Saturday, July 02, 2005

Live8, G8, and Ourselves

Glasgow, Scotland

July 2, 2005

Yesterday as we drove north from Birmingham to Glasgow, stopping for lunch with a seminary friend who is director of evangelism for the Diocese of Carlisle, we saw several military convoys making their way to Gleneagles where the G8 Summit is to be held. This morning as we bought our newspaper at a small shop down the street from our hotel, we saw a notice pinned on their community board that called for demonstrations at Gleneagles next week. Our daughter, Lindy, who is preparing her stuff together to ship back to the USA next month, said that if we weren't here she would be at the "Make Poverty History" demonstration in Edinburgh today.

I could go on, but suffice it to say that Britain (and many other parts of Europe) is galvanized by the idea that it might be within the grasp of the rich nations of the world to enable a great advance away from abject, grinding, life-sapping poverty that is the lot of the world's majority, especially those who live in Africa by forgiving their debt. This afternoon in Hyde Park, London, 200,000+ spectators will gather for the Live8 concert that is being beamed around the world. Similar concerts are being held from Japan to South Africa to Philadelphia, with a special gathering in the West of England for African musicians.

All this week the BBC has been airing programs focused on the challenge of Africa, from coping with the AIDS epidemic to the changing face of the Saharah Desert. The highlight as far as I was concerned was the made-for-television movie, "The Girl in the Cafe," that used a mismatched relationship between a senior civil servant and a young woman he meets over a cup of tea in a cafe to get across the basic message
that each day 30,000 children die, one every three seconds, for lack of life's basic nutrition, amenities, and healthcare.

I could go on, but when the British government said at the beginning of this year it wanted to make Africa a priority on the international stage, I had no idea that the people of Britain would get in line behind them as they have -- from the churches to a cross-section of political groupings and charities. Having been to Africa a number of times, having seen the ravages of HIV and poverty, and having godchildren who might have be slaves today if they had not escaped from Sudan, I applaud this desire to bring the needs of the neediest continent to the attention of the world.

All this is a precursor to the gathering of the world's leaders in Scotland next week. Around the world expectations have been raised that something significant can be done, what remains to be seen is whether the G8 leaders will respond -- or, perhaps I should say, if one particular G8 leader will respond, one George W. Bush, for he is seen as the biggest obstacle.

The perception here, and in other parts of Europe (if the media are to be believed) is that the US administration is the biggest barrier to reducing world poverty and putting a dent in the industrial practices that lead to global warming. During the ten days that I have been here I have talked to a cross-section of folks from academia to business, all of whom think the USA is an insulated, isolated superpower that is out of touch with the rest of the world. Many desperately wanted to be
proved wrong, but haven't seen a lot to encourage them.

I have not just been talking to people on the left, but those who have unsullied records of support for the Conservative Party, both Christians and non-Christians. As an Anglican who worked with African churches, I have heard the pleas for debt relief, help with AIDS, malaria, and the other epidemics that sweep the continent for years. In communiques from Communion-wide gatherings there has been a deep concern about the economics woes of the Africa, but these have until now been merely words on paper.

What is needed is more than debt relief and aid, but these are a starting point. It has to be admitted that more than a few African leaders are absolute scoundrels, and their presence does not necessarily help, but African countries need assistance from those of us in the developed world in creating trade and industry structures that help them. There is a need to train and assist so that economic plans can
become realities. Forgiveness of debt is wonderful, but a very different (and more demanding) kind of partnership needs to be forged if the benefits are to trickle to the ordinary people whose total family income might be less than $100 per year.

This is where we in the churches have a vital role to play. I confess that I consider Anglican leaders in Africa and Asia to be the leaders of the Anglican Communion. They have been right to call us to account on issues of interpersonal ethics, but within the context of this they are also calling us to account on issues of economic morality. If Scripture's teaching is clear about sexuality, it is also clear about the just demands of the Kingdom of God. For those of us who live where there is a developed economic system, part of our response must be
partnerships with those who live where a modern understanding of money is relatively new, and who are outside the mainstream of trade and investment.

I am delighted to see the young in this country taking up the challenge to "Make Poverty History" -- their idealism is wonderful. I am not so naive as to think that their idealism is as rooted and grounded in reality as it might be, but give me the idealism any day over a cynicism that shrugs its shoulders and says, "We can't make any difference, so why bother?"

Just think what would happen if this were to really catch the imagination of the people of the United States. For example, if there was a box on the 1040 Income Tax form that allows setting aside, say, $10 to $100 for international development, much as we set aside money for funding presidential elections, and 100 million Americans marked that box, there would immediately be several billion available for the
poorest of the world, and it probably wouldn't have hurt us one little bit. Or what if corporations were to say that a certain percentage of their investment would be deliberately aimed at developing something in Africa, or a congregation were to say that 1% of its gross income would be used for African support in some way or another...

Whatever your political take on what is going on, a lot rests on the shoulders of the leaders gatherings in Gleneagles. They could do something that would set in motion a releasing of swathes of humanity from bondage to poverty such as the world has never seen. On the other hand, the glory of this huge vision and enormous challenge could be lost amidst selfish bickering and turf protection, so that all that comes out is a sodden and pitiful compromise.

Admiral "Bull" Halsey, one of the heroes of the Pacific campaign in World War Two once said that there are no such things as great men, only ordinary men who rise to great challenges. This is one such occasion when a group of ordinary human beings who have been elevated to leadership of eight of the world's richest and most powerful nations could set a very different course for the 21st Century.

Just think about it...

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