JOHNSTON Birchall of the International Cooperative Movement once explained that the global rise of cooperatives was to “end the present deplorable warfare between capital and labor and to organize industrial peace, based on co-partnership of the worker … [and to] promote the formation of central institutions for helping people to establish and maintain self-governing workshops”. Thus, in as much as the Church has in its core mission a preferential option for the poor, it cannot just rely on doleouts. The Church (and its Charitable Institutions) need a sustainable and permanent livelihood for the poor. The Church must create economic opportunities for them to be part of; and Cooperatives by its nature and identity would be the next viable option.
In Acts 2:44 it is said that in the infant church at Jerusalem “all who believe were together and had all things in common” and “as many as possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles feet.” (Acts 4:34). It can be deduced from this biblical passage that there was an absolute disposal of all the property of all the members of the church, and that its proceeds were contributed to a common fund; which similarly was the same founding principle of the Rochdale pioneers of England when in 1844, this group of 28 men (weavers and skilled workers in other trades) formed a cooperative society.
“The attempt to solve common problems by combined action is at the root of cooperatives, but empowerment, shared ownership, and democratic control are also key concepts of cooperative ideology. Members become bound to each other through values and principles as well as through their shared experiences in the cooperative. Cooperatives attempt to balance individuals’ needs with those of the community as a whole by encouraging individual empowerment within the structure of membership and responsibility to the group” (Jennifer Wilhoit). As with the KOINONIA of the Early Church, the voluntary and spontaneous sharing moved toward institutionalized forms of concern for the poor as the Church grew and needs persisted (cf. Acts 4:34, Dt. 15:4, 11). Moreover, St. Paul’s insistence on the principle of equality and participation shows that the basic idea of koinonia remains the common sharing, rather than the incidental giving or receiving that may be necessary to secure such fellowship (cf. 2 Cor. 8:14).
Although, Scriptures does not directly provide the organizational mechanism in cooperativism, but the values, principles and nature of cooperatives can be found in Scriptures:
VOLUNTARY & OPEN MEMBERSHIP (Principle 1) which implies that anyone can join a co-op; and that there is no discrimination based on gender, social, racial, political or religious factors is likewise seen in James 2:1-26 which reads, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?”
DEMOCRATIC MEMBER CONTROL (principle 2) which states that members control their business by deciding how it’s run and who leads it is reflected in Proverbs 15:22 stating, “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, But with many counselors they succeed”.
MEMBERS’ ECONOMIC PARTICIPATION (PRINCIPLE 3) States that all co-op members invest in their cooperative. This means people, not shareholders, benefit from a co-op’s profits. As such we can find the same tenet in 1 Timothy 6:17-19, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life”.
AUTONOMY & INDEPENDENCE (principle 4) means that when making business deals or raising money, co-ops never compromise their autonomy or democratic member control; as such we can find scriptural reflection in 1 Peter 2:15-16, “For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God”.
EDUCATION, TRAINING AND INFORMATION (PRINCIPLE 5) under this principle cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public, particularly young people and opinion leaders, about the nature and benefits of cooperation. Similarly in Colossians 3:16 we are reminded, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God”.
COOPERATION AMONG COOPERATIVES (PRINCIPLE 6) implies that cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional, and international structures. A related thought is expressed in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 which states, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?”
Lastly, CONCERN FOR COMMUNITY (PRINCIPLE 7) proposes that while focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies accepted by their members. We are likewise reminded in James 2:14-17, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”.
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