Online conference calls for an economy of life in a time of COVID-19 pandemic

by Cheon Young Cheol

A series of two e-conferences held on 17 and 24 April, brought together some 25 participants to reflect on the socio-economic-ecological impacts of the COVID-19 crisis and how it offers the world an opportunity to rethink and reshape financial and economic systems so that these actually give priority to ensuring and investing in the health and well-being of communities and the planet. The initiative was co-sponsored by the Council for World Mission (CWM), World Council of Churches (WCC), the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), and World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC).

The speakers brought up historical political factors that have led up to and continue to frame the crisis, as well as the theo-ethical and moral implications and the necessary short and long-term transformations in policies, institutions and systems that are needed to relieve and prevent more suffering, but also, more critically, to tackle the roots of the crisis.

“In the harsh light of COVID-19, we see more clearly the great inequality of income and wealth. We see the massive gender inequities and generational disparities of our economies,” said Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, WCC deputy general secretary. “Our responses to the pandemic could very well rewrite the world for the better, and fundamentally transform the way we live, what we eat and buy, what we produce, how we distribute goods and where we invest,” she added.

Council for World Mission general secretary, Rev. Dr Collin I. Cowan, noted that “the shape and magnitude of the pandemic may have obscured us but the writings, which have been on the wall for a very long time, all pointed to some global catastrophe for which we would be little prepared because self-serving nationalism, callous disregard for the poor and xenophobic attitudes and behavior have kept us cornered, cocooned and ill-prepared for any disaster of this magnitude”.

“Our economic systems must prioritise people over profit. We must not forget to protect the livelihood and basic needs of people”, said Rev. Dr Martin Junge, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation. “COVID-19 is further calling us to a theological and ethical renewal where we address inequality, poverty, and public policies to ensure enough resources and equal access to health services. Now is the moment to reinvigorate this conversation”, added Junge.

The “Economy of Life in a Time of Pandemic“ e-conference sessions were part of and promoted by an initiative of the four organisations called “New International Financial and Economic Architecture (NIFEA),” which seeks to promote an alternative financial system that should emerge from the imagination of the margins, from those who have been left out of social-economic and political decision-making.

Rev. Dr Chris Ferguson, World Communion of Reformed Churches general secretary, stressed that the current global scenario calls us “to show up and carry forward the core visions and core themes of NIFEA and that these have to necessarily be transformational,” he said. “We need to raise the questions about debt and taxation. Our next steps, including our short-term steps, cannot be less than radical.”

The two sessions led to the development of a common message from the convening organisations, which will also be the basis of advocacy towards key financial and economic institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, G20 and United Nations.

This summary report was originally prepared by colleagues at the WCC and featured here.

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