And Isaiah said the Lord called to His people to « …loose the fetters of injustice,…untie the knots of the yoke…and set free those who have been crushed.’’ (Isaiah 58:6)
It’s a call that has been picked up in Canada by a remarkably broad, and very powerful, alliance of Christian churches and agencies.
They are taking aim at the ongoing globalization of markets, and are saying that the « free market’’ mentality behind it is the source of great injustice. And that it is the role of Christianity to confront this mentality, and lift the yoke of oppression from both people and the environment.
This mentality, they say in a booklet entitled A Call for Jubilee: A New Beginning, embraces « a view which places land for profit, people for profit, and economic control at the centre of life — a view which the Bible describes as idolatry.’’
The alliance, which is more a movement than a structured body, finds its inspiration in Leviticus, verse 25, which tells of the Lord delivering His laws to Moses on Mount Sinai. He tells Moses that every « fiftieth year shall be your jubilee,’’ (25:12) during which time debts shall be cancelled, and lands redeemed by their original owners.
« No land shall be sold outright,’’ God tells Moses, « because the land is mine, and you are coming into it as aliens and settlers.’’
The alliance sees this, in today’s world, as a metaphor for social justice. An injunction that demands sharing. That says those who have the most shall not endlessly continue getting the most. That people are part of nature, not its possessors.
It’s a framework of thinking that sees the Bible as calling for distributive justice, not retributive justice, and brings the alliance to such issues as climate change, labelling of genetically altered food, Aboriginal land claims, abolition of nuclear weapons, redistribution of work, drafting of an alternative federal budget, elimination of child poverty, confronting Canadian and global sweatshops, debt relief for poor nations, and fair trade in agriculture.
Participants look to the Letter of James, where he says, « If (faith) does not lead to action, it is in itself a lifeless thing.’’ (2:17)
Involved in the alliance are the United Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the Mennonite Central Committee, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Christian Reformed Church, the Presbyterian Church, and a broad assortment of Christian-based agencies.
They have given themselves three years to develop initiatives based around three themes: Release from Bondage, under which they confront the « debt slavery’’ of poor nations, and « worker enslavement’’ which can be seen in « the unjust working conditions of the new global economy’’; Redistribution of Wealth, where they confront the enormous and growing gap between rich and poor; and Renewal of the Earth, where they confront « the ecological crisis of catastrophic proportions which we are already experiencing.’’ They are half way through the three-year period.
What gives the alliance particular strength are its roots going back a hundred and more years — to the eighteen nineties when the Social Gospel became a powerful motivating source among Protestants, and led directly to the introduction of old age pensions, workers compensation, the minimum wage, and medicare. And, among Catholics, to the Workers’ Pope, Leo XIII, whose encyclical Rerum Novarum (New Things) declared that « Working Men have been given over, isolated and defenceless, to the callousness of employers and the greed of unrestrained competition.’’
Leo’s aligning of the Church with the poor was cornerstone for the birth of liberation theology at Medellín, Colombia, in 1968, and the Justice in the World declaration of the Synod of Bishops in Rome in 1971, which focused on « structural injustice.’’
The current pope has blunted the sharper corners of liberation theology and the bishops’ declaration, but he has continued, even strengthened, the alignment of the Catholic Church with the poor.
If your local church doesn’t have a copy of A Call for Jubilee, ask your priest or pastor to get you one. It’s an essential document of our times.
Next Week: idolatry of markets