Empires suppressing the poor to extinction, says WSCF meeting

August 2006

The World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) is now urging its affiliate national and local movements to help create resistance to "empire" whose agenda is to control and dominate others for selfish gains.

Converging in Nairobi, Kenya from July 31 to August 9, 2006 to deliberate on the theme 'Empire, Christians and Basilea' the WSCF Inter-Regional Programme resolved that the local and national movements should organise events to promote awareness of empire and create spaces of resistance by people, both inside and outside the movement.

The WSCF meeting defined empire as the coherence of economic, cultural, political, religious and military powers that constitute a global system of domination. Examples (of imperial actors) include World Trade Organisation, European Union, IMF, World Bank, just to mention a few. Such domination manifests in local, regional and global systems of exploitation and domination.

Addressing the same gathering on July 31, at the Archbishop Desmond Tutu Ecumenical Centre at the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), the Director of AACC Programmes, Mr. Arthur Shoo had hit at empires, saying they have always worked to stifle the poor and weak. He said in the agenda of empire, people "without money do not have the right to exist".

Mr. Shoo lamented that the world was witnessing a time of imperial consolidation, with empires aspiring to be global. Further, he noted that where resources exist, in the agenda of empire(s) they ought to be at the disposition not of the imperial state, but of those private interests that constitute the economic essence of the empire.

Mr. Shoo who was representing the AACC General Secretary, Rev. Dr. Dandala Mvume, said empires attach more value to benefits at the expense of human life and dignity and therefore they have put restrictions on travel by people, especially the poor across borders while capital (can) "travel" throughout the world without restriction if it benefits the most powerful sectors. He termed this as transfer of the rights of human beings to things and financial fictions. He gave an example of Mexican people who can not cross to the USA because of such restrictions.

"People's right to health is subordinated to the patent rights of legal entities and to registered trademarks," said Mr. Shoo. He lamented that empires distorted and reversed the meaning and sense of human life since everything must be subordinated to the law of profit.

Mr. Shoo said empires should know that what they are doing is against God's preference. He said God does not compromise with the scandal of unjust wealth amidst massive human misery and deprivation. Mr. Shoo noted that there has been theological misunderstanding of poverty even by some churches that have made it appear as if God loves or glorifies poverty because Jesus said "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20).

Mr. Shoo said such misinterpretation made it appear that if one is poor, then he is close to the Kingdom of God. He also took issue with the Gospel of prosperity being spread by some churches, promising special blessings and wealth to those who donate to the church. This kind of theology aggravates poverty as it distracts people from challenging the structural injustices and exploitations which exist. Mr. Shoo said poverty is a result of human selfishness and God takes the side of the poor because he is a victim of injustice and aggression in the hands of the powerful and promises them His Kingdom.

In their final statement, the WSCF recommended that a study of empire be done from a contextual, Biblical and theological perspective, local branches be mobilised to recognise and respond to the manifestations of empire in their local context, local and national branches promote and engage in community-based initiatives within their localities as a way to create alternatives to empire.

Also among other resolutions, the WSCF meeting resolved that its branches should build alliances with churches and other local groups that work to respond to empire. It encouraged WSCF regional bodies to reformulate the definition of empire to reflect the specific context of the region, and to select an aspect of empire which particularly affects the region and work extensively around that issue to build awareness, seek solidarity and promote action.

By Joseph Owiti in The African Christian Pulse AACC Newsletter, August 2006