A good question: Local or global: Where should our priorities be?
One question, four answers
‘The global embraces the local’
When saying the Lord’s Prayer, the first word has always been crucial to me: Our. Whether we say it on our own, or in a group, we always begin not with ‘My Father’ but with ‘Our Father’. And this is a reminder that even when we are a local, we are a local that forms part of the global. This is deeply rooted in our faith and defines us – we are each a human being who is part of the human family.
Having said that, I will always come down on the side of the global because the global embraces the local, not only my local, but everybody’s local, wherever we are in the world.
Having been born and lived most of my life in Argentina, where there were six military dictatorships since 1930, neoliberal economics impacted our lives constantly and the fight for human rights was a continual necessity, so much of what happened there was also linked to global movements.
I have also been involved in global ecumenical activity, training at a theological college in Buenos Aires and becoming involved with the World Council of Churches and the World Communion of Reformed Churches, work which culminated in one of the highlights of my life: The Accra Confession – on Economic Injustice and the Destruction of the Earth: at the same time local and global.
Robert Jordan is the Minister of Immanuel United Reformed Church in Swindon and Highworth URC
‘Support effective, not local, charities’
I’ve always innately felt the answer to a question like this must be ‘global’. In recent years I have changed my perception only slightly. As we become more aware of the impact of the climate crisis, I focus much more on the local for physical products. Asparagus grown in the UK seems more sensible to buy, no matter how ethically grown the asparagus I might otherwise have bought from Peru might be. Of course, it’s often more complicated than that. Perhaps the two products I’m considering both come from abroad and the one from further away doesn’t have plastic but the one from nearer does. But broadly speaking, I try where possible to keep distance travelled high in my thinking when making purchases.
However, if we move beyond the physical and think more about our charitable donations – for me, we must think globally. Social justice is at the heart of my passion as a Christian, but it is thinkers like Peter Singer and the wider Effective Altruism community that have most shaped my decisions in this area. Broadly speaking, the community troubles itself with the question: ‘How can we do the most good?’
In answering this question, the cost-effectiveness of certain types of charitable work, the level of funding a charity is already receiving, and the extent to which the problem is solvable become very important factors. Gone are considerations like my personal attachments to a particular cause, something which had made me more likely to support something closer to home…
Eilidh Carmichael is Policy and External Affairs Officer for the General Medical Council and a former member of the URC National Synod of Scotland Church and Society Committee
‘We can practice compassion on our doorsteps’
The idea that ‘charity begins at home’ is often cited as a justification for a somewhat inward-looking sort of giving. Yet Sir Thomas Browne, the 17th-century writer to whom the phrase is sometimes attributed, had something else in mind altogether when he first wrote those words.
Reading it in its full context, Browne is instead pointing out that while this attitude is indeed ‘the voice of the world’, it makes ‘every man his greatest enemy … when we are uncharitable to ourselves’. Browne was gently mocking those who he felt used the notion of charity ‘beginning at home’ as a cover for selfishness rather than a catalyst for action. How can we expect to see charity further afield, he asks, when we often struggle to express generosity at home?
This is not to suggest that the local and the global are necessarily at odds with each other or that we must choose between them in expressing charity. Rather, it is a challenge to consider the needs that lie on our doorsteps as the place where we practice the compassion we might then apply elsewhere…
Hannah Rich is Senior Researcher for the thinktank Theos
‘Some of us forget what is happening on our doorstep’
Local or global, we are living in unprecedented times and we live in a social media world. These days our screens are full of programmes about news from around the world, from regime change in Afghanistan to wildfires in America.
As a result, I believe some of us forget what is happening on our doorstep, where the cost of living is increasing – food prices and utilities – and those who are living on benefits are constantly living in fear, day by day. I know from personal experience what this is like as I see myself as poor.
There is so much that needs to be done to help others. Each morning as I walk my dogs, I meet many single mothers on the school run, and feel sad to see these people struggling with everyday life on Universal Credit, going to foodbanks and just providing school uniforms.
We may argue that there are many others who do not have these struggles. I wonder if they are oblivious to what is happening in our world. Are they living on credit, and deliberate debt, just so they can maintain their status in society?
Mark Lewis is an elder at City United Reformed Church, Cardiff, and works with LQBTQ asylum seekers through the support group Hoops and Loops
This is an extract from an article published in the November 2021 edition of Reform