Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Expert Witnesses
distributed 6/27/03 - ©2003

The Bible insists that two or more witnesses testify to a crime. It is a common sense protection against a single angry person raising false charges against an innocent neighbor.

At the National Council of Churches eco-justice conference last weekend, there was no problem meeting the biblical requirements for testimony. Speaker after speaker named the faults of the modern, globalized economy. There is no shortage of evidence that the dominant systems of the world are failing, both morally and practically.

As I go back over my notes from the weekend, I am struck by the close parallels between two of the keynote presentations. Theologian Sallie McFague and economist David Korten approached the subject of Sustainable Living in a Global World from very different backgrounds and perspectives, but their testimonies were a perfect match.

Both began with an affirmation that the conference theme is appropriate (no -- essential) for religious consideration. Korten stressed that our current crisis is fundamentally a spiritual crisis, and that the solution must also be spiritual. It has to do with the basic human questions of knowing and choosing between good and evil. McFague spoke of religion as addressing "who we are in the scheme of things," and as providing a worldview underlying the assumed "house rules" by which we live our daily lives.

The keynoters were in tight harmony as they laid out two options for our world. Sallie used the labels of "market capitalism" and "ecological economics"; David's headings were "corporate globalization" and "civil society" (or, in more vivid phrasing, "corporate sociopaths" and "living enterprises").

The now-dominant system of globalization was described historically, functionally, and morally by the primary speakers, respondents, and workshop leaders. Others at the conference added the vivid detail of story and song to buttress the rational arguments. And all those witnesses agree.

The current way of the world is not working. The depletion of resources is bankrupting the planet -- even as it appears to create more monetary wealth. Real costs to individuals, societies and the Earth are discounted or ignored as "externalities." Social inequality is growing. Democracy is being strangled. Greed is the primary motivator.

The many witnesses were unified in their criticisms, and in their assertions that a different world is both possible and necessary. That other model for organizing society is one with deep roots into the Judeo-Christian tradition.

The alternative vision is grounded in community and relationship. It applies principles of distributive justice to scarce and limited resources. It affirms democracy and participation. It looks beyond the monetary and material in defining the good life. It denounces greed. It invites everyone to come to the table.

Korten and McFague both named the dangers of assuming that money and corporations have some sort of reality beyond what we have given them. Of believing that those human creations reflect not only how things are, but how they must be.

Sallie gave voice to a strong warning: that when the assumptions and values of religion, economic systems and government all agree, a "sacred canopy" is created which legitimates ways of believing and acting. Under such a unified canopy, definitions of "truth" are unquestioned, and large questions of justice are never asked.

In the US, it is clear that government policy and economic theory now reinforce each other. McFague reminded us that, in such a setting, Christianity supports market capitalism when it does not denounce it. Our silence allows the canopy to spread in power and influence. She called on us to "name the structures for what they are: evil." Korten urged us to name the lies that support corporate globalization.

Deuteronomy says, "Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained." Last weekend, in Seattle, there was no doubt about the verdict.

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I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to hear the wise, learned and impassioned testimony of expert witnesses like McFague and Korten. I am thankful for the creative wisdom that bubbled up out of the community and conversation at the conference, drawing on the insights and experiences of hundreds of faithful people. I have been enriched and strengthened by participating in such an excellent event.

In the long haul, though, that event will be meaningless if it does not inform and motivate the ecumenical church community toward change. We must do what we can to shred the new sacred canopy of globalization. We must lift up a contrasting vision of shalom -- of peace, justice and harmony for all of God's creation. We must lift up sustainability as the realistic alternative to an ideology of growth.

Our churches must join in the movement for a new civil society to modify or replace globalized capitalism. We can do so with education and activism, by telling stories and by naming lies. We can do so by connecting the roots of our faith with the latest news.

It is not enough to hear the testimony of courageous witnesses. We must also decide between competing visions, and work diligently to embody our chosen vision.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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