A panel of experts of different faiths spoke on debt cancellation and reparations as tools for promoting justice, sustainability and life-affirming economies in the third 2020 Ecumenical School on Governance, Economics and Management public webinar held on 2 October.

The webinar addressed faith perspectives on debt, how financial structures can be aligned to faith-rooted values, and how debt cancellation and reparations are critical for promoting justice, including the need to recolonise financial institutions.

“There is a sense that reparation is an ethos that is necessary as a part of the concert of nations. Pride of all money should move to a similar pride to be responsible to issues that arose because of accumulation of that money,” said Jahlani Niaah, co-author of Let Us Start with Africa: Foundations of Rastafari Scholarship.

Yusuf Jha, author of the book, The Way of Return: Responding to Economic and Environmental Injustice Through the Wisdom Teachings of Islam, presented an historical overview of “money,” noting that prior to the introduction of coinage, “being in debt was actually a way of cooperation and relationship. When a person keeps money with themselves, he is facilitating a destructive paradigm for himself and the larger environment.”

“Muslims envisioned the marketplace as a genuinely free place. They took their prophet seriously and weren’t motivated by their profit,” he said.

David Krantz, co-founder, president and chairperson of Aytzim: Ecological Judaism, outlined what he termed “Kosher economics” including the every-seven-year concept of sabbatical (Schmita)—a rest from work and for the land—and every 50 years jubilee (Yovel)—a release from work, slavery, and debt.

“The capitalistic system is far from perfect and needs a balance,” he said. “One of the ways the Hebrew Bible balances is with a redistribution of equity. Imagine a system that resets every 50 years.”

Karen Georgia Thompson, associate general minister and co-executive for Global Ministries at the United Church of Christ, cited 1 Corinthians 12: “We teach that if one part of the body hurts the entire body hurts, and yet within this body we see the historic abuses of African and African descendant bodies. The movement for reparations is a calling for right relationship and wholeness for all of God’s created.”

Addressing ways in which to move toward just economies, Thompson said, “The church has a role to play in the call for reparations, and the church has to provide leadership in this movement for reparations.”

“Reparations have to be grounded in the investment in people and righting the wrongs that are associated with working Africans as enslaved people and depriving them of life and liberty for European wealth gain,” she said.

“We have a choice—trade can be seen in a format of cooperation or in a format of enmity and separation,” said Jha. “We need to support institutions that support collaboration, unity, and cooperation.”

“International funding agencies will have to decolonise and cease to perpetuate neocolonial activities. Just finance is not just about finance. It is about fairness, equity, trust, and honesty—and that is what we would like to see going forward,” Niaah said.

The Ecumenical School on Governance, Economics and Management (GEM) is a joint initiative of the Council for World Mission, Lutheran World Federation, World Communion of Reformed Churches, and World Council of Churches. It aims to build economic literacy within churches by equipping participants with the tools and languages to effectively advocate for urgent transformations in the global financial and economic realm.