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Parallel 9

Practical Theology on Economic Justice: Insights from Indonesian Churches’ Credit Unions



Doctoral Student

University of Denver/ Iliff School of Theology

There have been various theological and ethical critiques of structural evils manifested  in capitalism and economic inequality in different contexts, including in the Asian context. Along with this reality, however, practical theology as an academic discipline has not paid enough attention to how economic injustice can be practically contested. The practical economic solutions especially ones that come as the church’s initiatives have not been much discussed.


This presentation will provide a practical theology of economic justice by pointing to the economic practices conducted by the church. The paper responds to one of Aloysius Pieris’ thesis “the Calvary of Asian poverty” to argue that some churches in Asia have long provided ample examples and relevant practices to empower church members and beyond who struggle with poverty and its structural causes. The examples given here will address the Sumatran context of Indonesia. In this island, two churches, Gereja Batak Karo Protestan (GBKP) and Gereja Kristen Protestan Simalungun (GKPS) have successfully founded financial institutions in the form of Credit Union to help marginalized communities. The GBKP church formed Credit Union (CU) and GKPS founded Credo Union Modification (CUM), both focusing on creating financial assistance to their members.

The first part of the presentation will explore the theological and practical aspects these Credit Union institutions bring into the public space as they empower the community to fight against what Kathryn Tanner calls “finance-dominated capitalism.” I will explore how both institutions have differences in their practices but share common attitude to the socio-theological task (diakonia) of the church for liberation. Through the practices of community organizing and empowerment, these financial institutions have helped farmers, small-business people, and other marginalized groups. The next part will reflect on how the existence and work of these Credit Union institutions may shape how practical theology is understood in the Asian context of struggles. An Asian practical theology may become relevant when one starts analyzing the social context and experiences of suffering and empowers marginalized community. Such practical theology calls the church to performs its task in the public space. 


Hesron H. Sihombing is a doctoral student at University of Denver/Iliff School of Theology. A native of Indonesia, his work focuses on theology and ethics, postcolonial/decolonial theories and practices, engaging especially economic and environmental issues. His writings have appeared in the International Journal of Public Theology, Siwó: Revista de Teología/Revista de Estudios Socioreligiosos, CrossCurrents (forthcoming), among others.

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