Pamela Brubaker, a Church of the Brethren member and professor of religion at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, Calif., was a featured speaker for consultations of the World Council of Churches (WCC) held in conjunction with the first meeting of the WCC’s new Central Committee.
She spoke for a consultation Sept. 5-6 commemorating the 40th anniversary of a landmark 1966 World Conference on Church and Society, where she gave a paper entitled, “The Approach of the Geneva 1966 Conference to Development.” She also participated in a workshop Sept. 7-9 on the theme, “Acting Together for Transformation.”
At the 1966 conference, the ecumenical community made a major commitment to the moral imperative of development, Brubaker said in a telephone interview following the consultations. For example, the 1966 conference was the first WCC event where half of the delegates were from the “global south.” The 1966 event focused on the social and technical revolutions of the time, anticipating later debates on disarmament, racism, and a New International Economic Order.
Because of her work in the 1980s for a doctoral dissertation on economic development, entitled “Women Don’t Count: The Challenge of Women’s Poverty to Christian Ethics,” Brubaker was asked to offer an interpretation and critique of the presentation of development made in 1966. In her dissertation she had looked at development from the point of view of impoverishment, and the differences between women’s and men’s poverty.
In her review of the 1966 conference, Brubaker noted that few women participated, and there was little recognition of the problems related to economic development such as pollution and poverty. She also perceived a tension between those who thought a social welfare society was a good model for development–who tended to be from the global north, she said–and others questioning if it would be a good model for their societies. Those who questioned the model pointed out that there were still poor people in the north, and concluded that the model does not work, she said. Brubaker added that this debate was still a source of tension at the WCC’s most recent assembly this February in Brazil.
At the workshop, participants focused on an “AGAPE” process affirmed at the 2006 WCC assembly. Brubaker explained that AGAPE has emerged from the WCC’s commitment to examine economic globalization and how it affects the lives of people in the global south in particular, a discussion that has taken place up to now through regional conferences in various areas of the world.
The regional conferences expressed concerns about economic globalization, “concern both that more people were said to be suffering from globalization as well as the earth was suffering,” Brubaker said. The regional conferences sent letters to the people and churches of their regions, asking them also to take responsibility for and help address the problems related to economic globalization. This process came to be called AGAPE, an acronym for “Alternative Globalization Addressing People and Earth.”
“What’s important about (AGAPE) is it wasn’t a few staff people” at the WCC who were working on the process, but was carried out by the people of the world, Brubaker said. The workshop she attended included about 30 people from a variety of countries and faith traditions and ages, who together sought the next steps forward in the AGAPE process. The workshop helped the WCC “identify key points in terms of going forward,” she said, and also helped the organization “look at ways to make member churches be more aware of the AGAPE process.” For example, Brubaker sees a connection between the WCC’s AGAPE process and the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference paper this year supporting the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.
It was “good to take that look back and reaffirm the commitment to addressing economic justice issues” first taken in 1966, Brubaker said. However, she celebrated the WCC’s new commitments as well, “to things like care for the earth,” she said. The consultations also raised good questions, such as, are there benefits to globalization or only negative impacts?
“There needs to be more work done” on issues related to globalization, she said. “Currently there is sharp criticism of current models of globalization,” pointing to a need to offer alternatives, she said. And alternatives are possible, she asserted. “You don’t have to have a blueprint of all the details, but we have pieces of it,” she said, giving the examples of fair trade and micro development. “Be imaginative in thinking of other development alternatives,” she urged.
Brubaker’s work with the WCC in recent years has encompassed several other small consultations, including participation in encounters with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), where she took part as author of a book published in 2001, “Globalization at What Price? Economic Change and Daily Life.” She also is co-editor of a book published in July, “Justice in a Global Economy: Strategies for Home, Community, and World” (Westminster John Knox Press/Geneva Press, 2006), edited with Rebecca Todd Peters and Laura A. Stivers.
Brubaker will teach a three-weekend course on “Ethics and Globalization” at Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Ind., in the spring. The course will be held Feb. 16-17, March 16-17, and April 20-21, 2007. Contact the seminary at 800-287-8822.
For more information about the World Council of Churches, go to http://www.oikoumene.org/.