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Globalization and
the Faith Community's Response
Breaking the Cycle of Violence, Creating Circles of Peace

Globalization and
the Faith Community's Response

by Tom Keene, National Council member, Pax Christi, USA.

In the late 1970's a young American medical student traveling through Guatemala stopped in a remote village for gas. He noticed a small girl sitting nearby on the ground. He recognized in her vacant stare the signs of malnutrition. As he watched, a fly landed on her cheek and then crawled across her open eyeball. She did not move to brush away the fly or even blink.

Years later, he was asked why he, a doctor, invested so much of his free time to organize his fellow Americans to assist the liberation movements in Central America and to resist the Reagan administration's low intensity warfare on the people of Nicaragua and El Salvador. He recalled his experience of the girl and the fly and said, "I knew her condition was a direct result of the military, economic and foreign policies of my own nation."

Today, those policies are recognized as an essential part of a larger force called globalization, or as some writers prefer, economic globalization. It is a process in which the economies of all nations are drawn into a single, global economy driven by a free market ideology. Accordingly, the abilities of nations to control their economic development through democratically elected governments are increasingly limited, while the laws of supply and demand, and unregulated competition prevail over concerns for the common good. The thinking goes, "What is good for the corporation is good for humanity."

The problem here is that concern for the well being of persons, communities, and people is reduced to how actively they produce and consume the goods and services advertised by the market. People are depersonalized, made into things that count only as factors for someone else's profit or loss. For example, in the 1980's, Mexico agreed to drastically cut its government subsidies for corn and wheat. These subsidies enabled poor people to stretch their food pesos to better feed their families. The decision was forced on Mexico by agents of the International Monetary Fund as a condition for a rollover of debt payments. Kids went hungry because of an idea that markets should be free.

Economic globalization is a system made up of building blocks called corporations. The glue holding the blocks together is profit. The system's ability to ignore the common good of the community in order to promote the profitability of private corporations and the well being of their stockholders may be seen better if we examine the differences between institutions and communities.

Let us first understand that institutions and communities are never found in their pure state. Each institution has elements of community lest it become a dehumanized machine that drives its own members away. Every community has elements of institution, for it is those elements that enable it to endure.

Their differences lie in their reason for existence. Institutions exist as business arrangements to do something. Communities are formed when people come together out of some degree of love-friendship because they like the being of one another. Institutions and communities operate out of different ethics. Institutions work out of an ethic of control: control so that the doing gets done. Communities work out of an ethic of freedom: freedom for the community members to be who they are, for that is what is loved and valued.

Further differences are seen in how institutions and communities reinforce their founding ethic. Institutions use rules and roles sanctioned by rewards and punishments to reinforce control. Communities engender a regard for truth and trust to safeguard the freedom that enables their members to be who and what they are. Institutions promote expectations of their members. Communities foster acceptance of their members. Institutions tend to expel members who because of sickness, age, disability or whatever cannot contribute to what the institution does. Communities tend to keep their members as long as possible, even unto death, because they value them for their being rather than their doing.

Finally, institutions will strive to survive as institutions even at the expense of their members, even to the cost of their doing, the original reason for their existence. Communities will voluntarily go out of existence as communities for the sake of the well being of their members.

Again, let us remember that all institutions have elements of community, even the most dehumanizing of prisons. And all communities have elements of institutions. The most loving of couples living under the same roof will have to create rules and roles and decide who will take out the garbage. A good family is one that, on the one hand, fosters a sense of well being and freedom reinforced by trust and truth. On the other hand, a good family creates enough roles and enforces enough rules so that by paying the rent and maintaining the house it survives long enough for the members to live a full life and die in peace.

So what do institutions and communities have to do with globalization and the response of the faith community? Everything.

When the gospels speak of God's world having been given over to Satan, the accuser, the adversary of humanity, they refer to the political, economic and religious institutions that value doing over being, control over freedom. When the gospels refer to the Reign of God's Justice, they refer to the coming community of brothers and sisters who gather together in God's love to share, so that no one goes without their daily bread and no one has to live under the oppression of unforgiven, never ending debt. The early faith community understood that Jesus had promised that their infiltration and transformation of worldly institutions would overcome, that the gates of hell would not prevail against them.

In Ephesians 6:12, Paul refers to the fact that "our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens." Walter Wink's book, ENGAGING THE POWERS: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination, examines this struggle. There he writes, "The Powers are the structures and institutions, in both their outer and inner manifestations, that embody the Domination System in any historical moment."

These institutions are not evil in themselves. As Wink explains, like the rest of God's creation, they are good, they are fallen, and they are redeemed. Over and over the New Testament writers highlight this theme of Satan's institutions redeemed. (1 Cor. 15:24-27; Eph. 1:10 and 1:20-23; Heb. 10:12-13; Rev. 22:2) Our Jewish sisters and brothers call this work Tikkun: mending the world.

So, in the fullness of God's time, globalization and its evils will be redeemed. The question then is not whether to do Tikkun but how. What are our here and now roles and doings in that becoming?

To understand that we need to look at the nature of the being that is a community's genesis. The love-friendship that vitalizes the heart of a community starts with the valuing of one another's being and always flows into a creative doing that celebrates and enhances the being of community members. Such doing may express itself in laughter, tears, work, play, liturgies and rituals, hugs and kisses, spontaneous jokes and celebrations. This doing is not driven by some outside agenda but rather flows from our very being and redounds back to our being so as to enhance us as unique persons and bond us further with our brothers and sisters in community.

This creative doing that flows out of our divinely created being is a different kind of power than that which currently rules the world. It would liberate rather than dominate, nourish rather than destroy, serve life rather than death, offer hope instead of fear, speak truth to power and learn truth from the powerless instead of reinventing and repeating the lies. It would invest in people. It would live simply, that others may simply live.

Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see." As we be community and live community in this hurting world overwhelmed by consumerism, individualism and materialism, we be and do the work of salt, light and leaven. We will give the world a new vision of what it can be if it just turns from worshiping its stupid, mind and soul numbing gods.

To direct our divinely created being and our creative doing into the work of redeeming the forces of economic globalization we need nourishment. Lest we burn out we need to pray and meditate, eat and exercise sensibly, seek inspiration in our sacred scriptures and other literature, films, or poetry that proclaim and celebrate our struggle. We need to bring the blessings of this nourishment to our family and our work. These are not the blessings of preaching or educating our family members or co-workers, but the blessing of our being, our witness; our participation empowered by our vision of Tikkun. Our prophetic witness may be no more welcome in family and at work than was that of Jesus on returning to Nazareth. But this stuff is not for sissies. Let us learn the na´ve courage of the boy who saw and said that the emperor wore no clothes.

Another source of nourishment is the solidarity we find in joining with others to do Tikkun. Pax Christi is one outlet for our work. For some of us, being salt and light to our own parish is challenging enough. There are other groups and causes with which we can network. Networking itself can become a creative art. We can learn the skills of holding a press conference, publicizing events and meetings, doing sound bites for local television, editing newsletters, operating telephone trees, doing fund raisers, using email to inform and inspire our fellow activists. All such activism deserves celebration. Beer, chips and dips can become sacramentals as we lighten up and laugh about our hopes and dreams, mistakes and disasters. Such celebration in solidarity is indeed prayer and Tikkun.

Such is our work and calling. We do well to consider the perspective of Archbishop Oscar Romero on this work.

        We cannot do everything,
      and there is a sense of
      liberation in realizing that.
      This enables us to do something,
      and do it very well.
      It may be incomplete,
      but it is a beginning,
      a step along the way.
      An opportunity for the Lord's
      grace to enter
      and do the rest.
      We may never see the end results,
      but that is the difference
      between the master builder
      and the worker.
      We are workers, not master builders,
      ministers, not messiahs.
      We are prophets of a future
      that is not our own.


The ten "principles for reflection, criteria for judgment and directions for action" from the U.S. Bishop's Catholic Framework for Economic Life.

  1. The economy exists for the person, not the person for the economy.

  2. All economic life should be shaped by moral principles. Economic choices and institutions must be judged by how they protect or undermine the life and dignity of the human person, support the family and serve the common good.

  3. A fundamental moral measure of any economy is how the poor and vulnerable are faring.

  4. All people have a right to life and to secure the basic necessities of life (e.g. food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, safe environment, economic security).

  5. All people have the right to economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages and benefits, to decent working conditions, as well as to organize and join unions or other associations.

  6. All people, to the extent they are able, have a corresponding duty to work, a responsibility to provide for the needs of their families, and an obligation to contribute to the broader society.

  7. In economic life, free markets have both clear advantages and limits; government has essential responsibilities and limitations; voluntary groups have irreplaceable roles, but cannot substitute for the proper working of the market and the just policies of the state.

  8. Society has a moral obligation, including governmental action where necessary, to assure opportunity, meet basic human needs, and pursue justice in economic life.

  9. Workers, owners, managers, stockholders, and the consumers are moral agents in economic life. By our choices, initiative, creativity, and investment we enhance or diminish economic opportunity, community life, and social justice.

  10. The global economy has moral dimensions and human consequences. Decisions on investment, trade, aid, and development should protect human life and promote human rights, especially for those most in need wherever they might live on this globe.


    Among the many books and articles relevant to globalization and a Catholic or Christian response, I especially recommend Walter Wink's Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination.

    For in depth analysis of the reality that engenders globalization see Joe Holland's Faith, Work and Culture: Strategic Themes for Catholic Spirituality in the Crises of Modernity. It is a 44 page essay, available from Center of Concern, 3700 13th Street NW, Washington DC 20017. Website: E-mail:

    Submitted by Tom Keene, National Council member, Pax Christi, USA.

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