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Illegitimate Debt | Participants Comment

How is your church addressing the issue of illegitimate debt? Why is illegitimate debt a “daily bread” issue that the church should be taking action on?

Rev. Martina Helmer-Pham Xuan, Evangelical Lutheran Mission in Lower Saxony, Adviser

How | My church is somewhat aware of this issue and has had some campaigns about it. However, it is not a subject that comes up at many gatherings at home. We are aware, but we are not talking about it. I was shocked, really, to find out how long Lutherans have been working on this issue.

When the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forgave debt in Brazil, we were very happy, but it wasn’t something that came into our churches at the grassroots level. People think it’s a secular issue, but of course this is linked to all of us. Some of those who had been 1960s radicals just do not consider the link. But we all are involved.

Why | We must have concrete information about this issue. The financial complexities and sheer “data” can seem too far away. It is important for people to know that our pastors have been working with the IMF and such organizations for 30 years. And our brothers and sisters around the world are affected.

For congregations, it is very important to find out about illegitimate debt and come to understand it. The long-time effect of this will change people’s perspectives.

© LWF/Ratna Leak

Gunstein Instefjord, Church of Norway, Delegate

How | Through our church’s specialized agencies, with the support of individual churches, we have had campaigns in Norway addressing illegitimate debt. In Norway, illegitimate debt goes back to a crisis in the shipyards, when the government tried to rescue ship companies by selling [ships] to other countries–even though these other governments had big debts and problems.

In 2006, church aid youth called Changemakers began advocating for change. Eventually, Norway cancelled all debts related to the shipyard deal, and the government used the term “co-responsible.” That admission is unique. Norway is the only country to have admitted co-responsibility, to say that, when you throw money at people, you also have a responsibility.

Why | It is obvious. As a very simple example: if the Philippines, South America, Argentina and others actually care about paying back loans given to past dictators–and used to oppress people–it will lead to even less food, medicine, and education in their countries.

If you lend to a dictator who oppresses people, you should not expect those people to pay back the debt.

Today we have situations where new democracies have to pay back loans that were never ethical in the beginning and that affect the development possible in those countries.

© LWF/Ratna Leak

Rev. Meghan Johnston Aelabouni, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Delegate

How | On a more national level — through church-wide agencies and offices — our church must advocate, as the United States is a very major player in this situation.

Locally, as a parish pastor, the first challenge is to increase awareness that illegitimate debt is such an important issue. Then people must realize that they have a voice through the larger, wider church. Many people don’t really think that they can involve themselves.

For some this is very difficult because they come from a perspective that it is not appropriate for churches to address what they consider to be political issues. They favor a secular approach in a time of economic crisis.

But the Christian perspective is that this debt affects all of us; it affects our brothers and sisters in Christ everywhere, and so it is important to our fellow citizens.

Why | This morning I preached in a German congregation about daily bread. Daily bread can be complicated. Often we don’t see the connection between the physical things we need to survive and the whole economic system. This system can be broken, and this can prevent people from having access to daily bread.

Illegitimate debt shows how the sins of our forebears are visited upon following generations. But we ask for forgiveness and we forgive.

But we remember, too, that giving gifts to our neighbors and then exploiting them makes it no longer a gift. We cannot give gifts to our neighbors and then exploit those neighbors for maximum gain for ourselves. This is an issue of daily bread, when we take from others to have too much ourselves.


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