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Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Support a "Jubilee for Justice"

A new "Jubilee for Justice" campaign has been launched by over 400 faith leaders. I was pleased to sign the letter (below) and to attend the launch at the Houses of Parliament on 5 February 2013.

In 1998 the Unitarian General Assembly gave it support to a Resolution supporting the Jubilee Debt Campaign’s urging governments in the developed world to cancel, by the year 2000, debts owed to them by the poorest nations. The call for Jubilee has led to cancellation of $120 billion of debt (£80 billion) bringing education and healthcare to many millions of people. Unitarians played a small part in the campaign involving many faith and non-faith groups.

Despite these achievements more needs to be done. This new campaign builds upon that of the 1990s. It aims to achieve the cancellation of the unjust debts of the most indebted nations, promote just and progressive taxation rather than excessive borrowing and stop harmful lending which forces countries into debt

The full text of the letter is as follows:

“Following the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, we recall the ancient custom of the Jubilee Year, in which debts would be cancelled.

The Hebrew scriptures speak of a Jubilee Year in which unpayable debts should be cancelled. The Gospel writer, Luke, records that Jesus began his public ministry with a call to restore the just economy of Jubilee where all have enough. Jesus also tells those who have assets, to lend without expecting a return. The Holy Qur’an condemns usury and requires zakah (almsgiving) as an essential duty to prevent wealth being accumulated only among the rich.

The Dharmic faiths from the Indian sub-continent also teach the same principle. In the Anguttara Nikaya, Buddhists read, ‘One holds wealth not for oneself but for all beings.’ Sikhs believe in earning ethically, being benevolent and they pray for the common good of all. Mahatma Gandhi, from his Hindu roots, famously said, ’Earth provides enough to satisfy everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed.’

In recent times, the idea of Jubilee has been applied to the need to cancel the unfair debts of many ‘Third World’ countries. This does not represent charity towards the impoverished but a call for justice: to reform the basis of the global economy and renew relationships between high and low income countries. This call for Jubilee since the 1990’s has led to the cancellation of $120 billion of debt (£80 billion), bringing education and healthcare to many millions of people.

Despite these achievements, over the last thirty years there has been a series of debt crises culminating in the present one in Europe. A self-serving financial system has brought the global economy to its knees and we are now seeing the poorest people in our own society and around the world paying the price for this excess.

That is why we ask people everywhere to join in calling for a renewed Jubilee. Finance must be put back in its place as a means to human well being. We need far reaching changes in the global economy to build a society based on justice, mutual support and community. We need economic and political as well as spiritual renewal in our society. We applaud the efforts of citizens across Europe and the world to engage in democratic audits of their national debts as a first step towards reclaiming public control of national finances. We call on people in the UK to unite in support of this vision of Jubilee, and to make this cause a lasting legacy of 2012.

A Jubilee for Justice today would mean:
Cancelling the unjust debts of the most indebted nations
Promoting just and progressive taxation rather than excessive borrowing
Stopping harmful lending which forces countries into debt"

Further information

Monday, 4 February 2013

The Brahmo Samaj and British Unitarians

Bust of Tagore in Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, London

The Brahmo Samaj have an honoured place in the history of British Unitarians. I was therefore intrigued to read about them in "The Guardian" in an article by Shreya Sen-Handley "On Republic day, consider that India's real split is between two Hinduisms". Her mother was a Brahmo and she highlighted the long line of educated women in her family, explaining:

"The Brahmos were 19th-century reforming crusaders, Hindus who sought inspiration from global liberal philosophies as well as the best traditions of Christianity and Islam to weed out the corruption that had crept into Hinduism. They were monotheistic and women were at the core of their crusade. Brahmo women were ordained as priests and became literary lights in Bengal. Together with their men, they agitated successfully for an end to the funeral practice of "sati" (the burning of the widow on her husband's funeral pyre). Like all reforming movements, there was a zeal about the movement that could, if resurrected in India now, combat the rise of the uglier face of Hinduism".

The Unitarian movement had a very close association with the founder of the Brahmo Samaj, Raja Rammohun Roy. He left for England in 1830 and was received at the annual meeting of the English Unitarians. It was on a visit to Bristol to meet with Miss Mary Carpenter, the social reformer and friend of India, that he died in 1833. His grave is in Arnos Vale cemetery and he has been honoured by a statute in the centre of the City. Each year the Brahmos and Bristol Unitarians gather for a memorial service at his mausoleum.

It was a great pleasure to attend a service at Golders Green Unitarian Church with participation of the Brahmos which again is an annual event. Rabindranath Tagore is, of course, the great modern Brahmo figure,  honoured with the Nobel Prize for literature. His bust stands immediately outside Dr Williams's Library in Gordon Square (above).