Namibian Lutheran Bishop Urges Churches to Tackle Poverty Head-On LWF Consultation on Poverty and the Mission of the Church in Africa
ARUSHA, Tanzania/GENEVA, 8 September 2006 (LWI) - Bishop Dr Zephania Kameeta, vice president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) for the Africa region, has called on churches in Africa "to tackle poverty head-on [*] not by becoming neutral but by being in critical solidarity with the governments and civil societies in the community."
Delivering the keynote address at the LWF Consultation on Poverty and the Mission of the Church in Africa, held from 4 to 8 September in Arusha, northern Tanzania, Kameeta pointed out that churches in Africa were not adequately addressing the real problems on the ground. Instead, they were "busy" supporting the status quo, which in most cases only perpetuated poverty, he said.
Kameeta, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia (ELCRN), called on the church to speak out when things go wrong instead of shying away from its responsibility to serve and be accountable to the people.
Some 80 people including representatives from the 30 LWF member churches in Africa attended the consultation organized by the LWF Department for Mission and Development (DMD) Africa desk, and hosted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. Also participating were representatives from other LWF regions, and from ecumenical and LWF partner organizations. The consultation provided a starting point for the work of a participating team of theologians, who are continuing with a two-day intensive seminar centered on a program of the LWF Department for Theology and Studies titled, "Confessing and Living out Faith in the Triune God * in the face of death and injustice."
Accountability to the People
Kameeta also spoke out against an emerging type of leadership in Africa, which he said was good at "beautiful talk" but was isolated from the people it was supposed to serve. He cautioned that if the churches were not accountable in taking up their responsibilities, they too would find themselves so dependent on outside support that they would implement programs determined from outside, but irrelevant to the local situation.
"We limit ourselves in what we do and work for and by so doing we are also limiting the hopes and expectations of the poor toward a better life and the achievement of social justice," noted Kameeta, who served as deputy speaker of the National Assembly of Namibia from 1990 to 2000.
He continued, "If the church is called to preach the good news to the poor * we have to seriously get involved in the fight against poverty in Africa. We cannot preach the good news from the pulpit while not being connected, attached and most importantly touched by the everyday life and suffering of the people living in poverty."
Kameeta urged churches that enjoy donor support to critically examine their tendency toward "business as usual," cautioning that the churches should not just carry out projects but also learn to be players in the society as a whole. "We need participatory research to become true ambassadors of our people by advocating for solutions from the people and supported by them," he stressed.
He then cited examples of the ELCRN's efforts to attain sustainability and of how it collaborates with the government in various ways to fight poverty.
Commenting on the theme of the consultation: "That the poor may have hope, and injustice shut its mouth," (paraphrased from Job 5:16), Rev. Dr Kjell Nordstokke, DMD director, noted that poverty in Africa had become a scandal both at ethical and political levels.
Rev. Dr Musa Filibus, the LWF/DMD area secretary for Africa, pointed out that addressing poverty in Africa calls for a holistic approach, including creating an atmosphere for justice, peace and freedom. He added that the major aim of the consultation was to enable the LWF member churches to reflect theologically on the self-understanding of the church and its public responsibility within the context of poverty in Africa. (663 words)
(By LWI correspondent Elizabeth Lobulu, communications coordinator, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania.)
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(The LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition. Founded in 1947 in Lund, Sweden, the LWF currently has 140 member churches in 78 countries all over the world, with a total membership of 66.2 million. The LWF acts on behalf of its member churches in areas of common interest such as ecumenical and inter-faith relations, theology, humanitarian assistance, human rights, communication, and the various aspects of mission and development work. Its secretariat is located in Geneva, Switzerland.)
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