Joe Gunn

A demand of our faith

Can we see Make Poverty History, part of a global movement for change, as the action of the Spirit in our world?

By Joe Gunn
September 2006

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In early July 2005, some two billion people around the globe attended (or watched on TV) 10 simultaneous Live 8 rock concerts. Tens of thousands of fans, including my own two children, travelled to the Canadian show held in Barrie, Ontario.

Global celebrities, led by Irish rockers Sir Bob Geldof and U2's Bono, introduced a movement called Make Poverty History that pressured the wealthy nations to address world poverty, especially in Africa. Live 8 coincided with the July G8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland.

The icon of the movement became the white wristband with the words "Make Poverty History" now worn by more than 500,000 Canadians and millions more people from around the world. Perhaps you saw the "click ad" on TV, where celebrities snapped their fingers every three seconds – the time before another child dies somewhere on the planet due to poverty-related illness. It seemed as though poverty was finally on the agenda, and the air was filled with momentum for change.

The Make Poverty History campaign was not all celebrities and show. Activities such as educational events, marches and concerts took place in 80 countries. The Global Call to Action Against Poverty called itself the world's largest anti-poverty movement. Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair responded by organizing a Commission for Africa, with participation of key decision-makers like then Canadian Finance Minister Ralph Goodale.

And a quarter of a million citizens demonstrated their desire for action. Their demands could be summarized in a very few words: More and better aid for developing nations; Trade justice; and Debt cancellation for the world's poorest countries. The Make Poverty History campaign launched in February 2005 on Parliament Hill added a novel demand: End child poverty in Canada.

Some newspapers replied with cynical analyses questioning debt relief for poor countries and the benefits of increasing overseas aid. A letter to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen called Bob Geldof a "poverty pimp." (I had always thought calling someone a "Boomtown Rat" – the name of Geldof's band – was bad enough.)

Prime Minister Paul Martin said that Canada, the only G8 country not in deficit, could not afford to increase aid to the level he had promised.

A Gospel imperative

What have celebrities' ads and snapping of fingers, white wristbands and concerts got to do with eradicating poverty, much less mission and the Gospel today?

For Christians, especially those concerned about the promotion of social justice, the emergence of such a huge global movement presents profound questions for faith reflection. Vatican II called upon all followers of Christ to "read the signs of the times." Can we see in such massive global movements for social justice the contemporary manifestation of the action of the Holy Spirit in our world? Should the Church, and followers of Christ, support such movements, and if so, how?

With close to 90 years of experience serving overseas, Scarboro missioners have a long history of living and working among the poor. Their immediate and spontaneous response to this global movement to Make Poverty History is one more instance of their commitment to social justice. During their May 2006 study days, they reflected on and embraced the Make Poverty History campaign. This issue of Scarboro Missions magazine is part of Scarboro's commitment to help bring justice to the world.

The Christian faith demands a vigorous witness in defence of the vulnerable. Participation in the Make Poverty History campaign can be one avenue for individuals and organizations to concretely live out such a commitment. The global human family needs an international conscience to continually ensure that the wealthy world no longer ignores injustices perpetrated upon the weak. Churches and church agencies with historic ties to mission partners are in a privileged position to take leadership in these global movements for social change. As theologian Douglas John Hall has told us, "Christians need to tell the story within the Church and live the story in the world." Today that story has a headline: We must Make Poverty History!

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