The Church And The Challenge of Globalization
How can the Christian church influence Monsanto, Nike or Allan Greenspan? How can a pastor stop George Soros from selling the rupiah? Preaching sermons against globalization to one hundred little old ladies will not change anything. The people who need to hear are not there to hear. We need to take the message of justice to those in the market who are prepared to listen to such a message. But how can this be done? There is also the issue of scale. Generally speaking global issues require a global response. The Church must be able to co-ordinate internationally against the excesses of globalization. The Church needs to focus on effective rather than ineffective approaches and target those with the power to make decisions or to enforce justice.
The Church is limited in how she can respond to ways that are ethical and godly and Christ-like. For instance we cannot go and throw rocks at McDonalds or join a terrorist group. But that is not a huge limitation, not only are such methods illegal and unethical they are also generally quite counter-productive. There are fundamentally only four major methods the local Church can use Firstly public protest and use of the media. Secondly – litigation, where there is a civil or criminal court that can deal with the injustice. Thirdly the Church can engage in dialogue and in ethical appeal to individual major company directors, investors and fund managers. Fourthly the Church can wield her financial power in responsible ways by engaging in ethical investments and using Christian money in Christian ways. A fifth approach – Christian political involvement is covered in the next chapter.
Public Protest And Use of The Media
Letter Writing: It is hard to get published say in the New York Times but quite easy to make an impact in the local but respectable paper. Such letters are sometimes picked up by regional media, which are then picked up by national media. This is called “the halo effect” – that is if you have made it into one media source you must be good and worth covering in another media source. What makes it even easier is that newspapers and media outlets are extensively syndicated and pass on information about “color” stories to each other. That is they are often looking for an articulate opposing viewpoint to add conflict and interest to their stories. So if on Tuesday morning you read about Nike opening a big factory in Thailand you hop on the computer and write/fax/email a letter to the editor that is tight, powerful and less than 150 words. Because you are responding intelligently to their story it has a good chance of getting in.
Press Releases and Press Conferences: Form a small protest organization and give yourself a name that the press can come to recognize as “Joe Smith from Economic Justice For The Poor”, or if you are a pastor, Rev Smith from the Mennonite Church. Learn to write tight press releases with each paragraph being one well-written sentence and with a good large headline and your contact details. Most media outlets are lacking material on Sundays so if you call a press conference for 2 pm Sunday afternoon you often get at least one outlet to show up. The other advantage of Sunday press conferences is that your church can be praying for you.
You need to always keep in mind that for a long while your press releases will be “just color”, a filler, an opposing viewpoint worth 30 seconds if that on local TV. The media are not coming to you because you are an expert, they are coming because they want interest and conflict and cannot bother hunting down an expert opposing viewpoint. They will come because you sent them the only press release that presented a contrary point of view in a sensible fashion. So do not take yourself seriously and do not take what the media will do with what you say too seriously either. As soon as you puff up or show signs of over-sensitivity the media seem to sense it and they vanish. The media will trash you until they respect you and that takes time. My first two or three years of media involvement were truly horrible until I learned these lessons. Learn to be graphic and visual like the OT prophets without being too corny or sensationalist. Hold press conferences in relevant locations such as in front of a Nike factory or a politician’s office. Stick tightly to the issue, never talk about yourself or your emotions, be humble, factual, tight and professional. Rehearse short, relevant dot point answers to expected questions. Never complete a sentence/paragraph without it being properly balanced in its ideas. Don’t just say “Trade is evil” which will get you written off as a fool. Say “Some firms are learning the benefits of being ethical and we would like to commend them, however Nike is not among them and the establishment of this factory under these wage conditions will only add to the burden of the poor”. Use the technique of “I am not saying X, but I am saying Y”. This makes you sound balanced and wise and adds credibility.
Protests: Any protest is generally better than no protest and you don’t need a cast of thousands. A protest of forty or more people can still seem effective on TV though six people looks drab and ridiculous. Generally the media like to see interdenominational unity or some sign that it is more than just one pastor’s opinion so it’s a good idea to have at least two other churches involved. Small protests can be assisted by a good dramatic location such as outside a monument, office or against a billboard where they look like a decent crowd - not straggling along a street or out in an open space where they tend to look lost and forlorn. Have two or three good speakers at the protest and a short one to two page handout for the press that includes names correctly spelled, organizations, and contact details for the main people involved. Of course if you need permits then obtain them from the relevant authority and make sure your banners are legal (in Australia wooden placards are illegal but posters and banners are OK). Above all pray that God may make your protest effective.
This is not an area I have any personal experience in however it is essential in some cases where the firm is not listening and the situation must be changed. A well-publicized court case about an obvious injustice can do a great deal to change public awareness and influence government legislation. While I am not a lawyer my suggestion is to pick your fight well and go into battle in a jurisdiction where litigation is relatively inexpensive and anti-globalization sentiment is already strong. If you took on Monsanto in Libya for instance, and won, then the result could be publicized back home with almost as much impact as an expensive trial in a Western country. Taking the litigation into the countries where they are doing the damage seems to be to be both good justice and good tactics. The church in say the USA can fund its denominational counterpart in say South Africa, to take on an unjust mining giant there. Of course if the corporation is acting criminally you can just go straight to the police or appropriate regulatory authority.
Dialogue With Decision-Makers
Many company directors attend their local church and though globalization is a complex issue it can be studied in seminars, bible studies and in introductory books like this one or Ronald Sider’s classic “Rich Christians In An Age of Hunger”. Executives can best be reached if the material is factual and is sympathetic to the pressures of the working environment, for instance as outlined in the chapter “Why Decent People...”. On a slightly larger scale the churches in a city could combine to offer a public seminar on globalization and business ethics. Such combined events can attract media attention and you may even be able to publicize it in groups such as Rotary and the Chamber of Commerce. The speaker should be able to answer tough questions. Multinational businesses with major offices in the city can be asked to send representatives. Personal contact with decision-makers can sometimes be established through writing to them and taking a constructive practical and solution-focused approach. For instance suggest a way their operation can be improved to make it more just and fair.
Decision-makers are most open to suggestions during times of change or crisis or when they have just attained office. When a new civic official is elected write to them and congratulate them on their win and then say a few words about what you would like and ask for an appointment. It will often be granted. When you go the appointment go well prepared with a one to two page handout.
The following handout format is the one I use successfully and which politicians often say “This is good, I wish more people came prepared like this, I can do something with this”. I arrange my material under four headings:
What I Want – specifically and constructively in one sentence.
Why I Want It- three to four paragraphs.
How It Can Be Done – practical, solution focused, one paragraph
How You Can Help It To Be Done – what I want the politician to do in specific terms e.g “Refer to parliamentary committee on XYZ and contact me re progress in two weeks.”
I actually use those headings – “What I Want” etc. In a few cases I also add another heading “What Will Happen If This Is Not Done” – when I am prepared to take legal action against a firm, but like I said earlier, it has never come to that yet (praise God). Of course add name, address, signature, contact details, use proper titles of persons involved, and be concise, practical and positive. Ranting gets nowhere.
When dealing with politicians and business leaders remember that they are busy and try and be in and out of their office in ten to fifteen minutes. They will appreciate it and you will get another interview another day. Also remember they are part of “the machinery” of government or business and your suggestion has to go through many layers before it is acted on.
Clarity is part of the secret here. If your idea is so complex and confusing you can barely explain it to the first person then when he or she explains it to the second it will get muddled and by the time it gets to the fifth person it is lost entirely. If you keep it simple and solution-focused and make the concept as clear as you possibly can then it will retain its life and survive a bit longer inside the wheels of a bureaucracy. Clear ideas, put in writing, on a single page, travel best. The exception is when you have a major report say on an environmental issue and it is 500 or 1000 pages thick and the data is important. Even then a 1-4 page executive summary is essential to success.
Deal with the highest level of officialdom you can on a peer-to-peer level. By that I mean if your idea is good and it has national implications, then take it to your denomination’s national office or a specialist lobby group and persuade them to advocate it to the national politicians, NGO’s and also to other denominational leaders. A national level idea is often seen as more credible and more appropriate if it comes from the national HQ of a major denomination than from a single pastor or Christian individual. And if you cannot persuade others at the top of your own spiritual community you are probably not going to have much luck going outside it and trying to persuade congressmen and senators. You will be surprised how ready bishops and Christian leaders are to listen to a good constructive social justice suggestion.
Finally don’t be impatient, the machinery takes a while, often 6 months or more. Oh, and if possible, do not ask politicians to take on really controversial “causes” in an election year. Controversial causes are generally best advocated just after they have been elected and feel safest.
Churches are not as rich as everyone thinks or as poor as everyone thinks! The investment funds of major denominations such as the Presbyterians and Southern Baptists are probably quite significant. Furthermore churches have as members people of considerable wealth and financial power. Some figures have up to 70% plus of the world’s wealth being held by Protestant believers. Ethical investment funds are being set up that do not invest in tobacco, alcohol or the arms trade. Others take note of firms that are abusive in their approach to globalization. For ethical investments to work a breed of qualified Christian investment advisors with good credibility must be produced who can both invest ethically and get a good return. Few people are so ethically concerned that they will lose money for a good cause. However if there are two funds offering good rates and one is ethical most Christians would prefer the ethical fund.
If the churches and wealthy Christians disinvested in stocks of ruthless corporations and did not engage in currency speculation as part of their portfolio then the market would quickly respond. The dollar talks and it can talk very loudly indeed. If the figures of 70% of the world’s wealth being in our hands is anywhere near correct then the church can make the market tremble. The trouble is that Christians have not worked out a marketplace-based faith that can address issues of investment, fair trade and reasonable profit-taking. So without guidance Christians are investing in the same unjust ways as non-Christians and as the apostle Paul would say “brethren that should not be so”.
A similar economic strategy is to buy enough shares in a company to be entitled to ask questions at the AGM and to stand up, well prepared and tackle the corporation on its policies. Various other tactics include boycotts (which sometimes work but often don’t) and petitions and letter writing campaigns to the corporation concerned.
There are many anti-globalization networks in operation that Christians can join as well as the international linkages between denominations, missionary societies and Christian charities and development organizations. It may be best to join some of these networks and get the feel of the issues and what is going on before plunging in yourself. There are tricky areas of theory, procedure and doctrine and using the right economic figures and terms. Participating in social justice networks, meetings and forums can give you the grounding you need to be effective for the Lord – even if some of these forums are far from Christian.
Finding the right procedure and process for a particular issue can save much wasted time and trouble. For instance taking your issue to the International Labor Organization as a private citizen may indeed be possible, but I doubt it, you probably would need legal representation or approval of a national level body or major NGO. About 75% of my time spent tackling an issue is working out procedure and doing background research on the issue to validate every fact I present and working out a method of presenting it that will move it easily through the wheels of that particular piece of bureaucratic machinery. If the right facts are presented to the right person in the right way at the right time, then the success of the cause is optimized.
Beware the “Resolution”
A resolution announced to the media is pointless. It is not being presented as a plan of action to a person who can make a decision based upon it. To say “We believe in the synergistic, holistic transformation of global resources with equity and social responsibility so that no child can live in poverty by 2020” (I just made that one up) will do exactly nothing. It is simply a self-congratulatory exercise that’s says “look we have good intentions”. It is little better than standing up and announcing “we want everyone everywhere to be nice”. Effective social justice involves direct action where it can do the most good. Resolutions are not social action. Only action is social action - writing letters or doing research or making appointments with leaders and politicians will get a lot more real, actual tangible good done that a hundred resolutions.
A well researched and presented journal article can have a huge impact. If you are an academic and you can do top-notch, high quality research in globalization then please do so. A surprising amount of people who are decision-makers will take note. If possible publish both in print and electronically as people use the Internet a lot for research.
Waking Up The Church
You may notice that I keep assuming individual action. That is because I have not seen too many evangelical churches that are keen on social justice. Most find it a rather uncomfortable and guilt ridden topic. They think you will want them to sell the Mercedes and give the money to the poor. This is why I believe in being solution-focused and guilt free.
If you are problem-focused and go in with something like: “Listen to how evil X is and how many people are suffering while we sit here in comfort” then people will become problem-focused, defensive and try and wriggle out from the implied blame – or put the blame back on you. On the other hand if you say “How would you like to help solve X by doing Y” some people may even hop on board and help you. Because the information is presented in a solution-focused framework it elicits a positive and solution-focused response.
Being specific helps. Many people supported the Jubilee 2000 Debt Relief Coalition because it was a specific and obvious issue with a definite and positive plan of action based on a clear biblical principle. So instead of saying something vague such as: “ We are going to tackle the iniquity of world trade” which will go down like a lead balloon, say “I have been concerned about some of the excesses of globalization and one thing I’d like to do is invite all the partners in the major stock-broking firms for lunch at the local Sheraton hotel and to have someone come and talk to them about ethical investing. Who would like to be involved?” I hope you get the idea.
Not only does the church need to be woken up to globalization and social justice it needs to be woken up to its own economic and poverty issues such as the concept of a biblical work ethic or the power to make wealth. Some evangelical Christians have highly superstitious and irrational mindsets that can neither make money nor do justice. They are trapped in spiritual fears, conspiracy plots and wild end time theories and have a view of prosperity that is either totally secular, non-existent, or based on personal merit. That is why the final chapter on this section will be on assumptions, beliefs and logic! However before we do that we need to look at Christian involvement in politics as I promised you earlier.