1998 NCC News Archives

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Globalization: WCC Assembly Participants
Describe Divine, Diabolical Aspects

HARARE, Zimbabwe, Dec. 14, 1998 -- "Globalization" - it's fast becoming one of the popular "buzz words" of our day. The 8th Assembly approved a statement on globalization, and many speakers, including the WCC's moderator and general secretary, made reference to it in plenary speeches.

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.

One thing is sure, 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.

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

"All companies are being pushed to be internationally competitive, so they 'downsize,'" 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 respond holistically, Mr. Ntloko said. "We must be the voice that says an alternative society is possible, where there will be justice, equality, sharing and dignity. And we must minister to workers and understand their needs and problems.

"People, when they lose their job, 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."

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

Rev. Kenichi Otsu, General Secretary, National Council of Churches of Japan, said that while most discussion of globalization centers on the economic aspects, "we want people to be aware of the military aspect."

For example, Japan - which according to its Constitution has no Army but does have a civil defense force - and the United States have signed a new security agreement that commits Japan to support U.S. military action. Japan must open space for military exercises and Japan's private sector - transportation, public facilities - also must cooperate. "The U.S. already uses our base in Okinawa," Mr. Otsu said. "Before it was under the United Nations' framework. Now it's a bilateral agreement."

Rev. Dr. Kathryn T. Williams of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), U.S.A., has "said for years that there's no such thing as a United States economy. It's a global economy. When Black Monday hit Wall Street, it also hit Japan and London."

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

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

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 finance. "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." Dr. 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, Dr. Williams wrote a check to the denomination's 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 the minister," Dr. 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.

"Every decision must be made in the context of the whole church and the whole world," she said. "When it's easy to do that, it's one thing. The crisis is the test of the effectiveness of an organization and of how seriously we believe."

Abigail Damasane, Family of God Church, Zimbabwe, spoke of the difficulties of taking advantage of the benefits of globalization. She said, "We have been independent for only 18 years. Some of these international terms are 'new from the box' for us. Globally, we are trying to walk before we have crawled, in order to catch up and to be on the global wavelength."

A Harare taxi driver served as a case in point. Since his father and older brother died, he has become responsible for supporting 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 struggle to earn the about U.S.$240 a month needed. A U.S.$1,200 roundtrip 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 Zimbabwean 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."

The Rev. Lala Biasima, a pastor of the Church of Christ in Congo and associate general secretary of the CCC's 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."

Assembly participants who were interviewed agreed that globalization is here to stay, and that the church "must fight against the bad side of globalization," said Bishop Hans Gerny of the Old Catholic Church in Switzerland. "We should not be too adapted to society."

"We can look at it and see how big financial powers can help the weaker ones," said the Rev. Oka Fau'olo, Congregational Christian Church in Samoa. "They want to make money - (that's alright) as long as they don't take too much and as long as we have good mutual understanding and negotiation."

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

Anglican Archbishop Walter Makhulu from Botswana, in a debt hearing, distinguished between "human" and "divine" globalization. He said the former "insists on privatization, currency devaluation, reduction of government subsidies and trade deregulation."

"We must agitate for the cancellation of debt," he said. "Then we will rediscover the divine globalization of community, generosity, sharing and mutual caring."

Rev. Dr. Kwasi Aboagye-Mensah, International Fellowship of Evangelical Mission Theologians, who will serve as General Secretary of the Christian Council of Ghana beginning January 1999, took a positive, "visioning" approach, along the lines of divine globalization.

"My understanding is a linking of people of the world together in kind of a global village where we will become very much interconnected both in fulfillment of our needs as well as sharing of the world's resources," he said. "As a Christian I see globalization as one of the many things in the Scriptures where God is seeking to bring all nations together in Christ through the enabling presence of the Holy Spirit.

"Through technology I'm linked to what's happening far and near," Rev. Aboagye-Mensah said. "I don't even have to go out of my house to buy stamps. In a visionary form it will bring all nations together and have one language in a metaphorical sense. So there's not the fear of you destroying me but the anticipation of how you can make me whole. So that the meeting is much more positive."


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