"Righteousness exalts a nation" (Prov.14:34):Poverty must be combated - Wealth entails obligations
of the 10th Synod of the Evangelical Church in Germany
at its 5th session on
"Righteousness exalts a nation" (Prov. 14:34)
Poverty must be combated - Wealth entails obligations(1)
Made in the image of God, all people are equal. The dignity and value of life is a gift of God. Poverty cannot detract from this dignity and wealth adds nothing to it. However, there are situations of poverty that mock human dignity and there is also a false hope in wealth. God made us to depend on and bear responsibility for one another. Excluding people from societal life and denying them participation is a sin before God. God trusts us to shape our country justly and use its wealth for the good of all. It is in this spirit that we issue this statement on the situation of people in our country, expectant that steps will be taken to combat poverty and that wealth will be made subject to obligations. We encounter Christ in the poor. "The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all" (Prov 22:2).
Germany is a rich country. Never in history have people in our country had such sizable incomes and assets. The gross domestic product has continued to grow in the last few years, in spite of all the economic problems. Many companies have increased their profits enormously during this period. On the whole, Germany has benefited is a winner of globalization at the world level. This situation makes it possible to contribute much more than in the past to the social well-being of all, and commits us specifically to combating poverty.
Germany is a poor country. Never, since the end of the Second World War, has the share of people at risk of poverty risen so much as in the last seven years. It is now around 17 percent of the population and the divide between rich and poor is growing. The opportunities for just participation are falling dramatically, posing a threat to the social peace.
Inequality is growing. In Germany wealth, in particular, is more and more unequally distributed. The richest tenth of the population is now in possession of almost half of total private assets. By contrast, the lowest tenth does not own much more than a twentieth. Wages are now often below the subsistence level, while the salaries of top earners are, as a trend, rising astronomically. This development devalues the working lives of millions of people. The social acceptance of incremental income growth for the rich is only guaranteed if all sections of the population enjoy a rise in income.
"Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40)
1. Balancing out incomes. The increasing inequality threatens the goal of the "Social Market Economy" (Soziale Marktwirtschaft) to provide prosperity for all. We do not argue for a "Robin Hood" tactic - merely distributing goods from the rich to the poor will not trigger a sustainable development towards prosperity. However, recipients of high incomes and must take more responsibility for the polity and the state than they have in recent years. The state must oblige them to do so. When wealthy people make an additional contribution towards greater social balance by donations or support for foundations this is noted with gratitude.
- Our society needs a tax system that takes account of all types of income, taxes them according to their productive capacity, and is transparent. Anyone who contributes as best they can to financing the polity has reason to be proud. Not declaring earned income is detrimental.
- We call upon all Protestant congregations to raise their profile by launching a project on overcoming and avoiding poverty.
2. Creating fair opportunity worldwide. Germany's wealth entails obligations at the international level as well. Our country must make a greater commitment than it has thus far to building a worldwide development partnership between rich and poor countries. That means that spending on development cooperation must be increased. World trade and the international financial system need to be organised so that human rights and ecological standards can be developed. The global economy requires a fair system of rules.
- The German federal government and parliament should ensure that international German players actively promote respect for human rights along with social and ecological standards.
- The churches, their congregations, agencies and ministries should use their resources fairly, e.g. through buying fairly traded products, making ethically responsible investments and assigning two percent of income from church tax revenue to church development services (the possibility of introducing an contribution by EKD should be also examined).
3. Everyone is needed. The number of people who no longer participate in community and civic activities is on the rise. Anyone who is unemployed for a long time is likely to withdraw from such activities because they think they cannot keep up; others, on the other hand, are under such strain that they can no longer engage in voluntary activity. Abilities and creativity remain untapped. Each and every individual is important - all of us have gifts that are valuable for the community, independent of our material assets. This must be something everyone can experience. The opportunity to provide for one's own livelihood is part of the dignity and freedom of every person. Under present conditions, there is real need for a publicly supported labour market.
- New models must be found for the publicly supported employment sector. We support the "passive-active-transfer" model(2) of the Diakonisches Werk (social services agency) of the EKD.
- We must everywhere become a church in which disadvantaged people have a home and are involved in decision-making in their congregations.
4. Making public goods available to all. Material wealth is a means to realizing human goals, but it is not an aim in itself. The wealth in our society must be drawn on to secure general prosperity. The state must have adequate resources at its disposal in order to be able to take action and guarantee access to public goods. Equitable access to these public goods will safeguard the potential for development of all people and prevent anyone from being excluded.
- We call for a publicly financed "recreational voucher" for less advantaged children all over the country.
- We call for the establishment of twinning agreements between local churches, with wealthy parishes supporting projects in poorer ones.
5. Guaranteeing equal opportunities for education and training. There has been a decline in equality of opportunity in the area of education and training. Children from poor backgrounds and immigrant families are particularly disadvantaged. More individual encouragement and challenge, accompaniment and integration are urgently required. The German education system still exacerbates the inequality of young people's life opportunities. We expect the system to be changed. In particular, there must be more - and better - early education. The provision of necessary funding must not be an issue as education constitutes a value in itself. Educational qualifications have little value if they do not lead to the likelihood of finding work. Employers must understand that they have an obligation to provide places for trainees.
- Resources that are not called upon due to a decrease in the number of children must be remain in public budgets and be reallocated to education-related activities and improving the quality of education
- Churches cannot retreat from their shared responsibility for state education; they assume their responsibility in a special way in running their own childcare centers and schools.
"From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required"
Wealth entails obligation. Striving for prosperity is part of human life. Wealth can be a valuable gift in God's creation. Accumulating wealth must, however, not put at risk the livelihoods and chances of participation of others. Wealth must serve the common good, today and in the future. The blessing of God is promised on the just use of wealth, enabling freedom and participation for human beings.
Wuerzburg, November 9, 2006
President of the Synod
of the Evangelical Church in Germany
(1) This echoes the clause in the German Constitution §20, "Eigentum verpflichtet" ( Property entails obligations).
(2) This idea (a 'second' labour market) involves pooling money normally used for unemployment benefit to create regular jobs in the social and environmental field.