Published: 10th June 2005
"Christians wanting to make an impact on world poverty and health are right to be campaigning for governments to forgive debts, practise free trade and give generously, but the debt crisis is also a huge challenge to the churches urgently to rethink our own attitudes to interest and debt. It is often easy to point the finger at others, but as Christians we ourselves need to be living out Christian economic principles."
This was the uncomfortable message from the Christian Medical Fellowship as the world's richest countries - the G8 - agreed to write off the $40bn (£22bn; 33bn euros) debt owed by 18 mainly African countries. The package was agreed by G8 finance ministers meeting in London ahead of July's summit in Scotland.
CMF General Secretary Peter Saunders said, "The international debt crisis is having profoundly adverse effects on health world-wide, through the social and economic consequences of austerity measures imposed on developing countries by creditors. Poverty is the main reason that babies aren’t vaccinated, that children catch dysentery from infected water supplies, that drugs and other treatments aren’t available and that half a million mothers die unnecessarily each year in childbirth. We cannot deal with health while ignoring poverty. Clean drinking water, proper sanitation, adequate nutrition and good education have over the years saved far more lives than any single medical technology or treatment and these are all directly linked to poverty.
"It is true that the legacies of colonialism, economic mismanagement, war and corruption have all played their part in weakening developing world economies. But a huge factor has been the need for already bankrupt countries to repay debts owed to developed world banks and nations. We commend the decision by G8 finance ministers to do something positive about the problem and would encourage them to extend the measure to other countries.
It is clear that Western banks, governments and multi-lateral finance institutions have failed to follow Christ’s teaching about no-interest loans to the poor, debt forgiveness, economic justice and generous charitable giving. But are we as British Christians really doing much better?"
"Jesus call was to lend, even to enemies, expecting nothing back, forgive debts and give generously. The teaching of the apostles and practice of the early church underlined this. The early church fathers, including Basil, Chrysostom, Clement, Tertullian, Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine - and the early church Councils - followed suit. They encouraged generosity and debt forgiveness and condemned the taking of interest.
"Until the time of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), taking interest was seen as tantamount to theft. However, since the time of the Reformation, when conservative and radical reformers were divided as to whether interest charges should be allowed under some circumstances, there has been a gradual erosion of enthusiasm for these principles not just in western society but in the church itself.
"Perhaps the international debt crisis is an opportunity for us as Christians to put our own house in order"
Philippa Taylor (CMF Head of Public Policy) 020 7234 9664
Steven Fouch (CMF Head of Communications) 020 7234 9668
Alistair Thompson on 07970 162 225
Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) was founded in 1949 and is an interdenominational organisation with over 5,000 doctors, 900medical and nursing students and 300 nurses and midwives as members in all branches of medicine, nursing and midwifery. A registered charity, it is linked to over 100 similar bodies in other countries throughout the world.
CMF exists to unite Christian healthcare professionals to pursue the highest ethical standards in Christian and professional life and to increase faith in Christ and acceptance of his ethical teaching.