From the Worldwide Faith News archives

World Social Forum: How globalization is challenging the churches

From "WCC Media" <>
Date Tue, 04 Feb 2003 11:13:28 +0100

World Council of Churches
For Immediate Use Fea-03-01
4 February 2003

World Social Forum: How globalization is challenging the churches

"Thanks to the World Social Forum, we're better prepared for the meeting
we'll be having this year with the International Monetary Fund and the World
Bank," says Rogate Mshana, who heads the World Council of Churches' (WCC)
programme on economic justice.	

Should churches engage in dialogue with international financial institutions
like the IMF and the World Bank? And if so, how?  These questions, amongst
others, sparked a heated debate at two of the workshops offered by the WCC at
the World Social Forum at Porto Alegre. The first - "Water is life" - dealt
with moves to privatize drinking water supplies, while the second discussed
"Alternatives to economic globalization".

Opinions were divided.	Previous attempts at dialogue with these institutions
have shown that they do not accept that their policies are increasing rather
than reducing poverty. "They're not willing to listen to any criticism of
their policies, and even when they do listen, they're not ready to change,"
is how Mshana sums it up.  "That's why some people think dialogue is

So why is the WCC having discussions with them? "It will be a meeting, not a
dialogue," Mshana explains.  "Each side will set out its position, and we'll
see if there is any point in continuing the process. In other words, we'll
see if there is any chance of these institutions changing."  If the answer is
no, there will be no further meetings, "but at least it will have served to
make the respective positions clear to the churches".

The churches' criticism of neoliberal globalization must be based on
theological as well as economic grounds.  Behind the Forum workshops was the
WCC's desire to develop a spirituality of resistance. "We have seen that the
neoliberal paradigm is a new Tower of Babel, an arrogant project that aims to
impose a uniformity that is contrary to God's will for a kingdom that
respects diversity," says Mshana.  "The churches have a great opportunity
here for prophetic condemnation and education."

Having coordinated the workshops, "Our aim was to share and evaluate
experiences and methodologies in searching for alternatives to economic
globalization," explains Mshana, "and we are agreed on the importance of
continuing the work of research, education and information on these

The churches in particular have an enormous amount of work to do in this
field. "When it comes to choosing between the technical or the ethical
approach in matters such as access to clean water, between the market or
human rights, the participants are adamant that priority must go to the
latter," he emphasizes.

 "The churches must work very hard to bring pressure to bear on the
international financial institutions not just to go along with the market
solution."  If this pressure fails to achieve results, one suggestion from
the workshops was to direct an awareness-building campaign at bondholders,
inciting them to organize a boycott of World Bank bonds.      

The workshops also tackled the subjects of world trade, the international
financial system and debt, all of which, in their present form, are harmful
to the poor.  With regard to trade, participants gave their backing to
campaigns for fair trade like the "Trade for people, not people for trade"
campaign sponsored by the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance.

The international financial system is a "lottery whose winnings flow from the
South to the North", says Mshana.  It needs to be reformed, and mechanisms
need to be put in place to limit the arbitrary movement of speculative
capital and plug the holes to make sure that the capital invested in poor
countries actually stays there and is used for development. 

As far as the new methods of debt cancellation are concerned, these are
inadequate and do not solve the problem, according to Mshana. What is needed
is total cancellation and the introduction of a whole new system.  One
striking proposal was for an International Court under United Nations aegis,
competent to judge the legitimacy of debts, taking into account the joint
responsibility of debtors and creditors.

"We still have a lot of work to do in order to raise the general level of
awareness in the churches about matters of international finance, debt and
trade," Mshana concludes.  The Tower of Babel also seemed indestructible
until God decided to act.   

The WCC delegation is participating at the World Social Forum within the
framework of an Ecumenical Caucus set up by the WCC, the Lutheran World
Federation, the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, the Latin American Council of
Churches and an ecumenical coalition of Brazilian churches and related

Delegation members are leading a series of workshops showing links between
Christian spirituality and examples of resistance against the unjust world
order by churches and social and ecumenical organizations.

Further details of how the WCC is participating in the World Social Forum,
including descriptions of the workshops and the text of the presentations,
can be found at: (English) (Espaqol) (Deutsch) (Frangais)

For further information, please contact the Media Relations Office,  
tel: +41 (0)22 791 64 21 / (41 22) 791 61 53


The World Council of Churches (WCC) is a fellowship of churches, now 342, in
more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian
traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works
cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which
meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in
1948 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary
Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.

World Council of Churches
Media Relations Office
Tel: (41 22) 791 6153 / 791 6421
Fax: (41 22) 798 1346

PO Box 2100
1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland

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