60th anniversary of Christian Aid - Archbishop condemns lack of trust in fight against poverty
Tuesday 26th April 2005The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, will warn today that a fundamental lack of trust is eroding efforts to overcome global poverty.
In a sermon preached at St Paul's Cathedral to mark the sixtieth anniversary of Christian Aid, Dr Williams says:
"The scandal of our current global economy is not simply that it leaves children dying, that it leaves over a billion in extreme need. It is that it reinforces the assumption that trust is not possible and natural; it reinforces a picture of the world in which rivalry or mutual isolation are the obvious forms of behaviour."
He adds: "Do we want to live in a world where trust seems natural? That is the question we need to be looking at today, as believers and as citizens."
In his sermon, Dr Williams also examines what is really implied by "free trade", observing that freedom in this context is a good deal more complex than often conceded by either advocates or detractors:
"The challenge that has to be put to a naïve confidence in free trade to deliver a flourishing human environment is a challenge about what is needed for a country to play the part it wants and needs to play in the global economy, what is needed to give it appropriate economic power. And the answer is unlikely to be a simple recommendation for a universal and instant end to protection or preference," he says.
Dr Williams adds that while "prosperity does not makes us godly...it is still true that in whole societies poverty is corrosive and so - no less so - is the despairing assumption that the world is organised in the interests of others."
A transcript of the Archbishop's sermon follows:
Sermon at the 60th anniversary of Christian Aid, St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's second letter to Corinth is about how the world can reflect God's glory back to its maker. This is made possible first by Jesus, who in his own person shows God's glory; then, reflecting from him, the glory shines from those in the company of Jesus. It shines through in strange ways - not least in the life of the apostle, struggling and failing and starting again, frustrated, humiliated, yet reaching over and over again for resources of patience and hope; but the same glory shines also in the life of the whole community, as it tries to express in every aspect of its life the life of God. And that divine life is a life in which two aspects stand out in Paul's argument. God is dependable, he keeps his word; God is generous, giving us all we need to become like him. When such a God is clearly seen, what other response can there be but thanksgiving that he is as he is?
The reading we have heard puts all Christian giving, all aid and nurture, in this context. We are commanded to act in this way so that God will become visible and people will give thanks. We are to live in covenanted trustworthiness and to share all we have so that others may be more free and more fully capable of joy in God. We are not just solving problems but reshaping a whole world of feeling and perceiving - 'not only supplying the needs of God's people, but also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God'. Christians are committed to building a world in which trust and mutual exchange seem natural because what appears as the creative source of everything appears - through human action - as trustworthy and generous.
The Church exists so that all will learn to give thanks. But therefore it exists so that the possibility of dependable and generous life will always be held up within the human world as something given and indestructible. It tells itself what it is for every time it meets to share bread, bread which has become the sign and the presence of God's promise, God's 'yes' to us, as Paul puts it in the first chapter of II Corinthians. When this celebration is no longer the root of transforming action, we have some very serious questions to ask; we come under judgement. Because breaking bread as a sign of God's gift and promise is a moment of converting and transforming energy, God's stimulus to make him visible again and so to make the world new; we are in grave trouble if we aren't interested in realising what's been given.
Here, then, is the charter of Christian Aid: as an agency of the churches, its task is not simply to meet certain needs but to help shape a particular kind of world - one in which trust seems natural because people understand about acting for each other's interests, acting to secure the place of others in the same processes of giving and receiving. An organisation with its inspiration in faith is more than a convenient problem-solver. The report of the Africa Commission said that 'donors need to view religious organisations as equal partners rather than simply the means through which to disseminate their health messages'. It is just one example of the need to recognise that the perspective of faith in the realm of aid and development is never narrowly functional. It offers a bigger vision, a larger and more constructive world to inhabit. And it longs to see a human community that instinctively turns to gratitude, that is fully free to glorify God.
So this celebration of sixty years of service is also a celebration of sixty years of enlarging the horizons of the churches themselves as well as of the society around. Among so many powerful memories, I suspect that that slogan, 'We believe in life before death' was the one that most stirred and challenged believers and unbelievers alike. And this was not least because it hinted at far more than an 'ambulance' reaction: it was grounded in the words of Jesus about bringing life in all its fullness.
Do we want to live in a world where trust seems natural? That is the question we need to be looking at today, as believers and as citizens. The point has been made often enough in recent weeks, but is worth making again: this is a historic year in which this country has the chance to make its mark in a move towards a trustful world, through its presidency of the G8 nations and the European Union. There are already some signs of a cross party consensus on the current injustices of the global economy. Wherever in the world political leaders have shown commitment to the goal of a world in which trust is possible and natural, they need our encouragement as they try and persuade others.
Because the scandal of our current global economy is not simply that it leaves children dying, that it leaves over a billion in extreme need. It is that it reinforces the assumption that trust is not possible and natural; it reinforces a picture of the world in which rivalry or mutual isolation are the obvious forms of behaviour. The rich protect their markets while talking about the virtues of free trade. Global agencies have often held up sustainable economic growth in poor countries by insisting that it can only be allowed to develop in the way they dictate. Debt repayment has constantly distorted the possibilities of stability, let alone growth. The transparency and democracy so desperately needed in many disadvantaged nations are not likely to develop on such soil.
We have recently seen the publication of a very interesting report from the Globalisation Institute which is highly critical of the language of 'fair trade', arguing powerfully for free trade as the real engine of prosperity. There is a serious economic argument here - though it is worth mentioning that professional economists have expressed their scepticism about free trade as a mantra: it isn't only starry eyed religious activists. But surely the real issue is what the word 'free' means. Universal trade liberalisation may offer fresh markets and promise overall increases in wealth. It also forces choices on vulnerable countries, whose effects may be - in the short to medium term - very costly indeed to a whole generation of workers, to the environment, to political stability. As a number of economic surveys have made plain, you can have statistics that show a spectacular increase in national wealth alongside a reality of instability, increasing poverty in many areas and a loss of social cohesion. The Dutch development economist and politician Jan Pronk wrote recently that in the move to a liberalised economy, 'the losses are widely spread and cut deeply into the existence of people while the initial concrete benefits are concentrated in the hands of a new class'. His judgement is that in the long term 'free trade' promises greater benefits, but in the middle term its costs are immense unless there are clear mechanisms for compensation - unless the benefits are put to work for all. 'Freedom' in this context turns out to be a more complex matter than we might have thought.
This is surely to return by another route to questions about the trustworthiness of a society and its institutions. Does a nation, a society, work for all its citizens? If pressure for trade liberalisation creates a situation where this looks more remote, there is a clear problem from the Christian perspective. The challenge that has to be put to a naïve confidence in free trade to deliver a flourishing human environment is a challenge about what is needed for a country to play the part it wants and needs to play in the global economy, what is needed to give it appropriate economic power. And the answer is unlikely to be a simple recommendation for a universal and instant end to protection or preference. If Christian Aid and other faith-based bodies have a role here, it is surely to make certain that the costs are clearly understood, and that those who carry the greatest costs have a voice in negotiating how those costs are to be managed without the Catch-22 risk of long term damage from spiralling social disintegration or polarisation. 'The question is not whether the stakes are high or how high they are, but how to share them', to quote Jan Pronk again.
How to share the goods of growth: of course this is a complex and long task, which doesn't lend itself to simple slogans and upbeat progress reports. But as an agency of the churches, Christian Aid is in a long game. It knows that the changes in human culture that make gratitude and trust an obvious response to life are immense; it also knows that God's gift has made them possible, and indeed made them actual in the community that gathers to break bread. Christian Aid has an impressive history of urging that community to act as if it meant what it said and did in its ritual. The gospel that motivates Christian Aid is the good news that God has shown himself faithful and unreservedly generous; no Christian agency should begin from abstract obligation or duty but from the clear sense that something quite new has been bestowed. It begins in thanksgiving and it seeks to end in thanksgiving - in a world where confident celebration seems the natural thing to do.
Christian Aid has learned and shared with the rest of us some of the depth of spiritual liberty and celebration that arises even in the middle of the most appalling privation; it isn't that prosperity makes us godly (you may have noticed). But it is still true that in whole societies poverty is corrosive and so - no less so - is the despairing assumption that the world is organised in the interests of others. We must pray that at least the next sixty years of this body will continue to prod and irritate and inspire all of the churches to work with growing urgency for a joyful world, a world overflowing in expressions of thanks to God. Our hope is the glory of new creation, after all - not justice alone but justice that is constantly being revitalised by the grateful longing to share and to give to others the freedom to give. That is how God has treated us; that is how we are to relate to each other. The bread of God is in our hands; it is given to be broken for the world.
© Rowan Williams 2005