n Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe - Ekonomiese geregtigheid : Die groot uitdaging – ook vir Christelike gemeenskappe

Volume 59 Number 4
  • ISSN : 0041-4751



Economic justice: The big challenge – also for Christian communities This article focuses on the need for economic justice. This is done in the light of a letter by Russel Botman, former lecturer in Missiology at the University of the Western Cape and later at Stellenbosch University. In the letter – from him to the author of this article – about 21 years ago, he thinks, among other things, about the possibility of the following slogan: “economic justice before upward mobility”. This theme, as well as the nature and challenges of economic justice, are further explored in the interest of so many vulnerable individuals and groups in dire circumstances. In particular, it looks at the challenges of economic justice for Reformed theology and whether the important characteristics of the first Christian congregations are still present, pursued and lived out in the church and in the lives of Christian believers. It seems, we have created a world that is so divided, that what is good news for one can be very bad news for another. This is most evident when one thinks about the economy. In South Africa in particular, we had a history before 1994 where the line of division was along colour lines. Today, income inequality, unemployment and poverty, among others, have deepened this historical division. However, we have the belief that somewhere, somehow, something like justice, equity, the protection of good, and opposing evil, exists. In the deepest sense, most of us believe that this kind of justice must be shaped in the ways people live with one another. There is, however, a big gap between justice on one side of the economic divide, and justice on the other side. This theme of economic justice is extremely important and arises for Botman from the perception that injustice is a historical concept that also has economic implications. No human being simply awakens one day with the awareness and knowledge that the existing economic realities represent an injustice. There is a great deal of ecumenical consensus that especially poverty around the world should be condemned as an injustice. According to Botman, there is a growing conviction that this injustice is linked to the nature of the economic system itself. Poverty, just like racism, has a systemic nature. It is an unfair economy that gives birth to poverty. Human beings’ actions must spring from a moral life rather than from a particular set of rules. The American theologian and ethicist, Stanley Hauerwas, made a great contribution to character ethics. He advocates a virtue ethic as opposed to duty ethics. According to Hauerwas, the emphasis should therefore be on values, character and humanity rather than on precepts. The article further looks at why early Christianity spread so fast and far. According to the New Testament researchers, Wayne Meeks, Abraham Malherbe and Gerd Theissen, it mainly had to do with addressing the following four issues: poverty, marginalisation, alienation and class inequality. According to Botman, it is clear that early Christianity was understood as the most dynamic alternative to a system of economic injustice. Over the past decades, theological ethics has shifted from a focus on the individual to a spotlight on the larger, broader community. The German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his theology strongly emphasised the congregation and the community as a locus for a world-transforming religious life. Christ is present in this world today in the form of community. Since we have divided the world in such a way that good news for one can mean bad news for another, the final ethical decision on economic justice is made from one of these two positions. In this respect, the Bible makes a special choice for the poor, so much so that the gospel is essentially identified as good news to the poor (Luke 4:18). This presupposes the moral choice to approach the issue of economic justice from the viewpoint of the poor with the intention of bringing good news to them. However, in the confession that God is on the side of the helpless, there can be no difference of opinion in the church of Jesus Christ. The implications of this confession in the pursuit of economic justice and church unity must resound in one voice in the songs, prayers, and sermons of the local congregation if we are to be faithful to the Bible. The relationship between church and society, and in particular the issue of economic justice, is obviously one of the most critical aspects of the church’s credible testimony in the modern world.

Hierdie artikel fokus op die noodsaaklikheid van ekonomiese geregtigheid. Dit geskied na aanleiding van ʼn skrywe van Russel Botman, voormalige dosent in Missiologie aan die Universiteit van Wes-Kaapland asook later aan die Universiteit Stellenbosch. In ʼn skrywe van hom aan die outeur van hierdie artikel ongeveer 21 jaar gelede, dink hy onder andere na oor die moontlikheid van die volgende slagspreuk: “economic justice before upward mobility”. Hierdie tema, asook die aard en uitdagings van ekonomiese geregtigheid, word op die spoor van sy gedagtes verder in hierdie bydrae ontgin in belang van soveel kwesbare individue en groepe in haglike omstandighede. Dit kyk veral na die uitdagings van ekonomiese geregtigheid vir die gereformeerde teologie en of die belangrike kenmerke van die eerste Christelike gemeentes nog teenwoordig is, nagestreef en uitgeleef word in die kerk en in die lewens van Christengelowiges.

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