The global economic system received a sharp moral critique from the president of the Baptist World Alliance in a report to worldwide Baptists meeting in Ede, Netherlands.
“[T]he current unfettered free market system is flawed,” said BWA president David Coffey, citing the opinion of “many Christian observers from a range of political backgrounds.”
The system destroys the planet, sustains global poverty, undermines human life by demanding too much hard work, allows a “tiny minority of wealthy individuals” to control great quantities of capital and exploits the poor, said Coffey, a British citizen, in his written report.
He urged support for “those Baptist voices who are calling for reform of international trade rules” and said Baptists needed “to bend our minds to consider what a global ‘Kingdom Economics'” might be.
“The challenging task of debating the strengths and weaknesses of a capitalist system needs to be supported by some careful self-examination of personal lifestyle,” said Coffey. “Christian disciples should accept the fresh challenge of adopting a personal lifestyle of simplicity, contentment and generosity.”
In his written report to BWA’s general council, Neville Callam, the organization’s general secretary, said, “Greed, self-seeking and reliance on acquisitive instincts … have led us down a very rough road.”
The BWA general council meets annually in different locations around the world, including Prague, Czech Republic; Accra, Ghana; and Mexico City. The council conducts organizational business, provides opportunities for affinity groups to discuss professional development matters, and holds forums for learning about special issues.
Callam, a Jamaican citizen, and Coffey both spoke to the need for a prophetic voice in their reports.
“I wish to invite my Baptist sisters and brothers to reaffirm our calling to engage in prophetic ministry,” said Callam. “[T]he action of the BWA needs to be seen, and the voice of the BWA needs to be heard, more decisively on vital issues affecting our world today.”
Both leaders also addressed the BWA’s 2009 letter of response to the Muslim initiative titled “A Common Word Between Us and You,” a 2007 letter from worldwide Muslim religious scholars to Christian leaders identifying common ground between two of the Abrahamic faith traditions.
Coffey shared his experiences in Jordan, where Muslim King Abullah II gave a generous gift to Baptists for a baptism center on the Jordan River, the same river where Jesus was baptized, although the exact location of his baptism is unknown.
Noting the difficulties of interfaith engagement between Muslims and Baptists, Coffey said, “Whoever undertakes this new journey will be aware it is fraught with pitfalls, but I know many of you share my conviction that it is timely to build bridges of respect and understanding with moderate Islam.”
Callam called for the establishment of a “commission on Christian-Muslim dialogue at the global level in which Baptists share.”
He acknowledged the need for local dialogues between Baptists and Muslims and recognized that such efforts did not depend on efforts on the global scale. Yet he saw the need for action at the global level to supplement local initiatives.
Callam also devoted a large portion of his report to the financial condition of the BWA, which reduced its 2009 budget by 29 percent in March.
“During the recent past, when all movements and institutions have traversed the minefield of economic collapse, the BWA has suffered enormous loss in our investments portfolio,” he said. “The net loss, during 2008 alone, stands at $1.6 million dollars!”
He spoke of a variety of fund-raising options to ensure the BWA’s work and future.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.