When faith leaders gathered with politicians and corporate leaders in Buenos Aires at the end of September, some expressed frustration with the slow response to urgent issues of climate change, migration, and economic justice.

“We live in a world that is insanely dismissive of its own future,” said Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury who is now the chair of Christian Aid. “This is stupidity.”

Rabbi Sergio Bergman, a Jewish leader who works in the Argentinian government, said he was fed up with the way the world talks about climate change. Policy-makers debate emissions standards and refuse to answer ethical questions about care for the planet and those who live here.

“It’s like holding a conference on thermometers to (measure) people’s fevers,” he said. “Come on! The problem is we’re ill.”

Inside and outside strategies

They were speaking at the G20 Interfaith Forum that was held in Buenos Aires in the last days of September.

Sometimes in our movements for social justice we talk of “inside” and “outside” strategies. You go “inside” to talk to government or corporate officials. You join a demonstration “outside” when dialogue strategies aren’t working or when you need to engage more people in an effort for change. As I get older and less patient with official processes, I confess I prefer the outside option. But once in a while I go in.

And that in a sense is what I was doing at the G20 forum. One of the United Church’s partners, CREAS (the Regional Ecumenical Centre for Advice and Service) has developed good working relationships with the United Nations Development Program, various inter-faith groups, and several parts of government in Argentina. Together they have hammered out some useful ways to collaborate on programs that improve livelihoods and education, all under the banner of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Having gone “inside,” they found some interesting allies—among them the network of people run the G20 Interfaith Forum. The one held in Buenos Aires Sept. 26-28 was the fifth such forum. (I had forgotten, but one was held in Winnipeg in 2010, just ahead of the infamous G8/G20 summit in Toronto.) This was one of several sectoral consultations that are leading up to the summit that will be held in Buenos Aires Nov. 30-Dec. 1 of the G20 (made up of the European Union and leaders of the richest seven countries plus the next tier of a dozen-plus countries that together make up 85 per cent of the global economy).

Ethics and economics

A permanent feature of CREAS work is on the theme “Ethics and Economy.” This work has built from previous work on Faith, Economy and Society in the Latin American Council of Churches and on work in global ecumenical organizations towards a new international financial architecture. Working within the framework of the G20 Interfaith Forum, CREAS was able to build in two half-days of dialogue—a “high-level forum”—to advance discussion toward “an economy of life and sustainable development.”

CREAS was born in the excitement of the early World Social Forums that began in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in January 2001. There, social movements connected their different struggles under the banner, “Another World is Possible.” It was a time when it seemed progressive parties could take power (beginning with Venezuela in 1998 and Brazil in 2001) and that a new, more democratic left might be born in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Social movements from Canada to Argentina came together to overcome the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, a struggle we won in 2005.

By going “inside,” CREAS and its allies carry those messages to decision-makers. They help people of faith become more accustomed to advocacy roles and engagement with political and corporate people who have different frameworks and institutional demands. They explore the potential and limits of corporate social responsibility strategies. They challenge the politicians on climate, migration and inequality.

Having learned language that the political and corporate leaders understand, they speak out when economics overcome ethics, and when new financial architecture looks too much like old architecture.

 

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