For the next few weeks posts to this blog will be chapters of my upcoming book, From Jubilee to the World Bank: Economic Globalization for Faith-based Activists. Please feel free to send me feedback.
This book is essentially about three things: economic globalization, the international debt crisis, and faith. By “faith,” more specifically I mean possible responses of the faith communities to the first two topics. It is intended as a helpful handbook of concepts and histories about some of the major international economic justice issues of our time, and faith-full ways that we can be involved, become activists, and make a difference.
Is this a “Religious Book”?
In spite of the occasional use of economic jargon, especially in the first section, this is still a fundamentally religious book. Most of the chapters were written originally for local church congregations and not for people with previous in depth knowledge of economics.
However, there is more to writing from a religious perspective than including Bible studies and sermon notes. The Bible is enormously complex and how one understands its origins and meaning has much to do with how it can help us in our contemporary moral, ethical, and political decision making.
There are two types of writings in the Bible that may be of most help to us as interpreters of contemporary issues. The first are parallels and the second are principles, and they should be distinguished. Parallels are stories (historical or in parables) of hunger, or poverty or oppression which, however roughly, parallel conditions in our world today. Examples would be stories of the rise of poverty and social unrest in ancient
So, while it is true that the Bible will be of little help if we are trying to decide how high to set the Federal Reserve overnight discount rates or whether there should be a tax on currency exchange rates, it can and should give us guidance on a larger perspective we as people of faith should have when making those decisions ourselves. If we believe, as the Bible seems to believe, that God has a special interest in the poor, the weak, and the oppressed, then the first questions people of the Bible should be asking themselves are: how many marginalized and weak people will be hurt or helped by this or that policy? How many wealthy and powerful will it help? If the policy is designed to bail out banks, for example, by cutting price supports for third world farmers, then it is probably a policy that stands outside of our biblical and faith tradition.
Why This Book Now?
At the time this book was being written, the
One of the difficulties with the connections between these cause and effect linkages is that people who are affected by them seldom see them. During the nineties and early years of this decade, for example, small coffee farmers in the Alto Occidente region of
More recently, during the global food crisis, how many of the tens of thousands of people who protested the soaring prices realized that at least one of the causes of their misery was geopolitical and ideological? During demonstrations in Haiti in March, 2008, five people died (including a UN staff member), the government fell, the prime minister was ousted, the World Bank rushed in with loans for more food, and the World Food Programme called for international aid. There are a number of reasons for the increases, but one of them began a decade ago when the
Seldom do they see the connections between their small stories of poverty and the much larger stories of greed and finance. “Hardly anyone tells them that they are victims of a whole interconnected system extending all over the globe and varying only in degree,” says German biblical scholar Ulrich Duchrow. Because “If they heard, they might join forces!”[i] With the possibility of a looming global famine, one that touches the developed world as well as the undeveloped, we may for the first time in history be witnessing a time in which the poor and hungry do in fact begin to join forces.
People of faith need to work harder at making these connections and helping our churches learn them. Part of what comes from a belief in the God of all creation is a commitment to push ourselves to view issues “from above” and not just “from below.” That is, we need to lift our perspectives from a “me first” level to as high as our human limitations can take it. Part of what happens when my life is intertwined with the life of the mysterious savior from
Additionally, the church is one of the few institutions still existing that has the perspective and ability to offer a sustained moral critique of the political and market forces that are tearing us apart. Churches and other religious organizations need to help people make those connections and to face up to its own responsibility for the damage done. Perhaps we have fallen down on that task because we are too complicit in the crime. Perhaps we subconsciously feel it would hurt too much and cost too much. But it has to be done.
To be fair to our human frailties, this is an enormously difficult task. The media will not help. The politicians who set the national conversation agenda will not help. Their re-elections are financially tied the very people who wish to keep these kinds of connections a secret. Only such things as diligence, persistence, study, advocacy, and faithful commitment to see the issues from above and people from love will do it. The Holy Spirit is not on the side of oppression or starvation. The Holy Spirit is on the side of liberation, democracy, wholeness, and the abundant life.
Obviously this one book or others like it cannot do everything. But what we can do is to supply some of the background material that might help the reader understand the framework of the various global economic forces and make some of the connections between what happens “here” and what happens “there.” Plus, in the second half of this book we will offer resources for Bible study and worship, and research and advocacy for the ongoing justice life of a church and faith community. We all must start somewhere.
Is This Book Biased?
The short answer is yes. But it’s more complicated than that. First I want to say firmly that there is much about economic globalization (and globalization in general) that is positive. I believe it is beyond debate that today’s rapid, global movement of goods and services can—and in many cases does—help feed the poor, increase democracy and lower human rights abuses. One of the most accessible books that makes that case with numerous heartening and engaging stories is Thomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree.
On the other hand, I also believe that all writing is biased. Friedman’s work is biased toward globalization, just as David Korten’s When Corporations Rule the World (as one can tell from the title) is biased against it. The truth is that globalization is a mixed bag. In addition to its frequently proclaimed values, there is much about it—at least in the form that it is now evolving—that is damaging both in poor countries and in rich. For example, the present reigning model of globalization requires a constant downward pressure on wages that results both in the increased poverty of workers and the increased mobility of corporations seeking cheaper wages. This darker side of economic globalization is seldom discussed on the business pages of our local papers. Until it is forced upon them through protests or presidential primaries, our national leaders and the mainstream media rarely comment on the loss of jobs in the US, many of which are directly related to NAFTA and other trade deals. And when they do, they almost never discuss whether NAFTA has been good or bad to poor communities in
Having said that, it is also true that not much of the following will make sense unless the reader accepts the premise that there is something fundamentally wrong with our present global economic situation, that the corporate and political powers have contorted and stacked the decks of the financial machinery that runs the earth in such a way that rewards the rich and extracts payments from the poor. I will attempt to bring together evidence as we go along that will (in my opinion) make that case, but if you begin with the belief that things are fine and getting better (and that it will get better faster if the critics will just get out of the way and let the unregulated “free” market function) then most of what appears like evidence will be nonsensical.
We also need to agree that the Bible and Christian theology still have something to say to this situation. There are a number (in fact a growing number) of people who accept that the world’s economy is dangerously skewed, but who also believe that religion is unhelpful to that issue, and may in fact be a contributor to the crisis. I don’t believe that, and this work reflects a fundamental belief that we can find tools and insights to address our present situation in the stories and theological traditions of the Bible.
It is worth noting again that there are also clear biases in the existing rules of international finance. There does exist an ideology of inequality that drives the creation of the rules and by which the international financial system itself is ruled. The wealthy have not created this system which benefits them because they are mean evil people. They’ve done so because it is human nature to look out for oneself and one’s class. It is not always evil (though, undeniably occasionally). Sometimes it is simply a blindness driven by class or race or gender. Once one has sworn allegiance to a god other than the God of all creation, then the rest is less voluntary. Worshiping gods of wealth and power and influence can become an authentic bondage, a bondage that blinds one from seeing and feeling reality and blocks that reality from surfacing in one’s consciousness.
[i] Ulrich Duchrow, Alternatives to Global Capitalism: Drawn from Biblical History, Designed for Political Action. Tr. Elaine Griffiths…et al. (Utrecht: International Books: 1995), p. 12, pp. 15-16.