated to the Lord; her profits will not be stored or hoarded, but will supply abundant food and fine clothing for those who live in the presence of the Lord.” Isaiah 23:18)
Among the rules that God gave the children of Israel is that of gleaning – remnants of the harvest. The poor are given access to God’s economy of life through the right to share in the harvest. Gleaning rights are not voluntary acts of charity, but the right of the poor to a livelihood.
The story of Jesus and the loaves and fishes is about food broken and distributed in abundance. The bread of the Eucharist, the bread of life, becomes the symbol of all those things which must be distributed if God’s children are to live and live abundantly.
waiting for the table to have a place for all,
waiting for the sharing so everyone can eat,
waiting for us to learn to wait,
forgive us when we go ahead and leave others behind.
Turn us around when we take more than we need, confining others with less than they need.
Transform our minds when we choose wilful ignorance about the impact of what we buy, bargain, or trade.
Give us hands and hearts to challenge the rules
so that none of your children are ruled out,
and no part of your body goes hungry. Amen.
Methodist Mission & Ecumenical Occasional Paper
Newsletter No. 37 - JULY 2007 Secretary: John Roberts
They were four young men from different countries who set out in 1957 to change the thinking of Asian churches. Their undisputed leader was a young Methodist minister from Sri Lanka whose full name was Daniel Thambyrajah Niles, only nobody ever used those names. To everyone he met he was plain 'D.T.'. His assistant was a Burmese layman named U Kyaw Than. The third person was Alan Brash, a Presbyterian minister from New Zealand who was responsible for inter-church aid, and the fourth was M.M. Thomas, a lay theologian from India. Only one of the original four is still alive. I asked him who was his greatest inspiration in those years.
U Kyaw Than
It would have to be M.M. Thomas. He was a layman like myself and he recruited me to the East Asian Christian Conference. I always admired him, he was such a humble person yet he had a great intellect, a very keen mind.
Three years after the original four began they added a fifth member to their team—Soritua Nababan, a young theologian from Indonesia. I asked him the same question.
There were many great men in those years. I respected Visser't Hooft in the World Council of Churches. But most of all D.T. Niles was a very special person. He was an outstanding preacher and a great church leader.
D.T. was the voice of the Asian churches in those early years. His son, Preman, followed him into the ecumenical movement, and he shares some recollections of his father.
D. Preman Niles
I shared my father's ecumenical vision but not necessarily his ideas about the Christian ministry. He was furious with me for not seeking ordination. I was certain that my ministry was to be a theologian and a teacher, but not necessarily an ordained minister. He soon gave up trying to 'bully' me into becoming an ordained minister. One day my wife heard him hold our young daughter, Damayanthi, in his arms, bless her and say, 'One day, my child, you will take my place.' In a few months Damayanthi, who is a professor of theology in a seminary, will also be ordained into the ministry of the church.
My first meeting with D.T. was at the 1964 EACC Assembly in Thailand. I was a young man first time out of New Zealand, totally overwhelmed by the many languages and cultures at the assembly. Sitting at breakfast on the second day I had a shock when the great D.T. came along and sat down opposite me. 'You are O'Grady?' he asked. 'Yes,' I quavered. 'Good—then I want you to write the minutes of this assembly.' With D.T. there was never any question of saying 'yes' or 'no'. The oracle had spoken. So there I was, not knowing the names of anyone and desperately trying to understand what was happening.
With the help of others I finally completed the task and at the end of the assembly this exhausted young man handed the minutes over to D.T. He quickly scanned them and then commented that it seemed all right but I had the introduction wrong. This was not the second assembly but the third. 'But,' I said, 'the previous meeting in 1959 was called the 'inaugural' assembly which means the first, so this has to be the second.' That was when I discovered that one did not argue with D.T. 'No,' he said with finality, 'this will be the third assembly'—and so it was.
In that early period of the EACC one Indian woman made a simple but quite significant contribution—Shanti Solomon of India.
In 1956 an international group of six women toured six Asian countries to strengthen relations between Christian women and try to heal the wounds of war. Shanti Solomon of India was one of the group but she was unable to obtain a visa to enter Korea and the team had to leave her behind in the Philippines. While she was meditating there the inspiration came to have women in every country pray for each other and share their gifts to support those in need. Inspired by the story of the widow's mite, she wanted even the poorest woman to take part and so the Fellowship of the Least Coin was born.
Though it is largely unrecorded, both women and young people made a huge contribution to the early growth of the EACC. Under the guidance of Soritua Nababan and his successors, youth conferences influenced many of the young people who later became leaders in the ecumenical movement. Dumaguete City was the venue for the first regional youth conference, followed by Singapore, at which Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew was a speaker, and then Kuala Lumpur. Ralph Lee of Hong Kong was a member of the youth committee at that time.
Young people at the Kuala Lumpur consultation were most unhappy at the authoritarian way the leaders ran the conference. They were not going to be obedient. After inviting the leaders into the hall, they locked the doors and demanded change, saying that the doors would remain locked until there was an agreement to have proper consultation. The confrontation went on for two or three hours and one American missionary became so distressed he considered jumping from the second-storey window. Finally, the leaders relented and apologised and the conference continued.
The young people were making the point that they wanted to be included in the real decisions of the EACC.
The middle period of our history was a time of great activity. In 1973 the name East Asia Christian Conference was changed to Christian Conference of Asia and the office was centralised in Singapore. Fourteen years later, the Singapore government suddenly closed the office leaving the staff scattered throughout the region. In 1991 they came together again in a new office in Hong Kong. The three general secretaries who led the churches through this time of change were all at the jubilee celebration.
Yap Kim Hao
The 1973 assembly brought significant transition to the life of the churches. The East Asia Christian Conference became the Christian Conference of Asia, which reflected the common understanding of where we were working. Changes took place in the leadership and I negotiated with the Singapore government to have the headquarters established there. After almost fifteen years of decentralised operation, the office was now fully centralised. This gave a closer coordination and enabled us to greatly expand the ecumenical programme in Asia.
Sang Jung Park
The decision of the Singapore government to banish CCA from their country was an unexpected event. I was out of the country at the time and came back to have my passport confiscated and unable to return to my office. Over the next period there was little I could do. Local Christian people did not want to know me. But I have always remembered the kindness of a Buddhist friend who had sold me my car when I first went to Singapore. He went out of his way to be helpful, ensuring that I could dispose of my old car and organise my affairs. He even gave me his Mercedes-Benz car to use while I was sorting things out. He was a true friend. I left Singapore and have not flown Singapore Airlines since.
John V. Samuel
The scattering of the staff after Singapore was a traumatic experience for everyone in CCA and morale was at an all-time low. After I became general secretary my first task was to bring the staff together again as a team. Despite some opposition we explored possibilities and finally decided to go to Hong Kong. The churches in that place were enthusiastic and there were many gains in financial efficiency and ease of travel. It also made us closer to the churches in China. Thanks to the support of many churches we raised the necessary funds and the staff became a team again. I think of it as a kind of experience of our new life in the CCA.
One of the most popular CCA staff was Toshitsugu Arai of Japan. It seemed everyone knew and liked Tosh. As secretary for education and later associate general secretary he travelled widely in the region.
Tosh did not need to tell a story. His presence at Parapat was itself the story. Suffering from a severe illness, he could barely talk and needed help to walk. But he was determined to attend the CCA celebration and take part in every event. His presence was an inspiration to all present.
The 1970s were not just difficult for CCA but also for the whole Asian church. Many Asian countries were ruled by dictators who were abusing the basic rights of ordinary people—the Marcos family in the Philippines, Park Chung Hee in South Korea, Indira Gandhi in India.
There was political ferment in Taiwan and in most of Southeast Asia. Against this abuse of human rights, many church men and women risked prison and even death in their stand for freedom and justice.
CCA can be proud of the fact that it supported these Christian leaders in their time of persecution. And it became very personal when CCA associate general secretary Harry Daniel was imprisoned in Manila and the youth secretary, Carmencita Karagdag, was forced to go underground to avoid arrest.
I was just an ordinary young housewife when I was invited to become the youth secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia. While I was still in Manila, my good friend and colleague Harry Daniel came to the Philippines and had a meal with one of the community workers who was on the most wanted list of President Marcos. I joined them for the meal but the police became aware of the meeting and Harry was subsequently arrested. I was in the kitchen when he was arrested so avoided capture but had to go underground. It was a difficult time trying to work out what action could be taken. Harry's arrest caused an international storm of protest and the CCA sent a high-profile team to meet with President Marcos. In the end Harry was released and I had permission to leave the Philippines. Many of our friends spent the Marcos years in prison and I was able to work for them on the outside.
During this difficult decade the Urban Rural Mission (URM) program of CCA worked directly with social action groups in many Asian countries. Working with the Catholic Church they initiated many programs to assist the poor. Long-serving chair of some of these groups was Malaysian lawyer Victor Oorjitham
The Urban Rural Mission committee met regularly and often in countries where there were difficult issues. When we met we usually arranged for some of the local people to come and speak to us about their experiences. I especially remember one of these meetings which took place in the Philippines. The woman who came to us was a farmer's wife working with communities in the rural area. With great emotion she told of the way her family were at home having a meal when the door burst open and armed men with balaclavas entered the house. In the presence of the children they brutally shot her husband and walked out. The horror of this event and the cruelty of having children witness the murder of their father made a big impact on us all. Such stories gave strong incentive to URM to continue its work for the poor.
There are many facets to the work of the EACC/CCA. Since its beginnings the leadership has sought to develop a more indigenous and Asian style of Christianity. D.T. Niles actively promoted the publication of the first book of Asian Christian art, which led to the formation of the Asian Christian Art Association. He also promoted and helped edit the first EACC hymnal which was one of the actions leading to the formation of the Asian Institute of Liturgy and Music.
I-to Loh of Taiwan is an ethnomusicologist who has been active in developing Asian music for many years.
As I moved around Asia I met many remarkable people working with indigenous music. I recall a special meeting with a man called Justin Ekka, who lives in the Indian city of Ranchi. For some years he worked with All India Radio. This man is a singer and dancer who also plays the violin. At last count he has written more than 4,000 songs in four different languages. We spent the day together and as I was leaving he said that he had written a song for me. Since we had been together all the time I asked how he could have written it for me. And he replied that he had composed it in his head while we were talking to the children. Ekka was a remarkable person. Despite his skills he was a poor man living in humble circumstances. Whatever spare time he had he gave as a volunteer working with blind children. When I remember him, I am reminded of the hymn of Fosdick which describes some people as 'rich in things but poor in soul'. Ekka was the opposite. He was 'poor in things but rich in soul'.
During the years of EACC/CCA many national crises became regional issues. For several years the war in Vietnam dominated Asian thinking. CCA joined with the World Council of Churches in opposing the war and initiated many aid programs to assist in post-war development. Dr Mathews George Chunakara headed the Indochina program of CCA (1996–2000) and is now Asia Secretary of the World Council of Churches. He shared an amusing story of the chaos in post-war Vietnam.
Mathews George Chunakara
Each visit to Indochina was under tight control. On one visit we took a high-profile delegation to meet officials. We had the help of a local pastor who was anxious that we should get to Hanoi and meet with government officials. To do so required a special visa and when we went to apply for it, one of our team realised that he did not have a photograph. 'No photo no visa,' we were told. The others in the team had photos and a colleague from Hong Kong had several. 'Here,' he said, 'have one of mine.' Despite the fact that it looked nothing like him, the official was happy. He had his photo and let him through.
For many years China was closed to the outside and unable to take part in international Christian gatherings. Great changes are now taking place.
Tso Man King
I had been living and working in the United States for twenty-five years but was always concerned for my Chinese homeland. Soon after the pro-democracy movement and confrontation at Tiananmen Square I had the opportunity to visit China and meet the people. In Guangdong province I had my first encounter with the Christian community when I went to a large church in the town. The church had seating for over 1,000 people and all the seats were occupied well in advance. They brought some plain benches in as well and soon we were all jammed up together in the church. What impressed me most was the sense of awe and devotion on the part of the people. They had arrived early and most were silently praying. I left with a great appreciation of the Chinese people but with the big question—how soon will there be complete religious freedom?
There are still many more stories to be told. Let me give you one final one from my own experience in the CCA.
In the late 1970s the general secretary of the Korean Council of Churches, Rev. Kim Kwan Suk, was imprisoned for subversion. As associate general secretary of the CCA I was making many trips to Korea during that time to support him and some others who opposed the tyranny of President Park Chung Hee. Landing in Seoul friends told me that Kim Kwan Suk was unexpectedly being released that very day and was looking forward to seeing me. I went straight to his home where he had only just arrived. It was a hugely emotional meeting with both of us weeping at the joy and wonder of his release.
We talked for a while about his experiences. It had been a hard time for this gentle man. Korean prison cells in those years were primitive and cruel. Kwan Suk was allowed only one book in the prison so naturally he took a copy of the Bible. He said that he survived in the cell by treating his time there as a religious retreat at which he had daily readings, periods of silence, prayers and hymns. And then he said some words which I have never forgotten. 'And sometimes,' he said, 'sometimes I would dance.'
I leave you with this image of a senior Christian leader quietly dancing in a prison cell as the symbol of the unquenchable spirit of Asian Christianity.
Methodist Mission and Ecumenical Occasional Paper
“God is weeping” says Tutu
The annual World Economic Forum (WEF), which promotes a neo-liberal economic agenda, met in Switzerland’s ski resort of Davos 24 to 28 January 2007. Held amidst high security, it was attended by the world’s business, finance and political elite. At almost the same time the World Social Forum (WSF) was being held in Nairobi Kenya (20-25 January) with the theme "People's struggles, people's alternatives". The WSF emerged in 2001 to provide an alternative voice to the WEF under the banner “Another world is possible”. In contrast to the WEF the WSF’s global civil society gathering, held annually since 2001, gets little media attention. This is reflected in our own media. The NZ Herald carried two feature articles and several news items covering the WEF, but nothing about the WSF. I followed the WSF through the news releases of the World Council of Churches (WCC) which had a presence in Nairobi, and thought it worth reporting what an international ecumenical presence was doing at the WSF.
The World Social Forum is "an open meeting place where groups and movements of civil society & come together to pursue their thinking, debate ideas democratically, formulate proposals, share their experiences freely, and network for effective action". The 2007 forum was attended by 50,000 people. It began with a march from the sprawling slum district of Kibera to downtown Nairobi, and closed with a 30km semi-marathon from the Korogocho slums to Uhuru Park with 20,000 taking part.
Many faith-based groups participated in the WSF to encourage debate on crucial issues such as good governance, peace-building, poverty, and HIV and AIDS, reflecting the traditional concern and activities of churches in social issues across the globe, particularly in Africa. The All Africa Conference of Churches and Caritas (A Roman Catholic Church development and justice agency) coordinated joint workshops, ecumenical worship services, and other events, as well as providing for an ecumenical pavilion where church-related groups were able to share, their concerns, insights and work.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu told the ecumenical participants that the war on terror will never be won as long as there are conditions in the world that make people desperate. "God is weeping at the sight of the awful things happening in the world today” said Tutu. He mentioned dehumanising poverty, disease, and ignorance. "God weeps and says: Who will help me so we can have a different kind of world, one in which the rich know they have been given much so they can share and help others?” A creation that was very good has "turned into a nightmare,” said Tutu who emphasised that the "fundamental law of our being is that we are bound to one another". Because of that, "the only way we can make it, is together, all of us. Only together can we be free, safe and secure.”
Other speakers said that wealth, poverty and ecology are strongly linked to each other and to society’s commitment to the common good. “Wealth, poverty and ecology are all closely related to the sustainability of life”, said Dr Marcos Arruda, from Brazil. A social researcher and activist, Arruda called the current world economy "one of war and death" which threatens life because of social inequality, global financial crisis and militarization. It needs to be replaced by a "solidarity-based economy based on the socialisation and democratisation of property". The need to recover a "sense of common good" was stressed by Rev. Phillip Woods, head of the international office of the United Reformed Church, UK. "Today, the interconnectedness with my neighbours has been lost as lifestyles are marketed to us as a matter of choice," he said. Ms Lapapan Supamanta, general secretary of the International Buddhist Association, affirmed the central concept of sharing. She wondered whether the issue is "to eradicate wealth instead of poverty".
"Another property order is possible," said Prof. Ulrich Duchrow, a German theologian. While acknowledging that human beings "need property for their lives," Duchrow criticised the current model which is based on expropriation, exploitation and exclusion. A new property order needs to be based on "sharing resources and the fruits of humanity's common endeavour". Mr John Jones, a social activist from Norway, defended a well-known model of wealth redistribution, the welfare state. The welfare state is about "the right of everyone to receive their share," and its goal is "a society for all", he affirmed. But the concentration of wealth in the North is actually opposed to this. "Pollution and even people are cheaper in the South," he said. Bishop Mvume Dandala, general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), also pointed to the painful imbalance between North and South. "Poverty in Africa is the direct causal effect of the wealth of the North," he said.
A workshop on wealth, poverty and ecology profiled poverty as the direct result of wealth creation and distribution; hunger, disease and suffering as the reverse side of over-consumption and over-development; and explored alternative ways of distributing wealth. At a workshop on water, environment and climate change, international and African participants discussed strategies for alternative solutions to the world’s water crisis and climate change, and promoted the human right to water. A workshop on life-giving agriculture encouraged small farmers who practise organic and ecological agriculture to continue to build a global life-giving agriculture forum as an alternative to corporate. “Ecological debt” was the focus of another workshop which explored how industrialised countries are in ecological debt to the peoples of the South. Case studies from Africa, Asia, and Latin America illustrated the impacts of this debt. Another workshop on the "responsibility to protect" explored why governments are not protecting their populations at severe risk and how churches - which play an important role in prevention, assistance, healing and reconciliation - deal with these issues.
Dunstan Ddamulira from Uganda told of walking in a village of 150 families and asking for a glass of water. The glass he was handed was half mud and half water. Unsafe water supplies and lack of adequate sanitation, he said, means that about two million people in the world die every year. Most of them are children. Moshe Tsehlo from Lesotho said that in his country five dams were built so the government could sell water to South Africa. “What happens to the income produced is a
mystery,” he says, “due to the government's lack of transparency.” Ddamulira and Tsehlo are part of the Ecumenical Water Network, an initiative hosted by the WCC. The network brings together concerned churches, organizations and movements which have joined efforts to protect and implement people's right to access water around the world, and to make sure that a common Christian witness on water issues is heard in the global debate. It promotes community-based initiatives and solutions, and advocates for water to be considered a human right in addition to being a gift of God. It also seeks to raise the awareness of the churches on the urgency of the concern.
"Mozambique is owed an ecological debt by those who constructed and have made profits from the dams of the Zambezi River,” said Malawian economist Francis Ng’ambi. He was refering to the role of the Portuguese government and the South African company Eskom. Ng’ambi said the Zambesi River, with more than thirty large dams, is "the most dammed river in Africa.” Its use has led to displacement of people, damage to agriculture systems, increases in water-borne diseases, accumulation of toxic waste, and has contributed to flooding. "The people of Mozambique have every right to demand compensation for the ecological debt from those responsible” added Ng’ambi.
The ecumenical coalition in Nairobi also warned about the activities of large oil companies in developing countries. "The companies should put policies in place that make local people beneficiaries of these explorations," said the Rev. Arnold Temple of the Methodist Church of Sierra Leone. Temple's comments followed a presentation at the forum by participants from Nigeria who stated that oil exploration in the country's oil-rich Niger delta region had led to corruption and pollution.
Looking back on the WSF, Sylvia Borren of Oxfam Netherlands said, “religious groups are doing a good job in tackling social problems.” “Religion is important in solving social problems,” said Elizabeth Jensen of Caritas International, “It gives you a platform. It commits people.” Sister Jacinta Katusebe and four others from the Sisters of Holy Cross travelled by bus for fifteen hours from Kampala, Uganda, to be at the WSF. A teacher, Jacinta, felt her mission was accomplished through attending workshops on education for all. “I met so many people from Asia and South America and we talked for hours about education,” she said. “I have a new perspective. I couldn’t have achieved this anywhere else.”
Methodist Mission and Ecumenical Occasional Paper
Can feminism contribute to ecumenism today?
At Conference 2006 Mission and Ecumenical organized an interest group on the theme ‘Wind in our Sails: New directions for ecumenism’ Discussion was led off by a panel responding to the theme from various perspectives. Susan Adams, Director of the Ministry Training Unit offered a feminist response.
Women have been faithful supportive members of the church during all its history. They caught the vision of Jesus and were active in proclaiming and promoting that vision and the radical ideas about God and ‘the world’ that he opened for the people of his day. It has been a long, difficult haul for women to be included in the shaping of ideas about God and human relationships, about what is important in life and how to sustain human flourishing in this earth in ways that are respectful of the earth. They have in different ways been energetic and unstinting in their love and hope for the church and the world.
So I am not sure if women have the energy or the will today to expend more of these scarce personal resources in the face of an organisation that has so recently failed them yet again. The ‘Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women’ is over. Many women felt there was little substantive change achieved. It did however give rise to the Decade to Overcome Violence that has half its life still to run. Women are still suffering at the hands of violent partners and family members. They are still the victims of ‘collateral damage’ in war zones (rape, economic deprivation, loss of health and housing). It could be said that by simply ‘refusing to go away’, by turning up week by week in church, women are keeping alive what otherwise would die from lack of heart. What more contribution does the church want? Traditionally children and the elderly have been the responsibilities of women. They still are. We want a world fit for them to inhabit – a world that is
- satisfying – flourishing
So, as I see it, the huge contribution women are making is that of simply being present.
‘Oikumene’, points us to a bigger agenda than inter-church or interdenominational matters.
It points us toward all the peoples of earth and all the creatures of earth, all the substance of earth, in a way that is desirous of wellbeing, flourishing and sustainability.
If you want a theological ‘tag’ to attach to feminism’s contribution to the ecumenical movement then perhaps it can be ‘eco-feminism’. Eco-feminism has a common cause with vision of ‘oikumene’.
‘Ecological systems are finely tuned and carefully balanced, recognising the delicacy of the inter-relationships that keep the systems lively and healthy in all their parts.’
Eco-feminist theology recognises that the survival of the earth in all its life forms and systems is inextricably linked with our ability as humans to survive. It refocuses our attention away from the metaphysical ‘other-worldliness’ of traditional Christian theological discourse toward the messy, grubby troubled word in which we live and struggle to live.
Eco-feminism is women seeking to provide for their children and other dependents, who in many places in the world struggle and suffer when the relationship with earth is disrupted by violence (war), drought or flood, resource stripping (economic greed), or the dehumanisation of those who are female, or different (other).
It is about caring and bothering when our neighbourhood communities are fractured and seeking to restore harmony and respect.
There are four key categories around which to shape our concern:
· environmental ecology,
· social (systems) ecology,
· mental ecology,
· holistic ecology.
The eco-feminist agenda struggles hopefully to keep before us the necessity for respect and an awareness of the interdependence of the ‘whole world’ in all its parts. It recognises the interdependence of the earth and the creatures of the earth and seeks ecumenical concern that recognises these things as of critical and primary concern so that we might all have life.
Neu, Diann L. Return Blessings. Cleveland Ohio: the Pilgrim Press, 2002
Plant, Judith. (Ed) Healing The Wounds. Phiadelphia: New Society Pub., 1989
Primavesi, Anne. From Apocalypse to Genesis. Kent, UK: Burns Oates, 1991
Eco-feminist liturgies motivate participants to sustain a balanced and diverse Earth-community, to resist its oppressors and to lament the violence and abuse that has been done to it.
Here is a litany of Diann Neu as amended by Susan Adams.
Because many refuse to acknowledge
that the Earth is a living, interrelated system
We must work for eco-justice
Because too many people have denigrated fertile Earth into landfills, forests into deserts, running rivers into silted flood-planes
We must work for eco-justice
Because grave assaults on the biosphere – acid rain, desertification, accumulation of waste, overpopulation, ozone depletion – rob us all of our heritage
We must work for eco-justice
Because governments and corporations play economic and environmental concerns off against each other
We must work for eco-justice
Because the peoples of the earth are too frequently the victims of the bitter power struggles and war
We must work for eco-justice
Because too many communities of people live in fear of those who are different – colour, religion, gender
We must work for eco-justice
Because each form of life is integrated with every other form of life, and because we have not rallied into earth’s defence
We must work for eco-justice
Let us go forth and put our words into action
Let us go forth in all directions of the earth to bless and to embrace to resist and to heal.