A global gathering is  underway this week in Johannesburg, South Africa, bringing together members of Reformed churches worldwide who believe churches must be active in advocacy for economic justice and environmental protection.

The event — billed as the “Global Dialogue on The Accra Confession: Covenanting for Justice in the Economy and the Earth” — is convened by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) in cooperation with the South Africa Council of Churches (SACC).

Organizers expect approximately 60 people from 23 countries to participate in the Sept. 3-7 program at the Willow Park Conference Center in Johannesburg. Participants include theologians, advocates, economists and senior church officials.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is represented by the Rev. Robina Winbush, ecumenical officer in the Office of the General Assembly, and Sara Lisherness, director of Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries for the General Assembly Mission Council.

The event is designed to provide an opportunity for theological critique and socio-economic analysis of the global economic system and its impact on people and the environment.

WARC president Clifton Kirkpatrick, former PC(USA) General Assembly stated clerk, says the Johannesburg Global Dialogue event is key to assessing the reaction of member churches to a document known as the Accra Confession that was adopted by the global organization at meetings in Ghana in 2004.

The Confession rejects systems and structures which perpetuate economic injustice and ecological destruction and calls on churches to gather responses from their contexts about what is happening with the real economy.

“Recognizing that there are differing perspectives on the causes and possible responses to the impact of the global economic crisis on people and the environment, the gathering invites debate and information sharing among delegates,” says Kirkpatrick.

The report of the Global Dialogue is to be received at the upcoming world assembly of the Reformed church movement in June 2010, in Grand Rapids, MI. The Uniting General Council (UGC) will mark the merger of WARC and the Reformed Ecumenical Council to form the World Communion of Reformed Churches. Social justice is expected to be a central programmatic and theological focus for the new organization.

Omega Bula of the United Church of Canada and one of the longtime participants in the evolution of WARC’s social justice stance says the churches’ work on economic justice is more critical today than ever. “The sustainability of the earth community is at stake.”

Bula expects the results of the dialogue in Johannesburg to enable WARC to “build bridges between the analysis and our theological imperatives for our work and action in preparation for the UGC.”

Johann Weusmann from the Evangelical Reformed Church in Germany says that on-going dialogue between churches in Germany and in South Africa about differences in their perspectives on the causes of economic inequality and appropriate church response has been productive. 

“As a church from the global North and a church from the global South we have learned together in this project that working towards a more just economy is essential to the integrity of our common Christian faith”, says Weusmann who is vice-president of his church.

Helis Barraza Díaz of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia says the purpose of the consultation is to allow churches to engage in economic, social and environmental concerns as committed Christians. “We in the churches have to raise our voices, to show that in face of an economic model of greed and exclusion, the Lord calls for a model of love and selfless dedication: a model of sharing.”

Barraza Díaz who serves as moderator of WARC’s social justice network adds, “It is not about expressing opposite points of view on what churches have to do. The problems are obvious really.”

The deputy general secretary of the SACC, Vuyani Vellem, says the consultation is opportune for churches in South Africa to participate in the formulation of answers for the country’s economy.

Noting that political liberation in South Africa has been celebrated for 15 years, Vellem says, “It seems with what is going on in public life today, masses of our people have become more disenchanted with the promises of democracy that have not responded to material needs. The consultation will show the commitment of the SACC to the economic challenges of the people.”

Program highlights for the Global Dialogue include:

  • A plenary session on the current economic and social situation in South Africa led by Mohau Pheko, Coordinator of the African Gender and Trade Network (GENTA);
  • Public dialogue on contrasting theological and justice perspectives on the global economy led by Allan Boesak (South Africa), Martina Wasserloos-Strunk (Germany) and Carmencita Karadag (Philippines); and
  • Community visits to allow delegates to interact with people who live daily with the impact of the current economic crisis and changes in weather patterns.