Revd Dr Paul Goodliff, General Secretary of Churches Together in England, shares in our Reflection of the Month for January 2020…
In the week before Christmas a large multi-national corporation, Whirlpool, gave advice to customers who had bought certain washing machines, asking them to either not use some of their models, or run them on a 20 degree cycle, for fear of them catching fire. This came hard on the heels of an earlier recall of tumble dryers from the same company, and accusations of all manner of delays in repairs, and failures in even acknowledging there was a problem.
Delivery drivers, who bring us all those parcels containing items we order from the giants of the online world, complain that they have so many to deliver that they have no time for a break to eat during their gruelling day-long shifts. How the tech-giants handle our personal data has been a cause of litigation, and the self-inflicted disaster that Volkswagen had over the so-called ‘Diesel-gate’ emissions tampering has yet to fully play out.
It would seem big is not always better.
We live in a globalised world, with big multinationals often having more power than many national governments can effectively contain, and often only the biggest blocs – the USA or the EU for instance – being able to hold them to account.
All of which reminds me that at the heart of humankind’s rebellion against its creator is the issue of power and self-determination. Instead of living in humble dependency upon the goodness of God, we want to determine our own lives, and this deep desire ‘to do it my way’ plays out at every level of human society.
It will come as no surprise to Christians that every aspect of human endeavour is touched by this longing for self-determination, including the desire for political sovereignty visibly widespread around the world. There are even echoes of this within our United Kingdom, as the Scottish National Party seeks a mandate for another referendum on independence.
Meanwhile, the United States is withdrawing from its multilateral commitments to the post-war institutions which sought to bring the nations of the world together – at least in spirit, if not yet in actuality. Populism and nationalism seem to be on the rise as the lived experience of global conflict fades into history rather than memory, and the reality of globalism strikes home.
As an ecumenical, I instinctively want to see ever greater collaboration between churches and a richer sharing of vision and mission, as we face huge challenges in bringing the good news of the kingdom to our nation. And my instincts are similar as we seek to play our part in arguably the greatest challenge to our existence, global warming (I studied geography as an undergraduate and took a module in climatology, so it has long been a personal fascination of mine).
So, you might sense (rightly) that I am an ‘internationalist’, with a suspicion of claims to national sovereignty that disregard the impact of the globalised economy, the power of multinational corporations, or the rising influence of China and Russia in the changing world order. I believe that we need one another in the church, but also that we need one another throughout the world.
Whether that collaboration is providing clean water for the poorest of the earth, running food banks together, or campaigning for a more urgent and, yes, costly response to climate change than the most recent round of talks in Madrid (COP25) produced, it is a case of better together for the common good. Taking our lead from our good friends and ecumenical partners at CTBI, we pray for this year’s round of UN climate change talks in Glasgow in November (COP26), and urge our newly-elected Prime Minister to pay this close attention as he hosts the event.
With the biggest polluters, including the US, China, India and Brazil, still not signed up to tougher global targets on carbon emissions, the challenge is immense. But it remains the case that humanity is ‘better together’ than apart.
And that brings us back to power and self-determination – the reality of sinfulness, and the need to use the power we have in a godly way, which means power for the other, for their interest before mine.
In this way, both ecumenism and politics are deeply spiritual endeavours, and both have to be real about human sinfulness and the ability of faith to radically challenge claims to power. So, at the start of a new year, can we redouble our commitments to walk together in our pilgrimage of unity, and to seek first the kingdom of God, as Jesus demands? Serving our world and our Lord together really is the better way!