Dear sisters and brothers in Christ
Christ is risen! With the joy of the resurrection we greet you in this Ascension time, as the churches around the world await the celebration of Pentecost, the reminder of the power and presence of the Spirit in our lives as the community of faith.
We are a gathering of twenty Christians from Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East, the Pacific, and Europe who have come together in preparation for the World Council of Churches' General Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2006. For a number of years now we have been working on the themes of Climate Change, Genetic Engineering and Water; and we seek to do so in harmony with the guideline of life in dignity in just and sustainable communities, and the five essentials if we are to nurture a life-centred vision: participation, equity, accountability, sufficiency and subsidiarity.
At this meeting we have been privileged to receive the background document to AGAPE, Alternative Globalization Addressing Peoples and Earth. This is an exciting way of holding together the work of the Justice, Peace and Creation Team over the past years since the 8th General Assembly of the WCC in 1998 in Harare. It provides a framework for integrating our concerns about the Oikos, our home here on God’s earth - both as economy (oikos-nomos) and ecology (oikos-logos). It is our conviction that it is only in addressing these two elements in one coherent whole, that we can truly witness in the world to the abundant life that Christ offers (John 10:10).
We have received with appreciation the fruits of your work from the ECEN General Assembly in Basel, Switzerland, May 4-8, 2005, "The Churches' Contribution to a Sustainable Europe". A number of our own members were privileged to be part of this process, and we too have been enriched by the participation of ECEN members in our own consultation. We shared together for a morning, and were privileged to engage with this Call, where we were able to offer a response. A number of vital issues emerged, and we were encouraged to share these with ECEN, in a spirit of journeying together in search of a sustainable earth.
We affirm the passion and compassion that are represented in this call. The structure of the document, and the focus on the seven specific areas of concern, namely, creation time, creation theology, education, climate change, motorised mobility/air traffic, eco-management, and water are welcomed. The biblical message, "do not be afraid", that introduces your call, is a word of grace spoken in a time of difficulty. The commitment to seek sustainability is also valued, as is the challenge to churches and politicians in Europe.
We are particularly responsive to the focus on 'the manipulation of consumption for individual greed and self-interest' in European society, and believe that much work lies in the future in developing a spirituality of prudence and simplicity.
You have noted that "Christians have much to learn as well as to offer in the construction of a new vision for a sustainable Europe and its effect on other parts of the world". We affirm this openness to learning and dialogue. In response to this, as your brothers and sisters in the faith, allow us to raise a few concerns with you, so that together we may grow in wisdom and understanding.
This very idea of dialogue immediately leads us to the first challenge we bring to you, which has to do with you own identity. Do you speak in this document first as Christians, or as Europeans? Likewise, are we responding as Christians or as Africans, or Asians or Americans, as people from the Middle East or the Pacific? If we speak as Christians, drawing on the global fellowship we share does this make a difference about our concerns and commitments?
Secondly, we are concerned that in your focus on the environment the connection between ecology and economy is not as strong as it should be. You will agree that a great cause of ecological destruction is the way that our global economy is structured to encourage production, consumption and waste. We remain convinced that we must hold the economy (oikos-nomos) together with ecology (oikos-logos) in the search for a sustainable inhabited earth (oikou-mene).
Possibly because of this, we are further concerned that you have not clearly located the sustainability of Europe within the wider sustainability of the earth. Given the global economic inter-linkages, we are not sure that one can seek a sustainable Europe without at the same time seeking, for example, a sustainable Asia and Africa. We encourage you to seek global dialogue and alliances in your work, and commit ourselves to be partners with you in this process.
At the same time, we encourage you to seek dialogue with people coming from other continents and to draw them into your discussions. The problems of the 'global south' also create divisions and inequality in Europe. Also we are aware of the presence of Indigenous People within Europe who carry a wisdom about life and this earth that could be of value at this time. The victims of ecological and economic destruction are also to be found among you, and need to become participants in your process.
Fifth, we worry that your document is claiming too high a value for human labour in the service of the market economy. You write that, "It is through the production of goods and provision of services that individuals participate in the ongoing work of God in creation". While this may even reflect a certain "works righteousness", it also fails to recognise the wider understanding of labour within the missio Dei, which understands labor as creative praxis in the service of the common good. This fuller understanding of labour is distorted if it is reduced just to an alienated activity in the production of 'goods' and 'services' to the market and to meet the desires of a consumer society.
One of the things you call for, is that "prices for agricultural products include all external ecological and social costs". Though we affirm with you the principle of internalising external costs, we are not sure whether additional costs can be added to agricultural products without unduly raising the costs of food in such a way that the poor will suffer further. More creative thinking needs to be done on this matter.
Finally, You yourselves have noted that you "are committed to continuing the concerns for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation". This commitment means that you need to reflect on the conviction that justice and peace lie at the heart of any Christian vision of sustainability. We would encourage you to think through this link in the years to come, and particularly as prepare your contribution for the European Ecumenical Assembly in Sibiu, Romania, 2007.
Friends, we deeply appreciate the work that you have done, and the lead that you are giving to the ecumenical movement in the focus on ecology in ECEN. Our points of concern are to be seen within the context of this appreciation, and we share these ideas with you so that together we may participate in a contribution to a sustainable Europe as a partner in a sustainable earth.