South African Lutherans Seek Economic Justice

11/6/1996 12:00:00 AM

     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Since democratic elections in April 1994, South Africa has made significant strides in stabilizing its political and social life, but its economic life has suffered, said the Rev. Molefe Tsele, a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa (ELCSA) and director of the Ecumenical Service for Socio-Economic Transformation (ESSET), Johannesburg, South Africa.
     "The threat to the viability of our democracy will simply come from people who are poor, who are unemployed and who are marginalized by the way the economy is working," said Tsele. ESSET is trying to help make the economic life of South Africa as democratic and accessible as its political life has become, he said.
     "We are researching the state of the economy in the country, particularly posing questions: Is it working in the interest of all?  Is it contributing to a better quality of living for all? How can it be made to perform with particular moral values," so it responds to human needs while being productive and profitable? ESSET promotes "systems that can put employment of people as a priority, that can put training of human skills and development of people as a priority," said Tsele.
     A majority of ELCSA's membership is impoverished, he said. "If the economy in the country doesn't function, the first church to feel the pain would be ELCSA, so it has an interest both for its membership and for the broader South African society to engage economic strategies and models and to make sure they work."
     ESSET takes advantage of "a very healthy tradition in South Africa" by working ecumenically, said Tsele.  All religious organizations in the country work together to combat apartheid, promote human rights and tackle various social issues.
     "As we in the church help the new government to correct the imbalances of the past, developing economic strategies, it is important that we work ecumenically.  At the end of the day it will be to the greater benefit of society as a whole," he said.
     Tsele is in North America to describe the work of ESSET to those working for economic justice in other churches, to learn of ways to work together toward similar goals and to learn from each other's work.  He visited the churchwide of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America here on Oct. 31.
     Lutheran churches around the world share a tradition that stresses involvement in public life, said Tsele.  "Public officials are representatives of God, and they have a function to perform," he said.
     Government is God's means "to create a space for life to happen," and politics is "a sphere that God has availed to everyone," said Tsele.  "Neglect of one's duty to vote should be seen as one of the most irresponsible acts of any adult person who has family, who has children, who has brothers, sisters or parents."

For information contact: Ann Hafften, Dir., ELCA News Service,
(312) 380-2958 or AHAFFTEN@ELCA.ORG; Frank Imhoff, Assoc. Dir.,
(312) 380-2955 or FRANKI@ELCA.ORG


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