Acton Commentary

The Church and Globalization


The Church has the potential to tackle world poverty and to change the culture of globalization in ways that governments and international institutions do not.

It is very easy in considering the challenges of globalization and international development to enter a secular debate — using secular terms — on globalization and international development in which the Christian faith has seemingly limited relevance and is reduced to the margins. Jesus, however, was under no illusion of the claims He was making when He declared, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” While Christ’s kingdom is “not of this world,” Scripture makes clear that Christ’s kingdom is nevertheless relevant to every aspect of our life in this world. The Church is a witness to that kingdom and because of that has great potential to influence our world for the better.

Let me provide two concrete examples of what this might mean: the Church in Africa and the leadership of business. All of the initiatives proposed by G8 countries to help sub-Saharan Africa — dealing with debt, aid, trade, and so forth — are “top-down” initiatives. The decisions made at the Gleneagles meeting in 2005 were all “top-down” proposals. The report of the Commission on Africa made eighty recommendations. Of these, seventy-eight recommendations were addressed exclusively to African governments, the governments of donor countries, or a combination of these. The question that needs to be asked regarding such top down initiatives is how they translate into tangible results affecting the lives of ordinary people in the villages and small towns of rural Africa. Sadly, the perception is that they do not.

It is here that the Church scores highly. If we take sub-Saharan Africa as an example, the Christian Church numbered around sixty million people in 1960. Today that figure is between 350–400 million. The Church in Africa is in closer touch with the poor — those living on less than one dollar per day — than any other institution. Moreover, the Church has a stable administrative infrastructure through its provinces, dioceses, and parishes, which is unrivalled and is in marked contrast to the often-failed structures of local government. The Church has a highly respected leadership (unlike the political class in Africa) who are trained, experienced, and live permanently in the communities they serve. This is a vivid contrast to aid workers and officials of international institutions. Through the provision of schools, hospitals, clinics, dispensaries and, more recently, micro-finance initiatives, the Church has a proven track record in helping the poor.

This should not surprise us. In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI stated:

for the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.

The Church in Africa is a sleeping giant with enormous potential. The challenge faced by Christians in wealthy countries is how we can serve the Church in Africa so that in turn it can most effectively serve its people.

Another area of enormous potential influence is business leadership. We have argued that the sine qua non for economic development is the creation of a vibrant private sector in developing countries. Successful private sector companies provide jobs, training, exports, and community involvement. Christians ought to be committed to shaping companies in ways that allow people to develop and pursue excellence. Throughout G7 countries, there are thousands of Christians in positions of business leadership, not least in those companies that are at the heart of globalization. There will be others, maybe of other faiths or even no faith, who will have equally high ideals for corporate life. Once again, I believe that the Church is in a unique position to mobilize its members to take responsibility and leadership. To cite Benedict XVI’s Deus Caritas Est again:

In today’s complex situation, not least because of the growth of a globalized economy, the Church’s social doctrine has become a set of fundamental guidelines offering approaches that are valid even beyond the confines of the Church.

If globalization is not to stall, it urgently needs legitimacy in terms of a moral framework that explains and promotes not just wealth creation as a moral imperative but also the ways in which poor countries can benefit and the environment can be protected.

This article is excerpted from Lord Brian Griffiths' new Acton monograph, “Globalization, Poverty, and International Development: Insights from Centesimus Annus.”