Congress Report


Statements and Resolutions

ILRS Meets in Budapest
Overview of the 2000 Congress
The International League of Religious Socialists (ILRS) held its triennial Congress from 13-15 October in Budapest, Hungary.

Meeting in a building that formerly housed the local headquarters of the communist Hungarian Socialist Workers Party, across the street from a park where activists in the 1956 uprising were hung, the theme of this first ever congress in a former Soviet bloc nation was “What Is Our Idea of Democracy?” Today, the building is occupied by the reformed organisation, the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSzP), now a member of the Socialist International, and our hosts for the congress. Heavy with meaning, and the knowledge of the history before us, the congress focused on the different scenarios and systems of democratic governance experienced by democratic socialists round the world.

Chosen with the idea of engaging the recent changes in central and eastern Europe clearly in mind, the theme allowed our comrades in that part of the world to report on their experiences, and the congress indeed gave testimony to the endurance of democracy against dictatorship of any kind.

Hungarian Socialist Party Leader László Kovács speaks to the ILRS Congress
Hungary, always a defiant partner in the old Warsaw Pact, has since 1991 been well on its way to transforming itself into a modern European nation, with its eye on membership in the European Union. The transformation was evident in the words of our Hungarian comrades. István Orosz, Chair of the Religious Section of the Hungarian Socialist Party, opened the congress by saying that ‘after the dark age of communism, Hungary will again become part of Europe.’ Socialist Member of Parliament Gyula Hegyi spoke of the need to use social democratic principles to bring about a global culture of solidarity that can be a counterbalance to the global market. And the leader of the Socialist Party, László Kovács, told the congress that the 21st century would be ‘an era of social principles to combat the growing gap between rich and poor, as well as to build tolerance and democracy throughout the world.’

Ideas of democracy

For the congress, each national delegation was asked to present a synopsis of the political system in their country, and share the distinctions of those systems in work groups designed to build a better understanding
ILRS President Evert Svensson addressed the Congress on how democratic structures are affected by the growing gap between rich and poor in all nations.
of how we approach democracy, both in a pragmatic and visionary sense. One of the most challenging aspects of such an exercise is dealing with the often very different perspectives on history and economics that one finds between those in the East and West, as well as the North and South. For example, perceptions of the market economy and its usefulness in building democracy tend to break down along lines of affluence and adversity, with those socialists in industrialised nations taking a far more critical view of a market system with which they have had more experience than their Eastern European comrades. But beyond the different forms of social services and safety nets we live with, and the various laws pertaining to electoral politics and groups in civil society, one finds some common ground in our aspirations as socialists to confront the inequalities within our respective societies, be they social, economic, or political.

Three reports informed these work groups, from Sweden, South Africa and Britain respectively.

The Swedish government has just completed an extensive and groundbreaking report on Sustainable Democracy, which was presented to the congress by Professor Erik Amna of the University of Uppsala. After noting a decline throughout all industrialised nations in the degree of participation in the political process, the Social Democratic party government began surveying Swedish voters about their opinion of democracy and their own democratic process, to try and find out why the decline was happening. Five areas were identified as important in maintaining the public’s interest in civic responsibility, which are mentioned here very briefly:

1. The need to improve democratic awareness, that is the sense that one has control over one’s sphere of life.

2. A need to develop participation between elections, so that this sense of control over one’s own affairs has real meaning beyond the period of elections. Citizens need to feel involved, and that their involvement has a more immediate effect on their lives.

3. In order to make that involvement real, an expansion in the amount of local self-government and legal review is required, with the ability to take the input from local forums to the national and international policy level.

4. An increase in the accountability of institutions and elected officials is essential if the previous three points are to have any meaning and impact upon people’s desire to participate in the democratic process. By that is meant that people need to have access to information about social policy as well as access to methods of recall and review.

5. Finally, all of the four points above have to be regularly evaluated to ensure that they are functioning properly. Only when people trust the processes in which they are invested will they continue to use them.

Where the Swedish report provided an idea of how to move toward a better realisation of democracy, our report from South Africa analysed some of the things that can go wrong after a dramatic democratic transformation of an unjust society.

The report, from the Commission for Religious Affairs of the African National Congress, mentioned how coming to power has produced unexpected distractions and diversions which have somewhat disrupted the plans of the ANC government. Delegates discussed how the revolutionary energy that went into the struggle against apartheid quickly transformed itself into the more mundane tasks of government once the people took power. The same skilled activists who led a dynamic movement for a new political system became members of parliament, government ministers, and local officials. As a result, the ANC government has been bogged down with the tasks of ensuring that the new political structures work properly, and that the nation maintains a sufficient level of socio-economic 'stability' to keep investment flowing into the country.

The task that faces South Africa’s civil society is one of reinvigourating its grassroots methods for achieving change in more specific areas of social policy, without those methods being seen as a threat to the very stability of the state. It’s a lesson that both those in and outside of the ANC are trying to learn as that nation builds its democracy.

Bev Thomas addressed the rights of oppressed groups in democratic societies
In the third report, Bev Thomas, Co-Chair of Britain’s Christian Socialist Movement addressed the rights of minorities and oppressed groups in democratic societies, and noted that South Africa’s Truth and Reconcilation Commission is an excellent model for how to proceed in attempting to solve the conflicts in Northern Ireland and the Middle East. Speaking on a more personal level, Bev stated that an important issue for her was not to be seen or recognised as merely a 'person of colour' but first and foremost as a human being.

The ILRS and its activities

Carrying on from the theme of democracy, the ILRS has announced the creation of a Campaign Against Religious and Political Extremism to be developed in the coming year. The origin of the concept comes from earlier proposals from the 1997 ILRS Congress in Helsinki, and the campaign in part addresses what has always been a raison d’etre for the League — the confrontation of the right/fundamentalist current in religious life.

Recent political victories by the Right in Europe, an increase in anti-Jewish and anti-immigrant hate crimes, and a disturbing climate of religiously motivated intolerance in some Islamic countries have prompted the ILRS to work towards ways of building understanding between people of different faiths, by focusing upon common social values which are universal to all faiths as well as to a democratic socialist agenda. While plans are in development for specific actions and forums around the Campaign, the League is also working with its contacts in the Middle East on the idea of holding a Conference on Peace and Understanding in either Jerusalem or Amman, Jordan.

The Campaign Against Religious and Political Extremism hopes to provide a space where religious socialists can turn their ideas into actions, in order to make a larger impact on our respective parties’ political agenda.

At this congress, three new member organisations (Hungary, Italy and Latvia) were admitted to the ILRS. Of these, the largest is the Italian organisation Christiano Sociali, which boasts 11,000 members. The Bulgarian organisation Religious Social Democrats were accepted as observer members (observer members have no vote).

A new executive was elected, including the organisation’s first woman Vice-President (Iréne Häberle). Evert Svensson continues as our President, Harry Watson continues as Vice-President, and Johan van Workum continues as Treasurer. Andrew Hammer was elected as the new Secretary General. Our executive committee is as follows: Bev Thomas (Britain), Dr. Tapio Lampinen (Finland), Ona Kupriene (Lithuania), and Alois Reisenbichler (Austria). Substitute members are: Judy Deutsch (USA), Gyula Hegyi MP (Hungary), and Stefano Ceccanti (Italy)

Andrew Hammer, Secretary General

Address by Dr. Magda Kosa-Kovács MP (MSzP), Chair of Human Rights Commission in the Hungarian Parliament
Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, I am very glad, you have chosen Budapest for this conference. You have come to a region and to a country where links between religion, churches and politics are dominated by the pressure of history. You have come to a country, where perception towards religion and churches still represents a dividing line in the society with influencing believers, non-believers as well as ‘historical’ and ‘new’ religious communities. These dividing lines are also shaped by politics, diminishing tension with its tolerance and deepening conflicts when getting involved with people’s matter of conscience. Now — in a specifically transitional situation, at a historic moment — I would like to describe how religion and politics are linked in Hungary and how the legislation reflects changing political aims.

It will take years or even decades, to find out whether the Hungarian population took a distance from religion as a result of the several decade long oppression, or a spontaneous secularisational process — like in many countries worldwide took place. Today only 7% of the Hungarian population claims not to be baptised, 13% follows the thoughts of a certain church (two-thirds of it Catholic), is ‘religious in his or her own way’ and 28% claims not to be religious.

So, we are talking about the link between religion, churches and politics in a country where people have a special perception towards religion. They go to church at family occasions and religious feasts, but very often to a denomination different from where they have been baptised. The knowledge concerning religious life, is at a very low level among the adult population and those regularly going to church are even fewer, than you would think. Autocracy became a part of people’s mind, by developing a special form of opportunism, hypocrisy and treason. Several hundreds thousand of families were affected by the ‘double-upbringing’: children were not allowed to speak about the religious traditions of the family at school. Teaching religion at school was in reality banned, this could only take place in churches. The state controlled the churches through administrative means and forced part of the clergy to cooperate. The revolt against autocracy and the fight for democracy became inseparable from the claims for freedom of conscience and religion.

In 1989, at the trilateral negotiations, the main aim was to assure the political rights for freedom. As a result, the Constitution, the act on parties, the act on the rights of association and the act on the right of assembly and the criminal act were. These acts were amended by the Parliament in the autumn of 1989. One of the main achievements of the Parliament preparing the democratic system — where the Hungarian Socialist Party and prime minister Miklós Németh had an indisputable role — was to accept the act on the freedom of religion and conscience and the act IV. of 1990, concerning churches.

Both politicians and experts consider this act as a very good means to guarantee the denominational equality, the separation of church and state and the churches’ autonomy. This regulation considers the freedom of conscience and religion, as a fundamental human right. The establishment of a church is the right of those following the same articles of faith. Founding a church is possible for all kind of religious activities except if it is against the Constitution and the written law. At least one hundred persons are needed for the foundation of a church. This ‘religious status’ provides protection against the state, (its religious autonomy is guaranteed by the constitution) however finance, legal institutional functioning and security can be supervised. The churches breaking the law are cancelled from the records by the court (I have to underline that during the last 10 years only three plaints were made towards the Chief Public Prosecutor without any conviction, however more than ninety churches are registered in Hungary). It is important to know, that the so-called historical churches (Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, Jewish) have supported the legal framework for the establishment of churches, by voting for this act in 1990 as delegated members of the last Parliament preceding the first democratic elections.

Now, 10 years afterwards, we are in a situation where we have to examine the link between religion, politics and legislation. The amendment of the above presented act is being debated and all together this means much more than some new paragraphs. The main question is whether we let political judgements influence the act on freedom of conscience and religion.

As the government does not have two-thirds majority in the Parliament, the decision can not be taken without the Socialist Party. We can not ask you to take this decision for us, but we would like to use this conference for expressing the Socialist Party’s point of view on religion and politics and about the responsibility of the legislation.

The debate on the approach towards regulation is as old is the law itself. I would like to underline the difference between the left and the conservative approach in two main issues. The first issue concerns the autonomy of the church and is a political opinion about the freedom of religion. The second one talks about the separation of church and state, especially underlining the public finance of churches.

The freedom of conscience and religion is a constitutional human right. Then, why do we even have to talk about it at this conference? At the beginning of the nineties, there had already been a strong pressure against unregulated foundation of churches. Up to the critics, ‘destructive’ religions can harm moral values even if they are not against any laws and the Constitution. The protest was mainly against some neo-Protestant denominations and those world-religions newly appeared in Hungary.

The main dilemma used to be, and is still, about whether the state has the right to ideologically distinguish religions and churches. In 1992, during the first democratically elected government, the state secretary in charge of churches put it very clearly: ‘The new movements are for the destruction of the historical churches’, so ‘the state has to persecute those who disintegrate the society even if there is no legal proof of their actions’.

The Socialist Party is well aware of the existing radical religious groups, endangering peace in the society, in the families and especially among the youth. On the other hand, our conclusion is not about classifying the different religions by political and legal pressure: the ‘highest class’ can get the ‘church status’ and the others should function as associations. There is no doubt, that one can practise religion without the special status, in individual or communal forms. Moreover, besides the church status the state is supervising all kind of associations. This means, that the government could influence religious matters. We believe, it is not the legal framework for the freedom of religion that has to be altered. However, in parallel with the recommendations of the European Parliament in 1996 and the European Council in 1999, the existing criminal and authority tools have to be used more efficiently, when any religious community is endangering or prohibiting human rights.

This of course means that the Socialist Party does not want to set a scale of values for religions. We do not consider one religion being more valuable than the other. At the same time, no one can be judged for denying the existence of God or for being faithless. This is a matter of continuous debate with the right-wing coalition, which considers the Christian — but mainly the Catholic — self-identity as a general, almost compulsory national value. There is a possibility — following the several decade long communist atheism — for a new political and public pressure, forcing people to formal religiousness and restricting the freedom of conscience and religion to a form of hypocricy. In our mind, religion is the holiest personal matter, but the government considers it as the most personal public matter. The government should not have another task than to assure the freedom of conscience and religion. The conservative coalition sets values different from ours and is using legal tools to implement this scale of values. Thus, it is not surprising that the modification of the act IV. of 1990 is moving towards the willingness of restrictions on the basis of values.

The denominational equality by the finance of churches is linked to values set up from outside. As I have already mentioned, there are many registered churches in Hungary. The new religious communities include 1-2% of the population — many of them very quickly breaking up following the death of its founder. It would be too dogmatic to view all churches exactly in the same way, especially concerning the use of public assets.

In the first place, history has already shaped the circumstances of religious activities. On the 1st of January 1948 the wealth of churches has been nationalised, without any compensation. In July 1991, part of the compensational process, a special act was issued on the arrangements of the church properties. The Act has given back the nationalised properties ‘in function of the real religious activities’. Those properties, impossible to give back and those not needed, could be transformed in the form of allowances. The payments were regulated by the act of 1997, based on the accord between the Hungarian Republic and the Vatican. However, payments can only be made towards those six churches which took part in the agreement. This includes Catholic, Calvinist, Lutheran, Baptist, Jewish and Serb-Orthodox communities. So, the question of the historical property, already makes a distinction in the case of the financial situation of the churches.

The question is still there: does the state have financial obligations towards the churches — above the historical justice — when the separation of church and state is written in the Constitution. Our answer is the following: the autonomy of the churches is not endangered by the budget itself. But, when financial aid is given on ideological bases and through political deals, autonomy will always be left behind.

Between 1994 and 1998, the socialist-liberal government tried to take the question of financial aid out of the framework of political deals. It laid down the basis for contribution to the finance of the different religious communities. (We are of course not talking about donations, but about the fact that people can freely dispose of a part of their taxes). The churches — mainly the old historical churches — were against this solution. Since 1996, it has become clear that this act is working. The anonymity is secured by the law itself, and this year’s modification makes it possible for contributions, worth less than one 100 HUF (Hungarian Forints) to be transferred. Last year, a sum close to one billion forints was given to the Catholic Church, all together the contributions towards the churches exceeded one and a half billion HUF.

The financial settlement of the churches’ public matter activities, made budget deals avoidable. Since December 1997, supplementary support is given to the churches for their educational, social and medical activities. This sum counts for the part that is being spent by public maintainers on these institutions.

The law is unambiguous: all churches are equal in financing activities of religious or public matter. This regulation is valid for all religious communities registered as a church. Politics is however getting too much involved in finance. A recent decision is clearly preconceptional. Only those six churches can get public service tax allowances which have signed an agreement with the government, now in power. The agreement was not even offered to others. This is not about real public activities — the practice of religion — but mainly about preferential choices. In our opinions, this is against the Constitution. The case is now at the Constitutional Court, there is no decision yet.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am well aware, we all have different legislative practices and what I have said now, is very typical of us. I am convinced, that inside the framework of rule of low, public and political influence on religion and churches has to be mainly exerted through legislation. The law is the power itself and if the law has changed, politics has also changed path compared to the past. We have to deal with a severe democratic deficit in Hungary, many of our democratic achievements have been damaged in the past two years. Among these, the autonomy of churches and the denominational equality, which are the institutional guarantees for religious freedom. We consider these values as a crucial part of left-wing politics, and want to protect them in the future as well. I am sure that the International League of Religious Socialists will help us be successful in our fight.

Sustainable Democracy: Policy for Government by the People
in the 21st Century
Report presented to Congress by Prof. Erik Amna
Development is not uncontrollable. It is in the nature of democracy that it is not determined by fate. Nor does it lie in someone else’s hands. Therefore, it is not only individual measures but also the overall political will that has importance for how society will develop.

Democracy is not immutable. The institutions of democracy are fragile in the sense that they take a long time to build up but can collapse significantly more quickly, not least through violence. However, de-democratisation can also creep forward, by small but conscious adjustments of important details of the structures. Without anyone really wanting it to happen, the institutions of democracy can thus lose their efficacy and their norms. This can take place by critical development being neglected or by political representatives consciously or recklessly misusing the confidence of citizens.

We lay down certain fundamental objectives for the future development of democracy and furthermore propose a democracy policy for the long-term enhancement of government by the people in Sweden. Numerous proposals are given in our various documents. Some of them are presented in this report. Refer to our documents for more comprehensive discussion and statistical information. However, it was not part of our terms of reference to examine in detail the proposals, though we expect that this will be conducted through a separate procedure....

Download the full report (48 K)

A South African Experience of Politics, Religion and Civil Society
Report from Cedric Mayson, ANC Commission for Religious Affairs
1. Our African Roots

Religious roots

A German executive of a major NGO working in South Africa said to me recently: “I’ve been astonished at the number of our staff that go to church. It isn’t like that in Germany at all!” No one would deny that South Africa has some of the best agnostics and atheists in the world, but most of our 35 million population do have religious roots. Millions are grounded in African Traditional Religion which was thoroughly misunderstood by colonising missionaries, but is now recognised to contain profound spiritual truths of inestimable value to the community. Most of the population are Christian, all the main denominations of Christianity being firmly established as South African institutions, plus versions of every sect and pentecostal group that the US ever produced . Two groups of Christians have developed on distinct lines: the ‘Dutch Reformed’ churches identify strongly with the Afrikaner people; and the African Independent Churches, of which there are thousands of varieties and millions of followers, consist of Africans who wished to be Christians but not part of western culture and control. A million and a half of us are Muslims, a similar number are Hindus, and small groups are Jews, Bahai’s or Buddhists.

For this reason political and economic activity has always been given a strong religious motivation. The British Empire sought to justify its domination by appealing to the Victorian ideology expressed by David Livingstone to ‘spread Christianity and Commerce’ (both with a capital ‘C’); apartheid originated in the teaching of the Reformed Church in order to defend Christianity against first the Brits, then the blacks and finally the reds; and the struggle has been fed all through by a spirit of independence, hope and spiritual integrity that comes from the roots of African human experience.

Economic and social roots

Africa is best known in the west as a producer of gold, diamonds, coal and other mineral resources, but a more fundamental factor is the crucial role of land itself in the economic, ecological and theological survival of human communities. That relationship has survived the development of industry and cities which separated millions from the soil, the plains and mountains, the waters and the skies, and both blacks and whites know it. Walking barefoot in the veld, feeling the sun hot on the top of your head, spring time and harvest, the popularity of some basic foods and drinks, speaks of a deep belonging to the land which has nothing to do with historical conquests or title deeds, but prompts many attitudes to both community and theology. Capitalism is an alien imposition upon the soul of Africa: the western form of socialism which grew out of the western class struggle is a rather remote cousin. “Socialism in Africa is an attitude of mind”, said Dr Julius Nyerere. It inheres in the very nature of African society, part and parcel of the concept and experience of ubuntu.

2. The Apartheid Era

The National Party came to power in 1948 on the apartheid policy, although the main thrust of white politics was still an English versus Afrikaner continuation of the SA War. During the fifties the focus changed as the apartheid legislation began to oppress blacks and outrage a handful of whites. Some within the ‘mainline’ churches resisted the take over of church schools in 1955, and the ‘church clause’ of 1957, but apart from a few individuals there was no church involvement in the Freedom Charter of 1955, or the Treason Trials of 1958. The Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 marked a crucial change. A WCC delegation met a delegation of South African Churches at Cottesloe, Johannesburg in 1961, and acted as a catalyst to persuade some whites to become more vocal.

The Christian Institute under Dr. C.F. Beyers Naude became a focus for white and black Christian individuals who were willing to resist the regime, and the SA Council of Churches became the focus for Christian institutional opposition. ‘A Message to the People of South Africa’ (1968) published jointly by the CI and the SACC denounced apartheid as a false gospel, and was followed by a series of publications and protests including support for the Black Consciousness Movement under Biko, Pityana, Ramphele and others, until the Soweto students brought the whole country out in protest in June 1976. The CI had been involved in countless campaigns, including its support for the liberation Movements, and in 1997, on the eve of a campaign to examine “Liberation, Capitalism, and Socialism”, the CI and its staff were banned. (Me too).

Whilst there was some concern in the church, the majority of white and many black Christians did not wish to get involved, and there was a major division between the ‘liberals’ (who wanted some vague reforms but feared involvement, confrontation, or dirty hands) and the ‘activists’ (who were committed to work together for fundamental change).

Throughout the struggle religious opposition to apartheid oppression was vocal, but extremely limited. (For all its influence the CI never had more than 3500 members). The System (with strong support from the US and UK which brought the Anti Apartheid Movement into being) became more extreme; the Church became more scared; and the Institute of Contextual Theology came into being to fill the gap. In 1985, ICT published a booklet called “Challenge to the Church” which sought to move the church from supporting State theology, and Church theology, to Prophetic theology. The subtitle at the bottom of the cover was: “The Kairos Document”. The regime pronounced it subversive, and many in the church were critical, but the document was so widely acclaimed that the church hijacked it, buried its original title of “Challenge to the Church” and everyone now thinks that the Kairos document was a challenge by the church to the regime! The church became a site of struggle.

It was during this period also that the inter-faith movement, represented by the WCRP (World Conference on Religion and Peace) began to play a role in bringing together people from every community of faith who were involved in the struggle. The struggle grew, the regime weakened, Botha was toppled, and De Klerk changed history in 1991 by unbanning the liberation movements and changing Robben Island from a terrorist prison to a tourist resort. The Apartheid Government were photographed with Mandela and his colleagues on the steps of Groote Schuur and amongst the ANC delegation was Beyers Naude. The democratic government was elected in 1994.

Some lessons we learnt in the struggle may be noted.
- The object of the struggle was to transform society, not personal goodness; it required a communal not an individualist approach.
- The struggle moved forward through small progressive groups that reflected and acted, not by seeking leadership positions in huge institutions, or employing experts to do the work for us.
- Much of the struggle was not against the oppressors, but between ‘liberals’ and ‘activists’. If the liberals had put their hands were their mouth was liberation would have come sooner.
- Ecumenism grew through comrades in the struggle who came from different denominations, and different religions, but had the same commitment and the same experience of faith. Thus the ecumenical movement (both Christian and inter-faith) has a different dimension from most places in the west and north.
- We began to realise that the key was spirituality, not religion. Everyone is spiritual, but not everyone is religious: often the people with most spirit are those who find religion a switch off.
- The struggle was rooted in the insights, experience, analysis, vision and commitment of the poor and oppressed. Many whose hearts were in the right place, but were neither poor nor oppressed, resisted having to take second place in the struggle. This gave a meaningful dimension to Jesus’ comments that the rich could not see the kingdom, and the believers had to be born again to enter it.
- Apartheid was not overthrown by destroying it’s supporters. It collapsed from within, but the oppressors were still with us. A luta continua.

We also learnt that our struggle was part of a world wide struggle, and these lessons are mentioned so that we can exchange experience with others.

3. After 1994

The democratic euphoria was a wonderful experience to live through. Overnight we had come from darkness to light, from violence to peace, and from oppression to freedom. But the experience of transition is always a time of testing, tension and uncertainty and the transition from an apartheid state to a democratic state at every level of society, with all the oppressors still around, was difficult. Few fundamental changes could happen immediately. Long before he became President Thabo Mbeki once said to me: “We spent all our lives fighting for liberation, and we never had enough time to work out what to do with freedom when we’d won it.”

Fr Michael Lapsley (who despite the loss of both hands and an eye in a parcel bombing is still deeply involved) put the same point slightly differently when he said: ”We knew what to do when the slaves were fighting Pharaoh, but what happens when the slaves become Pharaoh?”

We came into office with no experience of government, and with government offices 90% run by supporters of the old regime. Seeking reconciliation instead of rejection made it a slow process. Nearly all the first Cabinet came from a strong socialist background committed to a more just distribution of wealth but knew they had to govern in a world where the wealth was controlled by a capitalist dictatorship. Africa has plenty of experience of what the West does to states who declare themselves socialist like Tanzania, Zambia, Moçambique and Angola.

South Africa had to secure a place in the world economy by demonstrating it was a serious capable state. It had to mount policies to transform the life of our impoverished masses, at a time when globalisation was spreading poverty on an unprecedented scale. With millions unemployed, thousands lived from crime; and with the worship of self and money becoming dominant it was inevitable that corruption, which was at the heart of apartheid, would blossom. The new government knew it was necessary to re-launch the whole continent as a viable entity which could stand on its own feet in the face of world exploitation, a concept which the west had rejected for centuries, and which also demanded that many states in Africa clean up their act.

Religion seemed uncertain of its role. Some thanked God the struggle was over and they could ‘get back to being the church’ and went inside and shut the doors and are presumably still there. The prophets who had played a major role in the struggle became leaders in churches, universities, government departments, or ngo’s and disappeared in the bureaucracies. Fundamentalist charismatic Pentecostalism swept in on the shoulders of self-centred capitalist enterprise, and the churches did not know how to stop it. The prophetic wisdom which had embraced the whole political-religious-civil society spectrum was submerged by a concern for running churches with little idea of what they were running for, and the paucity of leadership in the church alarms many. Church membership is declining as many people find they cannot live with the church.

The interesting situation has developed whereby the ANC has taken several initiatives which religious leaders have received warmly, but have not followed through. The first was in 1997 when President Mandela invited about 30 religious leaders to meet him and discussed the partnership of religion and politics in the transformation process. He said:

“The transformation of our country requires the greatest possible co-operation between religious and political bodies, critically and wisely serving our people together. Neither political nor religious objectives can be achieved in isolation. They are held in a creative tension with common commitments. We are partners in the building of our society.”

This was followed by the formation of the National Religious Leaders Forum (NRLF) which organised the Moral Summit, a prestigious affair with Mandela in the chair and every religious and political group represented, but although every one agreed to produce an ongoing programme on Moral development, only the ANC did so. Once the photographs with Madiba were snapped, the NRLF committee wilted. Most are interested in promoting their own religious industry and that’s it. The SACC, WCRP, and ICT have dwindled to nothing, most of those who cling to power seeming unable to promote them.

Further initiatives have been taken by President Mbeki in meeting religious leaders, and by Deputy President Jacob Zuma in leading a Programme for Moral Regeneration, and whilst both have great signs of promise it sometimes seems like walking through mud. A basic reason is that the Mandela government concentrated on reconciliation and establishing a new constitution, and the Mbeki government is concerned to change society. Constitutions are pieces of paper, and reconciliation can be focussed on personal attitudes, but embracing the role of religion, politics and civil society in changing the world is a different kettle of fish.

4 What are the factors in an African renaissance?

Here I must speak personally (not claiming that these views are necessarily those of the organisations to which I belong), and prophetically (in the sense of seeking to see the main issues emerging within this human quest for wholeness) as seen from the experience of the South African struggle. The Kairos Document stated:
The Church cannot collaborate with tyranny. It cannot or should not do anything that appears to give legitimacy to a morally illegitimate regime. Secondly, the Church should not only pray for a change of government, it should also mobilise its members in every parish to begin to think and work and plan for a change or government. We must begin to look ahead and begin working now with firm hope and faith for a better future.

As socialists and as spiritual people, we recognise that both capitalism and theology today have the whiff of moral illegitimacy, and carry the seeds of inherent collapse within themselves. Our task, through analysis and organising action, is to be part of the cooperative struggle towards a new world (what Jesus proclaimed as the basileia, the good news of the ruling power of God on Earth.)

Economic and social factors

Capitalism is out, but so is the Cold War. We inherited a conflict between capitalism and socialism but whilst many of those principles still apply, our task cannot be confined to old ideologies and slogans. Conditions have changed. Fundamentally, we still need a system to redistribute the wealth of the world justly. Wealth is concentrated in the Market Sector and the Government sector and lacking in the Civil sector. Globalisation is increasing the wealth of the Market and reducing the resources available to Civil Sector so that poverty, unemployment and famine are rapidly approaching a genocide situation in which the globalised capitalist dictatorship must be recognised as a crime against humanity.

The traditional way of distributing wealth has been through wages, and the conflict between the owners of the Market and the working class has been the stuff of struggle for centuries. The constant cry is for more jobs. But that system is largely redundant. Mechanisation and information technology mean that less and less work/jobs are necessary to maintain the economy of the world, jobless growth will continue, and another way of redistributing wealth must be found. There is plenty of wealth to provide for humanity without people working an eight hour day for five days a week for forty years to produce it, but it cannot be distributed by a wage economy. The world will work very well on a four day week for twenty years – but what is humanity about if it doesn’t spend its life working? What culture is this? How do we change the system, and into what? How can a basic income grant be organised, or a paid approach to ‘voluntary work’, or a rediscovery of our relationship with the land, ecology, and Earth affect our future? Must we let globalisation and AIDS kill off half the population so that the system can continue?

Government can use the clout of the state to lead development, intervene in job creation, lead the economic empowerment of the poor and marginalized, promote co-operative and collective ventures, and produce policies to change the ruling patterns of both the Market and Civil society, but such an economic and social transformation will never succeed without a different drive. The survival of humanity depends upon a spiritual transformation.


It is now popular not to believe in God. Many people in all religious traditions have become disillusioned with church, mosque, synagogue, temple or traditions, and are tossed about upon the ocean of unbelief. This leaves a gap in many lives. People used to associate goodness with God, but if God doesn’t exist ethical behaviour is up for grabs. Other forces have rushed to occupy the religious space, most of which are absolutist political creeds like fascism, nationalism and apartheid, or absolutist fundamentalist sects like ‘born again’ ritysinaiyt or some conservative Jewish, MJUlsi, or HUnd groups. THeir emotionjal approach im;poses anintellectual slavery laying down the lawof everything, whi Christianity and conservative Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or New Age adherents. Their personalised emotional approach imposes an intellectual slavery on every aspect of life, and promotes social immorality on a huge scale either by giving religious support to the capitalist dictatorship (like those who supported apartheid), or by making reproving comments and then withdrawing from reality (like our white liberals).

A massive spiritual armoury is ranged against this from many people in all faith communities, and emerges when they engage together in struggling against oppression. Because the affluent cannot see where they are going, and because the initiative (“God”) comes from the poor and oppressed, the dice are weighted against western Christians (especially ancient white men like me) but there is a role for those who are born again (a la Jesus rather than Billy Graham). Theo Simpson and Robin Green wrote in “Theology” of Nov/Dec 1990:
“We have to face the fact that much of the classical theological tradition, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, was framed within the context of white western capitalist world domination. The theological reflection now taking place is as much an expression of liberation from that tradition as it is an attempt to articulate that tradition in new forms and patterns. Contextual theology arose because theologies that laid claim to universality did not take local situations and experience seriously. In effect, they were a form of cultural imperialism.” (and male domination).

Christians finding common cause with others to turn the world upside down have to re-examine their own sources in Jesus of Nazareth, liberating these from subsequent distortions by ecclesiastical-political presentations through the centuries. Most western Christians (in defiance of their own modern scholarship) have been nurtured to believe that Jesus, and what the Church teaches about Jesus, are the same thing, but they are not.

Jesus gives no support to the disastrous Constantinian creed and the claim that Jesus himself was exclusively God. Jesus has little point of contact with the god of the Middle Ages, the god of Victorian, Bismarkian or American colonialism, or the modern idol of pentecostal fundamentalism which is reviving heresy in all churches. Rediscovering Jesus on a level playing field means relinquishing some inherited ideas about God, and demands that Christians (especially Christian socialists) leap over the wall of accumulated ecclesiastical garbage and begin to realise anew the importance of Jesus the Man of Galilee and what he was all about. Father Christmas dumps his beard and cloak and becomes a credible man; the clown reveals his true nature; the scarecrow takes on flesh and comes alive.

An in depth rediscovery of Jesus as the Teacher of the Way today can be sought by translating the “Lessons we learnt in the struggle” into Jesus’ terms; or by evaluating his Good News of the basileia in our circumstances; or by following his teaching about the experience of faith (which people in liberation struggles know), and of community (for it is through small communities that empowerment comes); or of the experience of those in Latin America, Canada, and other places; or of economics (for Marx and the Communists in the 19th century were moving in parallel with religious socialists and it is a crucial part of religious socialism to recall that initiative today. It is difficult because the Church buried it a century ago and has stood guard on the grave ever since. Who today has heard of Maurice, Kingsley, Conrad Noel, or Sam Keeble, or the pioneers on the continent or in the USA?) Liberated Christians can then open their minds fully to the insights from socialist Hindus, Jews, Muslims and ethicists from whose agnostic spirituality we can often learn so much.

But in conclusion I must testify as an African. At the beginning of this paper I referred to African Traditional Spirituality, for it is in rediscovering some of the basic experiences of human spirituality from its earliest sources that we can learn how to relate to one another in community and from the land on which we dwell. Africa has a relaxed human-rich culture. Amos, Jesus and the Prophet would find many difficulties in the west, but be very much at home in a hut in the Transkei.

This does not mean going backwards to the customs of earlier rural communities, nor throwing out the rich religious heritages of west or east, but going on from there to explore ways to empower spiritual strength in the human relationships of local communities today. There is a vital force released when women and men come together to transform their societies whatever its specific local focus. Power does not lie in massive national or international conferences which can only share or inspire the molecules It means establishing groups that move from spiritual superstitions to communal empowerment, from the profit motif to the service motif, from futile attempts to reform western civilisation to replacing western civilisation, from competition to co-operation, from greed to need, from individualism to shared enjoyment. The challenge to build communal structures, to re-deploy wealth and banish poverty, to let women and other oppressed people give the lead, will open us to the energy of courage, commitment and achievement. We can expect a positive comprehensive inter-faith theology to provide tools for transforming people. Assisting one another as comrades in a struggle with major issues will fortify our communities with a spiritual strength many have never known.

We must capture the vision of a major social movement based in local communities engaged in the struggle to turn dreams into the theological and economic transformation of their own civil society. It is as we engage in the struggles within our own societies and share these with comrades in other parts of the world that the movement will come about.

Many wonderful people are still hung up on a god out there somewhere who never existed, and blind to the spiritual power at our finger tips. It may seem but the glimmer of a candle in the night but a skyfull of darkness cannot put it out. It is the darkness before the dawn of a new age as crucial as the Reformation, the Renaissance, or the Enlightenment, and religious socialists must learn to live as people who are at home in daylight.

And after the vision must come the strategy.

Cedric Mayson is a retired Methodist Minister who works for the Commission for Religious Affairs of the African National Congress. In earlier years he worked with the Christian Institute, the Institute of Contextual Theology, the SA Council of Churches, and the SA Chapter of the World Conference on Religion and Peace.

Summary of National Reports on Democracy
General observations: There were many points of similarity between the submissions from the different countries. There appears to be diminishing participation by the general public in the political process, growing distrust of politicians and a feeling that people have very little access to power.

Voting - frequency of elections, level of participation, registration qualifications, types of electoral systems, voting rights:

Most countries responding held elections for the national Government every four or five years, some had a fixed term and others a more flexible system. Only Australia has compulsory voting, those who do not vote and who have not registered conscientious objections can be fined.

Participation levels vary greatly from about 25% in USA to over 85% in Australia, in most countries the numbers of those bothering to vote in elections is decreasing. In some countries citizens are automatically registered as voters at 18. Other countries demand individual registration, most countries where registration is necessary are trying to make this easier for those who are native born but countries vary greatly in how easy they make it for immigrants to be granted the right to vote.

There are a wide variety of voting systems, the majority of countries use a form of proportional representation with varying degrees of proportionality. The USA has a first past the post system; P.R. seems to encourage a greater spread of parties than FPTP.

All countries have a secret ballot (the notes from Australia indicate that they were the first country to adopt a secret ballot).

Constituencies vary greatly in size from country to country but this variation in size does not seem to alter people's perceptions of the politicians who represent them. Most countries have personal voting with a wide provision for voting by post. All citizens, apart from convicted criminals in most countries have the right to vote but in some countries there is a residential qualification for registration which militates against the poor and those whose work - often low paid - requires them to move around the country a great deal.

All the responses came from representative democracies but several have provision for referenda at local or national level although referenda are not called very often and the results may only be advisory.

Government. Tiers of government and their powers, centralisation, how representative of the broad spectrum of the population, coalition or single party government, outside influences on government.

Most countries have three tiers of government - national/federal, regional and local. In most countries each of these layers is autonomous and the only way decisions can be changed is by legal action, not by another tier of government. In some countries the national government has some fiscal control over the actions of other tiers.

Most countries wanted to see less centralisation except for the general feeling in Austria which seemed to be that more centralisation would be more cost effective. The areas of decision making which were devolved to lower tiers of government varied greatly.

In most countries white middle class men were well represented at all levels of government. Apart from Sweden women are underrepresented at all levels, as are most ethnic and religious minorities. Several countries are attempting to redress the balance to make all levels of government more representative of the whole population. In most countries the parties of the left have led the way in this.

Everywhere the poor are underrepresented at all levels.

In most countries with a PR system there is a coalition government and in those with First past the Post a more adversarial arrangement.

Only 2 countries - USA and Australia commented on the influence of multi-nationals on government, both thought their effect was detrimental to individuals. In many countries Trade unions had links with the Social Democratic parties but this was not always evident from the influence which they had with those parties when the parties were in government.

Some special interest groups have developed strong lobbying powers; often those with strong financial backing have strong influence with the parties of the right.

Political Parties and Civil Society

The number of political parties represented, the state of political parties, representation within parties, party democracy, membership growth, policy influence, the necessity for political parties:

Most countries have few political parties represented in Government , 2-4, in Sweden they seem to be proliferating with 7. In general most political parties are losing members. Most political parties in most countries are open to all although there are certain "invisible barriers" in some to those of certain ethnic backgrounds. Most parties claim to be democratically controlled by their members but in fact most have structures, which can only be scaled through patronage, influence or cultivation of "power broker". The Trades Unions in many countries are growing slightly after a decline; Non Governmental Organisations are growing more. Most individuals in most countries think that they have little influence on either Government or Party policy. Some of our groups consider they have some influence on their party policy, which can lead to government policy. Most groups who expressed an opinion consider that political parties are essential in a democracy.

Religion. civil society and Politics.

Main religions in the countries, national churches, numbers of people in membership, growth of religious groups, religious institutions in state structures, exclusion/inclusion of ministers in political activities, religious leaders in government, the role of religion in politics, the authority attributed to the pronouncements of religious leaders, the influence of religious groups on government:.

Most of the countries answering the survey were predominantly Christian and many had state church but all had a plurality of religions within the country. The level of religious affiliation varies but in many countries it is high although in most countries the religious groups are loosing adherents. Most countries allow religious leaders full political activity but some churches restrict this. Although we have had no submission from the UK I know that a previous Co ordinator of the Christian Socialist Movement is being threatened by an arcane law with not being able to take his seat in the U.K parliament after the next election. This is because he was an ordained priest in the Roman Catholic Church, even though he has since resigned, Australia allows no ordained ministers to be politicians. In most countries attention is paid to religious leaders when they speak on social issues. Most responders thought that religious socialists had a duty to be involved in politics in the interests of justice. Most respondents also hoped that their groups had influence in the policies of their party and the country.

Chris Herries. ILRS 14.9.00

Campaign Against Religious and Political Extremism

Throughout the world today, in every region of the globe, civil society is in some way threatened by forces of intolerance. Whether by the the rise of right-wing neo-Nazi groups in Europe or the violence of Islamic fundamentalists against Christians in India; whether by the anti-women and anti-gay attitudes of Christian fundamentalists in the United States, or the ultra-conservative social positions of the Catholic Church in Latin America, democracy is under attack by those who seek to force their world view on minorities and majorities alike.

History has shown us that political and religious extremism, be it from the left or the right, only results in severe damage to the human family. Those of us who seek a world of social justice, who are committed to a vision of international democracy where all faiths, races, and cultures are respected as equals, must organise ourselves to confront the forces of intolerance, and instead offer a politics of understanding, a theology of respect for all humanity, regardless of past conflicts or present struggles. Our world can no longer afford to give social space to philosophies of exclusion and supremacy, which would seek to elevate one group of society above all others because of identity, nationality, or religion.

In this spirit, the ILRS will launch a Campaign Against Religious and Political Extremism, to fight against the forces of rigid fundamentalism in religion, and of social exclusion in politics. We do this by offering our own alternatives, which are less ‘alternatives’ than they are what we feel are the true manifestations of the world’s political and religious creeds. We challenge the validity of any interpretation or practice of any religion not based first upon love and compassion for all. We challenge any political idea in society that does not respect a non-violent, democratic process and the sanctity of human life.

We seek to confront the voices round the world who fuel themselves on hatred, and offer instead the promise of spiritual and social well-being through the politics of democratic socialism. Historically we have seen centuries of war and bloodshed caused by a particular interpretation of religious belief in society. At the centre of the mission of the ILRS should be an ongoing and vigourous commitment to resolve the issues of religion in civil society which have caused such division and conflict. As religious socialists, we seek to bring a democratic socialist component to religion, where those from each faith can discover the teachings of that faith which call us to a higher meaning and purpose for society. We seek to bring a compassionate spirituality to political discourse which shuns violence for respect for the dignity of all creation. Through this campaign we offer a new way to see our respective faiths, without changing in any way the ideas or the nature of those faiths. We offer a new way to see political struggle, so that we can as a human family approach our different political ideologies with respect toward all.

Two projects are proposed to begin this campaign. First, the development of a five point programme of core principles held in common by faith groups as well as our socialist political movement. Such a programme can be used to build a sense of solidarity and community between groups which might otherwise feel more separated from each other because of their diversity. By stressing and working on issues which connect with the core principles, we put forth an example of how we are more alike than different, how we share our goals and visions for a life of peace and justice.

The second project will be a conference in the Middle East, which will again address the issue of common political ground deriving from the three faiths which dominate that cradle of Western belief (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). If we can, in a small way, bring people together in an official, but more informal setting where the outcome of the meeting is not tied to immediate diplomatic or strategic goals, we hope that we might gain some ground in a human sense which might inform the future of the peace process.


The Congress of the International League of Religious Socialists, meeting in Budapest, 13-15 October 2000, is concerned about policy which exploits ethnic or racial tensions.

We religious socialists believe in the Kingdom of God for this earth. This Kingdom of God is an abundance of life for everyone. Our political commitment in the view of the Kingdom of God means first of all the option for the poor and oppressed. The Kingdom of God is an open, ‘common meal’. It is a vision of a society where everyone has his/her place and no one is excluded.

The ILRS Congress is concerned about election results which have shown in several European countries (Austria, Belgium, Switzerland) and elsewhere, that some politicians have gained success by 'playing the ethnic card'.

The ILRS Congress declares that discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity conflicts with the deepest essence of democracy in general, and especially with religious socialism, because all human beings are equal before God.

The ILRS Congress strongly condemns those politicians who exploit ethnic or racial tensions to gain votes.

The ILRS Congress calls upon all politicians to stop and prevent any political exploitation of racial or ethnic differences and tensions.

The ILRS Congress calls upon all governments to develop policies to realise citizenship of full value for all residents in their country.

The ILRS Congress calls upon governments and parliaments to put into law the idea that discrimination on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexuality is unacceptable and has to be punished.

The ILRS Congress calls upon churches and religious groups and their members to resist actively against xenophobia and ethnic discrimination, and to work on processes of reconciliation.

In this spirit, the ILRS will launch a campaign against religious and political extremism, to fight against the forces of rigid fundamentalism in religion and against social exclusion.

For as religious socialists we are called by our vision of God to heal the world and thus to do our part to realise the Kingdom of God.

Resolution on the Middle East
We who have gathered in Budapest in Hungary for the Congress of the International League of Religious Socialists (ILRS) express our deep concern for the present status of the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The ILRS Congress stresses the necessity of implementation of UN Resolutions (242, 338) as a basis to achieve a just and lasting peace.

As religious believers of different faith we deplore the role religious conviction is playing in the conflict by aggravating tensions and fuelling hatred between people. For us, in the Middle East as well as in Europe and in other parts of the world, tolerance, respect and peace-making lie in the core of any religion.

We would like to see Jerusalem as an example of co-existence and cooperation between religious institutions and religious followers with a common concern and responsibility for the holy city. The city should serve as capital for both states Israel and Palestine.

The efforts for a peaceful solution must be intensified. The principle of exchanging land for peace must be reiterated. No party will gain security at the expense of the other, it can only be achieved as a joint enterprise.

ILRS recognises the danger of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the whole area and the need to destroy them. The security of the region cannot rest on an arms race, but on fair negotiations and agreements for disarmament.

We affirm our deep concern for the respect of human rights, be they political, social or cultural.

We ask for international support to improve the economic and social situation in Palestine. There can be no real peace without justice.

We also ask for a fair solution on the use of local resources, especially water.

The world community must take its full responsibility for the peace process. We have to achieve results which will not be jeopardised so that all parties will be committed to negotiating a comprehensive, just and peaceful solution. No single party should be allowed to unilaterally block the road to peace. We also ask for action by labour movements, religious organisations and NGOs to support the peace movements of all sides.

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