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Valley of globalisation

Padre James Bhagwan
Friday, November 13, 2009

With the end of the academic year looming, students are sitting their annual or external exams and teachers are wading through end-of-term (or end-of-year) assignments and exam papers to be marked before prize-giving, graduation or simply the school holidays.

Davuilevu Methodist Theological College is no exception. As you read this article the student ministers in the Diploma in Theology program and ministers pursuing their Bachelor of Divinity degrees have completed their final day of exams. Within two weeks the next generation of Methodist ministers will graduate, as will older generations who have been studying through the distance education program of the college, the Bachelor of Ministry program.

This graduation will be unique in that it is the first graduation for the BMin program and this year, unprecedented seven women will be graduating with a Diploma in Theology and posted to various Methodist circuits (parishes) around Fiji to serve as ministers. Before all that, they must pass the exams and complete their assignments.

One of the courses I teach in DTC's Diploma in Theology program is "Globalisation and Theology." It introduces students to one of the most crucial issues facing their future congregations.

Students learn the meaning, processes, and effects of and possible alternatives to globalisation in relation to our understanding of God and living of faith in the "global village" with a particular emphasis on economic and cultural globalisation and the effect of globalisation on Christianity in Fiji and Oceania. It is not an easy course to study, neither is it an easy course to teach. It is, however, a necessary one.

The global economic recession compounded the struggles of our local economy, reverberating from the macro-economics of our Reserve Bank, state development programs and foreign investment to the micro-economics of the grassroot Fiji Islander. As ministers called to serve in communities that face the harsh realities of a country living on the edge, if not outside, the global village, these future shepherds need to be equipped to guide their flock through the valley of the shadow of death that comes with globalisation.

This is part of holistic ministry - understanding that one's spiritual well-being is greatly influenced by the social, economic, cultural and political context in which a person lives.

Along with issues of climate change (kudos to the University of the South Pacific for making this critical life and death issue a mandatory subject for all students), the Millennium Development Goals, migration of labour and the impact of free trade agreement such as the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (now PACER-PLUS); the discussion on globalisation includes crucial social and human development issues such as secularism, materialism and individualism. The aim of these conversations is to enable student ministers to understand that globalisation goes beyond the economic sphere of influence, re-shaping, and in some cases supplanting, traditional values, religion and relationships. These conversations would be extremely heavy-going if they were not rooted in the realities of living in Fiji today.

The reality is that each one of us must open our minds to these issues and not leave it to our community leaders or sociologists and economists.

These issues affect not just the world at large but our own personal worlds. Not so long ago when it was suggested to me that due to the recession in the United States of America, more people there were eating tuna, which meant good news for revenue earnings from tuna export for Fiji.

How much of this is true, I do not know, but it certainly serves as an illustration to make this point. The shift in diet, consumer taste and cultural values are the effects of the cultural homogenisation which is part of the globalisation process.

The way we interact with people of different ethnicities, cultures, religions and values is also affected by globalisation with the ease of travel and search for employment and business opportunities resulting in emigration (soldiers, nurses, rugby players etc.) and immigration.

Different values and cultures either collide or exist side by side in either ignorance or tolerance, or even amalgamate into something completely different.

Imagine for example a fourth or fifth generation Fiji Islander of Indian-origin, whose ancestors "lost their caste" by crossing the kala pani encountering a new arrival from the land of his or her ancestors (to which she or he has never travelled, and experienced only through stories handed down or through Bollywood).

Seeking to make issues of caste which are (apart from being illegal in India) no longer relevant or (considering the intermingling of Girmitya) simply impractical serves only to confuse and create more divisions in a nation struggling to achieve unity in diversity. But globalisation also works the other way with those from our communities or families that have migrated and either have lost touch their "Fiji connection" (more cultural and spiritual rather than traditional) or have just as an idyllic view of their "homeland" as the tourists do.

The resulting generations are Fiji Islanders on the outside but western on the inside. I must make the point here that I am not criticising personalities but the process which makes it so ("loving the sinner but hating the sin").

The theologian, Reverend Dr Jovili Meo argued that globalisation is not working for the Pacific, pointing out that global economic reforms do not consider our situation. The push for democracy over traditional forms of governance has led to the death of the Pacific Way - consensus. Meo also believes that as a result of the globalisation process, our values are now expressed in western terms.

We value the television over the talanoa (and perhaps even the tanoa). We no longer go to our elders for knowledge and wisdom but simply google the internet. As a result we lose our perspective, our context and then we lose our way.

The role of the churches of Fiji and Oceania in helping its people survive this tidal wave of sorts has been articulated in the publications Island of Hope: A Pacific Alternative to Economic Globalisation and Towards an Island of Hope: The Pacific Churches' Response on Alternatives to Globalisation and in the Pacific Conference of Churches' work in this area.

However, the time has come where it is an issue of economic, cultural and spiritual survival for all and for that reason each of us needs to be aware and ready for the next wave. As the values which form the protective reefs of our way of life are eroded, we become more at mercy to the open sea of unrestrained capitalism.

* Reverend Bhagwan is a probationary minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, serving as a Librarian at the Davuilevu Theological College and an Associate Minister of the Dudley Methodist Church in Suva. All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organisation that Mr Bhagwan is affiliated with.

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