At the end of a two-day seminar, the thirty participants representing the World Council of Churches (WCC), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) agreed to continue the process of dialogue started in Geneva on 13 and 14 February. They also identified four areas of concern that will be addressed in a series of encounters, the first of which will take place in Washington, D.C., next October.
The agreed themes are: the challenges of globalization; participation of the people in development, such as in Poverty Reduction Programmes and in debt resolution; the respective roles of the state and public and private sectors in development and poverty reduction efforts; and institutional governance and accountability, with regard to equity, justice and the distribution of wealth.
"This encounter was historic, because it has begun a process of dialogue and of common challenge," commented Aruna Gnanadason, coordinator of the WCC's team on Justice, Peace and Creation. This first step in the process "brought to the fore the urgency for reflections on the context of economic globalization and the grave inequalities in our world", Gnanadason said.
"Twenty years ago, or even ten years ago, a meeting like this would have been seen as just impossible," declared Bob Goudzwaard, in his opening remarks to the joint seminar at which the three institutions discussed their respective concepts of development, the evolution of their mandates and their different viewpoints on the creation of wealth, social justice and the privatization of public goods. Goudzwaard is professor emeritus of economics and a former member of the WCC Commission on the Churches' Participation in Development (CCPD).
Even today, as Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, general secretary of the WCC, noted in a letter addressed to seminar participants, "Many among the constituency of the World Council of Churches, particularly in the southern hemisphere, would question the wisdom and purpose of such a dialogue." All the same, he said, the seminar had brought together partners "who have so far had very little opportunity to talk face to face", and had created "a space where the difficult issues concerning the sustainability of the global human community can be faced with respect for the integrity of one another's convictions and commitments".
While the WCC's contribution to this dialogue has always been "informed by the insight and advice of competent experts", it has sought primarily "to articulate the voice of those who have little opportunity of influencing the decisions but have to bear their consequences", Raiser said. The WCC has tried in this way to give the dialogue "the human face which is a central focus of the present discussion".
At the conclusion of the seminar the participants agreed that it had met the conditions raised by Goudzwaard as essential if this series of encounters was to become a "really meaningful event" - "the willingness to listen carefully to each other" and "the willingness to agree, but also, if needed, to disagree".
Another condition mentioned by Goudzwaard was transparency. "The churches are nothing without their members," he said, stressing that there has to be feedback between constituencies and those taking part in the encounters if these "are to become really useful". One step in this direction is the decision taken to publish the papers presented at the seminar, to help make the process more open for such feedback.
By Albert H. Lee