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Signs of Hope

By adviser Hans-Jürgen Schorre

When we look at the growth of wealth and consumption of resources in today’s society, in relation to the challenge of a sustainable development, we may easily be discouraged. Even within the church we can become impatient when we see how slowly the development appears to be going in the organisation as a whole. At the same time, there is a wealth of signs of hope when we turn around and look at what was the challenge and goals a few years ago. In fact, a lot has happened in a relatively short time.

The 1996 General Synod identified nine areas for church involvement. Here we will only refer to some keywords to some of these to show this:

The use of church funds
Both concerning the aforementioned Special Capital Fund (“the church’s own fund”) and the Petroleum Fund, a great work with the development of ethical guidelines for the management has taken place, with big pressure from the church. At the same time, the church decided to give 10% annually of the SCF profit (approx. 25 million NOK) that is at the church’s own disposal, to sister churches in the south.

Introducing Fair Trade
The 1996 General Synod made it a part of the church programme that the church should get involved in questions like these. After a continued work and a heavy involvement both centrally, regionally and locally, The Norwegian Fair Trade Association is very active, the Initiative for Fair Trade in cooperation with among others the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions and the Federation of Norwegian Commercial and Service Enterprises is well established and growing, and questions about fair trade gets more and more public attention.

Debt cancellation for the poorest countries
The churches in the world were strongly involved with issues about debt cancellation, in Norway among other things through participation in The Norwegian Campaign for Debt Cancellation (SLUG). This campaign entered the Guinness Book of Records as the largest petition campaign in the world, and the issue is now high up on the agenda of the nations of the world and international financial institutions.

As a part of a worldwide and comprehensive ecclesiastical climate cooperation, and in cooperation with environmental organisations and the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry nationally, Thor Bjarne Bore, Chairman of the Church of Norway National Council, held a pep talk in front of the Russian embassy, urging Russia to sign the Kyoto Protocol. Even though the church cannot take credit for this alone, we have actively contributed to both Russia’s signature on the Protocol, and England’s decision to stop emissions from Sellafield.

Resource awareness
At all levels in the church, there is a process of integrating and establishing environmental leadership and certification in our own business. A comprehensive project on environment-friendly and energy-efficient heating of the 1700 churches in the CofN has been carried out, again in cooperation with many other players.

The human dimension
Among other things through consultative statements to the Government and the Parliament, the church is involved with the development within bio- and genetic technology, especially with concern to questions about the beginnings of life, the moral and legal status of the foetus and embryo, the development of medical technology and society’s view on “deviations” from “the normal”, i.e. people with mental and physical disabilities.

Getting involved makes a difference!

Such signs of hope helps giving energy to a renewed involvement and shows that getting involved makes a difference. The aforementioned survey “Green Revival? The Churchgoers’ Relationship to the Environmental Challenges” from the Centre for Church Research (KIFO) in 2001, shows that the churchgoers have moved in a more environmental direction – unlike the rest of the population, especially concerning the willingness to forsake some of our living standards in order to promote the environment and greater justice. The KIFO report explains this tendency among other things by the treatment and follow-up on the “Consumption and Justice” case.

In November 2002 a great survey from the research project Power and Democracy showed that church leaders have changed roles from being a conservative elite in Norwegian history into being a radical elite in questions about financial equalisation, the relationship between town and country, state control and internationalisation. According to this survey, the church leaders’ opinions in these questions correspond with those of large parts of the population.

Among organisations working with questions about peace, justice and environment protection, the church’s more obvious involvement is being noticed, which – fortunately – creates new expectations.