Episcopal Life Convention Daily
Tuesday, 11 July 2000  

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Debt relief topic at Witness dinner

Betty LaDuke
"The international debt crisis is not something that has gone wrong with the system . . . not an unfortunate virus . . . not a freak storm," Bishop Peter Selby of the Diocese of Worcester, England, said Sunday at an awards ceremony conducted by The Witness magazine.

"The crisis is intrinsic to the system," the author of Grace and Mortgage, told the audience, adding, "It has to do with the uncontrolled hegemony of money."

He indicated the crisis originated with the huge influx of money from increased oil prices in the 1970s that had to be "sold"—loaned at interest. Much of that surplus money was loaned to "corrupt regimes . . . military regimes . . . dictatorial regimes," he said. As interest rates rose, the poorest nations "found themselves paying at a rate quite beyond anything that had been envisioned," eventually paying loans many times over. The remission of international debt is an issue of justice, "not a piece of charity," stated Selby, who co-chaired the section on international debt at the 1998 Lambeth Conference. He said it was time wealthy nations stopped benefitting financially from these loans.

Peter Selby
Speaking at the St. Francis Center to about 80 people, Selby warned that the power of money has become a threat to all, not just the poor. More than an instrument,he said, moneyhasbecome a "source of security and a form of salvation." He referred to lottery and credit card slogans in England as prime examples. "We have in those slogans the profoundest attack on the fundamentals of the Christian gospel. `It could be you' is a slogan that should be reserved for the challenge of the vocation to serve God and follow Jesus Christ. `Taking the waiting out of wanting' is an attack on the spirit of Christian hope . . . Waiting upon God, waiting on the purposes of Jesus is the most profoundly important thing that any human being can ever do. To think that it is somethingyoucaneliminatebecausesomeone will give you the money now is a very serious attack on the Gospel."

The Witness magazine presented four awards at the Sunday afternoon gathering: the William Scarlett Award, named for a labor activist and bishop of the church, to Bishop Douglas Theuner of New Hampshire for his work on socially responsible investing; the Vida Scudder Award, named for an early feminist and activist in the church, to artist Betty LaDuke who has used her art on behalf of women's economic justice internationally; the William Stringfellow Award, named for Episcopal theologian and activist lawyer, to Wally and Juanita Nelson, lifelong civil rights activists and tax resisters; the William Spofford Award, named for longtime Witness editor and labor advocate, to Baldemar Velasquez, founder of Farm Labor Organizing Committee.

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