Issued by the Eighth WCC Assembly, Harare, Zimbabwe, 3-14 December 1998.
Globalization is not simply an economic issue. It is a cultural, political, ethical and ecological issue.
Increasingly, Christians and churches find themselves confronted by the new and deeply challenging aspects of globalization which vast numbers of people face, especially the poor. How do we live our faith in the context of globalization?
1. It is our deep conviction that the challenge of globalization should become a central emphasis of the work of the WCC, building upon many significant efforts of the World Council of Churches in the past. The vision behind globalization includes a competing vision to the Christian commitment to the oikoumene, the unity of humankind and the whole inhabited earth. This recognition should be reflected in our efforts to develop our Common Understanding and Vision as well as in the related activities of member churches and other ecumenical bodies. Although globalization is an inescapable fact of life, we should not subject ourselves to the vision behind it, but strengthen our alternative ways towards visible unity in diversity, towards an oikoumene of faith and solidarity.
2. The logic of globalization needs to be challenged by an alternative way of life of community in diversity. Christians and churches should reflect on the challenge of globalization from a faith perspective and therefore resist the unilateral domination of economic and cultural globalization. The search for alternative options to the present economic system and the realization of effective political limitations and corrections to the process of globalization and its implications are urgently needed.
3. We express our appreciation of the call by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches 23rd General Council (Debrecen [Hungary, 1997]) and confession (processus confessionis) regarding economic injustice and ecological destruction and encourage the WCC member churches to join this process.
4. In view of the unaccountable power of transnational corporations and organizations who often operate around the world with impunity, we commit ourselves to working with others on creating effective institutions of global governance.
5. It is of high priority to improve the capacity of the WCC to respond to the challenge of globalization with a more coherent and comprehensive approach. This includes especially close co-operation and co-ordination of work on economic and ecological issues.
6. Work on globalization should build upon and strengthen existing initiatives of churches, ecumenical groups and social movements, support their Cupertino, encourage them to take action, and form alliances with other partners in civil society working on issues pertinent to globalization as, particularly:
formulating alternative responses to the activities of transnational corporations, the Organization for Economic Cupertino and Development, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, the International Labor Office and related multilateral agreements in order to identify the harmful as well as positive impact of their policies in a competent manner;
advocating and campaigning for the cancellation of debt and a new ethics and system of lending and borrowing;
co-operating with initiatives for a new financial system including a tax on financial transactions (Tobin tax) that can be used to support the development of alternative options, limits to the unregulated flow of capital, etc.;
supporting initiatives to address unemployment and the deteriorating conditions of work faced by workers in all regions as a result of globalization;
enabling and supporting local alternatives through new forms of organizing production, fair trade, alternative banking systems and, particularly in highly industrialized countries, changes in life-style and consumption patterns;
reviewing the churches’ own dealing with land, labor, unemployment and finances as, for example, the ethical investment of pension funds and other financial resources, the use of agricultural land, etc.;
promoting economic literacy and leadership training on globalization and related issues;
reflecting on economic issues as a matter of faith.
Resisting Domination – Affirming Life: The Challenge of Globalization
Document commended to the churches by the Eighth Assembly as essential background to its Statement on Globalization.
Globalization is a reality of the world today - an inescapable fact of life. All people are affected. Globalization is not simply an economic issue. It is a cultural, political, ethical and ecological issue.
Increasingly, Christians and churches find themselves confronted by the new and deeply challenging aspects of globalization which vast numbers of people face, especially the poor.
The vision behind globalization is a competing vision of the oikoumene, the unity of humankind and the whole inhabited earth. How do we live our faith in the context of globalization?
Gathered in Harare
Gathered in Harare, this eighth assembly of the World Council of Churches has listened to the voices of the people of Africa during the Africa plenary and padare. Those voices included both cries of pain and suffering, but also testimonies of resistance, faith and hope. The remarkable strength, creativity and spiritual vitality of our African sisters and brothers is an inspiration to us all. Together we were reminded of the vision of a free people which inspired Africa’s struggle for liberation from colonialism.
That vision is still alive in the struggles of the people for daily livelihood, to sustain their community life, to be nourished by the rich traditions and values inherited from the past, to live in harmony with the earth, to find space to express themselves. People are longing to live in dignity in just and sustainable communities. We resonated to their vision and aspirations because, though we come from all parts of the world, we experience the same yearnings.
In the midst of these visions for our people, and our children’s children, we have become more acutely aware that, in some fundamental respects, the legacy of colonialism of the past is still present with us in a new form – a form perhaps more seductive on the surface, but demeaning and dangerous at deeper levels. The driving forces of this new form of domination are economic powers which may be as insidious as political colonizers and a subtle but powerful ideology which assumes that the most promising way to improve the quality of life for all people is to give free rein to market forces.
Concentration of power
Today, despite the independence of many formerly colonized peoples, power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a relatively few nations and corporations particularly in the North. Their power extends across the globe and into many areas of life. Their power is extensive and intensive. Major decisions are made by these 30 or so nations and 60 giant corporations. The intentional globalization of production, capital and trade further strengthens the power of the financial centres of the global market.
Globalization affects all of us. It contributes to the erosion of the nation state, undermines social cohesion, and intensifies the conquest of nature in a merciless attack on the integrity of creation. Debt crisis and Structural Adjustment Programmes became instruments to gain more control over national budgets and create a profitable and safe environment for investments by the private sector at unbearable costs for the people.
This process is greatly strengthened by the development of global communications and media networks. It is also accompanied by a very costly, but successful strategy by the USA and other developed countries to gain and secure military and political hegemony on a global scale. The forging of new institutions, like the World Trade Organization and the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment, solidify the power of the already privileged. The convergence of such factors in the 1990s represents a new level of challenge to the poor, the vast majority of the world’s population.
The concomitant homogenization in the process of globalization does not include labor. While the movement of global capital is unrestricted, new barriers are created to keep migrant workers in check. In the face of globalization labor is controlled and is losing its strength. Although the liberalization of trade is high on the agenda of economic globalization, developed countries still protect their local agriculture and certain industries against the import of competitive products. They still subsidize their exports with often devastating effects for local markets in the South.
Poverty and exclusion
We recognize that there are potentially positive aspects of this burgeoning globalization. As we have seen, new technologies often have linked people against current injustices and abuses of power. They can be used to alert the Christian community of persecutions, violation of human rights, human needs, and emergencies. Easier and efficient accessibility across regions facilitates solidarity among social movements and networks.
Those who defend the free market argue that free market economies have demonstrated remarkable capacity to produce goods and services in a world which has a desperate need to meet people’s basic material needs. While they acknowledge that some economies have been distorted by being more closely linked to the world economy, they also emphasize that sometimes this link has afforded new levels of prosperity. Such alleged benefits of globalization make it attractive to those who see an unfettered free market system as a way out of poverty.
The reality of unequal distribution of power and wealth, of poverty and exclusion, however, challenges the cheap language of a global shared community. The often-used image of the “global village” is misleading. The new situation is lacking exactly the sense of community, belonging and mutual accountability that is typical of village life. Global media networks promote a consumerist monoculture. The situation of many poor people deteriorates. The World Bank has concluded that in 1998 the number of countries with negative economic growth had grown from 21 to 36 during the past year. As a result, they observed that fiscal policies and interest rates have had a much greater social cost than originally envisaged.
Further, only a small fraction of the one and one-half trillion dollars of currency exchange each day is related to basic economic activities. The great proportion is mere financial speculation, not genuine investment. That speculation weakens further the already weak economies. Massive speculation led to the collapse of financial markets in Asia and risks to jeopardize the global economy as a whole.
The life of the people is made more vulnerable and insecure than ever before. Exclusion in all its forms breeds violence that spreads like a disease. The number of migrants desperately searching for jobs and shelter for their families is increasing dramatically. In the industrialized countries of Europe and North America pockets of the poor are growing in number and size. Everywhere, the gap between rich and poor is widening, making Indigenous Peoples, women, youth and children the primary victims of poverty and exclusion. The vast majority of those excluded are inevitably people of color who are targets of xenophobia, racism and oppression.
Contradictions, tensions and anxieties
Globalization gives rise to a web of contradictions, tensions and anxieties. The systemic interlocking of the local and the global in the process created a number of new dynamics. It led to the concentration of power, knowledge and wealth in institutions controlled or at least influenced by transnational corporations. But it also generated a decentralizing dynamic as people and communities struggle to regain control over the forces that threaten their very existence. In the midst of changes and severe pressure on their livelihoods and cultures, people want to affirm their cultural and religious identities.
While globalization universalized certain aspects of modern social life, it also causes and fuels fragmentation of the social fabric of societies. As the process goes on and people lose hope, they start to compete against each other in order to secure some benefits from the global economy. In some cases this reality gives rise to fundamentalism and ethnic cleansing.
Economic globalization is guided by the neo-liberal ideology. The credo of the free market is the firm belief that through competing economic forces and purposes, an ‘invisible hand’ will assure the optimum good as every individual pursues his or her economic gain. It views human beings as individuals rather than as persons in community, as essentially competitive rather than cooperative, as consumerist and materialist rather than spiritual. Thus, it produced a graceless system that renders people surplus and abandons them if they cannot compete with the powerful few in global economy.
As a consequence, people tend to lose their cultural identity and deny their political and ethical responsibility. Promising wealth for everybody and the fulfillment of the dream of unlimited progress, neo-liberalism draws a picture of universal salvation. But obsessed with rising revenues from financial markets, expansion of trade and growth of production, the global economic system is blind to its destructive social and ecological consequences.
A challenge to the churches and the ecumenical movement
Globalization poses a pastoral, ethical, theological and spiritual challenge to the churches and the ecumenical movement in particular. The vision behind globalization is a competing vision of the oikoumene, the unity of humankind and the whole inhabited earth. The globalized oikoumene of domination is in contrast with the oikoumene of faith and solidarity that motivates and energizes the ecumenical movement. The logic of globalization needs to be challenged by an alternative way of life of community in diversity.
Plurality and diversity within the ecumenical movement, for example, are no longer seen as an obstacle to the unity of the churches and a viable future for humankind. Diversity provides rich resources and options for viable solutions if the stories, experiences and traditions of others are recognized and individual Christians, ecumenical groups and churches search together for alternatives that affirm and sustain life on earth. The traditional concept of the catholicity of the church deserves renewed attention. The notion and praxis of catholicity can be understood as an early form of Christian response to the imperial form of unity that was shaped and represented by the Roman Empire. Such an alternative option to the imperial power is of relevance for the affirmation of the ecumenical dimension in the life of the churches in the context of globalization.
Jubilee and globalization
During these days together we have been reminded often of the jubilee, a time of emancipation, restoration of just relationships and new beginnings (Lev. 25, Isa. 61, Luke 4). The jubilee is a recognition that, left to its normal and uninterrupted course, power becomes more and more concentrated in a few hands, that without intervention every society slides into injustice. As the Hebrew Bible reminds us, the powerful build house upon house, appropriate field after field (Isa. 5:8). The weak and poor are vulnerable, marginalized, excluded. Restoration requires to turn against this course of history (Mic. 7; Neh. 5). The wholeness of people, and of a people, requires the intervention, the periodic breaking down of the ordinary course of events.
The jubilee has important implications for our reflections on globalization today. Globalization usually appears benign, or even beneficial, especially when one benefits from that process. But the increasing concentration of power – economic, political, cultural, military – is dramatically shaping the world of the present and future in ways that are not benign. The scandal of crippling debt, the marginalization and exclusion of vast numbers of sisters and brothers, the exploitation of women and children, additional strain on minorities struggling to keep their culture, religious tradition and language alive, the destruction of the ancestral land of Indigenous Peoples and their communities are in part an expression of this concentration of power legitimized in the name of a better standard of living.
Affirming God’s gift of life
It is now even more necessary than before to call for a fundamental re-shaping of the economic system and to affirm God’s gift of life that is threatened in so many ways. Sustainable development, a concept prominent in international fora, still leaves powerful forces of globalization in command and does not question the underlying paradigm of continuous and unlimited progress and growth. Affirming God’s gift of life to all creation in the midst of the pain, suffering, and destruction caused by economic globalization, it is imperative to discern a life-centred vision.
Jesus came so that all may have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). God’s salvation in Jesus Christ not only means fullness of life for the human community, but the restoration of all creation to its goodness and wholeness. God’s Holy Spirit comes to renew the whole creation. According to the creation stories of the Bible, the earth was meant to be home for all living creatures, which live in different spaces, but linked to each other in a web of relationships. The human community is placed within the wider community of the earth, which is embedded in God’s household of life. It is this vision of a truly ecumenical earth that challenges the ecumenical movement to search for new ways of revitalizing and protecting the communities of Indigenous Peoples and of the marginalized and excluded, participating in resistance against the growing domination of economic globalization, and engaging itself in the building of a culture of peace and just relationships, a culture of sharing and solidarity.
Peoples’ stories show and reflect the longing and desire for sustenance of life through fulfilling the essential needs of all people, for the protection of life through peace-building and peace-making in situations of violence and war, for the enhancement of life through the strengthening of accountability in a truly democratic society and the improving of people’s economic welfare by broadening opportunities and solidarity linkages, and for the enrichment of life through the deepening of people’s spirituality and cultural activities as well as the up-building of just and sustainable communities.
Four essentials for a life-centred vision need to be nurtured: participation as the optimal inclusion of all involved at all levels, equity as basic fairness that also extends to other life forms, accountability as the structuring of responsibility towards one another and Earth itself, and sufficiency as the commitment to meet basic needs of all life possible and develop a quality of life that includes bread for all but is more than bread alone.
The task of the ecumenical family
What should be the response of the churches in the face of this challenge? What is the task of the ecumenical family? What should be the role of the churches through the World Council of Churches? How should churches and the WCC relate to others who struggle to understand and meet the challenges posed by globalization? How can we be vehicles of God’s jubilee so central to Jesus’ message (Luke 7:18-23)? That response must be named by each person and community represented here.
We acknowledge that in the context of globalization we have compromised our own convictions. We repent for the ways the power of new technologies, the lure of having things, the temptations to superiority and power have diverted our attention from our neighbor who suffers. We acknowledge the temptation we have to strive for our own inclusion in a world which has space for a privileged few. Lest our confession and repentance be hollow, we are called to discover and restore our solidarity with the excluded ones.
It is the task of the WCC to strengthen the ecumenical dimension in the life of the churches and provide space necessary for dialogue and mutual up-building towards a common witness by the churches locally, regionally and internationally. There is a need to strengthen the voice and representation by the WCC on international levels, a representation that can build on the capacity to analyze global trends, but one also that depends upon the kind of networking, support and transformation the WCC can muster as the churches’ own instrument. Critical to the vision of earth as home is the call for people in very different situations and contexts to practice faith in solidarity and affirm life on earth together.
In retrospect, it is clear that since the seventh assembly in Canberra the different programmatic areas of the WCC have been increasingly aware of the challenges and dangers inherent in the process of globalization. The new central committee and all of the member churches should be encouraged to develop a more coherent approach to the challenges of globalization, with a focus on life in dignity in just and sustainable communities.