The global mission of the Christian churches does not sit comfortably with selfish and economically over-determined forms of globalisation, said World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia in a paper prepared for his visit to India this week.
He called the churches to a comprehensive alternative global vision which recognised the mistakes of the colonial Christendom mindset. But the WCC leader affirmed some of the values underlying western liberalism, while pointing out that active Christian faith should play a constructively critical role in all cultures and traditions.
Dr Kobia had taken the topic as the theme for a valedictory sermon at the 112th Maramon Convention, which took place from 11-18 February 2007 in Kerala, India. In the end he focussed on youth and pastoral issues, but his thoughts on global issues were subsequnetly released by the WCC.
Organised annually by the mission and evangelism wing of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar, the week-long event, which brings some 200,000 Christians to each session, is the largest Christian gathering in Asia.
The WCC general secretary proposed a clear distinction "between the calling of the church to a global witness and the [neo-liberal] forms of globalisation, which are not at all the same thing".
Dr Kobia characterised modern globalisation as "associated with free-market economics and the consumer culture promoted throughout the world by commercial media".
Often "conveyed and defended by militarised western powers", this form of globalisation includes trends towards the "economic and social Darwinism of a dog-eat-dog world".
"We in the Christian churches have been called to a global task" too, Dr Kobia wrote, "a task of evangelism, the preaching of good news [of Jesus Christ], that is relevant for all nations and the entirety of God's earth".
Both these attempts to globalise cannot be confused even if "some colonial empires and other expansionist powers of Europe and North America have claimed to act internationally as agents of Christendom".
In spite of some "unholy alliances" of the past and the "sad fact of history" that "too often churches have accepted the imperial view of Christ's call to take the gospel into all the world", if the gospel of Jesus Christ "is to be 'globalised' in the way he instructed, it cannot be achieved [...] by forcing one culture's values upon another culture", Dr Kobia affirmed.
However, Dr Kobia suggested that efforts need to be made to "discern those values underlying western liberalism that can still be affirmed".
Among them he mentioned freedom, understood "as a human right, no longer confined to economic matters and hoarded by the wealthy"; expertise in technology and economics as well as other social sciences, "so long as they are not held captive to any single ideology"; and productivity and growth, if "dedicated to the good of all, [so as to] promote survival for the poor and dignity for all".
For the WCC general secretary, the response to "the forces of global capitalism that attempt to impose upon all the earth one model that must be followed, one single mindset to be adopted unquestioningly" is dialogue. "We encourage dialogue, not merely among people of faith but among the many different communities of the world."
As "the church is called to serve as a model of reconciled diversity, rejecting imposed patterns of uniformity", Christians need to put their own house in order first. And so they need to "build positive, respectful relationships" with those around them "who are members of other faiths and of none".
What it takes to achieve this goal is nothing less than "absolute honesty" - to the extent of risking to appear impolite - as well as "listening skills" and "mutual respect", Dr Kobia asserted in another sermon he preached at the convention the previous day.
To build "a community that may hope to achieve justice, people must be honest with one another and find ways to explore their differences as well as to celebrate the common ground they share", the World Council of Churches chief said.