Ecumenical Sharing of Resources
1989 Church of the Brethren Statement
These Guidelines were formulated by the delegates at the World Consultation on Resource Sharing, held in El Escorial, Spain, October 24-31, 1987. The Church of the Brethren delegate was Peggy Reiff Miller, then a General Board member. Some of those around the table may remember her report to this board at the March Meeting last year.
Context of the Consultation
The end of the 20th century marks the beginning of a new era in Christian history. For the first time in Christian history the church is genuinely global. Indeed, Christians in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Pacific outnumber Christians in North America and Europe. This reality of the presence of Christians in all cultures and climes around the world calls for a new perspective on the church’s mission and service.
We in the West are called to a transformation of our minds. For many years we have projected an image of the world in which “Christian” Europe and North America were the center and the rest of the world was many fields for mission. Many churches and Christians continue to see themselves as belonging to one of two categories: Christian world or non-Christian world; old or young; sending or being-sent-to. We are called instead to think in terms of a worldwide community of churches.
There are structures in the world that separate Christians and churches from one another, that make it difficult for us really to live as a worldwide community. These Guidelines for Sharing are an attempt to lay the ground work for fostering a community of churches locally and globally. One of the greatest gaps growing between Christians and churches is due to the unequal distribution of economic resources in the world. Rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless, the privileged and the marginalized are becoming farther and farther apart. Christians and churches participate in this reality. The rich churches can no longer claim that to give their material resources for the alleviation of need and for development is their contribution to erasing this inequity. The call is for the sharing of material and financial resources to go together with sharing power across the structures that separate. Such sharing could build up a community of churches around the world.
What does this mean concretely? The central issue is power. Most church structures perpetuate the division of roles between donors and recipients of funds. The power to set priorities and to take decisions remains all too often with those who control the resources. This creates and continues the dependency of the poor. As churches we have too easily succumbed to this power of the world: to preserve one’s own interest and to exert control over others. The power of Christ points us in another way. In his ministry and his ultimate act of self-giving, Christ empowered the poor and taught the rich to let go of their power and possessions. This sort of sharing will lead to the community among Christians and churches that is surely God’s shalom.
These Guidelines, then, are at once a call to repentance and a call to commitment. We are called to repent inasmuch as we have conformed to the ways of the world. We are called to commitment to renewed community. The consultation formulated Guidelines, not a statement or a report, to give us concrete handles on how to live out our repentance and our commitment. In adopting them for General Board planning Goals for the ’90s, we join a process in which many of our sisters and brothers in Christ are participating: a process whose vision is sisters and brothers from churches around the world sitting down around a table together as partners in mission and service in Christ’s name.
Guidelines for Sharing
Out of abundant and outgoing love. God has created the world, and has given it to all humanity for faithful use and sharing. As recipients of God’s gift of life, we are called to see the world through God’s eyes, offering it in blessing through our own acts of love, sharing and appropriate use.
But, because of our sin and selfishness, we have misused God’s gift. We have allowed the interests of a few to diminish the life of many. It has led to the rise of unjust structures which perpetrate dependence and poverty for the majority of the world’s people. This surely is contrary to the purpose of God.
It is in the midst of this sinful reality that in Jesus Christ God offered God’s very self for the life of the world. Jesus’ self-emptying love on the cross leads us to repentance. It becomes the power and pattern of our sharing.
The presence of the Risen Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit enables us to break down barriers and renew structures, preparing for the coming of God’s Kingdom of justice and peace.
The new life given by the Holy Spirit in Christ creates us as a new people—members of one body, bearing one another’s burdens and sharing together in God’s gift of life for all.
In the Eucharist, we offer to God ourselves and the whole of creation in its brokenness, and receive all things back anew. The Eucharist sends us back into the world to be Christ’s body, broken and shared for the life of the world.
As the first-fruits of the new humanity, the Church is called to stand in solidarity with all people, particularly with the poor and the oppressed, and to challenge the value systems of this world.
Having confidence in the grace of God in Jesus Christ, who alone through the Holy Spirit enables us to live in obedience to the Divine will, we, the participants in the World Consultation on Resource Sharing, coming from different regions, commit ourselves to a common discipline of sharing among all God’s people.
In all such sharing we commit ourselves:
1. To a fundamentally new value system based on justice, peace and the integrity of creation. It will be a system that recognizes the rich resources of human communities, their cultural and spiritual contributions and the wealth of nature. It will be radically different from the value system on which the present economic and political orders are based and which lies behind the current crises like those of nuclear threat and industrial pollution.
2. To a new understanding of sharing in which those who have been marginalized by reason of sex, age, economic and political condition, ethnic origin and disability, and those who are homeless, refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants take their place at the centre of all decisions and actions as equal partners.
This means, for example, that
—churches, councils and networks will establish for this purpose ecumenical mechanisms both nationally and regionally.
—equitable representation will be provided for women and youth in decision making structures.
3. To identify with the poor and oppressed and their organized movements in the struggle for justice and human dignity in church and society. This in turn will imply the refusal to participate, either as giver or receiver, in ways of sharing that undermine this struggle.
4. To bear witness to the mission of God by identifying, exposing and confronting at all levels the root causes, and the structures of injustice which lead to the exploitation of the wealth and people of the third world and result in poverty and the destruction of creation. This entails working for a new economic and political order.
This would mean, for example, that the churches of the North and the South commit themselves to strengthen and participate in the various anti-nuclear movements and to bring pressure upon governments to stop nuclear testing and the dumping of nuclear waste. It will also mean joining with the people in their struggle against transnational corporations, militarism and foreign intervention and occupation.
5. To enable people to organize themselves and realize their potential and power as individuals and communities, working towards the kind of self-reliance and self-determination that are an essential condition of interdependence.
6. To be open to one another as friends on the basis of common commitment, mutual trust, confession and forgiveness, keeping one another informed of all plans and programmes and submitting ourselves to mutual accountability and correction.
This implies, for example, the implementation of mutual accountability and participation in decision making between the South and the North.
7. To represent to one another our needs and problems in relationships where there are no absolute donors, or absolute recipients, but all have needs to be met and gifts to give, and to work for the structural changes in the institutions of the North and the South which this calls for.
8. To promote through words and deeds the holistic mission of the church in obedience to God’s liberating will. We are convinced that in responding only to certain parts of the mission we distort and disrupt mission as a whole.
9. To participate in the struggles of people for justice, and thereby overcome all barriers between different faiths and ideologies which today divide the human family.
This means, for example, churches in East and West making use of all opportunities to strengthen the process of detente and integrating the resources freed by this process for ecumenical sharing.
10. To resist international mechanisms (such as the International Monetary Fund/World Bank) which deprive the people of the South of their resources, transferring for example their hard-earned capital, which is more than the aid they receive, in payment of foreign debt thereby putting them in a state of perpetual dependence—contributing instead to a fundamental and just redistribution of the wealth and resources of a country including the wealth of its churches.
11. To devise ways of shifting the power to set priorities and terms for the use of resources to those who are wrongfully denied both the resources and the power, such as movements for social justice.
This would imply that participation of the South in the decision making must not only be on a consultative basis as it is practiced today.
12. To facilitate and encourage mutual involvement among the churches and people in the South who have common concerns, for example through the sharing of human resources.
13. To promote and strengthen ecumenical sharing at all levels, national, regional and international.
Ecumenical sharing of resources will take place at all these three levels:
Relations between bodies at the three levels of sharing should be characterized by flexibility, . . . (a way that is complementary), and mutual power sharing.
All levels of implementation should recognize and work towards the goal of an equitable representation of 50 percent women and 20 percent youth in all decision making structures over the next five years.
At the Local Level
The initiative to obtain resources from national and international agencies should, as far as possible, be taken by the local community.
In situations where local ecumenical groups and churches are not working together and where it prevents resource sharing, the process should be facilitated through local community action, and every effort made to encourage ecumenical cooperation among groups and churches.
At the National and Regional Levels
Where national or regional mechanisms for resource sharing do not exist the need to set them up must be seen as a matter of urgency. These mechanisms may consist of representatives of churches, ecumenical groups and those popular or people’s movements which are involved in the struggle for justice, peace and full human development.
These bodies should constantly and critically examine their own composition and activities and the power structures inside and outside the church, in order to achieve a more just and equitable resource sharing. They should invite and facilitate both dialogue and critical assessment through visiting teams from the churches or groups with whom they share resources, to enhance mutuality and sharing of power. International agencies should take part in the activities of these bodies only when invited.
It is important to educate public opinion in all our countries regarding the structural causes of world economic disorder. This can be done in theological training centres, for example, with the help of witnesses from among partners in sharing.
The regional level is where methods for monitoring resource sharing can be most effectively established.
At the International Level
International ecumenical resource sharing bodies must be based on equal representation of the partners involved. They should complement the national/regional and local decision making bodies, for example through round table structures and through the sharing of all relevant information, including financial, of projects/programmes among the partners involved.
All Christian World Communions and ecumenical organizations are called on to take part in the ecumenical sharing of resources through the WCC and to adhere to the discipline emerging from this Consultation.
The WCC is called to a better integration of existing units and sub-units of the Council, and as far as possible, to coordinate the channelling of its resources through existing networks.
It is recommended that the WCC set up a mechanism to follow up the implementation of the discipline emerging from this Consultation.
We will follow this discipline ourselves. We will try to create a climate in which it is understood and welcomed. We will challenge our churches, their peoples and their agencies to accept it.
We will urge acceptance of this discipline beyond the membership of the WCC. We will refuse cooperation when this discipline is explicitly being rejected. We will create opportunities to develop new ecumenical partnerships to enable churches of different traditions and contexts to enrich one another.
We will support one another in our commitment. We undertake to give an account to each other and so to God, of the ways in which we have turned our words into deeds, within a period of three years.
Action of the General Board, March 7, 1989
Voted to adopt the Guidelines for Sharing for use in formulating objectives for Goals for the ’90s and to commend the Guidelines to the 1989 Annual Conference for adoption for use by congregations and districts in their planning for Goals for the ’90s.
Judy Mills Reimer, Chairperson
Donald E. Miller, General Secretary
Action of the 1989 Annual Conference
Esther Frey, a Standing Committee delegate from the Illinois/Wisconsin district, presented the recommendation from Standing Committee that the 1989 Annual Conference adopt the paper, Ecumenical Sharing of Resources. The delegate body adopted the recommendation of Standing Committee.