The Divine Economy & A Theology of Debt

September 22, 2011 by Rev. Dr. James A. Noel, San Francisco Theological Seminary/GTU
The following speech, now article, was presented at “Conference: Debits, Deficits and Doing the Right Thing” at Shiloh Church, 3295 School Street, Oakland, CA.

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Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.”
—Mark 12:17

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A Letter of Witness
On August 18th of this year, 2011, over 100 Protestant leaders from 12 different countries in Latin America sent a letter addressed to the Churches of the United States. Signers of the letter were: the presidents of the Protestant Councils and Alliances in countries such as Peru, Ecuador, Honduras, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, as well as directors of humanitarian aid and social action organizations… the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), Fellowship of Evangelical Churches (CONELA), the Association of Reformed and Presbyterian Churches of Latin America (AIPRAL), the Micah Network, Red del Camino (the Network of the Way), the Movement Together for Children and others. Denominational leaders who are signers include the Assembly of God, Baptists, Church of God, Free Brothers, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Reformed, and Episcopalians. Other signers include seminary rectors and presidents, directors of national Bible societies, professors of theology, and leaders of other professional Christian networks. Their letter reads:

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

We are fellow believers with you in the God who has never ceased reaching out to defend the poor and the excluded. We view with deep concern recent decisions in the United States that will add to the suffering of the most vulnerable members of U.S. society.

As people of faith who have ourselves lived through economic and political turbulence in recent decades, we join with U.S. religious leaders from all Christian faith traditions who are fulfilling their prophetic role by standing in solidarity with the poor. In such times, faith leaders must be true to their vocation and amplify the voices of the vulnerable millions that have been excluded from the heated political debates that have raged in Washington.

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Those who govern should know that the decisions made in your country have consequences for the economies of other nations around the world. In the medium and long term, they will affect the lives of millions of people in the countries of the Global South. It seems to us immoral that politicians, with some exceptions, embrace only the interests of the wealthy, preferring to cut social assistance to those in greatest need.

We know the generosity and solidarity of the American people and the assistance programs to the poor that operate through churches and civil society organizations in Latin America.

It is therefore inconceivable to us that the wealthy make no effort to take responsibility for the debt generated by the country as a whole. Paying more taxes will not bankrupt them. Cutting social benefits jeopardizes the lives of the retired, the sick and others who are in need. Is this not brutally unjust?

Therefore we, the undersigned Christian leaders of Latin America, write to express our solidarity with the people of the United States, especially those who embrace Christianity, who call for a true and just resolution to this crisis — a crisis that is not only economic, but also, and above all, moral.

We encourage you to join the efforts of various churches, including those called “Circle of Protection.” Our prayers are with you, dear brothers and sisters in the faith. Do not falter in your efforts, although these may be lonely times for people whose prophetic voice the politicians seem not to want to hear.

God is watching the politicians and will not stop telling them: “Give justice to the poor!”(Psalm 82:3)


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