GEM School inspires proposals for economic justice for all

by Cheon Young Cheol

Taking place from August 21 to September 1, 2023, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a city marked by stark socio-economic disparities, the 6th iteration of the Ecumenical School on Governance, Economics, and Management for an Economy of Life (GEM School 2023) brought together 24 participants to collectively reconsider economics for a fairer and more sustainable world. These participants hailed from over 20 countries across Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, North America, and the Pacific. Among them were church leaders, pastors, theological students, financial experts, advocates for economic justice, and environmental activists, all with the shared objective of fostering intergenerational and multidisciplinary dialogue and learning.

The ten-day program delved into the intersections of faith and economic justice through scriptural studies. It also equipped participants with fundamental economics training and tools for advocacy, in addition to exploring alternative economic ideologies and policy recommendations.

Reflecting on the interconnected challenges of staggering socio-economic disparities and the urgent imperative of sustainability, Rev. Daimon Mkanadawire, CWM Mission Secretary for Ecology and Economy, articulated, “GEM School engaged in thoughtful discussions around Ecological and Economic Justice. We explored the origins of inequality, the intricate relationship between economics and the environment, and the critical need for new economic paradigms, metrics, and policies, as well as for building communities that foster solidarity and governance structures to cooperatively construct a more equitable and sustainable world.”

At the conclusion of the program, which spanned nearly two weeks, participants drew from their extensive exchanges and newfound knowledge to put forth a variety of project proposals. Rev. Karthik Sibanayam suggested incorporating discussions on economic justice into the curriculum of theological seminaries in Malaysia. Ampri Samosir, Patricia Mungcal, Rev. Chi-Kang Chiang, and Rev. Vavauni Ljalgajean jointly proposed initiatives focused on networking, mutual learning, and advocacy at the crossroads of climate and economic justice in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Taiwan.

Several proposals emphasized the importance of tax justice and reparations. Bruno Reikdal Lima introduced a communications project aimed at dispelling negative perceptions surrounding taxation, linking tax justice to people’s everyday lives, and strengthening the global tax justice campaign inspired by the Zacchaeus Tax movement in Brazil, one of the world’s most unequal countries. Hailing from the vulnerable climate context of Belize, Fr. Rudolph Dawson advocated for a campaign connecting tax justice with reparations for climate-induced losses and damages in the Caribbean.

Florence Iminza from Kenya also presented a proposal to initiate a survey as a foundational step for churches’ efforts toward just taxation, including within extractive industries across Africa. Iminza emphasized that a key takeaway from GEM School was that “just taxation systems are imperative for a new international economic order.” She added, “There is a pressing need for the global community of churches to unite in solidarity to promote an alternative economy of life.”

GEM School was hosted by the Council of Churches of Malaysia and convened by the World Council of Churches, World Communion of Reformed Churches, Lutheran World Federation, World Methodist Council, and the Council for World Mission, as part of the New International Financial and Economic Architecture (NIFEA) initiative.

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