Globalisation in the Pacific Islands: Challenges and Perspectives for Churches

by Revd Dr Cliff Bird

Date added: 28/06/2017

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Globalisation in the Pacific Islands: Challenges and Perspectives for Churches


By Rev Dr Cliff Bird, Regional Coordinator, Pacific Programs Relief and Development, Uniting World and Theological Consultant at


Mission Theology in the Anglican Communion Conference

‘Mission in Oceania: Some Contexts and Currents’

Pacific Theological College, Suva, Fiji Islands, 26-28 June 2017




Context for Social Analysis[i]

Why must we talk about globalisation as a topic in a social analysis for churches in Oceania. Well, it should not take much imagination to argue the position that the various contexts (or situations) in which we carry out social analysis are increasingly influenced and shaped by global powers and processes. In one way or other the lives of peoples and communities in Pacific Island Countries (PICs), from towns and cities to the smallest and remotest villages, have been touched by the escalating and engulfing waves of globalisation. The manifestation of the “tidal wave”[ii] of globalisation is variously experienced in our region: in Tonga there is increasing commercialisation of agriculture for export; in Melanesia there is the rapid exploitation of natural resources by foreign transnational companies; in Samoa there is the move toward reform of customary land tenure; in the low-lying island countries, such as Tuvalu, Kiribati and Marshall Islands there is the real and imminent threat of sea-level rises due to global warming; throughout much of Polynesia there is migration to other countries, particularly to New Zealand, Australia and the United States.[iii]  Moreover, social issues such as rising incidents of poverty, unemployment, family and community disintegration, and the resort to crime and prostitution are in one way or another, directly or indirectly, linked to global powers, flows  and processes.  As Henriot and Holland said, and as is perhaps obvious by now, “(s)ocial problems and issues, although they appear to be isolated pieces, are actually linked together in a larger system.”[iv] Thus the social issues and problems that countries and churches in the Pacific grapple with do not exist in a vacuum, but are linked to other larger, and increasingly global, issues and problems. The larger system now is the global capitalist market.


What is Globalisation? Definition Difficulties

The term globalisation was likely coined around the 1960s and came into common and popular use from the early 1990s. It is not known who actually coined the term that is now frequently used by people of all walks of life in the Pacific: politicians, academics, the media, NGOs and churches. The emergence and use of the term is neither accidental nor unrelated to major shifts in global arrangements, global flows and global perspectives. In particular the dominance of its use coincided with the dawning of a new world order “(w)hen the Cold War drew to a close in the late 1980s,”[v] … [and] … “untrammeled capitalism.”[vi]


The term itself is not always easy to define. Part of the reason for this is that the term is both multilayered and multidimensional. Moreover, because of the fact of rapid and ongoing change in the world, the term presents as a moving target. Consequently, as globalisation progresses it continues to recreate the world and in this way not only alters the concrete situations for analysis, but also necessitates new tools for analysis that are appropriate to changing periods in history. Hence attempts to define globalisation vary considerably and the meanings attached to it are also influenced by the mental and visual images and sentiments that the term arouses in the one who defines it. At least four major ways of describing globalisation have been advanced and perhaps the most common one is the ‘World-System Theory’ by Immanuel Wallerstein.[vii]


Globalisation as a Historical Process: World-System Theory

In world-system theory, globalisation is seen as unfolding in a historical process. A central argument of this theory is that the social and economic changes that occurred throughout history could only be fully understood within their economic and material contexts. In this view, the economic and political processes that created globalisation are deeply rooted in the period of European imperial expansion that began in the sixteenth century. Tomlinson for instance argues that globalisation is “the continuation of a long historical process of western ‘imperialist’ expansion – embracing the colonial expansions of the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries – and representing an historical pattern of increasing global hegemony.”[viii] This expansion, however, continued into the twentieth century under various descriptions, most notably capitalism, (or laissez faire capitalist market) and now neo-liberalism. Thus the predominant modern world-system (or empire) is a capitalist market that is based on a neo-liberal economic model or paradigm. This capitalist world-economy driven by the neo-liberal doctrines of liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation is today the global context that influences and conditions much of the other aspects of life – social, political, cultural and even religious or spiritual.[ix] It is economic interests, but more specifically the goal to maximize profits that drive the capitalist world-economy.[x]



The Pacific Islands are a diverse group of island countries socially, culturally, and ethnically and even ecologically. Acknowledging the risks associated with generalizations[xi] I would nevertheless suggest that certain globalisation processes could be identified in the Pacific Islands.




1. Roots and Foundations of Globalisation

According to Oliver initial European contact with the Pacific started in the sixteenth century with the Spaniards and Portuguese, followed in the seventeenth century by the Dutch, and in the eighteenth century by the British.[xii]  France and then the USA followed suit. Described by Oliver as “the aliens”[xiii] the increasing number of Europeans comprised explorers, whalers, traders, missionaries, planters, blackbirders, merchants, naturalists, miners and administrators. Trade in sandalwood, whale, bech-de-mer (sea cucumber) and copra in exchange for iron tools, clothes, guns, tobacco and alcohol was established with the islanders.[xiv] At the same time most of this early and increasing contact with the wider world had serious negative consequences for the islanders. New forms of health risks came with European diseases such as measles, influenza, tuberculosis, dysentery, smallpox, typhoid and whooping cough as well as sexually transmitted illnesses inflicted suffering and death on many islanders. Moreover, alcohol, access to guns and metal weapons resulted in more violence.[xv]


2. Arrival of Christianity

Happening in the same period as the early western intrusion and the opening up of economic and trade activities was organized mission work into the islands by churches and mission organisations in Europe. The first wave of mission work started with the arrival of Protestant missionaries of the London Missionary Society (LMS) in Tahiti on 5th March 1797.[xvi] Missionaries of other denominations followed suit, and there was much competition and very limited comity arrangements. As Lockwood points out, “(m)issionaries from various denominations, including Catholics, Methodists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and others, competed with each other to establish missions and convert native populations.”[xvii] To their credit, it was missionaries who oftentimes were the first to “establish schools and provide health services to native populations, and sought to protect them from the worst form of colonial exploitation.”[xviii] According to Ernst a second wave of mission ensued in 1844-1930 with the arrival of newer religious groups such as the “Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Latter-day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses or Assemblies of God, all of them originating from the USA.”[xix]


3. Colonisation

With the exception of Tonga, all Pacific Island countries were either declared as colonies, or protectorate as in the case of Solomon Islands, by European colonial powers. Colonial rule in the Pacific Islands had a clear three-fold objective.[xx] The first was to extend economic power and base through expansion of existing markets and creation of new ones, through exploitation of natural resources and cheap unorganized labour, and thereby increasing profits. The second was to establish a network of island countries as strategic “stepping-stones” for both political and military purposes – that is, extension of political and military control. And the third was to transform the native populations, as Peter Hempenstall said, “in the image of the west”[xxi] through modernization, education and conversion. Colonisation paved the way for the structures, forms and methods of governance that took roots, and shaped the constitutional and legal landscape of the island countries.


4. Impact of World War II

World War II marked a decisive period in the history of Pacific Islands. Foreigners came and fought and killed one another in the islands with weapons far more deadly and destructive than what they were used to, and indigenous peoples were drawn into the conflict; there was destruction and disruption of lives and livelihoods. The fighting in Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea are known as some of the most cruel and vicious in warfare history. The Second World War ended when American pilots dropped atomic bombs on two cities in Japan, namely Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 1945. On September 2 1945 Japan surrendered unconditionally.[xxii] As stated above World War II marked a decisive turn in the history of the Pacific Islands in various ways.


Ø  Military Bases and War Infrastructures. Construction and maintenance of strategic military bases by both factions in the war was necessary, and so too was the construction and maintenance of roads, airfields and buildings for various purposes, including storage, accommodation and entertainment. Many of these infrastructures, such as the airfields on Guadalcanal and New Georgia in Solomon Islands, as well as airfields in Fiji (now Nadi), Vanuatu, Samoa, Tahiti, etc paved the way for the development of the tourist industry after the war. Ernst points out that “(t)he complementary network of sealed and other roads, the construction of hotels and the establishing of bars, restaurants and warehouses, and the extension of transshipment ports formed the basis for an economic boom in following years.”[xxiii]

Ø  Impacts on Individuals. Contacts especially with members of the allied forces, especially the Americans, had significant influence on many Pacific Islanders. Exposure to western goods and lifestyles, and exposure to new ideas of self-determination and equality opened up a whole new world for many Islanders. Throughout much of Melanesia, for instance, cargo cult movements emerged.

Ø  Ripples of the Cold War. When the war in the Pacific and the war in Europe ended, the “Cold War” ensued. In order to secure a step always ahead of each other, superpowers engaged in the development and testing of weapons. This “warfare game” was played out in the Pacific by the USA, Britain and France. The USA carried out nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands and in the Johnston Atoll, Great Britain in the Christmas Islands, and France in French Polynesia. Johnston Atoll in Eastern Pacific is also used by the USA for dumping of highly toxic chemicals.

Ø  Decolonisation and Partnerships. Movements toward independence in other parts of the world in the decades after WWII, especially in the African continent, caught on in the Pacific towards the end of the 1960s. Pacific Islanders exposure to new ideas of self-determination and equality as a consequence of WWII helped laid the seed for independence movements in the islands. A number of the island nations are still under some form of neo-colonial dependent status with France, including French Polynesia, New Caledonia, and Wallis and Futuna. A number fall into some form of association with the USA, including the Northern Marianas, Guam, American Samoa and the Marshall Islands. Chronologically, Samoa got its independence in 1962, Nauru in 1968, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands in 1978, Kiribati in 1979 and Vanuatu in 1980. In the decades following independence various other global players such as China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and the European Union have demonstrated great interest in the island countries as potential partners both for political reasons – voting power in international organisations – and economic reasons – substantial EEZ associated with maritime resources, and land-based natural resources.


5 Pacific Islands Realities at the Beginning of the 21st Century[xxiv]

Ø  Increased Mobility and Communication. Even twenty years before the turn of the century, people mobility and communication were restricted. With expansions and improvements in transport technologies, and advancements in communication technologies the movement of peoples, goods, information and services etc increased very rapidly.

Ø  Migration. Ernst points out that “In most of the ‘associated’ islands the status [of association] provides citizenship with New Zealand, France or the USA or at least enables islanders to move freely to these countries with access to jobs, health care or the respective educational systems.”[xxv] Of the independent states – Samoa, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Vanuatu, PNG and Tonga – who do not have such opportunities, more citizens of the Polynesian countries migrate to other countries than do those of Melanesian countries. Migration of predominantly Polynesian and Fijian citizens that began in the 1950 was linked to the “shortages of domestic semi – and unskilled labour”[xxvi] faced by New Zealand, Australia and the USA. The new seasonal workers schemes between New Zealand and Australia on the one hand, and some Pacific Island countries on another, provide economic rationale for people mobility.

Ø  Political Status. The Pacific Islands consist of island countries of different political status. There are independent states, namely Samoa, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Vanuatu, PNG and Tonga. There are small island states – Niue, the Cook Islands, and Tokelau – that are associated with New Zealand. There are states that are “overseas countries of France,”[xxvii] namely New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna. Then there are states under a compact with the USA, namely American Samoa and the islands of Micronesia.

Ø  Law and Order Problems and Political Instability. Solomon Islands and PNG have very little development to show for the valuable resources that are found, and that have been exploited. Corruption exists in every level and sphere but is denied for the sake of political correctness. PNG faces tremendous law and order problems, and so does Solomon Islands to a certain extent. Solomon Islands was engulfed in the so-called “ethnic tension” from 2000-2003, which brought the nation close to bankruptcy. Between 1987 and 2007 Fiji experienced four coups, and most of the deep-seated problems that led to the coups are yet to be solved.  More recently Tonga experienced violence that brought destruction and suffering.

Ø  Disintegration of Social Structures.  There is a fast transition from communal-oriented to cash-oriented societies. The security and social safety net that community offers are coming under increasing pressure from individualistic and competitive motives. This societal disintegration is fuelled further by the population flow from rural areas to urban centers, which lead to a mushrooming of squatter settlements with all the problems and challenges that come with such developments. Poverty is on the rise and an increasing percentage of population lives below the poverty line.

Ø  Re-shaping of Christianity. Ernst points out that “Since World War II, and especially during the last two or three decades, phenomenal growth has been experienced by new forms of Christianity that were only marginally present in most Pacific Islands and other parts of the world in the past.”[xxviii] As these new forms of Christianity – “Pentecostal, charismatic and evangelical churches and groups”[xxix] – continued to grow, membership of the mainline churches declined, which “has led to an ongoing re-shaping of the religious landscape in the different island nations.” He also points out that “There is a growing tendency to nationalism and denominationalism at the expense of ecumenical cooperation, which puts these churches in a vulnerable position.”[xxx]

Ø  Threat of Ecological Disasters. Extraction of forest resources in the islands of Melanesia, particularly in Solomon Islands and PNG, is said to be unsustainable and destructive to the environment.[xxxi] Exploration and mining are taking place in many Pacific Island countries, and the ecological effects of mining are not good. In PNG for example, “The environmental damage caused by the large open-pit mines such as Panguna (Bougainville), Porgera, and Ok Tedi in Papua New Guinea has been extensive.”[xxxii] Pacific church leaders contend that “There is intensive exploitation, rather than sustainable management, of the Pacific natural resources … Much of the exploitation is done by trans-national corporations (TNC’s) whose primary interest is profit.”[xxxiii] Pacific Island countries are most vulnerable to climate change-induced sea level rise, a position which the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) makes very clear.[xxxiv] The island nations of Tuvalu and Kiribati for instance are under increasing threats from sea level rise, and these are not alone.



ECONOMIC GLOBALISATION – Neo-liberal economic paradigm

Definition Difficulties

I want to focus now on economic globalisation. Like globalisation in general, the concept of economic globalisation still eludes a concise definition that is based on a consensus. From an ecumenical perspective, the World Council of Churches describes “economic globalisation as an institutional expression of a powerful ideology – a system of beliefs and practices which, although claimed by its proponents to be universal, reflect a particular web of values dominated by western societies. Its values are western, not Christian.”[xxxv] John Gray moves beyond the level of ideology and defines economic globalisation in more concrete terms as “the worldwide spread of industrial production and new technologies that is promoted by unrestricted mobility of capital and unfettered [unrestricted] freedom of trade.”[xxxvi] I suggest that these two definitions taken together provide room for a fuller understanding of economic globalisation.


A Historical Perspective

Economic globalisation, like globalisation in general, has its roots from the sixteenth century onward, but especially in the eighteenth century with the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. This period in history is also known as the Enlightenment, and it gave rise to modern science. Revolution in industries and science complemented each other quite well: for starters, the emergence of science gave a new scientific view of nature – a view that was so fascinated by nature and the laws of nature that it looked upon these as objects of study, as objects to control, to conquer and utilize for human beings. This view necessitated the development of new forms of power and technology to subdue nature. Then with the parallel revolution of industries, the development of new power and technology went hand in hand with the extraction of raw materials as factors of production in the market production process. Elements in nature such as trees, minerals, animals, fish, etc became natural resources that were converted into commodities to service the capitalist market. This is evocatively put by Professor John de Gruchy who argues that “the whole point of the Industrial Revolution was to take our home, the earth, dissect it into natural resources, and then – with new forms of power – pummel it into shape as commodities to serve the market for such goods.”[xxxvii] It could, therefore, be argued that a new form of market, namely the capitalist market, was born out of the Industrial Revolution and Enlightenment. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, an economy in which this form of market operated was known as laissez faire economy, that is, “an economy in which markets are deregulated and put beyond the possibility of political or social control.”[xxxviii] In the 1970s the emphasis on the deregulation and freedom of markets resurged powerfully, and under the Reagan administration in the USA and Thatcher’s administration in Great Britain in the 1980s, neo-liberal economic theory came to the fore. It is neo because it is not new; its origins lie in laissez faire economy of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, thus affirming what Ernst says: “what many today call globalization is just a continuation of old fashioned capitalism but in new clothes, and that it is still the pursuit of surplus accumulation that has provided a principal and powerful motive power for globalization.”[xxxix] In other words, neo-liberalism refers to the contemporary adoption of the free-market doctrines.


Neo-Liberal Economic Paradigm

The neo-liberal economic paradigm is the foundation on which economic globalisation is built. This paradigm is sometimes referred to as the “market paradigm”, the “Free market”, or the “Washington Consensus”. But what exactly is this neo-liberal economic paradigm?


A helpful description is given in The Accra Confession:[xl]

Ø  Neo-liberal economics refers to a political-economic philosophy that de-emphasises or rejects government or other intervention in the economy;

Ø  It emphasises the market to operate freely, without restraints or protections;

Ø  It focuses on free-market methods, fewer or no restrictions on business operations, and property rights, rather than human rights;

Ø  It promotes the market as the primary engine of human economic activity, emphasizing competition and growth, and upholding self-interest over the common good.

Ø  Neo-liberal economic policies include trade liberalisation and free flow of investments and speculative capital, deregulation and privatisation.


To the above features could be added the following:

Ø  Neo-liberal economics propagates unlimited economic growth, which it claims is good for the poor. It is built on the assumption of infinite resources in a finite planet.

Ø  It looks upon the environment as mere resources and factors of production to be pummeled into products for the market. Commodification of nature is an integral aspect of neo-liberal economics.

Ø  It enhances the role and scope of the private sector and private property (through privatisation and deregulation).

Ø  It is being promoted as the only path – the only solution – to economic wellbeing and prosperity for all developing countries; it will lead to economic growth, raise living standards and promote democracy throughout the world.


The World Council of Churches defines the neo-liberal economic paradigm as “a set of economic values and institutions based on a belief that there can be a ‘total free market’ in which unregulated competing economic relationships of individuals in pursuit of their economic gains can lead to optimum good under the ‘invisible hand’”.[xli]


Neo-Liberal Economics in the Pacific Islands

Manifestations of the neo-liberal economic paradigm in the Pacific have been in existence since the mid-1970s.[xlii]

Ø  The Lome Convention (1975) and SPARTECA (1981) were development co-operations between EU and Pacific Island Countries, and between Pacific Islands Forum member countries and Australia and New Zealand respectively, and were based on historical debt of colonisation. Both of these were non-reciprocal trade agreements. Under SPARTECA for instance, “… Australia and New Zealand offer duty free and concessional access for virtually all products originating from the developing island member countries of the Forum.”[xliii]

Ø  Non-reciprocal types of development co-operation are now being rapidly replaced by free market concepts which are pushed by Australia and New Zealand through free trade negotiations under PACER and PACER Plus. [xliv]

Ø  Since the mid-1980s free trade doctrines manifested in Pacific Island countries through Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) pushed by the IMF and World Bank, including: reform of the public sector (down-sizing, consolidating, recruitment of consultants into both advisory and line positions); land reforms (review of land legislations, review of customary land tenure, privatisation through registration, collateralisation); foreign investment reforms (relaxing or removing investment barriers, opening up investment opportunities reserved for nationals, easy credit for foreign investors); taxation reforms (higher taxes – GST, VAT, tax holidays, tax havens); trade reforms (removal of so-called “trade barriers” such as duties and tariffs); labour market reforms (labour market flexibility, deregulate labor unions).

Ø  Free market doctrines are enforced in the Pacific Islands under the coordination of global/transnational financial institutions and trade organisations including: the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation. These bodies are supported by major donor partners such as Australia, New Zealand, EU, USA, Taiwan (in some cases), and by “reformers” within the Pacific Island countries. In fact, for the PICs all of the major economic players in the region – “aid donors, international financial institutions, banks, and investors … agree that salvation for the economies in the region lies in opening themselves up to international forces.”[xlv]

Ø  Current examples where economic globalisation are at work in the Pacific Islands include: Tonga where there is increasing commercialisation of agriculture for export; Melanesian countries where there is rapid exploitation of natural resources by foreign transnational companies; Samoa, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and PNG where there are moves toward reform of customary land tenure; and Polynesian island countries where there is heightened transnational migration to other countries, particularly to New Zealand, Australia and the United States, and so on.[xlvi]


According to Ernst “(m)ost governments in the region have willingly and with no visible resistance adopted neo-liberal economic concepts that resulted in the privatisation of central public services.”[xlvii] However, while “no visible resistance adopted” may ring true, there are sentiments that government leaders are unwillingly, and even coercively, confronted with ‘power politics’ to allow the process, though rigged, passage. Referring to the recent PACER Plus negotiations in Cairns, Australia, Penjueli and Morgan contend that, “the imbalance in power between parties [Australia & New Zealand on the one hand the Forum Island Countries on the other] has been so great that few governments could in practice reject the Australian and New Zealand Governments’ pressure to fast-track PACER-Plus negotiations.”[xlviii]


What is at Stake?

So why must we be concerned with economic globalisation brought about through the neo-liberal economic paradigm?

Ø  Increase in inequality, both within and between countries

o   Access to jobs

o   Higher taxes (e.g. GST, VAT hurt the poor)

Ø  Exacerbation of poverty –

o   Declining access to basic services (health, education, water etc)

o   Contracting employment opportunities

Ø  Hands of Pacific Islands’ governments effectively tied, thus preventing them from pursuing relevant development goals and strategies

o   Support for local businesses become more difficult (no more subsidies, grants, preferential credit etc)

o   Support for local farmers become more difficult (therefore, possibility of being forced out of the market)

o   Unable to protect local businesses from surges in competing imports

Ø  Social and Communal Structures’ Disintegration

o   Pressures of mixed and cash-oriented economies,

o   Loss of sense of security and the safety net that community offers, that is, community as “something more than the individual self to fall back on, to cushion the blows that life throws.”[xlix]

o   Increasing incidents of family break-ups, threatening the very fabric of society and community in the Pacific Islands.

o   Challenges of HIV/AIDS

Ø  Churches Self-Understanding and Understanding of Mission and Ecumenical Partnership in the Context of (Economic) Globalisation.


TOWARD ALTERNATIVES: Perspectives for the Future

So what alternatives are there for the Pacific Islands? What could churches and NGOs do in identifying, propagating and implementing alternative ways of organizing life and relationships in our island countries? Such questions as these highlight the importance of social analysis. Ernst has pointed out the concern that “a growing percentage of Christian churches and their leaders have no interest in promoting a theology and Christianity that questions the grave economic and social injustices caused by globalisation. In this way the majority of Christian churches seem to be willing to continue with the function the Christian religion – with few exceptions – had throughout its history: That is part of being a stabilizing force for the predominant ruling system (sic) political and economical system, for mutual benefits.”[l] With these in mind let me suggest a possible paradigm for the involvement of churches in addressing economic globalisation. This paradigm is adapted from Walter Pilgrim on his work on the relationship between church and state.[li]


Paradigm for Churches’ Involvement

Pilgrim points out a paradigm that shifts between three movements or three stances. These movements or stances are: a critical-constructive stance; a critical transformative stance; and a critical resistive stance. Pilgrim’s immediate concern is the church-state relationship, but by extension the same paradigm could be adapted to the church’s relationship to power. Discernment is crucial in deciding between the three stances when action is called for. It is to be pointed out very clearly that all these three stances presuppose discernment and/or social analysis.


Ø  A critical-constructive stance. This stance applies “when the powers that be are attempting to achieve justice.”[lii] It is contingent upon such powers fulfilling God’s intention for them “to enhance the public good, preserve justice, and maintain peace and order. When the church perceives that the political powers are essentially on the side of justice, it will accordingly respond with loyalty and support.”[liii] However, when this does not happen the church has no option but to adopt either one of the other two stances.


Ø  A critical-transformative stance. This applies “when authority errs, but can be realistically moved to salutary change.”[liv] The church takes the position of critical distancing from the powers, identifies problems and threats, highlights opportunities and alternatives and calls and works for transformation that could realistically be achieved. Pilgrim states that “Jesus’ own prophet-like ministry … can be viewed as a putting-into-practice of the critical-transformative stance toward those in power … [and he] called for repentance in the light of the coming kingdom.”[lv] Church leaders of PICs recognise systemic and structural sin and call for ‘”conversion’ or a change of heart so that these sinful structures can be changed and alternatives pursued.”[lvi] According to the gospels Jesus worked and prayed for the renewal of those in authority only to realize in the end that he was not being heard but was instead crucified.[lvii] Pilgrim argues that “the crucifixion stands as a potent symbol of political authority abusing its power and stubbornly refusing to change, in spite of knowing it has committed a grave injustice.”[lviii] Such a stance becomes necessary in such situations as the protection and preservation of the environment, the problem of economic justice and concern for the marginalised in society, or the disintegration of family unit in modern society ant the search for ways to renew them. Neo-liberal economics has been the major culprit in these in today’s world, thus a critical-transformative stance is integral to the church’s response.


Ø  A critically resistive stance. This stance applies “when the powers are responsible for demonic injustice or idolatry and refuse to be responsible to change.”[lix] Political powers and powers that be can become, and in history have become, demonic and idolatrous. Pilgrim contends that, “In these moments the church needs to take a bold stance against the idolatrous ideologies and their propaganda, refuse to compromise on essentials, and do battle against the core injustices.”[lx] Such a stance becomes imperatives when powers – institutions, structures, systems – have become idolized and revered, and have become the determining mechanism for humanness. Neo-liberal economics has assumed such a position in today’s world, and a critically-resistive stance is imperative.


I want to highlight the necessity and importance of social analysis here. In introducing this paradigm I use the term “discernment” as the way to deciding which stance is appropriate at which times and situations, but discernment here means, and primarily so, to analyse the situation and times from all possible angles. I suggest therefore, that discernment as used within the Christian understanding of the term is a theological equivalent to social analysis.


Concluding Remarks – Pacific Churches (PCC) Alternative: Island of Hope (Kingdom of God)

Contrary to the belief pushed by proponents of neo-liberal economic paradigm, there are voices and movements in various parts of the world that highlight the urgency of coming up with viable alternatives to the current dominant paradigm. I would like to conclude this paper by focusing on an alternative to (economic) globalisation that has been, and continues to be, propagated by member churches of the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC). This is the concept of Island of Hope. As a Pacific alternative to economic globalisation, Island of Hope was formally endorsed in 2001 in a conference attended by leaders of Pacific churches, leaders of NGOs both regionally and globally, and leaders of world ecumenical bodies. It is a concept, but unlike many other concepts which are mere abstract ideas, the Island of Hope derives from core values and principles of life and organizing relationships in the Pacific Islands. Island of Hope embodies the following:


Ø  Pacific spirituality: “founded on our faith in a living God who, loves, liberates, cares and sustains us …enables us to listen to persons and the environment … to hear and to know how God is incarnating Himself in our community today … empowers us to appreciate and have relationship with the whole of creation … places the Cross at the centre [of relationships] … impels us in our vision of building God’s community of creation that envisages an ecological caring and oneness … is being formed, developed and nourished in the homes, communities and churches [and] … Through the proclamation and teachings of the Christian Gospel.”[lxi]

Ø  Pacific family: “basis of the social fabric of the society … [comprising] The nuclear family … and …Extended Family … [where] properties and resources are held in common. Sharing and caring … results in no one being left in need.”[lxii]

Ø  Traditional economy: “protect them [PICs] from the full onslaught of the negative effects of globalisation … [upholds] communal ownership of land … provides livelihood for many … [supports] communitarian values of caring and sharing … needs to be re-valued and supported because it ensures self-sufficiency, sustainability, food security, and livelihoods for a large percentage of Pacific Islanders.”[lxiii]

Ø  Cultural values: “readiness to share … giving one’s best out of deep love and concern … reciprocal giving … communal customary land tenure systems … re-distributive practice … relationships are strongly valued … concept of time is limitless, flexible, natural, meaningful, conscious and patient … life, in Pacific way of thinking, is meant to be celebrated … hospitality …feasting, dancing, acting, story telling and openness to other others … respect … centrality of family life … communalistic sense of belonging.”[lxiv]


We people throughout the Pacific Islands pride ourselves in saying that many of our values, practices and principles are in line with the reign of God as taught and practiced by Jesus. I would agree that there is a great deal of truth in such a claim but let us always remember that what Jesus taught and practiced was/is the reign of God, not the reign of Pacific cultures and Pacific values. In the imperfections of the very best of our cultures and values and practices, we embrace and enter into God’s reign wherever we are, making a positive difference in the lives of others and in the social context of our communities.


Let me share with you some food for thought on the reign of God, which comes from one of the outstanding Christian authors, Walter Wink.[lxv] He speaks about God’s reign in a way that, in my humble opinion, Jesus’s original hearers and especially those who were in the fringes of society, would have understood it. Wink says:


In parable after parable, Jesus speaks of the “reigning of God,’ using images drawn from farming and women’s work. It is not described as coming from high down to earth; it rises quietly and imperceptibly out of the land. It is established, not by armies and military might, but by an ineluctable process of growth from below, among the common people. Its colors are not gold and scarlet and purple, but earth tones: brown, yellow, and green. Its symbolism is not masculine (kings, swords, chargers, shields, spears) but feminine (water, soil, dough, women, a home).[lxvi]



To the colors of God’s reign as “earth tones” – that is, brown, yellow, and green – we here in the Pacific might add blue. The subsistence sector (comprising the land and sea) – brown, yellow, green and blue – continues to be the mainstay of the majority of Pacific Islanders. Churches and NGOs are called upon to ensure that this “womb of life” continues to beat and grow from strength to strength. The challenge for church and church leaders and community leaders of the Pacific Islands is to be proactive in ensuring that the Spirit of the Island of Hope continues to breathe life into peoples and communities and their enviornments.





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[i] Acknowledgement is hereby made to Manfred Ernst, “Social Analysis Workshop/Globalization in the Pacific Islands/2008,” for insights and inspiration for this paper.

[ii] Island of Hope: A Pacific Alternative to Economic Globalisation, (Geneva: WCC Publications, 2002): “Economic Globalisation can be best described in the Pacific as a tidal wave,” (115).

[iii] See Victoria S Lockwood (ed.), Globalisation and Culture Change in the Pacific Islands (Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, 2004).

[iv] Joe Holland and Peter Henriot, S.J., Social Analysis: Linking Faith and Justice (Washington: Center for Concern, 1980), 10.

[v] Frank J. Lechner and John Boli (eds.), The Globalization Reader (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2000), 7.

[vi] Lechner and Boli, 7.

[vii] The other three are ‘Neorealism/Neoliberal Institutionalism Theory’, ‘World Polity Theory’, and ‘World Culture Theory’. See Lechner and Boli 55-57.

[viii] John Tomlinson, “Internationalism, Globalization, and Cultural Imperialism,” in Media and Cultural Representation, Kenneth Thompson (ed.) (London: Sage, 1997), 143-144. As cited by Lockwood (2004), 3.

[ix] See Manfred Ernst (ed.), Globalization and the Re-Shaping of Christianity in the Pacific Islands, ((Suva; The Pacific Theological College, 2006), 25 ff.

[x] See Immanuel Wallerstein, “The Rise and Future Demise of the World Capitalist System,” in The Globalization Reader, Frank J Lechner and John Boli (eds.), (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2000). Wallerstein says that, “(t)he functioning then of a capitalist world-economy requires that groups pursue their economic interests within a single world market while seeking to distort this market for their benefit by organizing to exert influence on states, some of which are far more powerful than others but none of which controls the world-market in its entirety,” (69).

[xi] See Steven Roger Fischer, History of the Pacific Islands, (Hampshire and New York: Palgrave, 2002). According to Fischer making generalisations about the Pacific Islands is problematic since “not one is valid for the entire region,” (24).

[xii] Douglas Oliver, The Pacific Islands (Honolulu: The University of Hawaii Press, 1975). See Chapter VII.

[xiii] Oliver, 81.

[xiv] Lockwood, 11. See also Oliver chapter VIII.

[xv] Lockwood, 11.

[xvi] John Garrett, To Live Among the Stars: Christian Origins in Oceania (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1982).

[xvii] Lockwood, 11.

[xviii] Lockwood, 11.

[xix] Manfred Ernst, “Social Analysis Workshop/Globalization in the Pacific Islands/2008.” Unpublished Paper.

[xx] See Oliver (1975), and Judith Bennett, Wealth of the Solomons: A History of a Pacific Archipelago, 1880-1978, (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1987).

[xxi] Peter Hempenstall, “Colonial Rule: Administrative styles and procedures, in The Pacific Islands, Brij Lal and Kate Fortune (eds.), (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2000), 129.

[xxii] Fischer (2002), 205.

[xxiii] Ernst (2008), 5. (Unpublished Paper).

[xxiv] These are adapted from Ernst, “Social Analysis Workshop/Globalization in the Pacific Islands/2008,” 5-8.

[xxv] Ernst (2008), 6.

[xxvi] Ernst (2008), 6.

[xxvii] Ernst, (2008), 6.

[xxviii] (Ernst (2008), 8.

[xxix] Ernst (2008), 8.

[xxx] Ernst (2008), 8.

[xxxi] Lockwood (2004),21-22.

[xxxii] Lockwood (2004), 22.

[xxxiii] Island of Hope, 122.

[xxxiv] “SPREP Factsheet No. PF 003” (2005, 2008). See Cited 30/11/09. More fully SPREP says that, “Pacific Islands are extremely vulnerable to climate change. The most substantial impacts of climate change include losses of coastal infrastructure and land, more intense cyclones and droughts, failure of subsistence crops and coastal fisheries, loss of coral reefs and mangroves, and the spread of certain diseases. Climate change will affect the Pacific way of life and the sustainable development of our islands in profound ways.”

[xxxv] Economic Globalisation: A critical view and an Alternative Vision, (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 2002), 5.

[xxxvi] John Gray, “From the Great Transformation to the Global Free Market,” in The Globalization Reader, Frank J Lechner and John Boli (eds.), (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2000, 2004), 25.

[xxxvii] John de Gruchy, “Oikos, God and the Olive Agenda: Theological Reflections on Economics and Environment.”

[xxxviii] Gray (2000), 25.

[xxxix] Ernst (2006), 39.

[xl] See Cited 27/11/09. This is an adaptation of the Confession.

[xli] Economic Globalisation: A critical view and an Alternative Vision (2002), 7.

[xlii] Adapted from Maureen Penjueli, “Reclaiming Development: the need for an alternative economic model,” Pacific Church Leaders Meeting, Nadi 21st April 2009. Unpublished Paper. For further information see PANG on

[xliv] The recent meeting in August 2009 of the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders in Cairns where Australia and New Zealand sought to fast-track PACER-Plus negotiations four years ahead of schedule is an example of the significant pressure toward trade liberalisation faced by leaders. It is to be noted that Pacific Forum Island leaders and trade officials are divided in their position and response to the fast-tracking of trade talks; there is openness as well as hesitation. (See Penjueli and Morgan, Speaking Truth to Power, 2009). The Forum Secretariat also assists Forum Island Countries as Pacific members of the ACP Group in their negotiations with the European Union (EU) over their Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the EU.

[xlv] Stewart Firth, “The Pacific Islands and the Globalisation Agenda,” in The Contemporary Pacific 12:1 (2000), 184. Article 2 of the PACER under objectives ratifies the integration and development of a “single regional market.”

[xlvi] Lockwood (2004), chapter 1.

[xlvii] Ernst (2008), 7.

[xlviii] Penjueli and Morgan, 4.

[xlix] Bill McKibben, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future (New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2007), 112.

[l] Ernst, (2008), 11.

[li] Walter E. Pilgrim, Uneasy Neighbors: Church and State in the New Testament. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999.

[lii] Pilgrim, 192.

[liii] Pilgrim 193.

[liv] Pilgrim, 194.

[lv] Pilgrim, 194. In more detail Pilgrim continues: “Toward the religious establishment, the preservers of the “sacred tradition,” he called for repentance in the light of the coming kingdom; he challenged the “politics of holiness” based on exclusivism and welcomed the unrighteous and sinners; he took the side of the poor and marginalized and announced God’s reversal of status in the coming kingdom; his entry provoked the priestly elite to confront his message before it was too late; his cleansing of the Temple symbolized its systemic corruption and imminent destruction,” 194-195.

[lvi] Island of Hope, 129.

[lvii] Luke 19:41-44; 13:34-34; Mark 14:25.

[lviii] Pilgrim, 195.

[lix] Pilgrim, 202.

[lx] Pilgrim, 202.

[lxi] Island of Hope, 131-132.

[lxii] Island of Hope, 133.

[lxiii] Island of Hope, 134-135.

[lxiv] Island of Hope, 136-138.

[lxv] Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.

[lxvi] Wink, 115. In PICs the color “blue” is integral to the colors of the “reigning of God.”

Revd Dr Cliff Bird

Revd Dr Cliff Bird



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