8th assembly/50th anniversary

Together on Holy Ground
Just What is "Globalization"?
Multiple answers emerge in Harare, By Carol Fouke

"Globalization" is rapidly becoming one of the popular "buzz words" of our day. The eighth assembly adopted a series of recommendations on globalization, and many speakers, including the WCC's moderator and general secretary, referred to it in addresses and interventions during plenary sessions.

But what does it mean? What are its implications for us and for our churches? Interviews with assembly participants revealed a wide range of definitions -- some pointing to globalization's potential to lift up, others to its capacity to oppress. Their comments make one thing clear: globalization has implications for all of us, for our dignity, for evangelism -- even for how a congregation calls a new minister or pays its electricity bill.

"Globalization is a strategy of international capital to create more markets for itself and to restructure the relationships of production," said Phambili ka Ntloko of the Church of God and Saints in Christ, South Africa, whose ministry is with industrial workers.

The challenge is to make sure everyone benefits, to redistribute the resources rather than widen the gap between rich and poor

We can use the new tools that link us globally -- like the Internet -- to share the gospel

"All companies are being pushed to be internationally competitive, so they ‘downsize'" by laying off workers, he said. Similarly, when state-owned companies such as transport and telecommunications are privatized, they fire workers "on the basis that the new owner will be ‘efficient'. Workers work longer hours at a time capital needs them and when not needed they don't work."

The church must "be the voice that says an alternative society is possible, where there will be justice, equality, sharing and dignity", Ntloko added. "And we must minister to workers and understand their needs and problems.

"When people lose their job, they sense that their dignity as human beings is challenged," he said. "Some go to the extent of hiding the fact that they are no longer working. They go out carrying their bags as usual and come back in the evening, because not working hurts their dignity. The church must restore that dignity. The church must be an anchor of hope in their hour of darkness."

Ntloko's International Committee for Industrial Mission offers such an anchor. It runs job creation and employment programmes "so people can live on their own, start a business and hope in life again".

Kathryn T. Williams of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), USA, has said for years that "there is no such thing as a United States economy. It is a global economy. When Black Monday hits Wall Street, it also hits Japan and London."

Similarly, she tells her co-parishioners at First Christian Church in Corpus Christi, Texas, "there is no longer ‘home' or ‘foreign'. There is one world. We are the stewards, and we are responsible for the whole world, not just for the people of Corpus Christi. You cannot make decisions for this congregation except in the context of the whole inhabited world of God."

What the assembly did

* declared that "the challenge of globalization should become a central emphasis of the work of the WCC";

* stressed the need for "effective institutions of global governance" to counteract "the unaccountable power of transnational corporations and organizations who often operate around the world with impunity";

* supported initiatives to address unemployment and deteriorating work conditions;

* called for fair trade, alternative banking systems and changes in life-style and consumption patterns, "particularly in highly industrialized countries".

For example, 25 years ago, when Williams was associate pastor of First Christian Church, the congregation set a goal of spending 50 percent of its budget on its own needs and programmes and 50 percent on others. "We got up to 42 percent," she says.

More recently, she discovered that four or five months into the year, the congregation had not yet sent money to the denomination's basic mission fund. "I was horrified," she recalled. "I went to the chair of the Stewardship Committee and said, ‘If this continues, I am going to divide my tithe and send my portion of the money directly.'"

The chairperson responded, "But the light bills have to be paid."

Williams retorted, "At my house we tithe first and then we figure out how to pay the light bill." Until the problem was resolved another four or five months later, she wrote a cheque to the denominational mission body and put it in the offering plate each week "with strict instructions to send it immediately".

"Thinking globally" also affects the way we call a minister, Williams said. "Ask the candidates, ‘Do you believe in the mission of the whole church?' Some people say, ‘We have so much to do here.' But Jesus said, ‘Go into all the world -- Jerusalem, Samaria, to the ends of the earth.' You have to do them all at the same time."

A Harare taxi driver talked about his struggle to support his mother and two younger brothers, along with his wife and their two children. "I don't know how we are surviving," he said, describing his efforts to earn US$240 a month -- the minimum needed for his family. A US$1200 round-trip air ticket to the United States is virtually unthinkable, he said.

As for globalization, "it's just a word", he said. "I'm not feeling any advantage." For globalization to work, he speculated, it would take one currency, one economy, one president. Noting that it now costs about 63 Zimbabwe dollars to purchase one British pound, he said, "I don't think the British want to give up 62/63rds of the value of their currency."

Lala Biasima, a pastor of the Church of Christ in Congo and associate general secretary of its department of women and the family, expressed stronger misgivings. She said, "We feel very uneasy when we hear about globalization. Part of the world is very powerful and the rest weak. The strong will do what they want regardless of the effect on the poor."

The challenge, she said, is to "make sure everyone benefits in some way, and to redistribute the resources rather than widen the gap between rich and poor".

Globalization is here to stay, and the church "must fight against the bad side of globalization", according to Bishop Hans Gerny of the Old Catholic Church in Switzerland.

Globalization also has good sides, Gerny said. "Would the WCC have met in Harare in 1948? People can have more contact, can help in areas where they could not help before. Christ says, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations.' We can use new tools like the Internet to share the gospel in word and deed, using the new tools that link us globally."

"We can look at globalization and see how big financial powers can help the weaker ones," added Oka Fau'olo of the Congregational Christian Church in Samoa.

Anglican Archbishop Walter Makhulu of Botswana suggested a distinction between "human" and "divine" globalization. The former, he said, "insists on privatization, currency devaluation, reduction of government subsidies and trade deregulation". Divine globalization, in contrast, is characterized by "community, generosity, sharing and mutual caring".

Kwasi Aboagye-Mensah, general secretary of the Christian Council of Ghana, envisions globalization as "a linking of people of the world together in kind of a global village where we will become very much interconnected both in fulfilment of our needs and sharing of the world's resources". As a Christian, he says, "I see globalization as one of the many ways in which God is seeking to bring all nations together in Christ through the enabling presence of the Holy Spirit."

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