Sister and Brothers in Christ,
As we enter into the season of festivity and feasting, I am very conscious of the fact that the majority of the world population lives in poverty. I struggle with the contradiction of my middle-class existence, commitment to economic justice and care for creation in a world where neoliberal economic policies sometimes called “turbo-capitalism” sees unlimited growth as the only way of eliminating poverty.
Reports from COP23 are clear that with increased consumption and climate change our one and only planetary home will not be able to sustain us. We run the risk of losing many island states due to flooding and reducing other places on the planet to a dustbowl. Whilst wrestling with these issues, an article in The New York Times (November 8, 2017) caught my attention, “Are Christians Supposed to be Communist?” In this thought-provoking article David Bentley Hart, a fellow at the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study argues very convincingly that the first converts can be labelled “communalist” or “communitarian” as they redistributed their wealth ‘as each needed” (Acts 32-35) and owned all possessions communally following the pattern of Jesus, “Each of you who does not give up all he possesses is incapable of being my disciple’ (Luke 14:33)
David Bentley Hart points out that the early Christian writers like Justin Martyr, Tertullian, the anonymous treatise known as the Didache, Clement of Alexandria as well as the fifth century bishops and theologians like Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose of Milan and Cyril of Alexander “denounced private wealth as a form of theft and accumulated riches as plunder seized from the poor”. Hart claims that some of the pronouncements of the early church fathers on wealth and poverty “make Karl Marx and Mjkhail Bakunin sound like timid conservatives.” The big question is; how do those of us who don’t merely consider the New Testament a record of the past but an inspiration to tackle the challenges of our present age respond?
This Advent Season, I appeal to you to walk the path towards justice and express solidarity with the poor and oppressed. A cursory examination of the New Testament shows that Jesus was deeply concerned about economic activities. It saturates the Scriptures. Every 16th verse in the New Testament, every 10th verse in the Gospels, every 7th verse in Luke and every 5th verse in James speaks about money, yet John Haughey writes; “We read the Gospels as if we had no money – and we spend our money as if we know nothing of the Gospel“.
Please allow me to recommend three resources for Advent reading, Alternatives to Global Tyranny of Capital by Ulrich Duchrow, The Problem of Wealth by Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty and A Song for the Poor: Hymns by Charles Wesley by S.T. Kimbrough.
Additional resources from some of our member churches and ecumenical bodies can be found in this Advent issue, as well as stories of ministries and initiatives which aim to lift persons out of poverty and provide care to the most overlooked.
On behalf of the staff and Steering Committee of the World Methodist Council, we wish you and your family a blessed and joyful Christmas.
Ivan M Abrahams