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World Poverty and the Demands of Justice

Adopted by the General Board
February 20, 1968

The broad facts concerning poverty on the world scene are well known. The rich become richer, the poor, poorer. The highly developed nations are predominantly white with a bad tradition and practice of race relations; the less developed nations are vari-colored and possessors of vivid memoires of colonial and racial oppression. In countries where poverty is dominant, high aspirations of freedom and justice will not be denied, even though the slow pace of achievement leads to dangerous frustration. It is known that the nations together now possess the technological knowledge to remove much of the burden of poverty from the peoples of the world. Yet, in most parts of the globe, including our own country, poverty and underdevelopment have become the seedbeds of social and political revolutions. These facts have caused many informed and concerned persons to issue warning after warning; this inequity, this injustice is brewing a human trouble that will dwarf our present difficulties.

Although we in the United States of America have a greatly favored position of wealth and security, we are not making a response to the challenge of world poverty that is commensurate with our privilege or our moral responsibility. Our nation has done much to develop the science and technology, and to amass the wealth, which provide the promise of triumph over world poverty. Our very affluence, however, tends to muffle the cries of human need and to stifle our response to them.

It is to be acknowledged that since 1948 the United States has made a substantial contribution to reconstruction and development in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Governmental, business, private and church expenditures of money and personnel have been made. But a once proud effort now nears the point where it is an offense. The percentage of the gross national product provided for development abroad has dropped sharply. There is now little more than an annual bicker in the Congress concerning foreign aid. A heritage connecting United States objectives in the cold war with foreign aid stifles imagination. Once bold plans for development have shrunk into little more than props for the status quo, in countries where social change is desperately needed. Private investment too frequently does little to produce development that benefits the country concerned. Trade barriers remain and protectionism increases.

At the present time, the vision, drive and will to make an adequate contribution to the struggle against world poverty are generally lacking among the people, including the church people, of the United States. The government reflects this deficiency. Narrow interests of the self and nation ride too high, and concern for justice and the common interest too low. The deepest issues in the matter are not technical but moral. The urgent questions are: What is to be the purpose of the nation in relation to the less developed countries? Are the people of the United States willing to take needed action to help correct the injustice inherent in present-day poverty and underdevelopment?

In this situation, Christian faith discerns God’s judgment. The living God has revealed to us in the Biblical history and message that such gross inequities as those which we permit are against His will. In other times, He has raised up people and movements that judge the wealthy. We may expect Him to do so again, fro God does not permit a people to neglect justice for ease in Zion.

The Gospel provides clear direction. The Biblical revelation clearly states that the great inequities between the oppressed and oppressor, the poor and the rich, the outcast and the accepted rulers are contrary to God’s will and must be redressed. The justice of God is fulfilled by a dynamic movement among men that replaces these inequities with a relationship that can be found righteous in the sight of God. The justice of God restores the oppressed and downtrodden to full humanity, providing redemption from their enforced misery. To act justly, the wealthy must move beyond their own narrow self-interest, and act in the common interest to secure the well-being of those now in the grip of poverty and subject to injustice.

In the present situation, at least three broad areas of policy and action are essential.


The United States contribution to development should be increased and maintained because of the need of people, and not in order to secure lesser objectives. Careful studies have shown that many interests have, in fact, controlled the operation of the United States and other western nations in providing development aid. Military security, the maintenance or exertation of power and prestige, and economic advantage have been the chief. Nevertheless, while recognizing the power of these interests, it is necessary to go far beyond them, basing development efforts rather upon the claims of humanity for justice and peace. Our nation, in its own best tradition long the champion of justice, should clearly distinguish its immediate political and military objectives abroad from its development efforts, providing development aid to peoples as justice requires. Lesser interests and objectives should be submerged to secure the common interest inherent in the full development of peoples.


Development efforts on the part of the United States should avoid support of an unjust or corrupt status quo in the countries concerned and should, in scope and objective, be designed to produce needed and rapid social change. Four measures are of particular importance at the present time.

First, United States governmental policy should encourage and support the emergence of indigenous economic power, whether national or regional, in the less developed countries. Mere dependence upon the action of others cannot secure justice; justice requires a distribution of power so that true equalities rather than inequalities are the result. Responsibility for development lies with and within the less developed countries; no one can do their job for them. But without economic power they cannot perform their task. It should be a purpose of United States policy to discourage any public or private economic practices that withhold indigenous economic power and growth from the less developed countries, and to encourage this growth by any appropriate aid.

Second, development efforts should build upon the just aspirations of the peoples involved, seeking to achieve social change in terms of indigenous desires for development. In this age of intense nationalisms and varied ideologies, development efforts by the United States should not reflect a desire to impose our ideology upon different cultures. It is essential to take time to understand the development problems from the inside. Any preoccupation merely with dollars given, with quick profits, and with “American know-how” should give way to the long-range nurturing of economic institutions and leadership conducive to the economic prosperity of the country or region involved.

Third, early, vigorous and generous attention should be given, in both public and private sectors to trade arrangements which will work especially to the benefit of the less developed countries. Aid is essential, but it is generally agreed that without beneficial trade arrangements, aid to the less developed countries is largely futile. The following measures are important at the present time:

– the negotiation of effective international commodity agreements to stabilize export earnings on primary products from less developed countries.

– the liberalization of tariff policies and positive trade assistance to expand the access of the less developed countries to the markets of the developed countries.

Fourth, a vastly increased foreign economic aid program for development should be established by the people and government of the United States. The amount of this program should be not less than 1% of the gross national product for governmental developmental assistance and a further 1% (total 2%) of the gross national product for private developmental assistance. The quantity of funds, especially in view of the current decrease in funds available, is of critical importance, both in substance and as a symbol of the intent and interest of the people of the United States. Of perhaps greater importance, however, is the use of funds to secure social change in the less developed countries. The following measures are essential:

– To secure long-term planning, Congressional authorization of long-term assistance for periods of up to five years.

– To secure less burdensome terms, an increase in the proportion of grants, low-interest and interest-free loans in the distribution of United States development funds.

– To secure greater benefit from aid money, the progressive removal of “Buy American” purchase restrictions which prevent more economic procurement in other countries, thus hindering development in the less developed countries to which funds are made available.

– To secure population control, a more substantial program of education and health facilities for family planning where desired by the less developed countries.

– To secure education for development, enlarged assistance to literacy programs and to the educational institutions and programs indispensible to the progress of economic and political development.

– To secure the leadership and democratic processes necessary for development, the fostering of cooperatives, labor unions, trade and related associations, community action groups and other movements and organizations indigenous to the less developed countries that work toward this end.


Development assistance, whether in the form of aid or trade, should, to the maximum degree possible, be provided through international channels and institutions. One problem, noted above, is the tendency of western nations, the United States among them, to tie development aid to the narrower interests of national policy. One way, although not an automatic one, of freeing development efforts from these ties is to increase the extent and authority of international institutions for development, particularly the specialized agencies of the United Nations. A second problem, also noted above, is to insure that aid actually effects social change. It is likely that this objective can be secured more easily, without feelings and charges of outside interference by another nation, if aid is provided through international institutions.

The most essential matter, however, concerns dependency. To avoid unhealthy relationships of dependency must be a prime objective of development policy. There is no easy answer to this complex problem, but a multilateral, international structure which is equipped with adequate funds, personnel and authority is more likely to avoid the gross problems of dependency than is aid administered primarily through bilateral arrangements.

The strengthening of international institutions – regional or United Nations – for economic development is, moreover, essential to the creation of a just peace. The present international scene is characterized by intense nationalism. Development, if it is to succeed, must build upon, and to that extent augment nationalism. In this way, development efforts are caught in the dilemma that, by fostering national growth, international life and community are fragmented. It is, therefore, essential that national development take place within the context, and through the instrumentalities of, greatly strengthened international institutions of economic development.

Economic and social development require mutual effort among persons and nations. To think that even a vast increase of United States development effort will “solve the problem” is to be greatly misguided. Ultimate responsibility rests with the peoples, institutions and governments of the less developed countries, and a large share of the task must be undertaken – as in many cases it now is – by other highly developed nations. The United States, by virtue of favored position and moral tradition, has the obligation, however, to take leadership in the great task. That will require a constituency in the United States, now largely lacking, which is responsive to the need. An adequate program of economic development calls for dedicated lives, specialized training and the investment of many highly motivated people in the myriad tasks of easing world poverty and eliminating world hunger. This is a challenge to the churches to help recruit and train the kind of leadership from the United States which can make a constructive contribution abroad and to encourage the cultural exchange and training of leadership from the countries involved in this mutual task. Christians have many channels through which to help form that constituency: the programs of the churches abroad, the business and private development efforts of which many Christians are a part, and the governmental programs in which Christians participate as officials and as citizens. A new responsiveness to the human need created by poverty, more vigorous action and sustained education and study are required, to the end that an informed and sacrificial constituency be created to spur the leadership of our nation in its contribution to justice amid world poverty.

112 For; 0 Against; 1 Abstention

Implementation of the Foregoing Policy Statement

On December 4, 1967 the Advisory Committee on Peace requested the Division of Overseas Ministries and the Division of Christian Life and Mission jointly to plan and put into effect a program of national visibility on world poverty, development and justice. The two Divisions are requested to unite the constituencies available to them in and through the churches in both education and action, to secure the following objectives:

– interpret the issues of justice and of policy in international development to the churches and, where possible, the general public;

– bring the corporate witness of the churches to bear upon the processes of executive and legislative decision-making in matters of development;

– engage in continuing study of fundamental assumptions and motives of international development and the effectiveness of alternative policies and programs in their responsiveness to human need;

– review and increase the resources and effectiveness of the churches’ direct participation in world service and development projects;

– secure full cooperation with Roman Catholics especially, and others as well, in making effective coalitions of concern and action on development matters.

2. The Division of Christian Education, in collaboration with the NCC International Affairs Program, is undertaking a sustained program, through church boards of education, concerning development. This is part of a major effort, through experimental educational effort, to improve international affairs education in the churches. The University Christian Movement concentrates in particular upon development.

3. The Division of Christian Unity, in special programs of Church Women United and the Department of Youth Ministries, is undertaking programs of particular emphasis upon development.

4. This Policy Statement will be printed and made available to churches and their agencies with request for study, debate and action.

5. This Policy Statement will be presented to appropriate officials of the Government and Congress.