Work, Globalization, and Civilization
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Work, Globalization, and Civilization

In this week’s Acton Commentary, “Lutheran World Federation Misses the Mark on Work and Wealth,” I reflect on the recently concluded general assembly of the Lutheran World Federation, held in Stuttgart. The theme of the meeting was “Give us today our daily bread,” but as I note, the assembly’s discussion of hunger, poverty, and economics lacked the proper integration of the value, dignity, and importance of work.

As I contend, work is the regular means God has provided for the maintenance of our physical needs. And work that is connected to the larger human community becomes increasingly oriented toward the service of others and productive of civilization. Lester DeKoster defines civilization in just this way, as

goods and services to hand when we need them. There are countless workers, just like ourselves—including ourselves—whose work creates the harvest that provides each of us with far more than we could ever provide for ourselves.

These words come from DeKoster’s little classic, Work: The Meaning of Your Life—A Christian Perspective, newly available in an updated second edition.

The omission of considering work in relationship to the development of wealth, globalization, and civilization is endemic to the larger mainline ecumenical movement, which I examine in greater length in my book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness. In that book I look especially at the outcome of the previous LWF gathering in 2004.

The trend observable in LWF recent history looks to continue unabated. The newly appointed LWF general secretary, Rev. Martin Junge of Chile, has the pursuit of “economic justice,” conceived largely of opposition to globalization, as a high priority. (Full story after the break).

Chilean Lutheran leader has economic justice high on agenda

By Peter Kenny
Stuttgart, Germany, 27 July (ENI)–When the Rev. Martin Junge becomes the first Latin American to head the Lutheran World Federation on 1 November, the issue of economic justice and illegitimate debt is likely to feature high on his agenda.

Junge, a Chilean born in 1961, takes office as general secretary of the Geneva-based LWF upon the retirement of the Rev. Ishmael Noko, a Zimbabwean theologian, who is leaving after 16 years in the post.

On 26 July, Junge spoke to the highest governing body of the LWF, its assembly, which has been meeting in Stuttgart, Germany, from 20 to 27 July.

“There is an economic order that is absolutely unfair, unjust and a deep expression of sin, depriving millions of human beings from their rights and even their lives,” Junge told delegates at the assembly, which takes place every six or seven years.

“Did you know that the G20 [grouping of countries] spent US$816 billion to bail out its banks?” he asked. “All of a sudden, the money was there, overnight, to save banks.”

Junge said he wondered why money was never available to provide sufficient antiretroviral drugs to fight HIV and AIDS, or to cancel debts, “of clearly illegal or illegitimate origin”.

He continued, “Isn’t this a moral question, which a communion like the LWF, with its global structure, should be raising, hopefully together with other denominations, religions and organizations?”

Junge was one of the people who worked on the 2008 publication, “Not just numbers – Explaining the legitimacy of foreign debt”, which was presented to the October 2008 International Symposium of Illegitimate Debt, in Oslo, Norway.

Junge pointed out to the assembly that the global North’s continuing commercial dealings with the South offset the cost of current development aid. He said, “Did you know that in the year 2006, the global South transferred US$657 billion to the North? This means that after summing up all financial flows – commercial, loans, gifts – the global North had a surplus of US$657 billion?”

Junge also noted that in 2009, regarded as one of the best years for development aid, only US$123 billion was offered to countries needing such support.

He said, “Shouldn’t the LWF take an active role in this discussion as well, raising its prophetic voice on behalf of those people, who are not an abstract number but an important part of its 70 million members?”

Junge said it was when he was 12 years old, at the time of his confirmation in the early years of the Chilean dictatorship, that he thought he should enter the Christian ministry.

He told assembly delegates that those years in his home country had made him realise that it is easy to lose democracy but difficult to get it back.

“As with many people in my country of my own generation, I was profoundly shaped by the period of great political difficulties. We suffered the loss of democracy and freedoms, and lived under the rule of military dictatorship,” said Junge.

In 1973, General Augusto Pinochet seized power in Chile in a bloody coup. He remained as the Latin American country’s ruler until 1990, when he stepped down after losing a national referendum on whether he could continue as president until 1997.

“During that period of time, I learned how little it takes to lose democracy, and how much it takes to regain it,” said Junge. He added that he had also learned the, “tremendous value of participatory democracy”.

The new LWF general secretary comes from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile, of which he was president from 1996 to 2000. It is one of the smallest of the LWF’s 145 member churches.

After schooling in Chile, Junge studied theology at Germany’s Georg-August University in Göttingen. He also holds an advanced studies diploma in the management of not-for-profit organizations from Switzerland’s University of Fribourg.

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is director of research at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy, an initiative of the First Liberty Institute. He has previously held research positions at the Acton Institute and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and has authored multiple books, including a forthcoming introduction to the public theology of Abraham Kuyper. Working with Lexham Press, he served as a general editor for the 12 volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series, and his research can be found in publications including Journal of Markets & Morality, Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Faith & Economics, and Calvin Theological Journal. He is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary and the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity & Politics at Calvin University.