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“Daily Bread” Instead of Greed
Public Statement adopted by the 11th Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation, July 27, 2010, on economic and climate justice.
LWF call for economic and climate justice
The 2003 LWF Assembly declared that:
As a communion, we must engage the false ideology of neoliberal economic globalization …(which is) grounded in the assumption that the market, built on private property, unrestrained competition and the centrality of contracts, is the absolute law governing human life, society and the natural environment. This is idolatry and leads to the systematic exclusion of those who own no property, the destruction of cultural diversity, the dismantling of fragile democracies and the destruction of the earth.Since then, the logic, practices and outcomes of neoliberal economic globalization have continued proliferating, ravaging vulnerable communities, countries and the rest of creation. Many have lost their means of livelihood, their life savings and their sense of a future. Premises of unlimited economic growth, fueled especially by carbon consumption, are jeopardizing the planet’s future and that of life as we have known it—especially the lives and lands of those who are the most vulnerable. Climate change is accelerating, as evident through increasingly severe and frequent storms, rising seas and devastating droughts. It also contributes to more severe food shortages, the increased spread of diseases, conflicts over scarce land and water and the forced migration of people as they seek the “daily bread” they require.
As a communion, we have already addressed many manifestations of these crises, locally and globally, and in collaboration with ecumenical and civil society partners. Over the past year, we have been on a pilgrimage in many places, e.g., witnessing the dramatic effects of climate change and poverty in places such as India and Kenya. At various pre-assemblies, we have heard how especially women and children bear the burden of food shortages, and of the many ways in which an unjust economic system impoverishes the most vulnerable parts of the suffering creation.
Recently, global financial crises and environmental disasters have dramatically exposed the underlying scandalous greed—of seeking profit through any means. As a faith-based organization, it is crucial that we speak to greed, which at its root is a deeply spiritual matter. Systemic greed dominates, enslaves and distorts God’s intentions for human communities and all of creation. This is in direct contradiction to the petition, “Give us today our daily bread,” which is based on the conviction that there will be enough for all. As churches, we may feel powerless to confront or challenge these contradictions, but if we succumb to this domination of sin and hopelessness, we betray the faith we confess.
Thus, at this 2010 Assembly,
As a global communion, we bear witness to how “daily bread” and “greed” clash:
While there are complex factors and analyses involved in each of the above examples, the underlying issue is excessive personal, systemic and structural greed. This is not only a social, economic, and political scandal but also a deeply spiritual problem. Greed haunts each of our societies, as well as our churches, when decisions are made and actions are taken that benefit a few at the expense of the many. The systemic greed built into the logic and practices that permeate our lives and world is in direct contradiction to the heart of the prayer, “Give us today our daily bread.”
As Christians, we cannot pray this petition without protesting the many ways in which greed prevails over the generosity for all which this prayer affirms. The dominant economic model today is based on assumptions of scarcity—in opposition to the biblical view of enough for all. The overexploitation of natural resources is based on assumptions of endless plentitude—in opposition to the biblical view that human beings are to be the stewards or caretakers of God’s creation. The interrelated crises we face today have come about because human beings have reversed and thus violated both of these divine mandates in Genesis.
Instead of a sense that God will provide what we need, what prevails today is a perverse sense that nature will provide according to the dictates of boundless human greed. Greed has led to practices such as deforestation and the extraction and burning of fossil fuels which have furthered climate change. Climate change can be seen as nature’s protest against what is occurring. Tragically, the people and lands most dramatically affected usually are less at fault than are wider forces, policies and developments to which the people and lands most vulnerable to climate change are held captive. The lands and peoples most devastated usually are not those that draw the attention of the media. Such tragedies are driven by quests for ever-higher profit and economic growth.
To a large extent, economic crises are evoked by practices of inordinate greed in quest of ever-greater financial gain. In a reversal of biblical values, greed has become acceptable, taken for granted, and encouraged as necessary for economic recovery or prosperity. We must name and denounce the practices, systems, assumptions and logic underlying and perpetuating these contradictions or injustices. In doing so, we are inspired and emboldened by the biblical witness, by Jesus, and by our forebears such as Martin Luther.
The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah cried out, “From the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying “Peace, peace,” where there is not peace (Jer 6:13). According to the prophet Ezekiel, the great sin of the people of Sodom was that they were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned, and “did not aid the poor and needy” (Ezek 16:49).
In the Gospels, Jesus drew a stark contrast between the logic of God who provides “daily bread” and that of humans seeking economic gain at the expense of others: “You cannot serve God and wealth (mammon) ” (Mt 6:24; Lk 16:13). The early Christians were urged to be on their guard against all kinds of greed (Lk 12:15), to flee from it (1 Tim 6:11) or to kill it (Col 3:5). In the early church, Basil the Great referred to the greedy as those not satisfied with what suffices for their needs, and who do not share what they have with others. Martin Luther spoke out against sinful systems and practices that oppressed and impoverished people. He clearly said “No” to practices of the banking and trading companies of his time: “Nothing good can come of them. If the trading companies are to survive, justice and honesty must perish. If justice and honesty are to survive, the trading companies must perish” (WA 15, 312). He was referring not only to a few greedy individuals, but to the system and assumptions upon which it was based, in which making ever more money became divorced from meeting human need.
As a Lutheran communion, we are called to speak out against similar systemic injustices in our day, because related crises of faith still are at stake. In the sixteenth century, the crisis was over the gospel that frees people from the fear and bondage of sin, which became embedded in systems needing to be challenged. Today, people also are in fear and bondage -- over the sin of greed, as embedded in the economic system. They fear what the future will hold, unless dramatic changes are made for the sake of global economic and environmental justice.
While greed has been prevalent throughout human history, under modern neoliberal capitalism, the virus of insatiability (never having enough) has turned into a general epidemic. All aspects of life tend to be valued in terms of their monetary worth or potential financial gain. Greed often hides under a mask of good intentions and practices of respectable people. In fact, a certain amount of greed is considered “good”—necessary for the market economy to function. In this sense, greed has become systemic—built into the reigning reality that is accepted as inevitable. In order to function within this system, individuals are socialized to become greedy. Although some individuals may seem particularly greedy, focusing only on them can keep us from seeing how the various systems in which we all participate are what perpetuate and legitimize patterns and practices of greed. Greed is a part of us; it is not just “out there.” Systemic greed becomes like the domination or bondage of sin that is expressed through the theology of Paul (e.g., Rom 6) and Luther. It becomes the idol, for which lives, communities and the rest of creation are sacrificed. Money and financial markets take on a life of their own—with the creation of an endless variety of new financial instruments for making quick, hyper-profits. More than just a medium of exchange, money has become a commodity from which ever larger profits are promised and expected. When these promises are betrayed—or when the system collapses—the undergirding idolatry is exposed. Operating within this system, frantic attempts to rescue financial systems and ecosystems turn to tools, technologies or approaches consistent with its logic, which in some cases make matters worse. Language is used to obfuscate the greed involved, in increasingly sophisticated ways that even insiders cannot understand, much less responsibly regulate. If politicians propose measures to regulate or reign in the craftily devised means for achieving greater profit over others, they may be punished by declines in the stock market. The real economy of jobs and what is needed for daily life has increasingly become captive to gyrations of the virtual economy of finance and trading -- the reigning god in our world today.
Responding as churches
As churches we confess that we too are caught up in these realities. We too live in the grip of a relentless pursuit of unlimited progress and prosperity that all too often is fueled by greed. We too seek advantages for ourselves at the expense of others. We too live under the reign of sin. Yet at the same time, we also live under the reign of God’s grace, compassion, justice and generosity. Instead of remaining captive to the principalities and powers. we are liberated by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit to resist the inner logic of personal and structural greed. Living out of this Christian freedom rather than out of fear, we are able to lift the veil from our eyes to see, unblock our ears to hear, and unleash our wills to act. We face these crises with a sense of God’s indwelling, abiding presence, which empowers us to speak and act.
We recognize that negotiating the tension between the two reigns -- of grace (daily bread) vs. greed -- is the ongoing struggle of discipleship. In our churches we call for teaching and preaching that clearly names the tensions operating in our respective contexts, and for ongoing spiritual formation that enables people to deal with these tensions in their own lives.
We will name, analyze and publicly denounce the domination of capital accumulation over people and earth in the present economic and political system, as well as the blatantly greedy practices of large businesses and financial institutions. We will call them to account for the consequences of their actions, including through the inter-relationships we share with our sisters and brothers in this global communion. We will advocate with governments and inter-governmental organizations for the development and enforcement of adequate regulations of financial transactions, trade and investment, which -- if unrestrained -- expedite greed at the expense of the most vulnerable.
We recognize and will speak out against the ways in which economic and environmental injustices are inter-related. There must be drastic reductions in carbon-based consumption for the sake of reducing global warming trends, through measures that share the responsibility globally. Those who have contributed most to the problem should bear most of the cost for adaptation and mitigation, especially for the sake of those in the world who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The world's wealthiest nations must assume responsibility for the ecological debt they have created, and for the disasters that perpetuate carbon colonialism in the developing world.
We will engage with those of other faiths, and with the rest of civil society in efforts to subvert structural greed and develop alternatives that are life-giving and sustaining for all.
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