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World Council of Churches Assembly - Globalisation, Economics and Environment

Saturday 18th February 2006

At the World Council of Churches Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the Archbishop made the following contributions to a public 'Bate Papo' (an informal conversation), with delegate Peggy Mekel of Indonesia.

The Economy and the Environment

It seems that we both have a concern about the way in which religious people often are encouraged to think that economics is a self-contained thing in which theology, faith, morality doesn't have a place. I'm sometimes told this in England - but why should Christians worry about it? Two reasons I think; one is that Christianity is against slavery. It took us quite a long time to realise this, but eventually we did. What we haven't fully realised is that economic slavery is as much slavery as other ones and that is you don't have the opportunity to make a difference creatively to shape your environment. And so that's the second thing, God made us to have a creative relationship with our environment. And that becomes distorted when freedom is taken away, when something is lacking in the relationship with God so in both those ways I think there's an imperative to be interested."

Just one other thing I'd like to say and that is somebody said recently "the global economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment" that is to say we cannot understand how the economy of our world works or should work unless we put it into the context of an environment with limited resources that is profoundly degraded by our present economic practices. We cannot go on without registering that fact, and one of the things that I quite want to ask about here is to learn a bit more about the environmental issues that arise because of globalised economy in your part of the world.

Ethical Investments

One thing which we have to come back to constantly is the ethics of our investment. This has been as some of you will know, a difficult question for the Church of England recently, in more than one way. But the challenge is not only to lobby, but also to persuade our churches' financial bodies to invest positively - that is, to have a positive set of standards. "Is this company, is this investment something which goes with responsible environmental and social policies?" Do we set a standard by where we invest positively, to try and encourage development? And I know that that's not easy, but it is something which some churches are building in more and more to their practice.

And I think it reflects also the fact that some people quite prominent in the world of economics now will say we've got it wrong the way we calculate profits; we don't factor in environmental damage, we don't factor in social costs, we think those are just externalities. And some are really challenging that very hard now. There's an Indian economist, Dr Das Gupta, who's published in the last 3 or 4 years a great deal of very important work on what projections on economic growth would look like if we brought in these other factors. These I think could be guidelines to churches as a whole, to think about their investment policy.

We have an Ethical Investment Advisory Group in the Church of England, which reviews our investments regularly. We've had a standing set of policies about what we don't invest in and any international group that has more than a certain percentage of its work involved in things like armaments, we don't invest in it. There are questions as to what level we set percentage at; it's quite difficult and complex with world-wide, hugely diversified conglomerated companies, to be absolutely sure in your investment policy, but you can set certain standard. And as I say, we are beginning to look more positively at what practices we want to encourage.

Micro Credit

What it says in the bible is that the love of money is the root of all evil and I wouldn't want to quarrel with that very much. It's acquisition is what we are challenging - the idea that the only value in an advanced society must mean acquisition. But if you're not going to use that as an excuse for doing nothing, then you might say how do you use money creatively? How do you invest so as to encourage development? And this is why I find myself very engaged with the question of micro credit which is an area where I think local churches do have potentially, a very considerable role.

My own involvement began some years ago when I was in Wales and we had a study in the Church in Wales of international debt. The question was then raised about debt in our local societies. What about the burden of small scale but still crippling debt amongst the poor in our society? And so our church then began a 3 year project to encourage the development of micro credit. We sent a pack of information to every parish in Wales, detailing how you set up a credit union. We set aside money to pay for a development worker in this area. And although results are quite slow, it seems to me that it did at least bring onto people's tables the awareness that what could be done while we were waiting for the global scene to change was to find ways of giving some power and liberty and control to people at local level through micro credit initiatives. There are a number of which the Anglican Church are involved in, particularly in Africa.

So I think that is something local churches can always do something about. They have resources, volunteers and skills, which can be very helpful in building co-operative economics at local level.

I think we have to have strategies both for grass roots and for the big institutions. The simplest form of leverage for the large institutions is investment policy, but also the continuing dialogue with governments. The Chancellor in Great Britain, Gordon Brown is actually somebody who encourages the churches to continue a dialogue with him and others involved in the commercial world. He invited Jim Wallis and myself to meet with him before the G8 summit last summer, with a group consisting of British, American and African church leaders, to discuss the agenda of the G8 summit. And that was an initiative which was government and church joining together; and that means the church has to know where to find expert information. It has to be on top of the technicalities, to be able to talk to government confidently. We're not always good at that but I think we as churches need to go to governments and continue these challenges.

© Rowan Williams 2006

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