Changes in the Canadian government’s approach to aid and development pushed me to begin Unwrapping Development back in August, but I think there are three other shifts to note. These come from within the churches among which I work.
First, in 2007-08, the United Church combined the concept of “right relation” with its partnership policy and offered the insight that right relations are at the heart of God’s mission:
“The United Church of Canada continues to learn from a history of engagement with the experiences of partners in the global south, marginalized peoples and partners in justice throughout Canada. In particular from the experience of First Nation’s peoples and from the contribution of feminist thought, the church is learning to speak of striving for right relations at the heart of God’s Mission. The Church believes that right relationships flow from an understanding that relationship is central to the nature of God and that the Spirit calls us to live relationships that reflect Christ’s character of justice and love…. Global partnerships, the expression that we use to speak of our shared work in God’s Mission with churches and organizations around the world, are first and foremost to be lived expressions of the right relationships towards which God calls us.”
Second, in 2007, churches and faith-based development agencies from around the world came together in ACT Development, a structure that subsequently became part of the ACT Alliance (now made up of 125 members). Among many tasks, participants worked in 2006-07 towards a “common understanding of development.” One key concept was “Transformational Development:”
“Transformational development recognises that the current structures of society perpetuate human hunger, poverty, injustice, the abuse of human rights and the destruction of the environment. Transformational development is therefore about taking action to transform how society is structured, empowering those communities most affected by oppressive structures so that they are able to improve their quality of life. Efforts to promote transformational development vary from the global to the local level and may range from campaigning at the global level on issues such as debt or trade to supporting communities at the local level in their efforts to obtain access to water or secure adequate food. Central to the development process are concepts such as participation, developing capacity and sustainability.”
Third, over the past decade, the World Council of Churches and its members have focused on “prophetic diakonia” as a way to address “the structural roots of injustice” and to overcome “threats to creation.” As stewards (care-takers, not owners) of God’s creation, we share resources as equal partners in God’s action to restore the created order of equity and justice. At the same time, sharing is a restorative act that seeks to address past and present injustices. Churches, NGOs, the communities involved, and government funding bodies are all partners in this effort.
By valuing relationships and by standing with the poor and the marginalized as they transform history for the good of all, we glimpse what we should be doing in all of life’s economic, political, ecological and social activities.
Background regarding right relation. When churches join global debates about development, they tend to place more emphasis on partnerships—the ways our organizations, North and South, connect with one another—than on narrowly-defined development outcomes.
Canadian churches and their development agencies largely supported the World Council of Churches 1987 El Escorial guidelines for the ecumenical sharing of resources because they proposed a way to address the inequity in the distribution of financial resources and a move toward equity in decision-making about resources.
Over the past dozen years or so, some theologians and churches have adopted the phrase “right relation” to refer to the intent to restore what has been broken:
- Historic relationships between churches and First Nations and to restore “right relations” between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.
- Justice, peace and care for creation, encompassing “right relationships between all members of God’s creation” (in commentary on Catholic social teaching).
- Gender relations: Several feminist theologians—Carter Heyward, Beverly Wildung Harrison and Marilyn Legge among them—have also developed use of the term, emphasizing the need for radical change in social relations and systems of power in work for sexual and gender justice.
- And I would humbly point out that the awkward word “right” has many imprecise meanings in English. In French, it is usually translated as relation juste and in Spanish as relación justa.
Background re transformational development. Two documents are particularly useful:
- ACT Development, “Working Towards Our Shared Understanding of Development,” June 2007, p.1, and “A Guide to ACT Development,” June 2006, p.5.
- A longer ACT paper on transformational development.
Background re prophetic diakonia. An interview with Dr. Reinerio Arce, president of the Evangelical Seminary of Theology in Matanzas, Cuba: “God sends us out in mission to bring the good news to the poor and oppressed, in word and in deed. Faithful to this call, we try to serve human needs, focusing on the marginalized, the ‘least of these,’ not only by comforting them but also by addressing the root causes of their pain, sorrow and shortages. This ministry of prophetic diakonia seeks to confront the powers of this world that lead to violence, exclusion, death and destruction, and it calls for the transformation of unjust structures and practices into God’s kingdom of justice, with fullness of life for all and for creation.”