The Challenge of Globalization to the Church

The Acton Institute is midway through a series of lectures—eight in Rome and one in Poland—celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of Centesimus Annus , Pope John Paul II's landmark social encyclical. The lecture series started in October 2005 and will continue through 2007. The following is taken from Centesimus Annus, Globalization, and Individual Development , an upcoming monograph itself [expanded] from Lord Griffiths's address delivered on October 19, 2006, in Rome.

© Hilary Quinn. Image from

The church has the potential to tackle world poverty and to change the culture of globalization in a way 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, on secular terms, 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.” Or of the fact that he came to establish a kingdom on earth, which he stated was “not of this world” but which is relevant nevertheless to every aspect of our life in it. The church is a witness to that kingdom and because of that has great potential to influence our world for the better.

Let me just take two examples of what I 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, and trade—are 'top-down' initiatives. The decisions at Gleneagles in 2005 were all 'top-down' proposals. The Report of the Commission on Africa made eighty recommendations, seventy—eight of which were addressed exclusively to either African governments, the governments of donor countries or a combination of these. In terms of these top-down initiatives 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, then in 1960 the Christian church numbered around 60 million people. 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. Indeed many congregations are the poor. Next, the church has a stable administrative infrastructure through its provinces, dioceses, and parishes which is unrivalled and is in marked contrast to independent or even failed structures of local government. The church has a highly respected leadership, especially in contrast to politicians, who are trained, experienced, and live permanently in communities in which they serve. This is in 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. Pope Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est stated that, “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 we face in rich countries is how we can serve the African Church so that in turn it can most effectively serves 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, taxes, exports, and community involvement. As Christians we are committed to companies which pursue excellence, help people develop, and are great places to work. Throughout G7 countries there are thousands of Christians in positions of business leadership, not least in those companies which 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. Let me quote Benedict XVI once more: “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.”