During the first meeting of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa’s Synod of Bishops this year, we were shocked by news of outbreaks of xenophobic violence directed by the South African residents of materially-disadvantaged communities at migrants from other African countries fleeing poverty or war.
Ironically, the attacks came at a time when the synod was engaged in week-long sessions of study and training on economics and management which were designed, at least in part, to empower us as bishops to get to grips with the root causes of the violence.
In our call for all involved to act within in the law, we agreed with the view of the local Catholic Bishops’ Conference, that underlying the violence was “the competition for limited resources, public services and economic opportunities between foreigners and the unemployed poor in South Africa.”
One of the reasons the poor struggle to access resources and opportunities in South Africa is the disparity in the distribution of wealth in our country. We are one of the world’s most unequal societies, and in that way we are a microcosm of the global economy.
Our study sessions directed us to reflect on how God is calling on us to exercise leadership in today’s economic climate. Led by Prof Martin Büscher of the Institute for Diaconic Science and Diaconic Management at the Protestant University of Wuppertal/Bethel in Germany, and Dr Bright Mawudor, deputy general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches, they helped us to understand issues ranging from the theories which underpin the global economic order and the challenges of globalisation to innovation and church and property development as mission.
As we said in our pastoral letter to our people afterwards, “we had an informative and challenging time wrestling with the interface between economics and theology; profit-making and the prophetic; the market place and mission; self-interest and compassion; market value and Kingdom values; personal wealth and community-building; corruption and integrity; free trade and fair trade.”
Our Episcopal Synod’s focus on the relationship between our faith and the economy arose from my questioning to our Provincial Synod last year: “What does it mean to be the body of Christ in such a time as this? To what discipleship are we called? What does the cost of this discipleship entail?”
It was also guided by my participation last year in the first Ecumenical School on Governance, Economics and Management, an initiative of the World Council of Churches, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, the Council for World Mission and the Lutheran World Federation.
The school was convened to look at how Christians might achieve a new global “economy of life” which would be less exploitative and distribute resources and income more equitably than the current system.
This, as I told our Provincial Synod last year, sounds impractical, but as stewards of God’s creation we know that nothing is impossible with God.
Theology is what God is up to in God’s creation. Economics is how God’s household organises itself in response to God’s creative love. Ubi Caritas, the chant which the Taizé Community has popularised, says that “wherever there is love, there is God.” So if God’s household rules economics, then economics should be rooted in love.
My dream is that we will develop new Anglican social teaching on the economy, reflecting a new theology and ecclesiology of generosity, encompassing appropriate liturgies and social outreach, which empower us to speak with a prophetic voice in our local economic contexts.