Wednesday, November 01, 2006

globalisation and the Biblical text

Each week in my Gospel and post-Christian class we interact with the same Biblical text: Luke 10:1-12. It is amazing to me, and to the class, how one text can have the depth and breadth to challenge us week after week. It puts a whole new slant on the Biblical text as living text.

Today I placed on an overhead for the class all the brand labels of clothing I was wearing. I gave the class a copy of the overhead, with the Biblical text in amongst the brands. Then I read the following story (page xv) from No logo.

nologo.jpg Here they were all young, some of them as young as fifteen; only a few were over twenty-one.

On this particular day in August 1997, the abysmal conditions in question had led to a strike at the Kaho Indah Citra garment factory on the outskirts of Jakarta in the Kawasan Berikat Nusantar industrial zone. The issue for the Kaho workers, who earn the equivalent of US$2 per day, was that they were being forced to work long hours of overtime but weren’t being paid at the legal rate for their trouble. After a three-day walkout, management offered a compromise typical of a region with a markedly relaxed relationship to labor legislation: overtime would no longer be compulsory but the compensation would remain illegally low. The 2,000 workers returned to their sewing machines; all except 101 young women – management decided – were the troublemakers behind the strike. “Until now our case is still not settled,” one of these workers told me, bursting with frustration and with no recourse in sight.

I was sympathetic, of course, but, being the Western foreigner, I wanted to know what brands of garments they produced at the Kaho factory – if I was to bring their story home, I would have to have my journalistic hook. So here we were, ten of us, crowded into a concrete bunker only slightly bigger than a telephone booth …

Suddenly the words of Luke 10:5-7 have fresh challenge: 5″When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6If a person of peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves their wages. Do not move around from house to house.

These are the questions and issues, raised by globalisation and the Biblical text, that framed our lecture.

1. What does it mean to sit at a sweatshop table in a way that lets go of our perceptions of poverty and injustice?
2. There is a cost to self. Will we give to people out of our abundance or lack?
3. When we listen first, then the listening can change us. Change, Kingdom change, will then actually happen now, and in us, not just later, “in heaven.”
4. “The workers deserve their wages.” Makes a surprising connection to sweatshops, because it no longer speaks to us, but the need for justice among sweatshops.
5. What does it mean to pray “give us this day our daily bread”?
6. What would happen if you, because of your justice stance, didn’t eat meat and yet the food placed before you was battery farmed chicken? Would your justice principles, or the desire for relationship, be pre-eminent?
7. In globalisation, the power remains with the bosses. What are the power relationships in our “gospel encounters”? In contrast, in the Kingdom of God, the harvest (ie. every person) has value. How do we do mission so that power does not lie with us?
8. In New Zealand our power issues include land issues. How will we as Christians respond in New Zealand today?
9. What is proclaiming “peace as shalom” to sweatshop? How can you separate “peace and justice”?
10. How do we “dwell” long-term, around sweatshop tables?
11. How do our lives back home change as a result of our short-term overseas trips and cross-cultural changes?
12. The local is intrinsically linked to the global. How does changing the local impact on the global?

Update: In the comments, both Darren and I have applauded this book;
consumingfaith.jpg Consuming faith as a wonderfully accessible theological response to globalisation and how a Christian might respond to the issues raised by No logo.

Posted by steve at 03:40 PM


  1. have you read tom beaudoins book “consuming faith” ( very very good and short book, i use it as a theological reader to no logo.

    Comment by darren — November 2, 2006 @ 4:57 pm

  2. yes, i’ve read it. used it in the class. i really like his encouragement of imagination to engage brands, rather than guilt. also the way he opens up insights around “this is my body broken for you.” felt he was a bit catholic in places, esp around his eucharistic theology. what i mean is that his understanding of “body” is limited to the wafer; wheras i as a baptist consider the “body” as the church of Christ. Also he could have made his case stronger by engaging with contemporary Biblical scholarship on 1 Cor; which suggests that the issue in Corinth includes injustice around the Lords table. Integrating these strands would have totally helped his arguement.

    But I agree with you, for an accessible theological response to globalisation, Beaudoin is an excellent resource.

    Comment by steve — November 2, 2006 @ 6:47 pm

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