Poverty is a problem of the rich, LWF South African meeting says

Nov 11, 2002 03:00 AM EST

Johannesburg - The living conditions of the poor cannot be solved through charity alone, said participants at a Lutheran World Federation (LWF) conference in South Africa this week. The social service of the church, or "diakonia", is about more than the strong serving the weak, which could become paternalistic. "Those who benefit at the expense and exploitation of the poor must be named, confronted and brought to justice," delegates said in a closing statement before the conference ended Thursday. "Those of us who are rich materially need to learn how to relinquish power, and realize how radical is God's grace. Those of us who are poor need to claim our God-given rights to life and livelihood." The 3-7 November consultation on "Prophetic Diakonia - For the Healing of the World" brought together more than 80 representatives from Lutheran churches, partner organizations and social service agencies world-wide. The participants called on member churches to be more active in tackling poverty, violence and HIV/AIDS, identified as the three major challenges facing the world.

Dr. Tapio Saraneva, director of FinnChurchAid, and a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, said in an interview after the conference concluded that a new development paradigm was needed to tackle poverty. The present theory looked at poverty entirely as a problem of the poor. A new way of thinking would focus on the rich and how their greed helped to make the poor poorer. The richest 20 per cent of the world's population were 78 times wealthier than the poorest 20 per cent, the relief agency director said. The new way of looking at the problem would focus on the rich and how their greed helped to make the poor poorer.

By Peter Fabricius