With Joy and Justice: Joining the Global Faith Movement for an Economy of Life

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Show up to an Interfaith Alliance of Colorado event, my place of work, and you’ll likely hear us say something like this:

We bring people of diverse religious backgrounds together around common values of human rights and equality to be a force for good in public life.

I have never experienced the beauty and emergent possibility of our mission as I did living and learning alongside bodies and accents of every shade from every continent for two weeks in Lusaka, Zambia this August.

We were brought together from fourteen nations by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and World Council of Reformed Churches (WCRC) to develop competency in economics. Our training sought to reestablish people of faith as a force for refashioning the global economy into a system that produces justice, peace, sustainability, and joy. It was called GEM School, and it was pretty darn close to my heaven.

We began with listening.

From South Korea and Finland, we heard about women’s struggles for gender equality.

From Mexico, we learned about efforts to reduce supply and demand for human trafficking and sex tourism.

From Rwanda, we were told about ongoing efforts to build a society healed from genocide and the wounds of colonialism.

From New Zealand, we listened to the burdens of rising housing costs and efforts to establish honorable relations with the indigenous Maori people.

From South Africa, we heard about the racial wealth gap that passed untouched through the Truth and Reconciliation hearings.

From Columbia, we were reminded that while guerrilla groups are setting down arms, the socio-economic conditions that precipitated their violence have not gone away.

And right there in Zambia, we spoke with villagers being displaced by a mining company that’s appropriating their lands and bulldozing their sacred places.

We thought together about each issue, attempted to uncover the interconnections between them, and to pierce the veil of global economic policies and ideologies that made widespread injustice a norm. We dug into the weeds of finance, poked around the bushes of trade, and peeled back the skin of foreign direct investment. We debated derivatives and brought the so-called “externalities” of neoclassicalism back into the equation. Feminist scholars led us to reconsider the essential provisioning contributions of women, while ecological economists reminded us that the economy lives or dies by the health of the ecosystem. And at every step, we unabashedly submitted economics to theological scrutiny.

Everywhere, people yearn for another way of being. They know in their souls and cells that they are capable of compassion, cooperation, and care -- that the dictates of competition and corruption need not define our social ties. They know stories that remind them of a life consisting of more than brands and buyers; stories that lead away from profit and power toward communion and celebration.

What’s clear is that the global economy, built in the spirit of colonialism under the hegemony of neoliberal capitalism, was not designed to care for creation or community, to honor difference, or distribute with equity.

What’s also coming into focus is the need for people of faith to get in the game, to draw on the alternative imaginations native to our religious traditions, and to go about the business of building a world on our stories which will cultivate abundant life for all -- particularly the historically disinherited and excluded.

The economy has been the tool of oppressors for far too long.

But more than ever, I am convinced it does not have to be that way. There are alternatives. They are already budding out at the margins. We can build an Economy of Life.

Nathan Hunt