Approved by the 206th Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ, June 4, 2005
“Proclaim liberty throughout the lands and to all the inhabitants thereof, it shall be a jubilee for you” (Leviticus 25:10). God and right community relationships occupy the center of economic and social life in the Bible. The most important texts (though there are many others) are Deuteronomy 15 and Leviticus 25, which respectively call for canceling debts and righting of relationships every 7 years, and a “Jubilee” every 50th year. They announce the release of those enslaved because of debt, rest for the land and the people, redistribution of the land, and the restoration of right-relationships.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus preached from this Jubilee text from Isaiah 61 (in what is sometimes called his “inaugural address”)and then throughout his ministry, embodies Jubilee principles.
He promises abundance to poor sharecroppers (Mark 4:3-8, 26-32), but threatens absentee landowners (Mark 12:1-12) and rich householders (Luke 16:19-31) with judgment. He excoriates a servant who had just received debt cancellation for not canceling the debts of someone else under him (Matthew 18:21-35). He tells his disciples at the last supper to forgive the debts of others just as God had forgiven their own (Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:2b-4).
And he responds to a man arguing with his brother over their inheritance by telling the story of a man who acquired great wealth and hoarded it up in “bigger barns” and then died before he could benefit from any of it (Matthew 18:16-21).
Text of Resolution
WHEREAS, Churches within the Massachusetts Conference, working with other UCC churches around the nation and the world, can generate the political will needed to drop the debt. The United
States has tremendous influence over creditors and international banks. Our Congress could leverage full debt cancellation for impoverished countries. However, they won’t act unless they think that citizens care; and
WHEREAS, the Jubilee USA Network (www.JubileeUSA.org) is calling upon religious communities concerned with this issue to become “Jubilee Congregations,” a new interfaith program in which member congregations covenant to make the following four commitments:
1. Pray for a Jubilee for the world’s poorest countries
2. Appoint a Jubilee contact person who will serve as a liaison between the congregation and Jubilee USA.
3. Contribute one dollar per active church member per year to Jubilee USA Network (or whatever they can afford).
4. Send the equivalent of one letter per active member per year to a member of Congress or the administration calling on them to “drop the debt.”
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the delegates to the 206th Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ encourage prayer, education and activism on the debt crisis from our members, churches and institutions; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the delegates to the 206th Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ strongly encourage our churches and members, as well as the Jubilee Justice Taskforce of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, to call upon our Congressional delegation to support the JUBILEE Bill now in Congress, and the
President of the United States and presidents of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to support the 100 percent “write off” of external debts owed to countries and institutions; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the 206th Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ encourages all local churches of the Conference to consider joining with UCC and other churches all across the US in becoming “Jubilee Congregations”; and
BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that following the guidelines of the national Jubilee USA movement, the delegates to the 206th Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ declare the third Sunday of January each year “Jubilee Sunday” and that our churches be challenged on that day to lift up the principles of biblical economic justice for the poor and the oppressed in their worship and prayer.
Today, in the world’s most impoverished nations, the poor majorities do not have access to clean water, physical infrastructure, adequate housing, or basic health care. Poor countries have been paying debt service to wealthy nations and institutions for decades at the expense of providing these basic services to their citizens. The United Nations Human Development Report of 1997 estimated
that had the debts of only the bottom twenty poor countries been cancelled by 2000, and the savings applied to basic health care, as many as 19,000 children could be saved every day. The number would be larger but roughly similar today.1
Debt forces countries to become dependent on international creditors for more aid and new loans, often just to pay the interest on old loans. And the conditions placed on new loans and debt relief often require that essential human services, like primary health and education and access to safe water, be restricted and placed out of reach of the impoverished majority.
Most nations have already paid back their original debts many times over. The debt crisis began when interest rates skyrocketed and compound interest made repayment impossible. Nigeria, for example, initially borrowed $5 billion, over time paid back $16 billion and today still owes $32 billion.2
Debt cancellation allows countries to access their own resources for poverty reduction. Savings from debt service can now be allocated for health care, education, fighting HIV/AIDS and more. For example, experts estimate it would take an annual commitment of $10-15 billion a year to turn around
the AIDS crisis in Africa that claims 7,000 lives a day. But Sub-Saharan Africa pays almost exactly that amount, $15 billion per year, in debt service to wealthy nations and institutions every year.3
The small amount of debt relief given so far has achieved startling results, including more than doubling school enrollment in Uganda, vaccinating five hundred thousand children in Mozambique and adding three more years of schooling for Honduran children. After debt relief and the elimination of school fees, 1.5 million children returned to school in Tanzania within the next school year.4
Today’s Jubilee campaign within the United States is coordinated by the Jubilee USA Network, which
began as Jubilee 2000/USA in 1997. At that time a diverse gathering of people and organizations, including many within the Massachusetts Conference, came together to respond in faith to the international call for Jubilee debt cancellation. Their hard work resulted in the cancellation of one hundred billion dollars of debt in poor countries, which, however, totals only about one-third of their total debt.
Over 60 organizations including labor, churches, religious communities and institutions, AIDS activists, trade campaigners and over 9,000 individuals are active members of the Jubilee USA Network. They constitute a strong, diverse and growing network dedicated to working for a world free
of debt for billions of people.
1. UN Human Development Report, 1997, p. 93. See also, “UNICEF calls for debt forgiveness for education,” www.unicefusa.org/site/apps/s/content.asp?c=duLR18O0H&b=27736&ct=145242
2. “Ending the Cycle of Debt,” New York Times (October 1, 2004).
3. Mark Engler, “Globalization’s ‘Lost Decade,' Foreign Policy in Focus, 07 Aug 2003.
4. Report from President’s Office, The United Republic of Tanzania (Feb. 17, 2004), cited in Marie Clarke, ed., Initial Debt Relief Works, Jubilee Congregations resource pack.