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God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

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THE MOMENT

Canadians are living in the midst of major changes that are dramatically altering the face of their communities, the country, and the global human family. We are living in turbulent times that are exacting a high human cost. The disparity between rich and poor is widening. There is a growing reliance on foodbanks. People have lost confidence in their leaders and in their institutions. High levels of unemployment have meant hardship for many and increased insecurity for others. Young people face a challenging future. Beyond the Canadian community, the global human family has not realized the dreams of a post-cold war peace.

Canadians are made painfully aware of the harsh uncertainty of these realities as they are confronted with them in the daily news reports, in the lives of their neighbours and friends, and in the tarnished dreams of young people. These realities have led to a crisis of hope and confidence. What lies ahead for us and our children? In the context of these challenges, Christians must answer the question that faced the Hebrew prophet: What does our God require of us?

THE MORAL CHALLENGE

Canadians are confronted with a profound moral challenge. In the face of these harsh human realities, many leaders today are suggesting that we have no choice but to surrender to the impersonal will of the market. They argue that Canada must be more "competitive", emphasizing that we must maintain the "confidence of foreign capital markets." Political and economic leaders continually tell Canadians that we are forced to take this tough economic medicine. Emphatically they declare that Canada cannot livebeyond its financial means. Often these leaders have foreclos ed on the range of choices by consulting only with those who share their very limited view of the world. This approachis supported by a tacit attitude of " we know what is best for you." Some have gone further to suggest that the religious community should mind its spiritual business. But such paternalism cannot dismiss our collective moral responsibility.

Conventional economic thinking has not provided adequate answers or prescriptions for our common future. Conventional economic thinking, on the contrary, has only caused Canadians to be confronted with a number of morally perplexing paradoxes. Productivity has increased, but more people cannot find full-time employment. Profits have recovered from the recession while real wages have declined. While the absolute number of jobs has increased, there has been a decrease in full-time work. Many people are struggling with multiple part-time jobs to try and earn a living wage. Most alarmingly, real family income in 1994 was 4.6% lower than in 1989. Canada, according to the World Bank, is the second wealthiest country in the world, yet since 1989 there has been a 55% increase in the number of poor children. While freer trade globally was to bring about greater prosperity, Canadians have witnessed growing disparity. And while social programs have been able to maintain a sense of equality in this country, Canadians are being told the only way to save social programs such as health care, social assistance and education is by dismantling them. There are many other examples of these contradictions posed by the current economic prescriptions.

These conventional economic prescriptions are not answers to the deep human desire by people to contribute and improve the quality of life for their families and communities. In failing, they raise more fundamental moral questions concerning the nature of our life together. Principally, they resign communities to an economic fatalism which runs counter to God's intention that we can and must make decisions in the interests of our common humanity. This false wisdom means that our choices are determined by an inhumane Social Darwinism where only a minority of the economically fit will survive. It denies that people are called by God to be moral beings, making ethical choices in a systemic way for the good of their community. Additionally, some in our community have argued that this trend is dangerously anti-democratic. For Christians, it denies their fundamental moral responsibility to answer collectively the question, "What does our God require of us?" It reduces our ethical choices to matters of individual conduct and acts of personal charity.

VALUES FOR MORAL CHOICES

God does require moral and ethical choices by people and communities. We face turbulent times, where we are witnessing the destruction of a sense of community. Nonetheless, choices are available to us. Reconstruction of community requires that we inform our collective moral choices by the values that define us.

"What does our God require of us?" God requires us to remember that all people have been created in the image of God. As those who bear the Creator's image, we are united with God and united with each other. God has a preferential concern for the poor among the human family and calls those who have been richly blessed to a responsibility for our neighbours. As Jesus taught, Blessed are the poor...., Blessed are those who mourn..., Blessed are the meek... (Matthew 5: 1-12). In exercising responsibility, some basic moral values govern our decisions. As a starting point our faith communities underline the following values:

Human Dignity

It is the right of all persons and their communities to be treated and to treat others with justice, love, compassion and respect.

Mutual Responsibility

It is the obligation of the community to care and share with its people, ensuring that basic human needs are met.

Social Equity

It is the right of people to adequate access to basic resources, to full participation in the life and decisions of the community.

Gender Equity

It is the equal right of women across the life span to have access to basic resources and full participation in the life and decisions of the community.

Economic Equity

It is the right of all persons and communities to adequate access to the resources necessary for a full life, including access to worthwhile work, fair employment considerations and income security provisions, and our collective responsibility to use such resources responsibly.

Fiscal Fairness

It is the responsibility of all persons to contribute to the well being of the community according to the gifts that have been entrusted to them and the right of all people to fiscal fair treatment.

Ecological Sustainability

It is the obligation of the community to practice responsible stewardship of the earth and environment so that creation might be preserved for future generations.

Economic choices are ethical choices about what is important to build a community. In this moment, we are being called upon to make choices that respect the dignity of people, with particular attention to the dignity of the poor. These values help us to honour this collective responsibility. For many people, these values are guaranteed by international agreements and covenants, such as the United Nation's Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the assorted United Nation's Covenants. For people of faith, they are also expressed in God's call to discipleship and command to love our neighbour. Essentially, these are moral benchmarks for the economic choices about our common future.

MAKING THE CHOICES

There is a growing and widespread consensus emerging among the churches and faith communities that the current direction of public policy is wrong. This consensus is reflected in many public denunciations of federal and provincial policies that threaten the poor, the unemployed, the elderly, First Nations, newcomers to Canada, women, children, and youth.

These polices have resulted in a growing polarization of our society and country. It has resulted in a divisiveness between the poor, the unemployed, the working poor, and middle class people. Economic mismanagement and failures in leadership have brought us to the current social crisis. This situation requires wider discussion and participation. Rather than an economics of prosperity, these choices have led to an economics of disparity and despair. There is another way. Canada needs an economics of hope.

The churches for their part have also been working to develop alternatives for our economic future. It is fair to ask, if not this way, then what path can you offer to our economic future? Over the years the churches have worked on development models with their partner churches in poor nations. Informed by this experience, the churches have also supported new models of community economic development in Canada. Through education programs such as Ten Days for World Development and Ecumenical Training for Economic Justice, church members are exploring other new ideas. In exercises such as the Alternative Federal Budget process, the churches have worked with other sectors to put forward policy proposals that are practical and reflect the values central to the community of faith. The following are some questions to which alternatives need to respond;

What is the commitment to meet the basic needs for food, clothing and shelter for people?

  • What is the commitment to create jobs that provide an adequate income?
  • What is the commitment to income security and support services for all people when employment is not possible?
  • What is the commitment to meet the basic needs for health care, education, and culture?
  • What is the commitment to social and economic justice for women, children, people of colour and youth?
  • What is the commitment to address the needs of Canada's First Nations?
  • What is the commitment to global and biospheric sustainability that is not solely dependent on an ever increasing consumption of natural resources?
  • What is the commitment by government to develop enforceable mutual standards in order to hold all levels of government accountable to the international agreements which Canada has voluntarily signed?
  • What is the commitment to fairness where people contribute according to the gifts they have been given and to equality that seeks to minimize gross disparities between rich and poor?
  • What is the commitment to our responsibility to fulfill obligations within the global human family, particularly to the poor and oppressed?

These are some of the specific guidelines by which people of faith can evaluate public policy choices. These are not only benchmarks for morally responsible choices, they also form the basis for sound economic policy.

There are choices that meet these criteria. Social spending has not caused the debt or deficit crisis. We need to explore how we can lower real interest rates, how we can finance more of our debt through the Bank of Canada, how we can promote environmentally-sensitive growth that will create jobs, how we can raise our tax revenues through increased fairness, how we can value unpaid work and the contributions of the voluntary and social sector, and how we can develop other new and creative approaches to addressing the financial crisis. The process of developing an Alternative Federal Budget has been one initiative that we believe can lead to an economics of hope.

What does our God require of us? Simply stated, God requires that we accept our responsibility for each other. While we do face an economic challenge, it is just such a challenge that puts our principles to the test. It is a challenge that will call upon us all to make sacrifices -- each as we are able. It is a challenge that will also call for a renewed spirit of generosity. The ancient Hebrews believed that every fifty years God called for a year of Jubilee. A Jubilee year was the time when land was to be returned, debts to be forgiven, and fields to be laid fallow in order to restore equality within society and in recognition that it was God who was the ultimate provider and owner of all things. Such a spirit of Jubilee is what God requires of us in this moment.

The Nicaraguan poet, Marianella Corriols Molina, has expressed it in writing:

I want a new order!
To flood the world with laughter, songs, schools,
bread, poems,
children without hunger,
young people without war.

This statement is supported by the following Canadian churches or organizations:

  • Anglican Church of Canada - Eco-Justice
  • Canadian Religious Conference - National
  • Church and Society Steering Committee, Division of Mission in Canada,United Church of Canada
  • Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
  • Justice Ministries Committee, Presbyterian Church in Canada
  • Working Group on Public Policy and Church and Society, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC)

 


CALL TO SOCIAL SOLIDARITY

As people of faith from the Canadian churches, we encourage our sisters and brothers:

  • To continue to pray diligently for those who suffer and are in need;
  • To discuss and reflect on the moral and ethical dimensions of our economic choices;
  • To observe monthly, a day of fasting;
  • To work in support of social programs, safeguarded by standards, that ensure people's needs are met;
  • To encourage a more generous spirit in our personal charitable giving, in the giving of our religious communities, and in the paying of taxes in support of programs for the poor, the elderly, women and children, youth, First Nations and newcomers to Canada;
  • To use the Alternative Federal Budget to discuss and support an alternative economic future;
  • To discuss and endorse this Statement in your community and share it with your elected representatives at all levels of government.

 


For More Information Contact:
Deacon William Kokesch
Director, Communications Service

 

Last Updated on Thursday, August 17 2006  
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