Call for justice, not forgiveness
by Margaret Rodgers
International debt is an issue arousing passion and concern among Lambeth bishops. This afternoon will see the whole Conference join with Section One members in the International Debt Plenary, where the urgency and critical nature of the issues for developing-world debtor nations will be brought to Lambeth participants. The plenary will be chaired by Arc
A redemption song will be sung by a group of gospel singers, and a Christian Aid video will be shown. An opportunity for contributions from the floor also is planned for the plenary. "The Church has an obligation to read the signs of the times and to interpret them in the light of the Gospel," Archbishop Ndungane said. "We need to be aware of the links between our responsibility as God's stewards, the obligation of the world of finance and the possibilities of new beginnings at the dawn of the new millennium."
He is supported by Bishop Selby, who is chairing the international debt discussions in the section. "We have a choice between the view of life as a network of credit and debt, a network of chains modelled by what the world of money tells, and a view of life in which mutuality flourishes and the truth that we all live by gift, by grace alone," Bishop Selby said. "To place ourselves in solidarity with the debtors of the world, rather than with the so-called wisdom of its creditors, is a major test of our loyalty to Jesus Christ and our willingness as a communion of churches to live by what he teaches." The biggest burden confronting many nations is the massive debt they owe to the world's richest nations and international financial institutions. Dr Carey told his own diocese early this year that the people of the debtor nations are engulfed "in a form of slavery no less real than the terrible Atlantic slave trade of the early 19th century." Each day debtor nations pay rich countries $717 million in debt service. In 1997 they paid $270 billion in debt service, around $60 per person. Conversely, in 1997 they received $25 billion in aid and development loans. So, for each $1 given in aid to debtor nations they paid back $11 to service their debt.
Voices from debtor nations among the Lambeth participants illustrate powerfully the overwhelming impact of massive debt repayments on the lives of their peoples. They point to meagre spending on health and education in countries where a major proportion of the national income is diverted to debt repayment.
They cite also huge unemployment problems, poverty, homelessness, inadequate housing, harmful effects on the lives of women and children, and trafficking in drugs and arms.
Common language speaks of remission or forgiveness of debt. But bishops from the debtor nations, deeply aware of the devastating impact of debt on their people, call neither for debt forgiveness, nor for debt remission. They seek the cancellation of debt as a matter of justice, human dignity and equality for all who share life on this planet and who are equal bearers of the image of God. In sum,they call for release for those who are captive to economic forces beyond their control, and liberty from their oppression by the chains of debt.
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